Splitting players into different servers has always been one of the strangest decisions an MMO can make, even if it’s obviously an entirely practical one. We hear all about WoW’s 11-odd million subscribers, for instance, but it’s not like it’s a virtual world populated by 11 million people – instead, it’s a series of clone-worlds with a few hundred thousand folk trotting about. A few games have, of course, gotten around it in various ways – most famously and effectively Eve’s division of system in shards, but others have various instancing or the option to switch between servers on the fly. It’s perhaps too late for WoW to do that, but what it has now introduced is the option for players from different servers to meet for the same dungeon. No matter where you’re from, no matter who you are, you’ll be able to beat up trolls skeletons together. Join hands across the worlds, everyone.
It all happens via Battle.Net’s RealID system (no, not the controversial real names stuff, just the cross-game/server Blizzard login thinger), and allows for five-person adventures in supported dungeons. There’s a controversy, of course. There’s always a controversy. In this case, it’s that this will be a ‘premium’ feature, requiring extra real-world monies paid on top of the standard WoW sub to access it. On the plus side, only the player inviting others to his dungeon of choice need be paying for the service so it’s not going to be a five-way wallet-raid. It arguably seems a bit rich to ask for money to play a multiplayer game with other players, but then Blizzard’s always asked a fee for folk to transfer their characters across servers, so it’s hardly unprecedented.
Anyway, here’s a Blizzard official forum mod blokey’s description of the planned service:
“With the continued popularity of the Dungeon Finder, many players have been asking for a way to group up with real-life friends who play on other realms to take on instances together. Today, we wanted to give you a heads up about a new feature currently in development that will allow players to invite Real ID friends of the same faction to a party regardless of the realm they play on, and then queue up for a 5-player regular or Heroic dungeon.
“As this is a fairly complex service to develop, we don’t have a release date to share quite yet. It’s important to note that as with some of the other convenience – and connectivity-oriented features we offer, certain elements of the cross-realm Real ID party system will be premium-based, though only the player sending the invitations will need to have access to the premium service. We’ll have more details to share with you as development progresses.”
I have mixed feelings, and the WoW forums seem to replicate that. I’m no fan of games attaching an extra price tag to features – and especially when it’s a feature that should really be an inherent part of a subscription-based massively multiplayer world anyway – but I would absolutely have killed for this service back when I was deep into WoW and had friends on distant worlds I longed to /dance with.