State of TBC Servers

Figured I’d open a discussion here as I see it talked about a lot recently.

Currently TBC servers are in a somewhat state of disarray. I know balancing PvP servers has and always will be tricky, especially given that most issues are player-driven. Throughout Classic we saw it, one server faction gets bigger than the other, and if it becomes the dominant faction players on the weaker faction decide they can’t take it anymore and want to actually participate in the world. When transfers opened up at first, it basically killed off certain servers that were once thriving at their peaks (Incendius comes to mind) and almost completely killed off after a wave of transfers. Now part of this transfer was due to overpopulation and attempting to recreate the server identity by limiting layers to 1. Though the growing sentiment in this particular case was that the world environment had grown too toxic to warrant wanting to stay with free transfers available (in this case). I was part of this transfer off of Incendius and onto Netherwind (horde and Ally from Incendius fled to Earthfury and Netherwind back around phase 4 of Classic)

Throughout Classic we saw the ebb and flow of server transfers affect realms to the point of complete lopsided factions even sometimes on non-PvP realms like Pagle.

Now with TBC, about 6 months after launch we are experiencing a massive wave after wave of transfers fleeing servers that have become undesirable. This has led to a significant amount of once-thriving servers to be completely dead with over 25 servers completely dead in terms of PvP and PvE rankings. - each one with their own main reasoning, but each one has similar traits:

  • Your guild is leaving because of “x” reason, usually faction imbalance related
  • you’re forced to leave with them or play with a whole new group of people OR play with potentially no-one because 90% of the server is leaving.
  • you leave to a server that’s already either close in faction balance (favored towards your faction) or one that’s already lopsided towards 1 faction.
  • add the fact that some people are paying hundreds of $ just to move many characters

Maybe I’m wrong in this, but it certainly doesn’t feel like these 25 servers died off because the population just isn’t there. WoW Classic has been thriving more and more as new content comes out - evidenced by WCL hitting record highs in TBCC on Phase 2 launch. My understanding is that those servers crumbled due to player driven transfers - sometimes somewhat unwillingly because you don’t really have a choice if you want to keep playing.

I don’t know what can be done, or what ideas have been discussed, but I know it’s only getting worse to the point that we are all transferring to a handful of “mega” servers.

So with that in mind - is there a way to move forward and make this better, or is this just how it’s going to be?

If this is how it’s going to be and mega-servers are the new norm, can we please get some more layers for these big servers… sitting in Org doing my trade business with up to 2-3s input lag with 30 ping is disappointing to say the least. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Don’t get me wrong I love seeing a big server because I know I can find people to play with, I know that I can find people to do trades, buy stuff, etc. and it’s a very thriving environment, but whether it’s the new norm or there’s some ideas being worked on, I think it needs to be addressed.

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I was on Heartseeker- a server with an amazing community that slowly- then very quickly- dithered off onto megaservers shortly after the TBC launch.

It’s really upsetting that server merging never happened, especially in the case of realms like Heartseeker; a realm that was at first very balanced when I xferred to it off of Skeram very early on, then the second it became slightly Alliance favored, it slippery sloped to being quite literally 99.9% Alliance by Naxx. Even then, most “Horde” characters were really just Alliance alts.

It felt awful to leave a server full of people I spent 2 years building a rapport with- and a server I was very, very much a large part of- to go xfer to Benediction. We had drama, love, hate, war, politics, memes, friends, server lore, it was beautiful.
Transferring was like leaving a little town in the hills and then being dunked right into the middle of Times Square.
Don’t get me wrong. Change is good. New faces are good. But the jump from homely Heartseeker to the bustling metropolis of Benediction where I’m lucky to recognize anyone at all feels so bad.

Regardless, a realm like that really should have been merged with a 99.9% Horde realm of similar pop…though the issue really stems from there just being too many realms to begin with. Hindsight doesn’t help in the case of TBCC, but I think slapping tons of more realms out was never the correct answer. Thankfully they seem to have not done that with SoM, and it’s nice to see nearly all of the SoM servers be thriving.

The amount of realms in TBCC has just lent itself to hemorrhaging people everywhere left and right. I wish there was a good answer moving forward other than merging the small realms; I think eventually it will all equalize itself and create a handful of megaservers, but those will still be unbalanced, and the path to get to those megaservers, merge or not, will not be pretty.

My guild (and many more) only left because of recruiting prospects chiefly, and then the lack of people to trade and group with in general was really the final straw. We hung on to our old server for as long as we could, and were among the last to leave, and by the time we did, there was less than 20 people online at peak hours, including folks our guild.

