This is a very long post that leads off with my classic experience dealing with server health. I offer several solutions at the end if you’d rather skip to those, but if you do have a moment I recommend starting at the beginning.
I am the GM of DZ (DANGER ZONE), which is a guild currently residing on Incendius. We first started out on Stalagg at the launch of Classic. Herod was actually the server that we had coordinated to land on with several other guilds. However, queue times and a bleak faction balance caused us to not roll there. Boy was that a mistake.
Stalagg was a damn fine server at the start. It was about 55/45 Horde favored. It did have extensive queue times however that continued to plague it. Soon after launch (September 3rd WoW Classic Free Character Moves – Realms) free transfers were offered. Faction balance largely remained intact as it seemed both sides lost an equal number of players. This went on for a few weeks and it became clear that the Alliance were losing more players than Horde which led to Heartseeker being hilariously Alliance dominant. In the end it was about 33/66 Horde favored.
Now 33/66 is not something that is impossible to overcome, but the transfers were just getting started. Just before the launch of World Bosses and the Honor system another wave of transfers happened on November 8th (WoW Classic Update Schedule and Free Character Moves). By the time the weekend ended the bottom had given out on much of the Alliance population. With fear of getting camped worse than they already were Alliance lost a significant portion of it’s leveling and more casual population. On November 11th they made free transfers faction specific to Horde (WoW Classic Update Schedule and Free Character Moves). It was far too late though.
We were asked to make a decision for 80+ people in three days.
The feeling of failure as a GM that didn’t make the correct decision at the correct time is immeasurable. I failed my guildies by leaving them on a server that was impossible to play on. Every single flight master was camped, Ironforge camped, Blackrock Mountain… Don’t even get me started. We knew that we had to move not necessarily because of the camping but because the server economy was non existent and there were no new players to recruit.
We decided to weigh our options and eventually landed on Incendius. It looked like the promised land. It had a medium to high population, and about a 40/60 Alliance to Horde ratio. After the first reset of the new year I asked all my guildmates to spend their money and make the move to Incendius. Including alts and main characters we estimated it was no less than $2500 USD. That’s not including some of our friends in other countries that have to pay more for their transfers.
Incendius at first seemed like the perfect server. The server became one of the most popular servers by the time BWL launched. It had inherited most of the Stalagg and Skeram Alliance guilds that were looking for somewhere that had a thriving player base and server economy. The faction balance shifted slightly now to be around 55/45 Alliance favored.
Horde PvP guilds from Stalagg and Skeram that wanted to test their mettle against the Alliance began transferring over and complete chaos ensued. We had several of the best world PvP engagements I have ever seen in nearly 16 years of playing this game. It was complete pandemonium at world bosses and Blackrock Mountain. Nothing was more epic than the last three weeks before free transfers opened up.
"the shoe on the other foot"
Heavy queue times started plaguing our server after the influx of Horde and Alliance guilds transferring from several other dead servers. We’ve seen Horde and Alliance guilds from Thalnos, Skeram, Stalagg, and even Heartseeker (Alliance that didn’t want to be stuck on a quasi PvE server). Our queue times still weren’t nearly as bad as other servers like Faerlina or Whitemane.
War was declared. Purging buffs in felwood, camping Darkmoon Faire, not letting priests mind control to reset the Onyxia head buffs, priests resurrecting and purging buffs at Inns that people just hearthed to etc. all became the new normal. For some people this was a grand ole time. For others it was a nightmare. No server had a more active World Boss or World PvP scene… it was Warcraft on a whole different level. After dominating World Bosses and Blackrock Mountain for about two weeks the Horde were looking unstoppable. The Alliance however rallied together in an effort to stop them, and completely crushed them in the week leading up to free transfers… morale for the Horde was at a low.
Free transfers opened on April 7th (Free Character Moves Available for Select Realms) days after the Alliance finally started fighting back. What started as one to two Horde guilds leaving turned into 22 of the top 25 Horde guilds all leaving the server. This all happened within 24 hours of free transfers and it didn’t stop. By the time they stopped Horde transfers (Free Character Moves Available for Select Realms) it was far too late, and in essence forced anyone who didn’t make it in time have to pay money to transfer. Several people didn’t make the deadline to transfer with their guild…
Incendius is by no means dead for the Alliance. But it is most certainly dead for the Horde. In a tragic turn around, the same thing that happened to Stalagg and Skeram had now happened to Incendius. I had failed my guild twice now in selecting a balanced server.
