08/06/2017

Not Too Keen on Server Merges

Lately I've seen a lot of discussions on the topic of server merges. A couple of days ago, Bioware even opened an official thread on the forums to let people duke it out on the subject.

I have to admit I always get a bit of a nervous eye twitch when this topic is brought up. Those of you who haven't been reading my blog since the beginning won't remember, but the great server merges "transfers" of June 2012 were not a happy time for me. There was a happy ending in the sense that I eventually settled on The Red Eclipse without too much fuss, but not without first suffering a lot of emotional stress that I could have done without. I'm definitely not keen on repeating that experience.

Also, for as much of a pain as the process was back then, I could at least see the need for merges at the time and was mostly ticked off by the way Bioware was handling them. Right now I don't feel that the case for more server merges is particularly strong.

From my point of view there is only a single argument that can be made to justify that server merges would serve "the greater good", and that's that extremely low population servers give new and returning players the impression that the game is dead, leading to bad PR and spread of false information. That was certainly a serious issue back in 2012 when there were something like a hundred depopulating servers vs. maybe twenty active ones.

These days though? I dunno. As an English-speaking EU player, you are given the choice between three different servers: Red Eclipse is super active, the Progenitor is medium pop, and Tomb of Freedon Nadd is pretty dead, so you have a one in three chance of ending up in a bad place. If you just want to play through the story though, as many people clearly do, does it really matter to you how many others are idling on the fleet in the meantime? And if you are actively looking for other players, how long is it going to take you to catch on and ask someone whether you happened to pick an unnaturally quiet server? Trying to decide how much of an issue that one in three chance really is requires a lot of speculation about people's motivations and the way they play. How about we focus on the people actually playing now instead?

Most of the reasons I've seen active players cite for being for or against server merges are inherently a bit selfish. I'm not saying that's wrong, but I wish more people would be honest about it instead of doing the "greater good" chant while pretending that whatever they want must naturally be what everyone wants. In the pro camp we have:

- I want to have faster queue pops!
- I generally want to have more people around to improve my experiences doing group content, trading etc.

In the con camp we have:

- I like being on a smaller server! (...because I'm a roleplayer and I like it quiet / because it allows my smaller guild to win at conquest sometimes / because I'm not constantly fighting people for resources and quest mobs / because I love the more tight-knit community etc.)
- I don't want to have to rename any of my characters!
- I don't want to lose my guild ship/stronghold/outfits/other thing that has been introduced to the game since those early server merges and that the current server transfer tech isn't able to deal with in a good way.

It seems to me that pretty much all of these can be countered in some way except the "I like being on a smaller server" one, because once you've put everyone into the same big pool, there's just no way you can go back to having that dedicated quiet time or to being competitive in areas where you were only successful before because of the lack of competition.

If you want faster queue pops and more people around, you can already transfer to a busy server. I appreciate that it's not an ideal solution because it costs money per character, and that's a major bummer for anyone who'd like to move lots of characters at once, but it can be done. Did they ever raise the price of server transfers back up from 90CC anyway? I know that people were advocating server-transferring twice as a cheap way of getting a name change for a while... For the faster queue pops, one could also argue for the development of cross-server queueing instead of merges to get all the benefits without the downsides.

The naming issue could probably be solved if Bioware redid the whole character naming system, but I don't think anything less would do. On TRE for example it's hard enough to come up with new names for alts as it is, even with spaces, apostrophes and what not. There must literally be millions of characters registered on that server by now. Forcing a merge under the current system and potentially presenting tens of thousands of players with the need to rename their characters would be a disaster. Bioware would have to come up with some sort of system to allow names to be non-unique first.

The issues with strongholds, outfits etc. again could probably be solved with sufficient development time - to some extent that is, though some things would remain tricky. What if you have the same stronghold unlocked on two servers that are about to get merged for example? Could they implement something that allows you to keep two versions of your Coruscant home? It's probably not impossible, but unlikely to be something they'd spend development time on.

What stands out to me here is that the issues cited by the pro-merge crowd can already be resolved on an individual level, while the con arguments cannot and rely on the belief that "Bioware will fix it somehow", which is why I'm definitely more in the con camp right now. For me personally, the pro arguments also hold little water just because they wouldn't do much for me - I already have my home on the biggest EU server, so speeding up my pops by five seconds would be pretty damn irrelevant to me. Meanwhile the con arguments of potentially losing names are a very real threat to me. In addition, I've intentionally made new characters on other servers before to roll up new legacies and to re-experience playing as a character without all those legacy perks. It wouldn't be a huge deal to lose those, but it would still be a loss with nothing to make up for it.

To get back to the argument of dead servers being bad for the game's reputation though, that could actually be solved with relatively little fuss, because my impression is that there aren't actually that many of them. Again, to go back to my own experience of the English EU servers, only one of them is anywhere close to dead. If they merged TOFN into the Progenitor for example, that would already have the desired effect of eliminating all the "dead wood" and bringing all English-speaking EU servers back to a healthy population without affecting quite so many people negatively. I hope that if Bioware does decide to give in to the currently very vocal crowds that demand server merges, they'll do it in a sensible way and without listening to those advocating that we should have a single server for every region - as that would just maximise the bad (technical issues, many lost names) without actually adding much value (queue pops can't get any faster than instant).