The saddest part is that this story I’m telling- and that you are too, Sixx- is more often than not, just the standard, common experience of people on Classic servers. Either you got lucky and chose a megaserver from the rip, or you stumbled your way onto one multiple $25 payments later.

The thing that made Vanilla-WOTLK so special to so many people was the sense of community, and the sense of “hey I know that guy/guild/etc” and making friends in the open world. In retail that feeling is basically entirely lost, either with realms like A52 being so obscenely large that you never run into the same person again, or a smaller realm that just gets phase-hopped to who knows where and thus never runs into the same person again. A lot of times in retail I struggle hard to find anyone else from my own guild in the world when we’re in the same zone, even.

I’m very scared of this happening with Classic. I don’t want to find myself in WOTLK Classic doing a dungeon with 4 other people who refuse to talk that I see for the 30 minutes in the dungeon then literally never again. It feels soulless, unconnected, and like I’m running with literal robots, and the retail environment has fostered this strange attitude and coldness. I can easily see Classic moving this direction…the disparity between the homeliness of Classic and retail is scary sometimes.

There does need to be a solution for this though- having to pay $25 per character to transfer feels rudely a lot like running away from a problem, not fixing it. I spent hundreds getting all of my spouse and I’s characters transferred just a few weeks before free transfers opened, and we did so out of necessity, not out of want, and it just feels awful.


  • Restrict paid transfers based on faction and closely monitor the faction balances to start/stop them when it’s time to do so
  • Free xfers for overwhelming majority factions off of that server and onto servers where that faction isn’t the majority, or incentivize them otherwise
  • Merge small realms appropriately
  • More layers when necessary
  • No more new realms, let population redistribute following the above protocol

Thank you for your time!

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Hello!

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” :stuck_out_tongue:

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 now they’re unhappy. 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!

62 Likes

I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this no matter what people may think. It’s unfortunate but ultimately it’s a difficult thing to manage and honestly it feels like it may have needed a more hands on approach from you guys.

What’s happened so far is in the past though, nothing we can do to change how it got to where we are now. Hopefully some ideas can come of this though.

I think whatever option(s) are being thought about, would it be possible to poll the classic community with maybe a survey or something?

A couple of ideas thrown around that I’ve read or some even discussed previously:

Make the lower pop faction on a server incentivized to “want” to play on that server. Yeah, you’ve got a lower pop, but you get “this”.

  • Part of the problem though is determining what “this” would be. Some have suggested for world pvp specifically an HP buff where you can handle your own better against several enemies, though I see issues with this as a solo player and would feel unfair when not being ganged up on.
  • Another suggestion is items/gold/rewards incentives, similar to the suggestion of increasing ally honor gains (because horde is majority and alliance queues were quick, but now we have horde v horde)
  • And one other suggestion that we’ve discussed is an xp boost. I think this would be the better choice personally of any rewards based or player buff incentive. Basically you could make it as drastic as 100% if super low pop and adjust to a certain level as the server may get more balanced, or give it a flat rate of say 25 or 50% or something which allows the minority faction to always enjoy an xp boost.

Cap factions at 40/60 or 35/65, where the majority faction can no longer create characters or transfer to that realm. With something like this you’d have to be careful because you wouldn’t want people to be “locked out” of playing with their friends. A way around that is maybe if you reach the desired cap, transfers/creations remain open for x number of days before locking. Then you could display the populations on the realm list as “Full”.

Open up free transfers “to” the minority, and “from” the majority only. Across the board on any server that is med to high to full (low pop maybe just free transfers either side?). This would allow players to shift the population as they see fit, maybe they see an opportunity on another realm or they hate dealing with something on theirs and they want to move.

  • alternatively free transfers could just be completely opened up for say 2 weeks (With advanced notice) for players to move and shift around, while only preventing transfers to majority faction. Still lets people sort it out as they see fit, but more freedom.

Lastly, although this may go away from the original intention (never mind the fact that we’ve kinda steered away from authenticity on several counts), open up cross realm play (or connected realms) where you can join people’s groups and play with them or play with your own server. Helps people find groups, raiders, pvpers, and removes the need to shift around server to server or only reside on the megaserver because that’s where everyone else is.

Honestly, I think free transfers or some form of making it better for all players is the least that can be done, considering the amount of money that people have spent on transfering 1 or many characters to a different realm, only to end up on a dead realm because everyone transfered off of it a month or 2 later.