At first I wanted to blame the players for pushing things to this level of griefing and toxicity that caused so many people to feel helpless against the onslaught. And there are definitely things that we could have done that other servers have done to avoid these sorts of situations. Such as setting up agreements between Horde and Alliance for Darkmoon Faire week and running into Blackrock Mountain. We could have colluded more to make sure our server would stay healthy and stand the test of time.
However, with imperfect information about Horde morale and the reality of the situation of what could happen and eventually did happen: How were we supposed to know?
This is unfortunately a question of game design and human psychology that I can’t even fathom answering. That being said, here are the problems we face with transfers:
Skewed Alliance/Horde ratios resulting in boom-bust servers. (Stalagg, Skeram, and now Incendius).
Real money trading using server transfers. Moving low level characters for $25 from a dead server where resources are easy to farm to a higher pop server that is more competitive. People use these transfers to mule around big ticket items like edgemasters and cloudkeeper legplates in an effort to increase a gold seller’s stock of gold on servers that are more difficult to farm gold the old fashioned way.
AQ War Effort.
Botting and Multiboxing (This is already a huge post, and I think this one deserves attention, just not here).
The third point deserves some explanation, and I hope the Devs are taking appropriate steps to eliminate this potential issue. When the war effort starts there will be servers that have all the materials ready to turn in day 1. This is nothing but a math problem that has already been solved weeks in advance. And using spreadsheets and forms it makes it super easy to track all the necessary materials.
For example, Firemaw (EU) has estimated turn ins per day and goals that they need to hit before July 15th. It’s looking very promising for them to be able to do it on day 1. Why are they doing this you ask? Because they are gamers playing a game that has been our for years now. It’s like asking: why are people still speed running Super Mario? Because they can. They and a few other servers will have the war effort done and the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj opened one week after it comes out.
The reason for concern is that you are looking at a potential boom-bust scenario again if we use history as any guideline. The gates open on Server A within the first week > Several alliance/horde guilds transfer there > High Queue times ensue > free transfers open up and the lesser faction leaves overnight.
The only suitable answer to this is a time-gated war effort. It seems so obvious but I have a feeling it will be shouted down by small but vocal minority of #nochanges players. If there are other solutions I’m all ears.
Solutions: Big Picture
Quite frankly, much more care needs to be taken when releasing free transfers. It has torpedoed two servers that I have played on now, and I’m tired of losing sleep because I have to play 4D chess with server selection on a regular basis. I’ve lost countless friends that are fed up with having to pay more money for problems created by Blizzard.
What I see as a solution is faction based server locks. You cannot transfer to a server with a character that is part of the faction with >60% of the total player population. Full servers are locked indefinitely. And of course, there’s friends. If they want to transfer to a locked server then make a simple requirement of being Real ID friends for longer than a month.
Another solution would be limiting the amount of logged in accounts from a single location. This goes more after problem 4 outlined above. This would require an enormous sacrifice on Blizzard’s end because it would essentially reduce revenue. That is why it really can’t be considered.
Bring back layering. Layering somewhat created the problem we still have today with many full servers. It created a false sense of what the population of the server actually was. When it came down to crunch time with phase 2 it then became obvious that layering kept too many people on the server. Everything seemed fine because there wasn’t a queue so people kept making characters there. Which is why layering is just kicking the can down the road. Yes the pandemic will end, but the number of people committed and addicted to this game will rise as long as its going on.
Lastly, do nothing. I for one am aghast with how the server health situations have been used for financial gain. This has been going on for years with other versions of the game. And even if it wasn’t necessarily meant to be used for financial gain it looks really bad from the chair I’m sitting in. I think the opportunities that have come Blizzard’s way in regards to recreating a 15 year old game that this many people enjoy have been squandered by the pursuit of profits and gross mismanagement.
I know some people have had a great classic experience and I don’t want to say anything to take that away. It has clearly been more of a success for Blizzard than anything else they’ve released recently. I just wanted to give a little back story of my experience so far, and the glaring issue that has been beating me up for six months. If you read the whole thing I greatly appreciate it.