Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
 
WAR fixes population imbalances with queues

Keen and Graev have the news that WAR realm population balance will be done with queues. That means a server doesn't have a maximum total population, like in WoW, but a maximum population per realm. So it could be possible that if lets say Chaos is more popular than Order, anyone wanting to log on with a Chaos character would find himself waiting in a queue, while he could get in with an Order toon immediately. Will that work?

Lets have a look at two possible extreme cases. The first extreme is that the number of servers is so limited, that there is zero extra space, there is just one server spot per player who wants to log on or less. This situation could happen early in the game during prime time. In this case the solution works well insofar as people would be pretty much forced to play on a less populated server and on the less popular side if they wanted to play at all, and thus the two sides would be very well balanced. Only condition for this to work is that current server populations are well indicated for all servers and both sides, so people can make a good choice if they want to avoid the queues. The disadvantage is that if you already created a character on a high-population server on the more popular side, or if your friends have a guild there that you'd want to join, you'd be forced to either abandon that character / guild, or to wait very long in a queue every time you want to log on.

The other extreme is that there is far more space on the servers than needed. That could be if EA Mythic overestimates the number of customers, or subscription numbers eventually decrease, or simply during a low population time, like 5 am in the morning. In that case the queue solution does nothing for balance, as everyone can log on whatever side and server he wants. On the upside nobody has to wait in a queue, and nobody is restricted in his choices.

The obvious plan from EA Mythic is that *some* people are not very picky regarding server and faction, but very allergic to queues. So during prime time enough people move towards the initially less popular servers and factions to balance populations. Then during off-prime people keep playing the same characters, and although there is no direct restriction, the population keeps being balanced. So whether this will work depends on how persistent people are to play what they want, and not what would be best for balance, and on how overcrowded the servers are during prime time. Server queues are certainly "a" solution, but whether it is "the" solution remains to be seen.
Comments:
That solution has disaster written all over it.
 
The realm queues are exactly the same as normal server queues. If it's full, you wait in line. It's that simple, I don't know why everyone is overstating it, or simply not getting it. There are 2videos and a thread from Jeff, Josh, and James...all from this past weekend.

This situation is the same as every other MMO. If you don't want to wait, don't roll on crowded servers. If you don't care, go ahead and roll there, but accept that you may have to wait a few minutes to log-in.
 
Realm queues will only be one of several measures they are taking to attempt to find a balance, and really, they aren't a million miles away from standard server queues.
 
What a stupid solution.
 
Only correction is that Keen oversimplifies it, realm queues are just ONE of the ways Mythic will balance population.

And as others have said, it's really not that big a deal, and no different than what all other successful MMO's do.

People of course will over-react...
 
I agree with =##=. There is no way they are going to be able to balance the realms. What will the max number be? 100, 200 per side?
If as many players are going to roll Chaos as the devs estimate, ques won't matter anyhow. The situation will end up being 15 realms, all full on Chaos, with half the amount of order getting destroyed night after night.

Some people may care more about que times than they do about what side they play on, but if they can't play with their friends, they will bail.

What they should do imo is offer incentive to join the underdogs. Bonus XP, extra gold, something to push players towards the side that is the underdog.

Good luck on this one mythic. DAOC was never balanced, WOW certainly isn't either, and WO won't be either :P

-Wolfgangdoom
 
It was said above that if you don't care for queue times, go ahead and roll on an over-populated server but that the wait time should be expected on your part.

What about all of the early adopters who are playing this game from Day One? Will there be a system in place to show us the population numbers on each realm? It would be hard to avoid rolling on a very populated realm if you have no data to go on.

I just see a nightmare scenario of rolling and leveling a character up to say level 30 very early on in the game's lifecycle and THEN, over time, your realm becomes overpopulated and you are forced to wait in a queue to play your main character because you play on the "popular" side of an overcrowded server.

At that point what do you do? Do you re-roll? Do you just sit and wait out your queue time "punishment" for choosing the wrong realm when the game started(and having no idea what the numbers would be like weeks or months down the line)?

This is just bad all around. I think they honestly should have stuck with in-game rewards and buffs to the losing side RvR combat and just left it at that.
 
Oh really... disaster? Because the history of server queues in MMOs is just riddled with disasters?

On the other hand, population balance issues have a really really bad history. From WoW to UO Factions, population imbalances fuck up the game for everyone involved. Realm imbalance hurt Dark Ages of Camelot immensely and is a HUGE concern within the WAR pre-launch community.

