Bold and Spectacular… Server Merges?

This news is technically more than a week old, but there was a blue post made by Zarhym that really struck me as… well, read for yourself:

Having said all that, yesterday we discussed low-population and faction-imbalanced realms with our developers. They have some pretty bold and spectacular plans for addressing this in anticipation of implementing some of the features we plan to in Mists. I just don’t have a lot of information to share with you at this stage of programming and development.

My first reaction is in the title: bold and spectacular… server mergers? Assuming that is not what they are doing, well, what are they doing? What could they be doing?

I believe it was in a recent episode of The Instance that the hosts were talking about the concept of moving towards a server-less solution, or perhaps more accurately a “dynamic server” solution. We can imagine that instead of always logging onto Auchindoun or Earthen Ring or wherever, you simply log into a server. Once that server starts to fill towards capacity, people will start logging into a new server. This essentially eliminates low-pop and/or faction imbalanced servers entirely, aside from very last server booted up.

There are several obvious downsides to such a method. First, everything will be like LFD for servers; the likelihood of you making friends “in the wild” is severely diminished since you probably won’t ever see them again. A possible counter-measure would be to weight the system so that you are nearly guaranteed to be placed in the same “server” as people on your Friends List. Think that DK was a pretty cool guy when you were doing dailies? Add him to Friends, maybe see him again. What happens, though, if your Friends List network splits off to different servers based on their Friends Lists? Even if you make it possible to change servers through the UI or whatever, other issues crop up. For example, how will the AH be handled? One mega-AH, ruled by botters?

Aside from the dynamic server idea, I had the thought about simply moving towards LFR-ifying everything – not with queues, but with phasing. Imagine the following: you’re on a low-pop ghost town (i.e. Auchindoun), and you walk into Westfall for some alt questing. Instead of the place simply being dead, it is fairly vibrant… with people from other low-pop servers. Instead of an empty Auchindoun Westfall and an empty Dragonmaw Westfall, there is a kind of meta-Westfall that both servers share. Their AHs would remain separate, their Stormwinds would remain separate, their Tol Barads would remain separate, but any kind of dead zone would be shared. If a bunch of people congregated in Westfall for some reason, the servers could simply phase out the other side.

Or maybe “bold and spectacular plans” is simply LFD scenarios, or LFR Tol Barads.

All I know is that low-pop and/or imbalanced realms is a huge, systemic problem in two-faction games. In my four years, I never played on anything other than low-pop realms; any time I heard excitement over Sunwell-esque unlocking of vendors or world raid bosses or WG/TB-based PvP objectives, I always rolled my eyes. Those things do not work on Auchindoun, nor on many other servers. Fundamentally, you and I may as well be playing entirely different games.

If Mists is really focused on getting people out of cities and back into the world, Blizzard is going to have a big problem in low-pop realms when everyone is outside and they still can’t see each other.

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Posted on February 13, 2012, in Commentary, WoW and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. They could try taking Rift’s free server transfers a little farther by allowing free server transfers with cross server friending. Couple this with out of instance cross server grouping and you could be playing on a pvp server your friend hates but you can still do content with them without ever having to give up your pvp server to play with them.

    On the balance note Trion just locks certain servers from being transferable on a faction basis. Depending on the actual balance of Alliance to Horde it would fix most extreme imbalances or at least not further aggravate them.

  2. They could simply do LotRO’s multi-layering “version 2″ (i.e. done well). BTW Star Trek Online uses a similar approach.

    The idea is simple: an area can hold at maximum N people (+-some tolerance): as soon as it’s filled, a new “layer” of the same area is created. This is like phasing, but the two “phases” are identical. The interface indicates that you are in a “layered area” and if you group with other people, you can use a button to move to the same layer as the party leader. Now, this kind of approach makes the whole “server” idea obsolete: you can spawn copies of an area as needed, and any player you meet you can add to your friends list and group with him/join his layer to meet him at any time.

    Blizzard has the money and the manpower to pull something like this off in a millions-of-subscribers game. The loss: the money from the server-transfer things. The gain: everybody can play with everybody. Out with the “I meet someone but I’ll never be able to play with him because he’s on the wrong server”.

    The whole “battle.net tag” thing could be pointing in this direction, i.e. you have a unique ID to navigate across the sea of servers.

    For me, the day they kill servers and they kill player levels cannot be too soon…..

    • Well, technically you also kill the “server community” that people seem to talk about in relation to LFD/LFR. Then again, there really isn’t a community worth saving on the low-pop realms, which consists mainly of people who got tricked into rolling on a “Recommended” server four years ago.

    • this would kill any non instanced grouping with your friends. You’d have to coordinate your log ons and hope you ended up on the same server.

      • As I said, you can change “layer” at any time. Group with your friends, hit button, bam you’re on the same server/layer/shard/whatever as the leader of the group. LotRO already manages to do this, I don’t see why Blizzard would not be able to pull it off.
        If you want, the entire world is a series of instanced areas, with borders that you can freely cross to rejoin your group.

  3. The main problem they need to solve is name clashes, though. WoW simply cannot move to a server-less architecture while still enforcing the “unique name” paradigm.
    Either they simply have to decide that duplicate names don’t matter any more, and player ID is all that matters. That might work, but I”m not sure it’s the best solution. Thin of all the problems of players IDs that Blizzard has right now. Syl had a nice article about how important it is to many people to play incognito from time to time: http://raging-monkeys.blogspot.com/2012/01/precious-time-outs.html

    Or they need to find a different, better solution. I, personally, never understood why they didn’t require you to choose a “family name” and enforce that combination to be unique. But that sounds almost impossible to grandfather into a game.

    • I imagine this would sort of force the Battletag issue; either sign up, or endure a name-change.

      But yes, Blizzard definitely needs to implement a “stealth mode” either way.

  4. Try say Auchindoun-US and such. Auchindoun-EU is realm I play on, top realm, pretty high populated.

    SWTOR uses different I don’t know what they are called but it boils down to “instances” where people are leveling. So you have “coruscant 1″ and “coruscant 2″. For a new player who is trying to group into an instance this was very confusing.

  5. this would only work with cross server friends lists and for people that only want to instance. I’d be pissed if a guildie or friend asked me to help them and I found out I couldn’t because I’d logged on too early or too late to hit the server they are on.

    I predict this would accelerate sub loss. There are just too many little tiny things like getting to your guild bank, questing with friends etc. They’d have to completeley rework the core of the game to make this work without pissing everyone off.