World Of Warcraft Merges Servers Without Merging Servers

By Graham Smith on October 28th, 2013 at 7:00 pm.

Steamwheedle FTW

World of Warcraft is 9 years old, which is 1012 in MMO years. The old thing still has its wits about it, but in its dotage, we’re going to start seeing more changes like patch 5.4′s ‘Connected Realms’ functionality.

Expanding on existing tech, this will link servers together so that players on less populated servers can play with those from other servers without having to migrate their characters.

The system will allow players on different servers to share auction houses, raids, and to do quest together. It’s a less disruptive alternative to closing and merging servers, which tends to lead to players losing a part of their identity, with the added debuff of making your MMO look like it’s dipping in popularity. Ahem. Blizzard were careful not to say that when they first announced the feature back in August.

World of Warcraft is still absurdly healthy by subscription MMO standards, with more expansions to come, so let’s not start the eulogies just yet. A list of the connect WoW realms is available over at the devblog.

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34 Comments »

  1. Brainstrain91 says:

    I’ve been playing for most of Mists, and I’ve got to say that this is sorely needed. Very few servers have escaped an escalating ghost-town feeling as the game continues to hemorrhage players. Fingers crossed that Thunderhorn will be in the next batch.

    • airmikee99 says:

      It’s always been a problem for WoW, from launch all the way up to when I quit, the day before Cataclysm. It’s nice to see them finally fix the problem, 9 years later.

      • Moraven says:

        Never really encountered the problem until Cataclysm. Still had a lot of pug raids in Wrath of the Lich King.

        Or it just feels more of a ghost town since people there are so many LFG tools now for a lot of content. Now you hit a button and you get put in a group for a scenario, dungeon or raid. In the past you had to spend time on your server to form a raid or dungeon group. These convenience tools has killed a lot of community aspects especially for low pop servers.

        The positive of course is you can login and be doing something. I think that positive does not out weigh the negatives it has wrought.

        • airmikee99 says:

          I wish more MMO’s would take the Star Trek Online route of having one server with each map being instanced, so everyone can play with everyone and nothing seems too busy or too deserted.

          • LionsPhil says:

            I’m kind of amazed anyone still makes MMOs that don’t work like that. (Champions Online was doing it years ago; IIRC same devs.) WoW is old enough to get some leeway, but then again that constant feed of subscriber fees is supposed to fund ongoing technical improvement, surely. (It can’t be content, because they do paid expansions for that. :P )

          • airmikee99 says:

            RE: LionsPhil

            Quite right, I forgot about CO, but now I wonder if Cryptic/Perfect World have some kind of patent on the technology and they’re not willing to license it out.

          • HidingCat says:

            Can’t be something special – Guild Wars does the same. The only split is between NA, Europe, and the other regions.

          • airmikee99 says:

            RE: HidingCat

            Yeah, I know about GW attempting the same thing, but with multiple regional servers it doesn’t count toward the ‘one server for everyone’ thing I was talking about, STO has one server for everyone in the world, they only break out test servers. It obviously wasn’t a model that worked out for them though, because GW2 follows the traditional dozens of different servers model (even though it allows people to play together from different servers for PvE, people on different servers can’t fight together in WvW).

          • Merus says:

            Far as I can tell, GW2 uses the same underlying tech as GW1 – they spawn new instances of a map when a map gets full, and players can swap to a different ‘server’ at any time. The ‘server’ structure is mostly for familiarity and creating community; I think the only reason they don’t have auto-merged maps is they haven’t worked out what should happen when a map fills up. It’ll come, though.

          • airmikee99 says:

            RE: Merus

            Unless something changed in GW2 since I stopped playing, there are individual named servers. As I said, it doesn’t affect PvE much, but it makes a huge difference in WvW PvP, as you can only fight for the server on which your character is located. ArenaNet also has a server transfer system for players, so it’s not all once giant instanced server.

            It also has numerous regional servers, so it’s nothing like STO’s model.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Regional segregation is hateful.

            This is the future. It’s totally possible to have friends on other continents, and to play real-time games with them, with voice chat and everything. Those games which do not put up arbitrary obstructions demonstrate as much.

          • Sardaukar says:

            Instanced shards are great, but an interview with Red 5, developer of Firefall, brought up one major issue with them- the sense of a cohesive community. Red 5 tries to keep players stuck to a particular instance for as long as possible so that they see familiar faces and form bonds that way. On the other hand, of course, being able to abandon your instance because chat is full of idiots is a perk.

            I think the system used by GW2 is best- you’re tied to a particular server, but there’s nothing stopping you from guesting elsewhere. You get a sense of community and can still have the convenience of a traveling population.

