First off, big thanks to Sixxfury and Basîl for taking the time to write up your thoughts on this. Second, apologies for taking so long to reply. No great reason or excuse other than “I had to think about this post a lot before making it”
In any case, this is definitely a top issue for both us and for players, and it’s a topic we are basically always talking about as a team internally. I’d like to preface what I’m about to say with this: player distribution across realms is one of the most complex, if not the most complex issue that WoW Classic faces, and I’m not going to provide a silver bullet answer today. There’s no single-right answer for this issue, because different people want different things, and lots of apparently obvious solutions have non-obvious consequences.
I think to start, it might be appropriate for us to touch on what we’ve done so far and what the actual intent of that is.
In November, we opened a multitude of Free Character Moves (FCMs) between many realms.
The intent of this was to respond to the feedback that some players wanted to play on realms with a higher population. We aren’t trying to stop smaller servers from becoming even smaller, and we aren’t trying to prevent so-called “megaservers” from forming. We are simply trying to give players who want to move an easy option to do so. It’s not perfect or complete, but it’s a relief valve.
I’ll also be the first to acknowledge that we probably should have done this sooner. This isn’t meant to be an excuse, but the main reason we waited as long as we did (and a big driver to being very slow and methodical when making changes that affect server populations in general) is because in our attempts to “fix” things for specific groups, we could unintentionally damage the experience of other groups, and this is something that always gives us pause. Here’s an example:
Imagine a medium-population PvP realm that is 60% Horde and 40% Alliance, and a majority of people on this realm are happy with the state of the realm. However, half of the current Alliance population (20% of the total server population) is unhappy at the feeling of being disadvantaged in world PvP, having a harder time leveling without getting ganked, and having a perceived weaker factional economy. If we open FCMs off this realm, this unhappy 20% of players might be delighted to be able to easily leave for greener pastures. Let’s assume that they all go from unhappy to happy. But now what’s left is a smaller realm that is 75% Horde and 25% Alliance. It’s not hard to imagine that now Alliance players who were previously content with a 60/40 split now become unhappy at being 3:1 underdogs and at having their own economy and community shrink by 50%. And on the other hand, some % of Horde players who value world PvP and were happy being on a 60/40 PvP realm are now also unhappy because their faction is now so dominant that the only world PvP available feels lopsided and unsporting.
In the above example, doing something well-intentioned to benefit the unhappy 20% would have actually hurt more people than it helped. This is part of the dilemma and what causes us to take a lot of time to analyze things before taking actions that affects realm populations and faction balance. Ultimately, we did end up opening FCMs to and from a variety of destinations, and we will continue to monitor and modify the source and destination realms as time passes. We could have done a lot better here however, or at least been more communicative and I do sincerely apologize for that.
Next I want to drill into a common suggestion we’ve seen that was alluded to in both posts above, as well as talk about how we’ve approached this issue as we’ve debated it internally.
My server is 90% horde, and this other server is 90% alliance. Merge them and make a perfectly balanced server.
This idea is, on its face, a great one, and we can see why such a suggestion could be a quick one to make. There are a few things that have given us pause about this in the past, however.
“Merging” servers is actually something that WoW has almost never done, and the reason for this is simple; we don’t like the idea of someone losing their unique name on a realm, and this is doubly true for classic where your identity in the community is a major aspect of the game.
We’ve somewhat worked around this in modern versions of World of Warcraft with the concept of “connecting” realms. With this process, we do allow you to keep your name (and guild affiliations), it’s not seamless and is an intrusive change to the players’ chosen gameplay environment. When the connection is completed, players on the new connected realms will then have a realm name appended to the end of their nameplate such as “Aggrend-Grobbulus” or “Kaivax-Pagle”.
As a result of this being entirely new territory to WoW Classic, this also leads to more Classic-specific questions and conundrums such as:
- Is this appropriate for WoW Classic? In doing this, we are essentially overriding your realm identity and forcibly causing you to merge with another, wholly unknown (to you) realm and community.
- What if you don’t want to be on a balanced realm and at some point, specifically elected to move to a realm where your faction is in the majority? We have years of data that suggests that, on a long enough timeline, the population for most PvP realms will tend to skew towards one faction or the other and that this skew often starts as the result of more incoming players joining the majority faction, rather than players leaving the minority faction.
- What if merging two realms like this forces layers to be enabled at all times, when they were not enabled previously? Layers are a useful tool and something that we feel most players understand they will have to deal with when choosing to move to a “High” or “Full” population realm, but if your realm has existed without layers for months or years and they are suddenly forced upon you, is that okay?
- What happens in several months when the population of this new more-balanced realm starts to again (and likely inevitably) skew towards one faction or the other? Do we then connect the already connected realms to yet another realm with the inverse population skew? In such a scenario, you could easily see a never-ending cycle of continuously connecting realms to “chase” that balance, and of course, each time we connect a set of realms, it further dilutes the original realms’ ecosystem and communities.
Overall, the data we have suggests that, broadly, players don’t seem to want an even playing field and/or they care more about having their faction be heavily populated and lively than they care about their realm being balanced. Our concern is that the more we try to directly intervene, the more likely we may be to destroy the communities or individual play experiences that players have created organically. Does this mean we won’t ever connect realms in WoW Classic? No, and that is an active discussion we’ve been having for quite some time.
Obviously, there are many, many other proposed solutions that we’ve seen from players as well as from our colleagues, but using just this one example you can likely see how difficult this is to work through, and how even a seemingly simple solution can be fraught with peril if not carefully considered. I mostly provide this to give insight into the types of discussions we have internally and how we arrive at the actions (or inactions) we take.
So, where do we go from here? Well, I think that’s where you come in. What we’d like to see now is some more suggestions from you with your ideas of how we could improve this situation and ideally, we can have some back and forth here to discuss them. One thing I will ask you to keep in mind however is that we generally prefer to avoid any solution that would force players to do anything they don’t want to do, or directly damages or diminishes their ability to log in and play the game, so please try and keep that in mind when suggesting things in this discussion. Obviously, that places a lot of restrictions on the scope of ideas, but that’s kind of the point, and part of the reason for the dilemma we face right now when thinking of ways to address this issue in a way that fits within the WoW Classic design space.
Lastly, we also wanted to float the idea and acknowledge that this issue might just be too big for forum discussion. To that end, we are working on plans to host some form of live chat with you soon, to discuss this and other aspects of WoW Classic. This is still in the planning phase and we hope to have more details about this in the coming weeks, but needless to say, I think we all want to get to the point where we have multiple avenues to have meaningful, conversational discussions about this and other topics affecting our community.
Please stay tuned for details on that. Thank you again for your time, and we hope that you will have a most excellent new year! Thank you!