Tobold's Blog
Monday, June 10, 2013
World of Warcraft server shrinkage

Blizzard sent me a promotional offer where they are offering everybody services like character transfers to other servers for half price. And that got me wondering where this is going. Fact is that World of Warcraft is shrinking. While the news of the death of WoW might be premature, and estimated extrapolation of the speed of shrinking vary wildly, the general overall direction is undisputedly downwards. And if it is downwards overall a long history of other games has shown that there are only two possible things that can happen: Either each individual server is getting less and less population, or the number of servers has to shrink. Usually it is first the former, followed by the latter.

Thus it is not inconceivable to think of a progression where server transfers are first half-price, then they become free, and ultimately when that led to some servers becoming significantly underpopulated, those servers might shut down and there would be some sort of forced migration.

Of course this is not inevitable. Shrinking server populations have consequences mostly for the parts of the game where people interact with each other, be that in collaborative PvE, in PvP, or in the economy. And Blizzard has a history of solving underpopulation problems by doing cross-server zones. Thus it would presumably be possible to organize all multiplayer activities as cross-server, including cross-server guilds, raiding, and the auction house. The only consequence of an underpopulated server would be you rarely meeting anybody while questing, and I know a lot of people who would consider that as a benefit rather than as a problem.

So what do you think? Are server mergers coming to World of Warcraft, of will Blizzard do without?

Playing WoW on a low-population relam it's lile playin a singleplayer version fo the game. It really depends on whay you like more.

I personally loved questiong and doing achievements on my own, rarely caring about the actual population. In fact, I just made one or two (sporadic) friends only when strictly needed. I was in love with WoW's lore, environments, musics, ... it was so relaxing.

On the other side, if you hate questng/exploring and put all your efforts in leveling to ding 90 and start raiding... a low-pop server is a HUGE delusion.
Server mergers won't come anytime soon, this would be bad press. There are many people who dislike World of Warcraft with a passion and jump on every move from Blizzard to declare that WoW is dying NOW, REALLY!!

I cannot understand why there is so much emotion in this attitude.

They've used free transfers as incentives to move server for years, albeit sometimes because servers got too full.

I doubt they would worry too much about closing some servers.

Maybe the idea here is to see where people *want* to go, in preparation for a bit of tidying up.
Yes, I think merges are coming. CRZ was a clever way to mask the problem of some servers becoming depleted, but it's pretty much inevitable now.

I can spend most of my time in the Vanilla non-starter zones and hardly ever see a soul, even with CRZ implemented. Comparatively speaking, CRZ starter zones (including Hellfire, which is essentially a Darkshore/Ghostlands/Barrens for DKs) are more populated than the non-CRZ yet current Mists zones. I've been leveling a Rogue, expecting to see lots of people in the Mists zones because I sure wasn't seeing them out in wild, only to discover that the Mists zones are empty too. Such was not the case in Wrath and early-mid Cata, where the current zones were busy.

If they were smart they would do the merger by dressing it up.

Just take one or more underpopulated servers and just basically redirect them to the destination server. When anyone asks call it a multiverse realm or something like that. Then nobody gets upset that "their" server died (even though it totally did).

But Sahke, the reason people are so ready to declare WoW dead is varied. I think back to all the time I wasted on it, and how it is designed to send people on a vast time wasting treadmill, and it makes me mad. Some people reject WoW because they have to believe WoW sucks to maintain the belief they will find another MMO they care about half as much as they did WoW back in 2004.

As far as their motivations for this offer go, who knows. But when you compile all their various marketing efforts over the past few years it becomes pretty obvious they are actually having to hustle to keep numbers up. They are doing stuff they never would have done back when the game was blowing up.
I have to wonder if flex raid isn't another attempt to address the same Issue
I agree with 4c22... Blizzard knows that server mergers will be bad publicity so they will camoflage it somehow. I expect they will announce a new "super-server" concept that will roll dozens of servers into a new mega-realm. Add in a few other controversial or buzz-worthy features such as a new mount from an epic-quest-on-megaserver-only and the ruse will be complete.
Blizzard tried CRZ. It means that Rugus' low-pop experience goes away since there will always be people in your zone. OTOH, you can't trade or raid or guild with them.

So server mergers would work better than CRZ, but they would be bad press.

But Blizzard was right about one thing: mergers don't really work. There is no proper number of servers. Servers that are not extremely full during expansion launch will be dead at the low point of an expansion cycle. As we have discussed here, "pop in for a month or three" is becoming much more common than "I played for 5 years"

IMO, server mergers would help, but they are a band aid not a solution.

I really think the "super-servers" with variable number of instances are the way to go. So on launch day there could be 30 instances of Jade Forest and only one towards the end of the expac.

A first world problem Blizzard has is how much they make on transfers. So free transfers (even every month) would help the game but would come at a cost.
Well Hagu, just to be clear, it would be "cross realm" in name only. There would be three different names for the same server. Basically it would be a deceptive server merge, and everyone could hang out/trade/whatever with everyone because they are really on the same server.
Server merges are inevitable.

Cross-realm zones were actually a very UN-clever way to address the problem.

It took a ton of time to develop and test, and resulted in a solution which forced players to endure all the negatives of a high-population realm (crowding, competition for resources, rare spawns, etc) with none of the positives (a large auction house, healthy economy, lots of guilds to join, pick-up raids).

The only actual benefit of CRZ is that you see more people in "old" areas of the world. That's it.

Server merges must happen.

