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.