Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The trouble with queues
As I mentioned my main character on the European WAR servers is a shaman, I'm playing on the Destruction side. Worldwide, on pretty much every server, there are more people who want to play Destruction than those who want to play Order. As that has obvious bad consequences for realm balance, Mythic introduced a radical measure: They simply don't let as many Destruction players onto the servers as there are people who would like to play Destruction. Servers have not one population cap but two, and if there are no spots left for Destruction, you only have the choice between playing Order, or waiting in a queue. That can get extremely annoying if you were in a group with your friends, crashed to desktop, and then need half an hour of queueing before getting back into the game. And I'm not even sure queues will fix the realm balance issues.
The trouble with the system is that it only works when the servers are nearly full, which is only during prime time at the moment. In the morning you can play whatever side you want without queueing. So to make servers balanced, Mythic has to trust that there are enough people who prefer Destruction, but are so annoyed by having to wait in line during prime time that they voluntarily switch to Order side. Unfortunately MMORPG players are a stubborn bunch. Some came to play with friends or complete guilds from previous games, and rather wait in line than play the other side on another server alone. Some just are fans of a particular race or class, and don't want to go over to the "enemy". Some even quit WAR totally instead of switching sides.
While the number of available servers only changes very slowly, and rarely goes down, the number of people wanting to log on and play changes every hour, and every day. In a mature game only 10% to 20% of subscribers are logged in during prime time. But in a game just after release the percentages are much higher, because few people buy a game and subscribe to then *not* play whenever possible. And subscription numbers too vary with time, Raph Koster has an excellent explanation. And that is just the natural cycle without outside disturbances. We all know that the number of people wanting to log onto WAR will drop significantly on November 13, when Wrath of the Lich King comes out.
So if there are 50% more players who want to play Destruction than Order, it means that one in three Destruction players is stuck in a queue when the servers are full. And when the servers are empty, Destruction still outnumbers Order by 50%. Order never gets to outnumber Destruction, except locally. Queues don't change that, unless half of the Destruction overpopulation decides to go over to Order *and stay there*. But as everyone knows that populations will go down in a while, many just stick to Destruction and wait it out.
The better method would be to find out why players prefer one side, and then make the other side more attractive to even out the numbers. But of course that is easier said than done, and easier done while the game is still in beta. I would have thought that after release maybe more casual players join the game and prefer the pretty races, but that didn't really happen yet. WAR isn't really targeted towards casual players all that much as WoW is. Casual listeners prefer the Beatles to Led Zeppelin (you need to watch a Mythic interview to get that joke). And the WAR elves and humans aren't actually all that pretty. And they aren't quite as cool or unique as many of the Destruction classes. Except for the White Lion, the High Elves are surprisingly bland and all look the same. As Greenskin you can always see who is who in your team, as High Elf only the guy with the cat stands out.
So I think that in spite of the queues, realm imbalance is going to stay with us for a long time. It is unlikely that Mythic completely reworks the Order classes to make them more attractive. And preventing people from playing the class they want only serves to annoy them, and doesn't solve anything.