I'm sorry if everyone has become accustomed to developers not listening to feedback *cough* Blizzard *cough* and doing what they want *cough* SOE* *cough*, that when they find a developer using knowledge gained on previous games and actively working to cut off problems before they start in a new game, that it is so hard to fathom.

Some comments here really stink of a "perfect world" scenario where servers can hold hundreds of thousands of players, the Internet is perfect, and software codes itself.

Queues are a fact of life in the current MMO industry, phasing out the old "server crashes or lags because of too many people".

The fact is, Mythic has a choice to make. Create a really big, long term problem by not forcing queues or put a mechanic in place that will help distribute the population.

Sure, there will be growing pains as players are forced to shuffle around to find a server to play on, but in the LONG TERM it is of utmost importance. I'm sorry that some of you can't look past the minority of players that will get forced away from friends for the greater good of ensuring an enjoyable experience for the MAJORITY.

The industry is moving from games with a dozen servers to games with hundreds of servers. Queues will be part of that transition.
 
I'm sorry that some of you can't look past the minority of players that will get forced away from friends for the greater good of ensuring an enjoyable experience for the MAJORITY.

I have a huge problem with this statement - and normally I'm a fan of the 'what's best for the majority' in a game.

The problem is, in an MMO, friends can be *all*. It's why many people play a game, it's why they stick with a game. It's how that monthly recurring revenue keeps coming. Many people delay subscription cancels because they don't want to lose the friendship, others pick up the game because of friendships.

If WAR has mechanisms in place that make it difficult/impossible to play with friends on a regular basis, they're going to lose subscribers. It's one thing to have full servers for rolling new characters - queues are always, always bad news. Most people aren't going to say "there's a 100 player queue to play on server 1, I'll play my char on server 2" - they're going to get annoyed while waiting or they're going to go do something else. They do something else too often, they're going to cancel the game.
 
Let's face it....Order is boooring. We've waited through delay after delay so what's a little waiting to login?

They've been working on this game for a long time then suddenly we hear about a half-assed solution just months before release. great.
 
As a support tech for web software, I can say that Internet users have been conditioned to expect that they will get their response within a few seconds.

I agree that using queues to balance the sides should be avoided at all costs.

If a gamer hits a queue when trying to log in, then instead of entering the game, he has two probable negative reactions:
- Annoyance
- Decision: wait... or do something else

Designers are rolling the dice if they think that an Internet gamer, who paid out of his $$$ for a high performance machine and high-speed Internet, is willing to wait for their game - especially since they just annoyed him! They may be willing to wait once, or a few times, but if this becomes common, or the queues are long, they will lose customers. Group and guild dynamics are broken because your people can’t log on. And they may have to deal with additional problems, such as savvy gamers who try to fool the system and stay permanently logged in - and how to discipline people who subvert the system.

Some paying customers will get annoyed, and do something else - and cancel.
Which will fix their logon queues... at the expense of lost profit...
 
Heartless is right. Queues are a fact of MMO life and it’s better to limit the population of a realm/faction in a PvP game than it is to have uneven sides. MMO players are used to queues and players that hate them will be motivated to avoid them.

I also think that the issue is being oversimplified by presuming that all servers will have the same type of population imbalance. The history of other games has shown us that one side ends up popular on one server and another side ends up popular in others. The “other measures” that has been talked about could easily be free transfers and migrations designed to even out the playing field. Combined with queues, this could provide strong motivation for groups of “friends” to switch to a lower queue server.
 
A few Chicken Littles around today, aren't there?

To repeat, realm queues are just going to be part of the solution for attempting to balance servers. Other mooted ideas do indeed include perks for the underpopulated side.

Really, I can't see what all the fuss is about. Let's say a server holds 6000 people. Instead of having a queue become active when 6000 are online, we get a separate Destruction queue when 3000 are online, and no queue for Order if only 2000 of them are online.

Yes, it's an incentive to roll Order on that server, and that's a good thing. More Order players mean greater balance, and a greater balance means a more enjoyable game experience for everyone.

Even with standard server queues, a popular server is still going to fill up, except then you'd have the possibility of crazy 70/30 splits, and very little hope of correcting the imbalance.

Having realm queues is in effect no different from having a standard server queue. If your realm/server reaches an arbitrary population the queue comes into force. The fact that those playing on another realm/server don't have to queue does nothing to negate the fact that your realm/server is overpopulated.
 
Bad Idea. It'll seperate friends from friends by who logs in earliest.