At the same time, they should offer FREE character transfers to address faction imbalance. If you're on a realm with a 4:1 alliance:horde ratio, you can transfer your alliance characters to a realm with a 1:4 alliance:horde ratio for free, and so on.
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WoW is having the same declining curve we see when a product suffer technical obsolescence, like we saw with videocassete recorder: a crescent fall with some bumps up that have a huge fall after.

It is pratically impossible stop that kind of decline. Take note that until now wow had a decline of 4 million subscripters from the 12 million peak, it is an one third decline.
WoW is having the same declining curve we see when a product suffer technical obsolescence

Sorry man, wrong curve. MMORPG follow this curve, which declines a lot slower after its peak.

Your idea of a curve doesn't apply, because technical obsolescence doesn't apply. In fact there are MMORPGs to be released 2013 which look suspiciously a lot like World of Warcraft. And recent MMORPGs also played a lot like World of Warcraft. So as there is no new technology replacing WoW technology, WoW technology remains current state of the art. I wish that wasn't so, but there is currently no MMORPG on the market on a trajectory to bypass WoW in popularity.

Sorry, but there is no way that curve you show, that is a model for MMO growth, fit this curve:

Mostly because don't show a WoW growth, but a decline since 2009.

You too can observe that data goes only to august 2012 and not show the posterior decline that WoW had to 8 million subs.

Anyway, if the data do'nt fit your model (the Raph Koster model you show), it is time for use other model. And the videocassete recording decline curve after dvd was launched and WoW decline curve are too much similar (including the same bumps up followed for greater falls). IMHO, maybe it is because they have the same cause: technical obsolescence.

Can be time for look for a new MMO model than WoW and WoW clones offer...
Wasn't there a quote from a game designer that designers can't change the shape of the subscriber curve, all they can do is pull it up and stretch it?
I do think multiplayer games have a sharper curve than single player. Not as many people are playing Civ 5 now than at launch. Most products follow what in business school is called the product life cycle curve. Unless I care about trendy, my game play is not diminished if there are fewer people playing; unlike dead MMOs.
WoW also has the size advantage (perhaps analogous to Intel and Microsoft?) I.e., even if they are a third as productive as competitors, if they can spend ten times the development, they can do just fine.

And statistic can be "interpreted" in various ways:

e.g., GW2 was #1 on Raptor for the week of September 12. Last month it was #19: 0.17% ahead of SWTOR (and thus considerably less profitable) and had less that a seventh of the number of hours as Rift and slightly less than Defiance.

But even a game like GW2, which had much, much, much worse declines than WoW, is expected to still be around for many months. ( Actually WoW was #6 in that 12 September and has risen to #4.)

Cross server can delay it a while, but I think they eventually would have to do it. A big part of the fun of an MMO is seeing other players out in the world, or even just the capital city. If capitals become barren, people lose that sense of community and quit even faster.

I really believe gear grinds are not fun by themselves. It's only your friends in the game that makes it bearable. If everyone starts to feel like a solo player, they will get bored faster.
I think the email advertising half price transfers and renames is more a marketing ploy to take advantage of the free week they also gave people via email four days before sending the sale email.

Get people to come back and try the game again. Then give them a sale on server and faction transfers to potentially knock down one more barrier to reentry for them.

I came back for the free week, and if it turned out I had a bunch of friends playing on another server right now I'd strongly consider resubscribing and transferring to join them. Especially since I'd save $12.50! That's like making money!
Redbeard their tends to be a fair bit of variation in CRZ.

Our dalaran is busy enough that the AH is hard to use, 50 people clustered around 1 little bot.

And the videocassete recording decline curve after dvd was launched

But that is exactly the point: What in your opinion is the DVD-like equivalent making WoW obsolete? Note that for your theory to work, the product replacing WoW would need to show a growth similar to WoW's decline. There simply isn't a game like that, or even a group of games, that gained the subscribers that WoW lost.

As to which curve the WoW subscription curve resembles most, I'll stick to my opinion on how it resembles the latter part of the Raph Koster curve, where expansions bring short peaks and declines.

If the videocassette curve would be correct, WoW would have less than a million players left by the end of the year. Want to lose a bet again?
But that is exactly the point: What in your opinion is the DVD-like equivalent making WoW obsolete?

While not a 'technology', AAA F2P MMOs are the new 'hotness' of gaming. It's not so much that WoW is dieing, but rather that you can get 3A experiences now for free.
As we know, the easy questing experience is better played on low pop. The vast majority of players only do dungeons and raids with the cross realm grouping tool.

Organised raiders are those that suffer most from low pop servers. As per usual they have extremely big mouths and are vocal on the forums but in reality they are two to three percent of customers.

They make the server population issue falsely appear to be a far bigger problem than it really is due to their massive over representation on forums.

Blizzard still haven't learned from all the screw ups they made in catering to an insignificant vocal minority. They created CRZ to cater to these people and that went down like a lead balloon with the masses who found their questing and farming experience severely degraded.

Blizzard should leave it be. Perhaps introduce a few cross realm auction houses at most.
"If the videocassette curve would be correct, WoW would have less than a million players left by the end of the year. Want to lose a bet again?"

If the decline is around 1 million subs per quarter, WoW will not have less than 1 million players by the end of 2013, but 5 million.

However, I want bet that Wow will go F2P before the end of 2014.
New expansion in 2014 with an accompanying subs boost. Nah I don't see it being anywhere near the numbers where free to play would make sense.
And the following day Blizzard announce that they'll be merging servers into "virtual realms"
Yes, the virtual realm decision seems like a reasonable solution, at least until we know more details.

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