          • Smoky_the_Bear says:

            GW2 also needs “servers” because of WvW, they need a way of grouping their players together in a way that makes sense that doesn’t allow people switching around all the time (when server transfers were free every week the best WvW servers saw an influx of players that pretty much ruined the experience for a long while, your server got stomped, next week eveyone has transferred away and it was a shit experience for a good few weeks after that). WoW doesn’t have that problem though so the quicker they get this serverless tech developed and implemented the better it is for the game. Paying $15 for a server transfer all the time is archaic and they are starting to realise its turning people away from the game (in the past it had to be performed by someone that needed paying so it was understandable, now however its a fully automated process that takes a few second and could be completely removed altogether).

    • mtomto says:

      This game has been in something similar to a controlled plane crash ever since WotLK.

      Blizzard stopped adding gameplay features (only recently in mists they added new features) – they just filled in with content, content and UI changes. It ended up being the best looking lobby ever made.

      - no point going outside the city. Just use the userinterface to find random people that you dont talk to.
      - no point raiding because you get gear from everywhere.
      - aside from the gear, raiding is just not fun anymore. Seen it all before in some variation.

      The game was great back when servers were actual communities in themselves, and people got to know each other. It’s way too random now, the above change wont help with that.

      I wish wow would turn around back to it’s roots, but at the pace and direction Blizzard has set I don’t see that happening.

      Having said all this crap :) it’s still the best MMO out there. I just need something new with player driven content – tired of the old level/quest setup.

      • -Spooky- says:

        Full agree here. Not to mention the “skilltree” and other stuff. Bring back the Vanilla times, wich will never happens.

        PS: Best MMO // No wai .. UO for life .. ;)

      • Caerphoto says:

        ” no point raiding because you get gear from everywhere.”

        You’re saying the only point in raiding is to get loot?

        “The game was great back when servers were actual communities in themselves, and people got to know each other. It’s way too random now, the above change wont help with that.”

        Back when there weren’t 11 million people playing the game, you mean? Back when you had to wait around doing essentially nothing for half an hour in order to form a group? I work full-time, I play games to enjoy myself. Standing around for ages doing nothing is not fun.

        • mtomto says:

          “You’re saying the only point in raiding is to get loot?”

          Raiding was fun when it was new. Loot is a big part of that, and still is. The entire “game” is centered around loot. I know raiding guilds aren’t too happy about people in it for the loot, but honestly most people ARE in it for the loot – especially young guys like my nephews.

          “Back when you had to wait around doing essentially nothing for half an hour in order to form a group? I work full-time, I play games to enjoy myself. Standing around for ages doing nothing is not fun.”

          I can understand that, but allowing everyone to do everything in an MMO isn’t necessarily a good thing.

          In the early days of WoW I was grouping up more than I was at the later stages. I grouped for quests, dungeons, pug raids and guild raids. In the end I was a frequent user of the LFG, LFR and BG interfaces – and it just wasn’t fun.

          Another highlight in MMOs was when I was being pummeled by a much better player than me… from my server… that I could recognize… that I’ve heard of… etc. Being killed by a random guy in a battleground or arena just isn’t the same.

          I tried getting back into WoW several times, but it’s just too disconnected from the world… of warcraft. Just because something is easy doesn’t mean you should do it like that. Anyway just my opinion :) If you are happy with the game, then it’s still a success I guess :)

      • Deano2099 says:

        Agreed – they’ve definitely shifted the focus of their efforts to getting people into playing the game as quickly and easily as possible, rather than growing the community. And that’s kind of a good thing for most players, but on the other hand it’s also probably responsible for the decline in numbers. It used to be people bored of the ‘game’ would stick around for the community. Now they just move on.

      • neurosisxeno says:

        I completely disagree, I’ll make my case:

        1. Ghost Towns: The game now has more people playing than it did in the height of Vanilla. The issue is the game world is also 3x as large (Outlands, Northrend, Pandaria, Cata zones) and there are like 3-5x as many servers. The other problem is that in TBC and WotLK you had a single sanctuary city (Shat and Dalaran) which kind of masked faction imbalance by giving the illusion of a single bustling community. I won’t deny it’s noticable that people have left since the days of WotLK, but it’s not like the game is completely empty.

        2. No New Gameplay Features: You mean like Vehicles, new abilities every expansion, new pet functions, pet battles, talent tree overhauls, or the innumerous ways they have changed abilities? Gameplay is very different than it was back in the day. During TBC to effectively raid as an Enhancement Shaman I had to Totem Twist–Drop Windfury Totem for 1 GCD then swap it for Grace of Air Totem for 7 seconds and repeat. Do you have any idea how much that sucked? It was a poor design and Blizzard changed Windfury totem because to be a top level Enhancement Shaman you had to Totem Twist. Then they completely overhauled the class, I went from Totem Twisting and using Stormstrike/Earth Shock to making sure Lightning Shield was always up, casting Lightning Bolt at 5 stacks of Maelstrom Weapon, alternating between Flame Shock and Earth shock, and almost never concentrating on Totems. This was just my personal experience, but most classes are vastly different when it comes to the way they play.