Bad enough when I log in to a wow server with ques. But everyone on both sides has the same issue. but to try to force me to roll to the faction my friends aren't on. That would just piss me off.
 
really heartless. Because in my experience all these solutions aimed at fixing problems for the masses forget one glaring problem with fixing social issues.

You screw over a minority. they leave or reroll. they are unhappy. Thier friends are unhappy some of them reroll or quit. Pretty soon you have a bunch of unhappy players who can't play with thier friends.

one unhappy player becoming an asshole griefing other players or just being a negative jerk then ruins 10 or 20 or 100 players play experience.

Just like a few bad apples in a barrel you soon have a big stinking mess.

the big problem here is Programmers and developers making these decisions. They really need some sociologists helping them design these MMO communities.

I'll give you that they are trying and thier end goal is desirable. I do not agree it will work well
 
I love the "MMO industry standard" arguments. If it's okay for WoW, it's okay for everyone? This is like the argument that buggy, half-baked releases are an "MMO industry standard" and therefore expected and acceptable.

Anything that prevents a subscriber from using a paid for service, at the point in time they wish to use it, is bad for the product. Sometimes, as is the case with scheduled maintenance, it's unavoidable but given advance notice and regular scheduling, reasonably acceptable. However, being denied access randomly? Not conducive to happy customers.

WAR isn't entering a market where it's the only game in town and people will be less inclined to put up with constant denials to the game if it becomes too frequent. With monthly fees, you have a little more leeway since you aren't losing money immediately if someone doesn't log in, but if it gets to the point where people have enough bad feelings that they don't renew, you're in trouble.

I'm not saying queues are going to be frequent with WAR, we won't know until the game is out obviously. But I will state that queues are a "bad thing". They don't create population balance, they are simply a stopgap that caps the imbalance at some arbitrary number. They don't guarantee the opposite faction will gain more players and they don't guarantee players moving to other servers will help balance the population on that server either.

If things get so bad that you have to stop people from entering the game, then the game is broken. Simple as that.

Maybe MMOs need to move away from the "character x lives on server y" model entirely. Your friends list shows you what server(s) your friends are playing on, and maybe that server is full. You send them a tell saying "hey your server if full up, wanna switch over to this other server so we can play together?" Maybe they will, maybe they won't. At least you have some more options: you can play your character with some other friend, you can play alone, you can keep bugging your friend to switch to another server with more room, but at least you have more options than staring at a screen telling you it'll be 30 minutes until you can play your character (and all your friends are staring at the same screen). As long as the current population numbers and space til the cap were apparently, even guilds could slot themselves in on servers. If players know that balance makes the game more enjoyable, let them create it themselves.
 
Queues are DOOOOOM for WAR? Really? Just like how queues killed WoW, right? That poor dead game that everyone abandoned because of queues.

As a solution by itself it would be inadequate, but as commenters here have stated over and over, it's only ONE piece of the total solution. There will be incentives/benefits to playing on the low population side, and just one of those incentives is avoiding a queue.

Also, there's nothing to say Mythic can't have dynamic queues. It doesn't have to be "200 people per side, hard capped, forever". It could simply be 'no more than 50% more than the other side'.
 
All servers need population caps, or else there is the potential for them to grind to a halt. All EA Mythic are doing is exploiting the fact in order in ensure that you don't end up with full servers where the player ratio is 2:1 or worse, which in the case of RvR would be game breaking.

I can assure you that a heck of a lot more people will be upset if they end up on a realm where there is no RvR because the underpopulated side don't even bother turning up to defend.

As far as I'm concerned, if it does reach a stage where people are having to queue, then the problem isn't realm caps, it's lack of servers. If EA Mythic provide enough servers to meet demand than this whole discussion will be academic.
 
Considering how I play WoW, I would not be surprised if I roll and Witch Hunter and a Witch Elf on the same realm and play whichever gets me in faster.
 
In my 2+ years playing WoW, I’ve only encountered a logon queue a few times. I would call WoW logon queues “rare”, not an “MMO standard”, in 2008 from my experience. Frankly, right now, WoW queues would really inconvenience some of our raiders with tight RL schedules - and a delay would impact the rest of the players in the raid as well.

Any way you slice it, “queue” is not a good buzzword in the blogosphere for a game in the run-up to release.
That was really boneheaded PR!
And if the game isn’t solid, queuing might be added to peoples’ “Why I quit” list.

