- Author: Pride
- Date: January 5, 2022
- Expansion: TBC Classic
The state of TBC Classic servers has been among the biggest and most heated conversations between players for quite a while now. We initially reported on the topic back in October of 2021, then Blizzard opened up free character migrations in November to alleviate the issue, and yet somehow, 2 months later, it’s still arguably the most dominant ongoing conversation. Players clearly care about this issue a lot, and Blizzard’s solution was not adequate, given these facts.
It would seem that Blizzard themselves agree that it was not enough. Just today, Aggrend weighed in with a lengthy response to a detailed thread on the topic created by hunter player and WoW community council member Sixxfury roughly a month ago. The rationale given for this long delay in responding to a very hotly debated issue was that Blizzard had to think a lot on the topic to come up with an appropriate response.
The main points that Aggrend makes are as follows:
- Free Character Moves (FCMs) are intended to be a relief valve to alleviate player frustrations, not a panacea that completely fixes the issue of unbalanced or dying servers
- The developers acknowledge that they should have opened up FCMs sooner
- Their hesitation is caused by the fear that a well-intentioned measure to help unhappy players can have significant long-term repercussions that ultimately causes a larger number of unhappy players
- They see players suggesting merging servers with similarly unbalanced populations (such as a 90% horde server being merged with a 90% alliance server) but point out that this also comes with a host of potential issues
- They are particularly hesitant to do server merges because it has almost never been done before, and they believe it’d be double as problematic for Classic servers, which rely more on the feeling of community
- They understand the concern of players stuck as the underdogs on servers with very imbalanced factions, but point out that most servers tend towards imbalanced factions, suggesting that players care more about their server being heavily populated on their faction than they care about faction balance
- They urge players to give suggestions on how to rectify this issue because it is too complicated and they appreciate the back and forth. However, they urge players to consider that they want to avoid solutions that force players to do things they do not want to, or diminishes their ability to log in and play, when making suggestions.
- They acknowledge that this topic might be too big for forum discussion, and intend to host some form of live chat in order to best facilitate a discussion with players on this topic along with other aspects of WoW Classic
As a software developer with some experience in dealing with such complex issues, I have to say that I definitely do not envy Aggrend’s or the dev team’s positions in having to deal with this massive issue and all of the angry players that come along with it. I felt that his post was very humble, which is refreshing to see from Blizzard, and that it was mostly supported with very solid rationale.
The middle section of the post featured above was particularly interesting. It seems to refer to a popular player suggestion, of enforcing faction-based login queues in order to offer disincentivize players from piling on servers where they are the dominant faction and skewing the faction balance for the worse – a situation which has already happened with some of the larger Horde-dominated servers. It appears that Blizzard does not consider login queues an appropriate solution, and one cannot really completely fault them for that — it would feel terrible to be unable to log on because others transferred to your server and ruined the faction balance.
So here is hoping that the live chat idea becomes a reality and ends up being a fruitful discussion, one that helps Blizzard address this issue. Both Blizzard and the players would come to benefit from this issue being rectified, after all. Here’s also hoping that we continue to get direct and honest communication like this from Blizzard, with player feedback being encouraged. It would certainly go a long way to restore player’s trust in Blizzard.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you think Blizzard are on the right track, asking players for feedback to solve this issue? Or do you think that it’s too little, too late — they should have made changes sooner, servers are irreparably dead now? Let us know in the comments below!
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 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!