State of TBC Servers

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WoW Community Council
#1 - Dec. 9, 2021, 2:04 a.m.
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Figured I’d open a discussion here as I see it talked about a lot recently.

Currently TBC servers are in a somewhat state of disarray. I know balancing PvP servers has and always will be tricky, especially given that most issues are player-driven. Throughout Classic we saw it, one server faction gets bigger than the other, and if it becomes the dominant faction players on the weaker faction decide they can’t take it anymore and want to actually participate in the world. When transfers opened up at first, it basically killed off certain servers that were once thriving at their peaks (Incendius comes to mind) and almost completely killed off after a wave of transfers. Now part of this transfer was due to overpopulation and attempting to recreate the server identity by limiting layers to 1. Though the growing sentiment in this particular case was that the world environment had grown too toxic to warrant wanting to stay with free transfers available (in this case). I was part of this transfer off of Incendius and onto Netherwind (horde and Ally from Incendius fled to Earthfury and Netherwind back around phase 4 of Classic)

Throughout Classic we saw the ebb and flow of server transfers affect realms to the point of complete lopsided factions even sometimes on non-PvP realms like Pagle.

Now with TBC, about 6 months after launch we are experiencing a massive wave after wave of transfers fleeing servers that have become undesirable. This has led to a significant amount of once-thriving servers to be completely dead with over 25 servers completely dead in terms of PvP and PvE rankings. - each one with their own main reasoning, but each one has similar traits:

  • Your guild is leaving because of “x” reason, usually faction imbalance related
  • you’re forced to leave with them or play with a whole new group of people OR play with potentially no-one because 90% of the server is leaving.
  • you leave to a server that’s already either close in faction balance (favored towards your faction) or one that’s already lopsided towards 1 faction.
  • add the fact that some people are paying hundreds of $ just to move many characters

Maybe I’m wrong in this, but it certainly doesn’t feel like these 25 servers died off because the population just isn’t there. WoW Classic has been thriving more and more as new content comes out - evidenced by WCL hitting record highs in TBCC on Phase 2 launch. My understanding is that those servers crumbled due to player driven transfers - sometimes somewhat unwillingly because you don’t really have a choice if you want to keep playing.

I don’t know what can be done, or what ideas have been discussed, but I know it’s only getting worse to the point that we are all transferring to a handful of “mega” servers.

So with that in mind - is there a way to move forward and make this better, or is this just how it’s going to be?

If this is how it’s going to be and mega-servers are the new norm, can we please get some more layers for these big servers… sitting in Org doing my trade business with up to 2-3s input lag with 30 ping is disappointing to say the least. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Don’t get me wrong I love seeing a big server because I know I can find people to play with, I know that I can find people to do trades, buy stuff, etc. and it’s a very thriving environment, but whether it’s the new norm or there’s some ideas being worked on, I think it needs to be addressed.

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WoW Classic Game Producer
#3 - Jan. 5, 2022, 1:20 a.m.
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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” :stuck_out_tongue:

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!

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WoW Classic Game Producer
#6 - Jan. 5, 2022, 5:58 p.m.
Blizzard Post

Not speaking for the team here, but I personally really like this idea. We tried to do something similar to this for pvp queues by giving the minority faction a special award for playing, but it wasn’t a lot, and I think this idea could use some expanding and additional development. We’ll keep discussing it!

This is significantly more touchy and this is kind of what I was referring to when I talked about us being leery of ideas that “directly damages or diminishes [players] ability to play the game”.

We did actually invest in developing tech to allow us to queue each faction independently and considered rolling this out in Season of Mastery. The idea here would have been to basically enforce some sort of specific faction balance (say, 60/40) and then force queues on the majority faction until the minority faction began to log in to compensate. Ultimately, we pulled back from this for several reasons:

  • What if we get into a situation where, say, every PvP server is skewed towards the horde? Is it possible that players could get into a state where they are literally unable to log into any server at all just because they had the temerity to want to play horde?
  • What happens if the population of a certain server or servers are such that there are never enough of the minority faction logging that the majority queue never goes down, or worse, the wait time actually continues to climb because the rate at which the minority faction logging in never matches or exceeds the rate that the majority faction is logging out? We could create an almost “infinite” queue situation on certain realms, and it would be completely arbitrary and not based on the actual hardware limitations of that realm.
  • Is it worth the hit to the experience of those who just want to play their chosen faction to achieve some sort of contrived balance on PvP realms, that doesn’t guarantee “fair” world PvP encounters anyway?

That said, the work we did to implement this still exists and this might be a thing to consider rolling out in a future season or classic release if we felt that we could implement it in a way that would be beneficial to more players than it restricts.

Again, this logically makes a lot of sense. However, there are some details to consider:

  • Looking inward as a player, would you voluntarily move to the outnumbered faction on a realm? If the answer is yes, can you honestly say that you feel that a significant number of other players would make a similar choice?
  • Again, using the data we’ve gathered over the past few years, it’s fairly conclusive that players do not take advantage of FCMs or paid transfers to move to the underdog faction. It’s just not something that happens to a degree to move the needle in a positive direction, and offering that move as the only option that players have for free transfers is likely not going to be positively received by players who are unhappy with their current realm.

Again, speaking personally, I could see this being something that works with some serious caveats and differences from modern World of Warcraft. What if this was restricted to only people on your friends list or in a community with you? What if this only worked in instanced content? These are a few things that might be cool to explore. It’s definitely worth talking about more, but this is something we’d really have to think long and hard about.

So this is actually something the team has talked about a lot and we have some plans to investigate a way to “poll” the community about certain topics and to do so in-game. The current (very half-baked) ideas are something like an NPC somewhere in the world that asks questions about hot button issues that players can answer via a flavor text window (maybe once per account, with some restrictions/requirements so its not abused). The responses we gather could help us make better decisions, or at least help inform us about things that we’d like to have a bigger conversation about in this forum or in a live chat at some point. Regardless, the team really likes this idea and we plan to explore it more!

Thanks a ton for the thoughtful ideas and solutions. Keep 'em coming!