        3. Why Raid?: Your point on raiding is false. It still very much serves a purpose, and if you want a challenge Heroics are still incredibly difficult. Gear is not just freely available, at least not GOOD gear. You can conceivibly get a character to ilvl ~525 through Timeless Isle alone, but it will take you a god damn eternity and you won’t have a lot of desirable stats necessarily–plus garbage trinkets most likely. By comparison Siege of Orgrimmar Raid Finder drops ilvl 528 gear, and regular Siege of Orgrimmar drops 553 items, while Heroics jump all the way to 566. Raiding (especially through LFR) allows you a nice way to get gear with a slight challenge (or sizeable one as the case is with SoO) rather than spending months grinding stupid coins and tokens to maybe get mediocre gear.

        4. Raid Bosses Are All the Same: This is also false. MoP has had a ton of very interesting and unique boss fights that were unlike anything I had seen before. Dark Animus was ridiculous, Dorumu was probably the most interesting (and challenging) fight of the expansion, Sha of Pride was pretty awesome, and then there’s stuff like Malakrok. The fights are constantly evolving, and have been for the past few years. Hell, there hasn’t been a straight up Patchwerk style fight since… Patchwerk came back in WotLK.

        5. It is still the best MMO out there: I completely agree. No MMO currently has the level of Content, Quality, Polish, or the overall experience that come close to WoW. I find that the major issue is that games try to win one a single element, but WoW has good enough everything to make it a better game. Off the top of my head: The Secret World had excellent atmosphere and quests, but combat sucked and the “classless system” was very flawed; SWTOR had an excellent leveling experience and story, but endgame was abysmal and balance was really bad for the first like 3 months; Guild Wars 2 was very pretty and was a perfect intro to MMO’s for people, but the PvP left a lot to be desired, the removal of the trifecta negatively impacted dungeons/gameplay, and the scaling kind of hindered the experience; Rift had great customization and looked good, but it was incredibly grindy especially in Storm Legion content and having so much customization meant balance was always really off. Rift is probably my second favorite MMO, but I can’t coax anyone to try it out. Oh well.

  2. Ein0r says:

    Great news. For americans :(
    I hope they will connect european servers soon too.

  3. Moraven says:

    Dark Age of Camelot did a similar thing when they merged servers, expect each server was still its own instance with a shared RvR area. So RvR was great again but the PvE was deserted. With a lot of cross server options already there has not been as big of an issue for some content, but towns and current content would get bare after the first 3 months of the expansion.

    Our server is not on the merger list yet. I think its low-med pop and could use a merger. Need a bigger AH market :)

  4. Nim says:

    I received 7 days free so I decided to go check the game out and catch up on any old acquaintances who might still be playing. Of the two large guilds I used to belong to, not a single person was online anymore. It was like visiting your childhood neighborhood where essentially every old friend you ever had known had moved away to other places. WoW was successful because it had so many players and when the players leave, so do the reasons for playing it.

  5. morbiusnl says:

    ” It’s a less disruptive alternative to closing and merging servers, which tends to lead to players losing a part of their identity, with the added debuff of making your MMO look like it’s dipping in popularity. Ahem. Blizzard were careful not to say that when they first announced the feature back in August.”

    you mean announcing something they didnt do? why should they?

    • Baines says:

      I believe Graham means the dipping popularity connection, specifically that Blizzard didn’t draw attention to the server-linking feature coming out of the depopulation of individual servers.

  6. realitysconcierge says:

    RPS is the top shelf of internet scotch, and Graham Smith is one variant that is welcome on my shelf any time.

  7. Tei says:

    So, basically, they are evolving to a architecture of shards.

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  9. Faxanadu says:

    “It’s a less disruptive alternative to closing and merging servers, which tends to lead to players losing a part of their identity”

    “losing a part of their identity”

    Hah! HAH! Yeah right, they’re gonna worry about that, after all the xfers xbattlegrounds xinstances xphasing name changing race switching x aka crossing EVERYTHING! *breathes*

    Players lost all identity the moment servers were opened from one corner in vanilla, all those years ago. Suddenly you weren’t “that tough to kill paladin”, but just another pally.

    • neurosisxeno says:

      I do not miss getting crushed by that same Mal’Ganis pre-mage 6 BG’s in a row–all with a 20 minute wait. I have no problem with the new system, and I still converse with and meet new people.

  10. antinmol628 says:

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  11. pferdone says:

    they killed server communities, when they introduced x-realm battlegrounds… since then every server has become faceless

    • morbiusnl says:

      this. I really enjoyed wow between burning crusade and catalysm. but since they introduced pushbutton groups for battlegrounds/instances/raids they removed the one thing that made wow such a unique experience.

      I think its also one of the main reasons people stop playing. If a game doesnt have any consequences for your behaviour and just become this faceless character which can be replaced./summoned by the push of a button.

  12. bstard says:

    WoW? I think I did heard that old-timer in the park bench talk bout this.