I’d give a new game a break on queuing. But toss out the “q”-word right now; it makes me wonder about their design for balance, and frankly, wonder if they’re having doubts about their design! Customers can be a fickle crowd, and people tend to resist being made to do something. Incentives tend to work better than punishment, especially if they’re paying a fee for the privilege!
 
If things get so bad that you have to stop people from entering the game, then the game is broken. Simple as that.

Hardly that simple. PvP is about COMPETITIVE BALANCE. It’s simply unfair to have uneven teams. That’s true of all PvP in every single team-based PvP game ever invented. If you have uneven teams, then someone gets screwed. Every team-based game that has PvP as an element deals with this issue. In many non-MMO games, they simply force the balance randomly. The problem in an MMO population however, is that people need to be allowed to exercise free will in making a choice about which team they participate. It’s not the “game” that breaks – it’s free will. Would you rather deal with a queue or be automatically assigned to a server and faction?

As I said in my previous comment: This type of thing will likely compliment server transfers to alleviate queues and balance populations. If Server A has queues on Destruction but not on Order and Server B has queues on Order but not Destruction, then the logical solution is to allow Order to transfer from B to A and Destruction to transfer from A to B in an effort to balance the two servers. It won’t always be that cut and dry, but the point is that queues can act as an excellent incentive to influence free will. I know would willingly make a change to avoid them.
 
heres the thing. Generic Ques don't bother me. If the server is that popular ok that's the price I pay for playing there.

If the ques are faction based then that bothers me. What is happening at that point is I'm being pushed to leave my friends and play the other side to make the stubborn ones that won't move get a better game. Thats a problem. As much as I'd prefer realm balance I don't see any good out of overtly punishing the side that everyone picked because they were more drawn to it. Just a recipe for disgruntled players.
 
If they implement it intelligently, it wouldn't be that big a deal. You have two sides, and your goal is to try to keep the two sides within a reasonable distance of each other.

So let's say you have populations X and Y, for respective factions A and B. In this case, there are only three possible outcomes:

X < Y. There are more Bs than As.
X > Y. There are more As than Bs.
X = Y. There are the same number of As and Bs.

It's not feasible to keep things exactly balanced such that for every A, there's a B. However, if there is X online right now, and X is less than Y, then Y can be no bigger than, say, X + Z where Z is some fraction of X, like 10%.

Thus, Y will never be bigger than 1.1 * X, and X will never be bigger than 1.1 * Y. As more Xs log on, more Ys can log on too. The system kind of breaks down when you have minimal numbers of players on a server, but that could be fixed just by having minimum and maximum server capacity... if Y is less than a pre-defined minimum number, there are no queues until it reaches that pre-defined number. If there aren't enough Xs, then... well, that's just too bad. They gotta live with it.

Finally, there should be a maximum server capacity. X and Y could be close to each other, but X + Y should never be more than M, where M is the maximum server capacity.

--Rawr
 
Hardly that simple. PvP is about COMPETITIVE BALANCE. It’s simply unfair to have uneven teams.

You're making the assumption that every player that logs into the game at that moment is going to be doing PvP. What if I'm logging on for a weekly group instance run, to craft, solo grind, or just hang out?

If I want to log on to play non-PvP gameplay, I sure as heck don't want to wait 30 mins to get in just because some arbitrary number of players has been reached and the assumption has been made that there is a faction imbalance in PvP.

Would you rather deal with a queue or be automatically assigned to a server and faction?

Read my last paragraph. I present a third option.

If I'm logging in to do PvP, let me choose which server I want to play on that has available space for my character's faction. That sounds like a lot more "free will" than the "excellent incentive to influence free will".

Of course this may not solve the imbalance issue just because of good, ol' human nature. For all this talk of "imbalance ruins PvP", I guarantee a majority of people will choose a server where their faction has a numeric advantage...
 
If I want to log on to play non-PvP gameplay, I sure as heck don't want to wait 30 mins to get in just because some arbitrary number of players has been reached and the assumption has been made that there is a faction imbalance in PvP.

RvR isn't just PvP. Completing all kinds of PvE content also contributes to the war effort. As far as I understand, if you have twice as many people online than the other faction, and those people are engaging in the usual range of activities, you will win in RvR.

Of course this may not solve the imbalance issue just because of good, ol' human nature. For all this talk of "imbalance ruins PvP", I guarantee a majority of people will choose a server where their faction has a numeric advantage...

If they ignore the warnings that they are joining a heavily populated faction on an imbalanced server, and feel able to dismiss the other incentives EA Mythic have mooted for playing on the underpopulated side, then they deserve what's coming to them.

