This week’s Community Blog Topic on WoW Insider asks us, should servers be merged?
The idea of this is to combat the issue of servers becoming deserted with declining WoW subscriptions exacerbated with character transfers enabling players on these declining servers to seek out more populated ones. Merging servers would mean combining low and medium pop servers together to create medium or high pop servers, and shutting down the old servers.
It’s clear something needs to be done, already low pop servers are seeing more and more players fleeing to higher population servers, and who can blame them? Low population servers have less raiding opportunities, less guilds, and a weaker economy. While players who enjoy the solo aspects of the game more, or those who don’t want a guild and are content with LFD and LFR, a low population server may be just fine with them.
There’s another aspect to this problem a lot of players don’t consider though, and that is players fleeing low population servers have to go somewhere, and that’s usually server’s with already healthy populations. Except, with more and more players migrating every day, these server’s populations are quickly swelling past healthy levels.
I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but at the end of Firelands, after the raiding guild I was in blew up, I transferred to US-Stormrage for better raiding opportunities. When I transferred, Stormrage was in the top 15 servers for progression, was in the Eastern time zone, and had an Alliance:Horde ratio of 25:1. Now though, Stormrage is ranked third in progression for US servers, and first Alliance dominated server in North America with Mal’Ganis being an apparently completely Horde server, and Frostmourne being an Oceanic server. Stormrage also now apparently has an Alliance to Horde ratio of 100:1, so clearly I wasn’t the only Alliance player who had the idea of transferring to Stormrage. Last week’s sale on character services only made the matter worse apparently, as last night we had over 30 minute queue times trying to log in for raids. On a Monday.
So, clearly, something needs to be done, but what options does Blizzard have to fix these problems?
Clearly Cross Realm was a step by Blizzard to try and alleviate some of the effects of low population servers. The way Cross Realm Zones work though, treat the symptom of low population servers, deserted zones, and not the cause. Most of the Cross Realm technology is focused on making deserted zones less deserted, but it also lets you group and raid old content cross realm. There are obviously limitations to the current implementation of current Cross Realm implementation:
- You can’t raid current content across realms;
- You can’t join guilds across realms;
- Capitals and major hubs are exempt from CRZ, empty or not;
- You can’t trade across realms, and that includes the Auction House.
It seems to me that in order to make Cross Realm technology a solution for low population realms, the following changes would need to be made to the current implementation of Cross Realm technology:
- Current raid content will need to have Cross Realm grouping enabled;
- Guilds will need to be able to span across realms;
- There would need to be a way to find pugs cross-realm;
- Enable a Cross Realm Auction House.
Back in February I talked about the potential for Cross Realm Auction Houses and what effects I thought that would have. I’m sure that the other items on that list would have strong effects too. Basically, the Cross Realm technology would have to be so immersive that there would be no benefit to being on a populated server.
Another option is to control which servers players can move to and from. As it stands, for a not insignificant amount of money you can move a character to any server you want, with very few limitations. This is what’s causing many of the problems with population imbalance, players fleeing bad server conditions make the conditions worse which causes more players to leave. It’s a snow ball effect.
Basically Blizzard would have to prevent transfers of characters to high population servers (presumably there would be exceptions if you already have characters on that server), and encourage migration to lower population servers, likely by offering free transfer, or at the least discounted. To make this work there might also have to be limitations on new character creation on the high population servers for accounts that don’t already have characters on the server.
However, this may still leave us with server with unsustainable population servers, leaving us with still having to consider merging servers…
Now, the reason I started this topic in the first place, the possibility of server merging. The idea behind this is that Blizzard would take some of the lowest population realms and combine them together to make new realms with moderate to high populations. While there are objections around realm identities, one of the most challenging technical issues with this proposal will be names.
Players become very attached to their characters, and a character’s name is an important part of their identity. While the servers are considered low population, there are still hundreds, if not thousands, of players on each server, and chances are there will be duplicate names on merged servers.
When you pay for a server transfer and the target server already has a character with the name of the character you’re transferring, you’re forced to name change. That won’t fly with server merges though, because you’ll be forcing players to transfer servers, while with a paid transfer they know what they’re getting into.
The only option for server merging it seems would be either the introduction of last names for characters (presumably limited to your account) or using the realm suffix like they do in Looking for Raid, Looking for Dungeon, etc.
Personally, I think merging servers would be the best solution, along with a bit of controlled migration. I know I’m pretty sick of having to worry about queue times during the week, and I’m sure players on the lower pop realms without the funds to transfer their characters are sick of not having enough people to do anything as well.
Whatever Blizzard decides to do, I think they need to pick their poison and deliver it quickly, because clearly their current course of letting it be is not working.