The World of Warcraft has been going on for over 16 years, so it’s no surprise it’s become enormous. The game spans several continents, planes of reality, and thanks to the addition of World of Warcraft Classic and Burning Crusade Classic, even previous iterations of itself.
For some fans, though, all of these flavors of Warcraft still don’t quite scratch the itch. Hence, some have gone on to create their own extension to World of Warcraft in a project called Epsilon. This isn’t a traditional private server, like previous fan projects, or an alternate take on World of Warcraft’s gameplay. Instead, it’s a tool that allows players to build their own instances and create their own worlds, Warcraft-themed or otherwise.
Epsilon can be downloaded and played now. And it is, for many fans, the role-play hub they’ve always wanted but has never been supported by Blizzard. The volunteer team on Epsilon has focused on adding and moderating infrastructure for player housing, world building, NPC creation, and character customization — features that are sorely wanted by many World of Warcraft players, but have yet to arrive in the game itself. Epsilon is not a direct competitor with the base game; it simply takes inspiration from the world of Azeroth and gives its components to fans for whatever use they’d like.
Players’ constructions and creations are stored on a phase, their own private world that can host their own guests. The phase owner can then pull all of the assets of World of Warcraft and use them to build their own little world, similar to creating an Animal Crossing island. Once a player is satisfied with their phase, they can invite friends to check it out. Creators can create characters, dress them up and customize them, and give them simple routines. Some of these additions are simple, like the ability to have Night Elves who aren’t Demon Hunters wield the iconic Sentinel glaives. Others are quite complex, like the ability to create whole settlements and alternate realities.
If World of Warcraft is the main source of canon and Hearthstone is a series of spinoffs, Epsilon is like wandering through the aisles of an AO3 fanfiction archive. There are no rules as to the thematics or canon status of an instance; everything is fair game, including other franchises like Star Wars or completely original works. Diplomatic romance AU where Sylvanas and Jaina marry each other after the invasion of the Burning Legion so the Horde and the Alliance can form an alliance? Sure. Coffee shop AU where Anduin and Wrathion run a cute little breakfast nook with great lattes? If you’d like. Alternate history Darnassus where Queen Azshara still rules over the Night Elf empire? Hell yeah, I’d love to explore that girl-boss palace.
Epsilon’s volunteer development team cites inspirations like The Sims, Skyrim, and even playing with Lego bricks.
“It’s a place where players can build both worlds and stories. It’s a pure role-playing community that strives to grant the greatest freedom to the player that we can muster,” wrote Azarchius, one of a committee of Epsilon representatives who spoke to Polygon on Discord. The Epsilon team uses its online handles for social media and communication for privacy reasons. “I wanted to work on a community that both takes things to the next level technologically and grants a safe haven for role-players where the community-wide experience is moderated to curb lawless personalities that sour the experience for the rest.” This includes on phases and in “out-of-character” arenas like Discord.
“For me, as a person who doesn’t RP much, Epsilon is a creative medium where I can create worlds,” wrote Sadriel, another developer on the project. “Very simply, it’s the player housing I wish World of Warcraft always had. I have a lot of fun creating tools (macros, add-ons, integration with other 3D software) that makes it easier for other people to create things. My main joy is seeing the building community thrive.”
This makes Epsilon an entirely different beast than a traditional private server. A traditional take on a private server might up the gold values, or give additional experience, or otherwise iron out bits of the MMO experience that don’t align with their enjoyment. Many of the Epsilon developers I spoke to still play World of Warcraft; Epsilon is their chance to do something different, like be a noodle vendor with a street stand in Orgrimmar.
“Epsilon isn’t an alternative to ‘real WoW’ for me. It’s very much an addition on top of the WoW experience,” wrote Sadriel. “I find myself spending less idle time hanging out in cities on the public servers when I could hang out in new venues on Epsilon. I think you really get the chill vibes of ‘let’s just hang out and talk in this cool place I built’ that I think a lot of people really enjoy in say, Final Fantasy 14. You could also easily compare it to something like Second Life.”
For some fans, Epsilon is a way to create passive spaces, a place to explore, learn, and talk with NPCs. For others, Epsilon is an arena in which they can run elaborate World of Warcraft role-play campaigns, like the idea of a goblin-run hive city surrounded by the undead Scourge. For some, World of Warcraft is a home away from home that is continually threatened by both the fictional forces inside of it, like the Burning Legion or nefarious Jailer, and sometimes by the reality of Activision Blizzard itself.
For Epsilon’s players, the tool gives them a way to create their own version of Azeroth, unchained by the limits of its retail inspiration. The gameplay of World of Warcraft isn’t the point; they’ve chosen their own way to adapt the technology and use it as a social or storytelling platform. For these fans, having a place to be is more important than having the traditional structure of a game, with quests, rewards, and epic loot.