Did the Cloning Service Harm Classic Era?

A few weeks ago there was a bit of a kerfuffle on the Classic era Discord during which a lot of people ended up airing various grievances they had with Blizzard's handling of Classic era. One subject that came up multiple times - very much to my surprise - was the cloning service. As far as I could tell, people had two main complaints about it:

  1. That it cost money to begin with
  2. That it was eventually shut down and all the inactive/unclaimed clones were deleted

Specifically, people seemed to think that those two things put together had a massive impact on the size of era's population, as in: it would be much more active if everyone who ever played the original Classic could return to clones of their previously created characters at any time, for free.

I was honestly pretty surprised by this because I always thought that the cloning service was a pretty decent compromise, and based on my personal experience, I don't think that unlimited, free cloning would have made a significant difference to era's population at all.

To address the second point first: I just don't think that money has been the primary obstacle to Classic players returning to era. Playing any incarnation of Classic requires a subscription to begin with, so Blizzard already has these people's credit card info and they have enough disposable income to afford it. Sure, there will always be that edge case that can just about afford the sub while any extra expenses would be too much, but most people aren't going to be like that. In fact, I think the whole debacle with Classic's server populations - which was largely brought on by paid transfers - showed that people are quite happy to give Blizzard extra money for any perceived advantage.

I also know people who paid to clone their characters to era and then never even played them. In fact, of all my old guildies who I know cloned characters, I'm the only one who actually ended up playing on era. Money was never the problem; time and investment was. MMOs are quite time-consuming as it is, and playing several of them at the same time requires a pretty large investment. It was always clear that the majority of players were going to choose to move forward into TBC, and the idea that more of those players would have also played era on the side if only they didn't have to pay for their clones just seems totally unrealistic to me.

I say this because I was one of the few who wanted to be that person, who paid full price for two clones early on and thought she'd check in on them every now and then even while focusing on Burning Crusade Classic. However, the truth is: it wasn't really feasible. BC (and other games) were already eating so much of my free time, there was precious little left to even consider spending on era, and whenever I did log in, I didn't know what to do with myself. So much of Classic's original appeal was about community, and if you cloned a kitted out level 60 like I did but none of your friends had any interest in playing on era, it wasn't as if you could just randomly log in on a Saturday afternoon and jump into a Naxx pug. With the "mainstream" moving on, Classic era had to build its own community, and getting to know that takes time. Unlimited, free cloning would've just increased the number of people randomly logging in to stand around in Stormwind or Orgrimmar for ten minutes while wondering what to do, but I don't think it would've done much for era's true activity levels.

Now, I'll admit that even that little bit of extra activity still wouldn't have been a bad thing, and in a world with unlimited resources - yeah, sure why not. However, it's worth noting that when Blizzard was first testing the waters for how to handle the transition into Classic Burning Crusade, cloning wasn't even on the table as an option; they were thinking about a straight-up split that forced you to choose one over the other or else start over from zero on a brand-new server. I said back then that in my ideal world, they'd just clone the entire server, though I'm not surprised that didn't turn out to be feasible. When they announced the paid clones, I was just glad that they'd listened enough to at least make character copy an option.

Honestly, knowing what I know now, I think the only reason we got even that much was that Blizzard overestimated how many people would choose to use this feature. I mean, I obviously don't have any numbers, but considering that millions of people signed up for Classic in 2019 and looking at the size of the Classic era community now - it's gotta be a minute number. Even if we consider people like my old guildies who bought clones and never played them, I reckon the service saw minimal use. Even though the creation of Classic era was announced right there on our character selection screens, I think that the vast, vast majority of players didn't give a fig about it.

So again, I'm not at all shocked that Blizzard decided to shut the whole thing down and clear out their database. Yes, I get that this sucks if you played Classic two years ago, never paid any attention to era or any of the news around it and suddenly realise now that you would have liked to clone - but you've got to admit, that's at least partially on you. And yes, in an ideal world, Blizzard would have preserved all those millions of inactive clones somewhere just in case (though I would've still liked them to free up all those inactive character names) but again, if you think about the effort involved just to appease a teeny tiny number of players, I can't blame them for not doing that.

Basically, I'm not saying that there aren't things about Classic era that Blizzard could've handled better... but in terms of the cloning service, I think they did a pretty decent job when you consider player interest and resources, and I think it's quite alright that the feature is gone now. For Classic era to live and successfully continue to develop into its own thing, it needs people to create and level new characters in the here and now - not to forever sit on a pile of abandoned clones in hopes that people will maybe come back to play them one day.


  1. The irony about your post is that I was thinking about what's gonna happen after Wrath Classic, and one option is to return to Classic Era just because.

    1. Well, you did clone when you had the chance though!

      That aside, I'm sure you're not the only one who's considering that, and I think it's likely that era's population will continue to increase throughout the next year because of that.

  2. "That it was eventually shut down and all the inactive/unclaimed clones were deleted"

    This evokes such cyberpunk vibes I can almost hear Gibson breathing down my neck. NOT the feeling you were shooting for, I'm sure, but I thought I'd share.

    1. Sorry, but I've got to admit I never read any Gibson!

  3. I was one of those people who jumped on the cloning service once they announced it was going away and that it would be a third of the original cost. If the price had stayed at the full amount I probably wouldn't have used the service much or at all, but since it was basically a "3 for 1" sale I cloned all my existing characters (such as they are).

    I come to realize in these sorts of situations I probably ought to use the service or do the activity while I still can, otherwise I have found myself regretting not using/doing it later on in life. Now that I'm back in Wow I know I will eventually be back to revisit those characters, if only on a very casual basis.