9 comments :

  1. At-present, server transfers are still down at 90 CC.

    They did temporarily raise them last year (although I can't remember what) to coincide with the international server transfers, which at the time were something like 1,800 Cartel Coins. These, too, have been lowered, to 150 CC which is a very nice price.

    Personally, I also don't feel they should implement obligatory server mergers for the moment - maybe introduce a new version of that population counter which was lost with the new server-selection screen, so that people get a feel for which servers are the best for them depending on what they're looking for population-wise. See how the game populace reacts to that, then act; if enough people still go to the "dead" servers because they like them quiet, by all means they should be allowed to keep them.

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    1. I never quite understood why they got rid of those indicators. I guess it was some sort of PR thing because the sheer capacity of the new servers meant that anything but the biggest ones were classified as low pop. But they'd just have to change the parameters to something more realistic so the display would avoid looking negative and it would be useful to players again.

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  2. Nice write-up! I'm in the pro camp, so it's nice to see a really strongly written con-post.
    Maybe a good solution from what I read of your post would be free tranfers from the "quiet" servers to the populated ones for those who choose too, and a TRUE indication of the population of a server when people sign up so they don't accidentally pick an empty one without knowing.
    The main reason I am pro is all the posts I've seen of new and returning players confused about what the game is "dead", not understands it isn't. Obviously a smart player would scope out all the servers, but that takes time and the knowledge of how the servers work in the first place. SWTOR I think has the most amount of players new to MMOs due to its awesome IP... not everyone even really understands what a server is.
    Also you were wondering about the servers and their quietness. I did a quick list up about them here https://www.reddit.com/r/swtor/wiki/returning_player/servers

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    1. Nice write-up on the servers, that seems to back my impression of about one in three being low pop. I'll forever be mystified of why it's all the PvP servers that died. People can claim that it's because the open world PvP wasn't good enough or whatever, but that doesn't really explain why so many transferred to the PvE servers to do the instanced PvP with the "PvE scrubs" instead of with their existing server mates who were supposed to give them so much better matches. But that's a different subject!

      I do know those new confused players exist but if they express that confusion to others they are already on the way to being enlightened. ;) The biggest issue would be those that don't talk to anyone and just give up... and we don't really know how many of those there are.

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    2. I don't really know "why" the pvp servers died.. I think they were dying as Bioware didn't strongly support pvp, ranked and cheating for a while and lots got fed up and left. I remember when the 90cc came out they tried as a pvp community to pick a server, but it didn't work out well. But PvPers I think more than anything want pops... so they go to the pve servers where at least people are playing pvp, period, even if it's less often than the few playing on pvp servers.
      Yes I'm very happy when I see those questions on reddit, twitter, youtube. Same with easily fixable tech problems. But I *know* that the amount who take the time/courage/effort to make an account and ask must be dwarfed by those who just passively sit by... the only evidence I have is not very strong, but if it helps those who comment on my videos vs those who watch (viewcount) is about 1:10 (though it's not quite the same, if you watch something and it perfectly answers your question you don't need to comment unless you want to haha). There are also some stats here https://www.reddit.com/r/swtor/about/traffic/ of visitors, about 9,000 SWTOR visitors a day but only a small fraction of those ever make a comment (or the moderators would never be able to keep up!!! - but same issues, some are just browsing with no need to ask questions/post.)

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  3. Server meh..gers im on TRE and dont PVP or RP so i am not really impacted if they come to my server. I agree though that RP servers should be left alone whatever happens as the play style and general mood of the server is radically different from anything else. Good post nicely put for and against.

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  4. I guess I'm in the con-side of this debate for sure, and yes, that's almost entirely for a selfish reason: My character names! I already lost my original name for 4 out of 5 characters when Hydian Way was closed and I moved my characters to Nightmare Lands, and the subsequent merge of NL to TRE. I would not look too kindly on having to do this again for my now 20+ characters, especially since the available choices are limited even more now than they were before.

    I'd say a system similar to STO would be good to implement. It will allow you to have whatever name you want, with the only requirement being that within your account, you cannot have duplicate. If having the username for the unique identifier is a problem, it can simply be substituted for the Legacy name (small change needed, in that new players will need to choose one immediately, rather than when reaching the proper level to access that feature).

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  5. If you want to see the extreme end of server merges, check out Age of Conan. There are now exactly one PvP and one PvE server globally. I knew that merges were ongoing there, but I was kind of shocked when I started playing regularly again how few there were. And still players are talking about creating one single merged server globally --PvP, naturally-- to make sure that the population is up. I figure that if you're down to just two servers globally, the game is on its last legs anyway. (A shame, really, since AoC still has some interesting things to offer. Not the bugs, mind you, or some of the players either, but an interesting Sword and Sorcery storyline that is seen so little of these days.)

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    1. Did you read the news about AoC being put into maintenance mode?

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