I’m sure there’s many other ways to look at it too, just throwing those out there. Ultimately this problem will continue throughout TBC, and I can assure you that if it’s not at least somewhat improved in unspeakable future endeavors, it will be a problem then too. If I recall there’s a very specific event that revolves around faction pop…

P.S. Open up Netherwind transfers “from”, it’s dead and there’s still people stuck there holding out hope :sweat_smile:

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I agree with Sixxfury on a lot of this; I think whenever we/the community say “merge servers” what we are meaning is really “connect realms” a la retail.

It’s true, nobody likes to be on the weaker side of the faction coin. I sincerely do believe that if realms could be maintained with no more than a 60/40 faction split, people would prefer that scenario over being on the winning side of a 95/5 split.

My own server, for example- Heartseeker had so few Horde on it that many of us honestly forgot we even were on a PvP server. When our server died out, I can name exactly one guild out of at least 50 that transferred to a PvE realm. The rest of us came to Bene, with a few going to Grobb. When we xferred, the Bene split was around 60/40. We knew- or at least assumed- what we were going into; a PvP server with, well, PvP on it. (Oh how wrong we were, I suppose.) My point being that folks who were playing on a basically PvE realm still sought out a ‘true’ PvP realm. That was the main talking point when discussing where we were going to land.

I think while raw data on paper might show that folks want to be on an overwhelming majority server, what people are really flocking to is a population center that feels the most stable so there isn’t a second (or third, or fourth…) paycheck spent to move just to be able to properly play the game. Sacrifices on other preferences are made in the name of stability.

This, 100%. I think a big takeaway here is that this situation needs to be constantly and consistently monitored and have dynamic appropriate responses to faction fluctuations. I can imagine a small weekly blurb on the launcher listing future/current ‘restricted realms’ and a link to a ‘more info’ page.

I understand the hesitations regarding connecting realms and preserving a community, but as someone from a smaller, quite tight knit realm community, I can say without a doubt that we would have much rather joined forces with other realms instead of having us all flung into the middle of a massive population center where everyone has to rename and reestablish themselves and their guilds. Renaming doesn’t seem too big a change, but it genuinely does make a difference. I kept my priest, Dragona, on Heartseeker until I lucked upon my name on Benediction. If I never got my name, I doubt I would have transferred her.

There’s already realms on retail connected with lots of other realms. Even my own retail realm, Altar of Storms, is connected with three others. 7-realm-connections aren’t unheard of, either. Altar of Storms still does feel like Altar of Storms. It still feels like a smaller realm, and that’s okay. Would folks on small realms rather keep their name and identity but have a -Heartseeker tacked onto the end, or would they rather (usually) pay to get be a (probably) renamed minnow in an ocean?

Just as easily as I can see a weekly realm update blurb on the launcher, so too can I see a weekly short multiple-choice survey about game direction and people’s thoughts on changes like this. I really appreciate the effort made to reach out and have these discussions; I’m looking forward to a live chat. Thank you for your time!

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Not speaking for the team here, but I personally really like this idea. We tried to do something similar to this for pvp queues by giving the minority faction a special award for playing, but it wasn’t a lot, and I think this idea could use some expanding and additional development. We’ll keep discussing it!

This is significantly more touchy and this is kind of what I was referring to when I talked about us being leery of ideas that “directly damages or diminishes [players] ability to play the game”.

We did actually invest in developing tech to allow us to queue each faction independently and considered rolling this out in Season of Mastery. The idea here would have been to basically enforce some sort of specific faction balance (say, 60/40) and then force queues on the majority faction until the minority faction began to log in to compensate. Ultimately, we pulled back from this for several reasons:

  • What if we get into a situation where, say, every PvP server is skewed towards the horde? Is it possible that players could get into a state where they are literally unable to log into any server at all just because they had the temerity to want to play horde?
  • What happens if the population of a certain server or servers are such that there are never enough of the minority faction logging that the majority queue never goes down, or worse, the wait time actually continues to climb because the rate at which the minority faction logging in never matches or exceeds the rate that the majority faction is logging out? We could create an almost “infinite” queue situation on certain realms, and it would be completely arbitrary and not based on the actual hardware limitations of that realm.
  • Is it worth the hit to the experience of those who just want to play their chosen faction to achieve some sort of contrived balance on PvP realms, that doesn’t guarantee “fair” world PvP encounters anyway?

That said, the work we did to implement this still exists and this might be a thing to consider rolling out in a future season or classic release if we felt that we could implement it in a way that would be beneficial to more players than it restricts.

