The Abolishment Of Server Boundaries

The way we access our characters within WoW has remained fundamentally the same since day one. Type in the password, select the server you want to play on (if you are a multiple servers kind of guy) and select the character you want to play. Well what if this part of the games core was done differently.

Currently characters are stored on the realm server they were created on. But lets suggest that player characters in the future would be stored on dedicated, independent servers completely separate from realm server structure. What if the whole server system was revised so that a player would be able to choose any of his characters from character server and then connect to any realm server? The server choice would be completely free, each time you logged in you could choose to play on any server you desired.

The “10 characters per realm” restriction would become obsolete and the login screen would display every character a player has up to the maximum of 50 (at which point character display interface would be more Grid-like). Each character would have their own “Change realm” button with which you could select almost any server in your region. Language packs could be made into something like large add-ons and installing them would allow a player to freely hop between servers of different languages.

A major hurdle to overcome would be region-wide player base merging. This would create a lot of character name conflicts overnight. However I think there is an elegant solution for that in the form of character second names. This would allow Shale from Aggramar to peacefully co-exist with Shale from Frostmane once the merge has happened. Each character would automatically be given a second name based on its server before the merge. Understandably nobody wants to run around as Arthas LaughingSkull for the rest of his WoW career so an added option to change a characters name once for free would be fitting. Similarly to player names, guild and arena team names would also need to appended at the time of player base merge, to allow guild/team members to log on to different servers without creating conflicts. This would also allow guilds to recruit people from the whole region and assemble a more synergistic player core.

Another area that would almost necessarily need to be improved would be the realm selection screen. Since it would become much more meaningful if used regularly it would need to be made more functional. A favorite-servers tab would let you keep track of servers you have been most frequently playing on. Instead of words like “High” or “Full”, server populations could be indicated as percentages of maximum capacity like “112%” which would mean that you could still choose to play on the server, however you’d have to sit in a lengthy queue to get in. An approximate faction distribution figure like “Alliance 70% : 30%  Horde” could also be added and to prevent servers from becoming extremely lopsided, at certain threshold (I imagine my example of 70 to 30 could work) the dominating faction would be prevented from joining the specific server at that time. With free character migration this could create a situation where one evening WG is dominated by Alliance and Horde is at 10 tenacity and on the next evening the roles are switched. This situation would be a lot more healthy, in my opinion, than it is now on the few servers where one faction is extremely dominating.

Pros:

  • A major restriction would be eliminated. Any player could play with any other player at any time, no matter the server choice. No more tales of new players unknowingly being cut off from their friends because they didn’t know which server to choose.
  • The maintenance of servers would become much easier. Currently a 12 hour maintenance is such a big deal because it shuts the player out of Azeroth completely for that time. However if servers and player characters are completely independent then Blizzard could bring down a portion of the servers at a time for an extended maintenance with minimum impact. An arbitrary division of region servers into seven groups that would each be brought down on different nights of the week would mean that at any point in time 6/7hs of servers are up. Most importantly, it wouldn’t matter if a specific server was going down for 24 or more hours because you and your friends could play on any other server.
  • If WoW was to experience a sudden subscriber-number surge, the implementation of new servers would be much easier than it is now and the benefits would be much more immediate. Similarly, once the popularity of WoW would start to decline (in 2030s I imagine), Blizzard could start bringing servers down one by one with relative ease.
  • Patch days could be made easier by leaving a few servers unpatched for a few extra days for those players that are having issues with the new patch.
  • The battle.net and RealID functionality would still be relevant, probably even more than now with players not being restricted to any specific server. Tracking characters across all realms, though, would have to be made into a core friends list feature.
  • There would be no more need for Free or Paid Character Transfers as players could choose to migrate themselves as often as they want to.
  • Sudden issues with a specific server would have much less impact on the community. Less flaming of Blizzard every time the world is about to end is always a good thing.
  • Although not a requirement for the sever merge, the implementation of character second names would certainly be well-received by most players.
  • Guilds and arena teams would have a much larger player base to recruit from.
  • Player groups like raiding teams could select a lower activity server on raiding nights just to eliminate the realm lag factor from the equation.
  • The faction balance would become a lot less static making for a more varied world PvP experience on any server.
  • Ninjas, troll, spammers and such could be tracked region-wide as their characters would have unique names across all servers. This could make reporting them a lot more efficient.
  • Server economies would tend to even out across the whole region as traveling salesman/shoppers would take advantage of previously inflated/deflated economies.

Cons:

  • This would most probably require a major restructuring of Blizzards server systems that could be very hard to implement in a game that already has millions of active players. The WoW community might not take it too lightly if a 7 day region-wide maintenance was suddenly announced.
  • This would allow players to level their characters on PvE realms and once 80 switch to PvP realms. Although Blizzard has spoken negatively of such a trend, this doesn’t need to be a bad thing. Specific servers could become known as 80-heavy world PvP grounds while others – as below-80-heavy leveling grounds on which finding a group for a quest would be a lot easier.
  • With player groups and guilds casually changing servers, the necessary atmosphere of RP servers could be disturbed. This could be remedied by a simple restriction of allowing to select an RP server only once you have leveled a character from 1 to 20 on it. This would discourage players from selecting RP servers as their destination for casual gameplay and roleplayers could still have free access to them.
  • Not really a con but server-first achievements would become obsolete. These could be replaced by region-first achievements with a longer grace period (a week, for example). That would prevent region-firsts from being snatched by the guild who can get a raid together fastest on a patch day or after a raid lockout reset. It would also create a certain atmosphere of competition within a region.
  • A lot of server identity would be lost. Inter-guild raiding or PvP cliques could suffer from the free movement of their members. Player organized server events could lose a great deal of their server-specific personality although they could potentially attract more people.
  • Certain mechanics like mail system and auction tracking would need to be changed. Players should be allowed to receive mail from any server on any server. Auction tracking might be even trickier because merging auction houses across the whole region would not be practical so a way to track auctions posted/bid on other servers would need to be added.

Overall this would be a drastic change to the way we play and interact within WoW but a change that I think would bring much more benefits than many can imagine. Eliminating the server choice would free up many options and make playing WoW more flexible.

I am not intimately familiar with many other MMOs so if anyone can point out an example in the industry where such a system is already employed, please leave a comment. It is one thing to theorize about a potential change and another to see it executed in action.

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~ by Shale on July 19, 2010.

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