Those that joined that faction before overpopulation occurred will rightly be miffed, but this is no different from playing on an overpopulated server in WoW. It still should just be considered an arbitrary population cap, except with the added benefit of helping to ensure that RvR on that server actually works.

I agree that under such circumstances it would be appropriate to give players in the overpopulated faction migration options to less populated servers, just like in WoW.
 
Those that joined that faction before overpopulation occurred will rightly be miffed, but this is no different from playing on an overpopulated server in WoW. It still should just be considered an arbitrary population cap, except with the added benefit of helping to ensure that RvR on that server actually works.

So we should never expect improvements over WoW? :)

How does it ensure RvR works? If the aribitary cap is 2000 for my faction and we're at 1800 and the other side is at 700, how does not letting the 2001st guy in fix RvR if the other side is still at 700?
 
You're making the assumption that every player that logs into the game at that moment is going to be doing PvP.

The % of people engaging in RvR is likely to remain consistent across factions. If 50% of people engage in RvR then a 60-40 split is going to be the numerical equivalent of 30-20. That’s 50% more participation for the overpopulated faction and I would call that a significant imbalance to competition.

If I'm logging in to do PvP, let me choose which server I want to play on that has available space for my character's faction.

The queue problem still exists under your scenario since you are limiting which servers are allowed. If all your “friends” play on that server, that doesn’t really solve the problem of waiting. I appreciate that you are making a suggestion that provides alternatives, but I would argue that this suggestion would cause more problems and solve little. One of the things that makes WoW Battlegrounds so awful is that there is no sense of community. If you don’t have a consistent experience of playing on the same server, you don’t get a chance to make “friends” and it’s mostly just a solo experience. That’s a bad thing in an MMO and a particularly bad thing in an MMO in which teamwork plays a huge part in overall success.

For all this talk of "imbalance ruins PvP", I guarantee a majority of people will choose a server where their faction has a numeric advantage.

I agree. As I said, it’s not the “game” that breaks – it’s free will. With the foreknowledge that human behavior cause mischief, it’s foolish not to create incentives that counter undesired behavior.
 
The queue problem still exists under your scenario since you are limiting which servers are allowed.

Only if all servers are at capacity for your faction. IF that occurs, there aren't enough servers to handle the population. And if all the servers are at capacity for a particular faction and the sides aren't even, then you need to step back and examine why it is that everyone is only playing one side. You get to that point and it means that playing that one faction is more important to people than broken RvR.

If all your “friends” play on that server, that doesn’t really solve the problem of waiting.

Your friends will all have the same available choices and if you have tools to communicate with them outside of server chat, seems like coordination is doable. Regardless the alternative is to are all sitting in a queue and not playing together anyway.
 
WoW has had queues since launch day, and they now have 10 million subscriptions.

Any argument you make that queues will hurt the game, well, they are flat out wrong. Proven wrong. The market clearly shows that queues, while an inconvience - like they are at the grocery store, or an amusement park, or the bank - won't hurt your business.

If any of these queue arguments were valid, WoW wouldn't have 10 million subscribers. Period. Argue all you want, the reality is apparent everywhere in society.

Your personal feelings about waiting in line, don't matter. The negative things about waiting, that your friends have vocalized...don't matter. There WILL be queues on SOME War servers, but people will keep piling in and dumping cash into the game.
 
How does it ensure RvR works? If the aribitary cap is 2000 for my faction and we're at 1800 and the other side is at 700, how does not letting the 2001st guy in fix RvR if the other side is still at 700?

Obviously we'll need to take the other incentives for playing on the underpopulated side into account.

Hopefully there won't be such a massive disparity between the base popularity of the factions, and if there is, then experience perks, realm buffs etc, will hopefully draw more people to the underpopulated side.

Just to be clear once again, realm queues are not the solution to faction balance, they are part of the solution. They ensure that there is always the potential for two equally populated sides to be online, but yes, there won't in themselves ensure balance.
 
To really fix the problem they need dynamic queues i.e. if the max is 3000 a side, but only 500 Order are playing, well you probably need to start queues for Chaos at like 750 people. Which is stupid.

Perhaps if they just gave a buff "Blessing of Sigmar" or "Boon of the Dark Ones" to the under populated side that could work. It would need to be a hefty buff. Imagine Order running around with a 2x damage modifier and +50% damage mitigation modifier. Fun fun!
 
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