Friday, 25 October 2013

Whiskey In The Jar

Way back in the mists of time, I started playing World of  Warcraft. On the character creation screen was an option to join a realm, greeted by choices like PvE, PvP, and RP, not knowing what to do I chose the recommended PvE server and so was born a WoW addict. That all important decision which Realm you end up on was taking out of my hands, I had no idea what I was doing but that one decision could have changed my entire gaming experience.

Tonight I have friends coming round to sample my culinary skills, we met playing WoW, so that one click culminated in years of friendship, who could have known at the time. I could have chosen PvP and been ganked within an inch of my life that I quit playing, or alternatively ended up on one of those adult only Roleplaying guilds.

The realm was recommended because of it was still a growing server, but within 18 months it was more than a little full and waiting times to login got ridiculous. A free server move prompted a wholesale evacuation and I have played on Anachronos (EU) ever since. It has a reputation for not being hardcore raiding or PvP, but I have no idea if that is true or not, it is simply a medium population home for my characters.

I never really thought much about my choices until Blizzard implemented Cross Realm Zones (CRZ). CRZ was designed to fix the problem of underpopulated areas, levelling zones long since discarded by the max level characters. It was now possible to level with other people, real people on other realms doing the same quests as you. The result was glitchy to say the least, with zones effectively having vertical walls between them, go one pace forward and you would appear on one server and one pace back you ended up on another server. This was not a seemless transition which requires the WoW servers to send a raft of new information about your new position in the game. Everytime I take the Darkmoon portal from Stormwind to Elwynn Forest there is a 3 or 4 second delay for the ground rendering then a further gap whilst the other feature appear. It is slightly annoying but not as bad as the Flying glitch which would cause a dismount when flying between zones. There was also the annoying text that would appear multiple times which made Hellfire into the spam centre of the universe.

One side effect of the increased number of people in zones was the competition for resources. With the increase in levelling speeds through reduced XP, more ways to gain XP (through professions) and heirloom gear, it became very difficult to keep professions current. Fights over mining nodes, high level characters plundering resources on flying mounts due to the scarcity of items on the Auction House pushing up prices. The gains from making the zones come alive again had to be weighed up against the problems it was causing. This was not a win-win for Blizzard and many commentators were very vocal about the issues.

Overtime we have simply grown to ignore the old world and concentrate yet again on the max level content. The number of people levelling 1-60 is probably back to the handful of lost souls who are out-levelling the zones after 20 quests.

Blizzard then got very excited about a new feature which would allow merging of realms to reduce the number of servers required due to falling subscriptions. It would make the Realms full again and would not result in the media catastrophe of announcing Realm closures, uprooting players and forcing name changes for players without unique character names.

The Blogosphere went mad again would Virtual Realms (Connected Realms was finally chosen), create more of the same issues that CRZ did. What was the criteria for connection? What was the ultimate goal in terms of Realm numbers? Blizzard gave general answers but never the specifics. People tried to guess what the Connected Realms would like, would it be 2 or 3 or 4 medium servers to make one Connected Realm, we did not know.

Several US Realms have now been connected, the results have been relatively quiet so the assumption is they have been successful, and now Blizzard are starting on the EU Realms. From a Blue post and report in WoW Insider, it appears that Blizzards intentions are on a modest scale. Connected two low population PvP Realms will at best make a medium populated PvP Connected Realm. Vaneras also hints that the concurrent number of users did not change from the early days Cataclysm, which is the last time that I needed to queue to logon at peak times.

"The primary purpose of the connected realms feature is indeed to improve the situation on low population realms, to reinvigorate said realms. Currently that means that some of the highest population realms will not be connected with other realms, but it is a possibility that this may change in the future."

Whether some medium population Realms can be connected remains to be seen, but it appears that Blizzard is merely closing a handful of small PvP servers, and too be honest who can blame them.


  1. Personal opinion only, I think these merges are going to happen for a long time. I wouldn't be shocked if most medium-pop servers were connected with 5-10 other like-sized servers once everything's finished.

    I'm really curious about what they're going to do with faction imbalanced servers, though, especially the large-pop ones. To some (probably most) players they're a benefit but I know some would prefer more balance, especially on PvP servers if they actually enjoy PvP, which I don't think is necessarily a given.

    I do think they'll do something, even if it's just free server transfers for those in the dominant faction on a server or for people to transfer TO that server's underpopulated faction.

    I'd still prefer they just actually merge servers, though. This seems like a lot of hand waving just to end up with basically the same result while maybe avoiding a wee bit of a PR hit. I'd rather they just do it, take the temporary hit, then move past it.

    1. I would have agreed with you a few weeks ago, but it looks like they are stuck with number of concurrent users. This will not change until they upgrade the hardware with the next expansion.

      I am not expecting to see Mega Realms for at least a year, if at all.

  2. Oh, I didn't mean to imply mega server... I think the ideal server size is about 50% of a server that has a small queue when it's busy. The biggest servers in the game right now are TOO busy, not just from a technology/queue standpoint but from a gameplay one as well. Too many people running around for the same resources. Half that number would be manageable and, as a bonus, is doable within the current tech envelope.

    My implication was that joining 5-10 medium pop servers would get you roughly to that 50% of a busy server level. That's what I think the goal should be, more or less.