Again, this logically makes a lot of sense. However, there are some details to consider:

  • Looking inward as a player, would you voluntarily move to the outnumbered faction on a realm? If the answer is yes, can you honestly say that you feel that a significant number of other players would make a similar choice?
  • Again, using the data we’ve gathered over the past few years, it’s fairly conclusive that players do not take advantage of FCMs or paid transfers to move to the underdog faction. It’s just not something that happens to a degree to move the needle in a positive direction, and offering that move as the only option that players have for free transfers is likely not going to be positively received by players who are unhappy with their current realm.

Again, speaking personally, I could see this being something that works with some serious caveats and differences from modern World of Warcraft. What if this was restricted to only people on your friends list or in a community with you? What if this only worked in instanced content? These are a few things that might be cool to explore. It’s definitely worth talking about more, but this is something we’d really have to think long and hard about.

So this is actually something the team has talked about a lot and we have some plans to investigate a way to “poll” the community about certain topics and to do so in-game. The current (very half-baked) ideas are something like an NPC somewhere in the world that asks questions about hot button issues that players can answer via a flavor text window (maybe once per account, with some restrictions/requirements so its not abused). The responses we gather could help us make better decisions, or at least help inform us about things that we’d like to have a bigger conversation about in this forum or in a live chat at some point. Regardless, the team really likes this idea and we plan to explore it more!

Thanks a ton for the thoughtful ideas and solutions. Keep 'em coming!

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I was thinking about this the other day, maybe I read it somewhere but can’t remember the details.

You’ve mentioned a few times that merging servers has always been viewed as a no-no, or things like connected realms kinda takes away that unique identity for a player or realm. Honestly though, with as much turmoil and shifting around the playerbase has done since transfers were ever introduced in Classic, is it clear to say that the identity has really held up?

Personally from my experience, server identity has significantly been swayed by transfers. Take my original realm for example back in 2020 Incendius. Originally it was about a 60/40 ally horde split. There were a lot of really good Ally guilds on there, and some really good horde guilds but not quite as good or as strong in numbers obviously. World PvP was mostly good and engaging, often times losing due to numbers but it was still back and forth in most areas. I would say at that time the server wasn’t amazing being horde but I was enjoying it and overall the Alliance wasn’t toxic. The server’s identity overall was a pretty good place to level and play on.

Then paid transfers were opened up, and almost immediately several really strong horde guilds joined, along with it a ton of toxic PvPers (maybe some ally guilds too, hard to remember). Basically what ensued after paid transfers was login queues 4-6 hours long, a completely toxic world PvP environment from both sides because of mainly 2-3 guilds that transferred, and a completely undesirable server for pretty much the entire horde except those guilds.

It wasn’t until FCMs were enabled and we were given a saving grace (probably only because of the queue times) that we were able to transfer off instead of deal with the toxicity or pay to move. Then the server my guild and many horde went to, the entire culture was changed (Netherwind). We even ended up forcing the main Alliance guild on that server to leave once the Alliance from Incendius finally transferred there because it was no longer fun for that guild as they were no longer the #1 guild.

So on one hand, yeah server identity is nice to have and it feels great. On the other hand, moving to another server and losing your name sucks. Mass groups of people moving to servers here or there can and will usually literally change the server’s identity while more often than not forcing players to also change their identity.

So would merging realms or connected realms really be worse? It’s hard to say, and this is just one example of two servers and how they played out. There’s a ton of servers that completely had the server’s identity shifted or outright removed due to server populations shifting about from transfers. Not all of them completely lost their identity, but at this point I’m pretty sure nearly every server has drastically changed purely due to server issues throughout the system.

That is all to say that I don’t think transfers are exactly an issue (though they enabled it all to happen without any intervention), because I think it’s important to allow players to be able to transfer to another realm to say play with someone they met out of the game or whatever the case may be. That’s the whole reason I thought the transfer tool was for, not mass moving guilds and servers because people are unhappy with server pops. Masses of people moving to me indicates that there’s people unhappy with how servers are playing out and nothing is being done to help/prevent it, so the only way to attempt to fix it is move ourselves using the only option available.

I don’t speak for everyone obviously, and highly think it should be polled by the players. But I think some form of self balancing is in order, whether it be a form of connected realms where players can party up with others from other realms, merging certain realms, or something else entirely.

Regardless of what does happen long term, I think something in the short term would go along way. Even if it’s just a test or trial.

I had a choice to move servers both times I did. It wasn’t really a choice though, it was either move or play with pretty much no-one/relevel again. Then I am forced to name-change because my name is taken. This is the story of so many players in my guild and many many others. New identities and stories were forged through the server fires. Would some things that take that server or player identity away in a more controlled way be so bad?

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