The topic for this week’s Community Blog Topic is whether servers should be merged. This question hits a little close to home for me right now. Blizzard is having a sale on character services this week. Character customizations, faction changes, and server transfers are all 50% off. It was announced last night in trade chat that the top Horde raiding guild will be moving, making my guild the new number one. I was shocked.
My guild is not a progression guild. We have talented people but we only raid one night a week and we are very casual. If we truly become the realm’s top Horde guild, my apprehension for the state of my server will reach a new high. The economy is already struggling, and I fear this sale on server transfers may have far reaching consequences.
Merging servers may not be a bad idea, but implementing it may be more difficult than I’d like to hope. For starters, I’m very opposed to Robin’s suggestion of an Orgrimmar-1, Orgrimmar-2, etc. breakdown of zones. I don’t have any experience of that type of system in City of Heroes or Old Republic, but I did encounter it during my brief stay with Guild Wars 2. When the normal zone reached capacity, players were sent to the “overflow.” I cited it as one of the reasons I disliked Guild Wars 2 so much.
Even though Adam and I were grouped together, one of us would be sent to the normal zone and the other would be in the overflow for that zone. To put it in WoW terms, imagine Adam creates a new Undead toon and begins leveling in Tirisfal Glades. I log in a few minutes later and create a new Undead toon too, but the zone has since filled. I’d be placed in the Tirisfal Glades overflow zone where I could not see or interact with Adam. It was a queue system too. That meant when enough people left the normal zone, I’d receive a prompt to enter it.
In Guild Wars 2, there was no option to voluntarily enter the overflow. There was no mechanic to automatically place members of the same group in the same zone instance. What was even more upsetting was that I couldn’t switch to another zone or I’d lose my position in the queue. It was an awful system.
Blizzard could clearly design a better system, but I’m wary of the logistics. What happens when someone switches zones? Could you voluntarily switch to a different zone instance like TERA allows players to? Would that open the potential for abuse? People already complain about CRZ making it impossible to find rare NPCs. Would players constantly begin swapping between zone instances looking for the Time Lost Proto-Drake? Would spawn timers need to be adjusted to compensate for the dramatic increase to players in a zone?
Traditional Server Merging
The problem isn’t that WoW’s population has dropped to single-server levels; it’s that there are a few too many servers to begin with. I remember waiting in queues to login to my server around WotLK’s launch. I don’t think I’ve encountered a queue on my server since. The number of servers available right now may have been necessary at a time, but not anymore. WoW doesn’t need a merging of all realms, it just needs a little reduction in total server numbers. I’d wager that merging the lowest population servers together would be enough to fix the problem.
Let’s take a few examples using data from WoWProgress. The Warsong and Azshara servers appear to have very low populations. Merging the two together would not be enough to bring them in line with even medium-sized servers. However, if you take the five lowest populated servers and merged them together, you suddenly create a healthy server size. What about taking two small-ish servers and merging them into one medium or high population server?
I think this method is far better than trying to create game-wide zoned instances. It also has the added benefit of fixing server economies as well. After all, as Robin mentioned in her article, server economies do not currently benefit from CRZ.
There is the pesky problem of character names, of course. What happens when Legolas from Warsong and Legolas from Azshara get merged onto a new server? Character names are a strong part of identity. Blizzard could never simply disregard them or randomly force someone to change it. I like the idea of a surname, but that could get pose its own problems. Would the surname be first come first serve? Would players from non-merging realms get to pick one too? What happens if there’s another merger down the road?
I think players should get a title based on their realm of origin. Legolas of Warsong. Legolas of Azshara. On top of that title, all characters who share a name with another character should be given the option of a free name change.
Characters wouldn’t be forced to always display the title, but it would always appear in tooltips or when performing a /who search. Some internal coding would have to be done to distinguish one character from another in certain actions. For example, when I /ignore Legolas, a prompt should appear. “Which of the following players would you like to ignore? Legolas of Warsong; Legolas of Azshara; etc.” Is it an elegant solution? No, but I think it’s functional and honestly, I don’t think it’s as big of an issue as many believe. How many character names are reserved but not in actual use?
Lastly, no existing realm should become the dominant realm. In other words, if Warsong and Azshara got merged, the merged realm would be given a completely new name. This serves two purposes. First, no players feel cheated because their realm was not chosen as the dominant realm. Second, if future realm mergers become necessary, all newly created toons would get the new realm’s title whereas existing toons retain their original title.
Changing the Meaning of Realm Selection
What about a radical redesign of realm selection. Imagine that characters are not tied to any specific realm. After signing into the game, rather than seeing a list of characters on your selected server, you instead see a list of all characters on the account. After selecting a character, you can choose what server to enter.
The servers would still exist in the same way they currently do, but paid realm transfers become abolished as anyone can freely enter whichever realm they choose. There would also likely be a need to limit the total number of servers available. The final touch would be merging all of the auction houses in each region into a unified auction house, much like what Diablo III has.
The biggest problem with this method is likely on the technical side of things. I believe characters are stored on individual servers right now, so moving every character to the cloud could be troublesome. There might even be a need to limit how often a character can enter different servers to prevent some type of abuse or to curb server load.
In any case, it would go a long way towards fixing low population servers.
As I’ve stated previously, I don’t think the end is near for WoW, and ensuring all realms have a healthy population would have a very positive effect on the health of WoW in general. I dislike CRZ as a whole. I understand that it’s a good temporary solution to the problem of low populations, but it’s a band-aid and not a real fix. Server mergers are the answer and it needs to be done before it’s too late.