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Siren Song of the Crown

God damned Crown.

For those not in the know, The Crown in PlanetSide 2 is one of the most insidiously designed base complexes in the history of gaming. You can read an evocative rendition of its many contours on here. While it is prominently located in the center of the default log-in map, The Crown has exceedingly little strategic value.

It’s psychological value however, is another story.

Pictured: What happens on any day ending with a "Y."

Pictured: the Red team clearly winning.

I can easily log into Ps2, look at the map, and spend my entire playtime bleeding my way up Hamburger Hill. While it is almost always a futile endeavor attempting to take The Crown, you end up getting enough miscellaneous kills that it is almost worth your time slogging through all the anonymous damage. Of course, the only times that my boots are on the ground is when I’m waiting out the timer on my ESF (Empire Specific Fighter) – otherwise, I am doing increasingly bold strafing runs on The Crown defenders. Because, hey, I know people are there.

All this said though, I can definitely sympathize with those saying The Crown is bad for the game. Every quixotic minute I spend tilting at the royal bloody windmill is a minute every other base on the map (let alone the other two continents) goes uncontested. For however much fun I feel getting an especially juicy kill streak against entrenched defenders, I inevitably feel empty at the end of the play session. There is no lasting metagame in Ps2, no real personal gain in capping bases… but some measure of fake progress is better than logging out two hours later knowing you achieved nothing. Even failed last stands at Tech Bases prove more satisfying than the Crown meatgrinder; at least with the former, you get the ability to be annoying.

Part of the problem, I think, is how little it is communicated where the action might be. When I log into Ps2, I want to shoot things. While there are Instant Action buttons, hexes that flash to indicate enemy presence, and flashes of blue/red to show heated exchanges of fire, more often than not it is ephemeral. You cannot just respawn anywhere – it is proximity-based – which means the Instant Action buttons and their 15 minute cooldown must be reserved for movement. Even when you do land somewhere where fighting is taking place, it’s likely in the middle of a rout (for either side).

A lot of game design time is dedicated to the notion of “stopping points,” and there is no better example of one than a successful (!) base capture in Ps2. Unless you are already in an Outfit or part of some larger convoy of tanks, momentum has a way of grinding to a halt in the face of the immense travel distances. You can always build an ATV at every base to get around more quickly… but go where? There is nothing worse than assaulting an empty base other than, perhaps, absurdly defending an empty base.

And so… The Crown.

As perhaps a related aside, this particular issue might be one of server population. In this sense, The Crown is not a cause, but rather a symptom. I bring this up because John Smedley actually came out and said that Server Merges were coming before Server Transfers:

Server merges soon. Info coming by Monday. No server transfers coming till after that’s done. Wouldn’t be right doing it other way around

If only Blizzard were more concerned about the player experience on no-pop realms than gouging the refugees. Alas.

Things Are Looking Grim

Yeah… I’m not sure about this whole WoW thing anymore. Again.

I have not really bothered logging in since the last time I wrote about it, which means I am less than 10 quests into the expansion on any character. On Tuesday, I had an extra long length of time available to play, so I buckled down for the long-haul. Before heading out of Stormwind again though, I decided to continue feeding Auctionator some additional data and perhaps looking into pimping my 85s a bit with some blue gear. Or, hey! I have alts with professions that need leveled, so why not kill half a dozen birds with some AH stones in the form of buying some crafting mats?

Let’s see here… wait a minute…

Wait, that's TOTAL?

Wait, that’s TOTAL?

I thought Auctionator was bugging out on me when it completed the AH scan in literally two seconds, while also stating there are 52 epic items scanned. “That can’t possibly be correct… can it?” Yes, in fact, it can. A generic search for epic items in all categories reveals a total of 137 auctions (presumably 52 unique items). Now, it is certainly possible that I have missed a major announcement when it comes to scaling back BoE epic items, and Wowhead is telling me there are are only 134 epic non-BoP, non-heroic raid items in this expansion.

But what is being presented to me here is truly ridiculous. Aunchindoun-US was always a low-pop server, but as my early posts under PVsAH demonstrated, there was at least a functioning marketplace where you could be a big fish in a little pond. What I am seeing is not a little pond, it is moist patch of earth. Checking even the expansion staples like Ghost Iron and Green Tea Leaves only confirmed my suspicions. My faction’s AH officially qualifies as a failed state.

This discovery completely killed the mood, and I logged off. It is obviously possible to level up and even raid without a functioning economy, but why would you? I have mentioned before that I want to play games I can invest in, or at least feel the simulation of investment. Knowing the economy is dead, knowing the server is dead, and knowing that Blizzard isn’t ever going to bite the goddamn bullet and put realms like Auchindoun out of its misery means my incentive to push forward is dead. Server transfer, I hear you ask? Literally $250. Otherwise, if I have to abandon all my alts with all their professions (and pay $25 on top of it all) just for opportunity to have fun playing your game on one character… well, I politely decline.

For the past three expansions, Blizzard has been solving all the problem elements of low-pop servers except the one that matters: the server itself. Play BGs with everyone else, run dungeons with everyone else, raid with everyone else, and now even quest with everyone else. Isn’t it about time you let us be with everyone else?

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.