Friday, March 01, 2013

The Safety Dance

This single. IN MY GARAGE. Relevance below.

Yesterday's Twitter conversation was all about Server Populations.

One person in this conversation is likely a sockpuppet. You decide who.

There is no easy fix for the issue of the low population realm, at least if your name is Dave Kozak. There are many POSSIBLE solutions, yes, but the fact that Blizzard has not adopted any of the popular theories should lead the intelligent commentator to grasp some fundamental truths on the subject. By far the largest is wrapped up in the Twitter moment we reported on yesterday: the community and Blizz are tight right now, rather encouragingly so. The subject of Server Mergers and Low Population Servers is as big an issue as any others you are likely to find currently: if you don't believe me, go read this thread on the EU servers, which began my Twitter discussion on this subject with Mr K. If you wanted an issue that could totally destroy the fragile relationships being built at present, you could do a lot worse than this one.

What exactly are the options available? For every solution, there are a myriad of potential pitfalls. I touched on many with my Tweets, which included the following:

  • Merge servers and force people into renaming characters based on a first come, first served criteria. Yes, I know, but it's such a simple solution, when people realise this is a game... except after eight years it's simply unrealistic to even consider this. Even if Blizzard gave everyone months of warning and merged servers themselves people who haven't played for years would appear and complain their rights had been affected, because that's how these things work. This is what happens when you carry so much baggage with you: it becomes both a blessing and a curse.
  • Make Cross Realm Zones work better than they do currently: this is wrapped up in a myriad of problems, no two quite the same. It's not just people being dismounted [*], or people in Low Pop Servers being happy they didn't have to fight for mob spawns, or people levelling not wanting to be griefed by people on a server they chose not to roll on. It's embedded in the culture of a game where it has always been that your 'home' was where you began your life. Unless Blizzard could go back to Vanilla and make it irrelevant on what server you belong, CRZ has the potential to fail.
  • Give everyone a free server transfer, or indeed other incentives to move. Oh yeah, we have those already, but they cost money. Yes, like it or not, the cash issue is a major one, profits for Blizzard notwithstanding. However, giving people stuff for free may send the incorrect signals: like server transfers, which traditionally are the knell of one thing: GAME DEATH.

You know what, I feel pretty sorry for Dave Kosak. He's having to do a pretty mental version of The Safety Dance I'd want no part of: trying to keep everyone happy, but at the same time attempting to address the problem which they know, if they solve it, would be like having God himself open the clouds in a Terry Gilliam moment and handing them the Holy Grail. Cross Realm Zones had the potential to do this, but ironically they've made a whole different set of problems, some which broke the game permanently (we miss you Northrend Fishing Contest!) Going backwards is something Blizzard never seem particularly keen on either. The question then remains: is there a way to solve the issue?

It occurs to me that the fundamental 'problem' with all of this is the original perception of the 'Server Mentality': the place you 'roll' your character on is your home, for better or for worse, and because (in the beginning) you could not pay to move, this made your choice far bigger a deal than it is now. This means there will be an awful lot of old-timers (like myself) who associate having yourself on a particular server as having greater relevance than those who came later to the gaming party. What is abundantly apparent is that people's identity is contentious, even if people forget that a character name is only part of the story. What should be being focussed on (and this is an opinion that's shared by a growing number of people) is the identity BEHIND the character names. Battle.Net ID's should be how you ID a player, NOT their character names spread across multiple servers. Working on that theory, it might be time to introduce the Cross Realm Guild to introduce a new layer of player grouping, which could go a long way to helping certain people feel a greater sense of community than they currently do.

Needless to say, this one is going to run and run. What I found hugely encouraging from my discussion yesterday is that if you take the time to be reasoned and logical in your arguments, there's a pretty good chance that someone at Blizzard will listen to your concerns. Whether they can solve all the problems however remains to be seen.

[*] This issue is apparently fixed in 5.2, or so says Mr Kozak in a tweet from late last night:

YAY for Fixings!

[EDIT: Following a comment from the esteemed Mr G. Elf, there is a solution that might work with merges and names, assuming the chat system didn't collapse as a result: the surname, or perhaps more in tune with those who have been merged, the 'server name surname'.

Let us assume, for this example, that Server A becomes home for players from Servers B to D.

At the time of the merge, everyone who is merged with an existing character is given the suffix relevant to the server they merged from, which would theoretically allow four people to have the same name:

  • Atlantis of Server A
  • Atlantis of Server B
  • Atlantis of Server C
  • Atlantis of Server D
This should allow titles to still be tacked onto the end without too much hassle, AND would allow people to maintain their identities and a link to the server they have been moved from. When creating a new character on the new server you do not get the 'of Server A' suffix, allowing people to differentiate between merged players and new ones.



TheGrumpyElf said...

There is an easy fix, they are just not smart enough to figure it out.

Merge servers, do not make people change their names. Done, simple.

Just add last names.

After the merge when you first attempt to log in you are forced to choose a last name. Tada.

So if I was named Mike and the new server also has a Mike I can be Mike Smith and he can be Mike Johnson and we both can happily keep our names.

Add to that, now if other people want to be named Mike there can be a Mike Smith, Mike Johnson, Mike Brown, Mike White, Mike Williams, etc. You get the idea.

Add even more to that, RPers would LOVE them for adding last names.

Now, they can merge at will AND they can now force people with those stupid symbols in their name to change them. Last names make sense. Add them, merge, win.

Simple solution, but never ever ever in a million years would blizzard do something that was simple and logical.

The Godmother said...

That is brilliant. I have a step up from this, that I reckon would work just as well.

You are given the name you have when merged, but the suffix 'of Server Name' This would allow you to maintain the identity you had previous to the merge PLUS allow multiple versions of the same name.

Titles could then be tagged on the end, and you could legitimately have the same names on multiple servers.

Grimmtooth said...

Seems to me that merging two low-pop servers, the problem takes care of itself to the large extent. You know, two servers with zero players also has zero name overlap issues. Any Blizz server merge will be north of that, of course, but that's the starting point.

They've already got a solution in in that I'm not Grimmtooth there - I'm Grimmtooth#1375 (or something, don't take that number for granted). First one that asks for a rename gets the number lopped off, and the other finds a new name.

This isn't a new thing. There are as many schemes for merging servers and dealing with name collisions as there are MMOs. Blizzard's good fortune is that they haven't really had to deal with this now, but, yes, they need to deal with it, and not using the CRZ cop-out.

Nibuca said...

Add another vote in favor of surnames of some sort. A long while ago I moved servers and found out my name was not available. I still think of myself as "Lilac" and miss that name terribly. To the point where I'm thinking of transferring back just to get the name back.

Navimie said...

I like Mr Elf's idea. I think RPers would LOOOOVE it.

hordemaster said...

I always assumed that low population and server mergers were the domain of mmos with fewer subs than Blizzard's behemoth, but then again with so many options for players now, is this indicative of wow suffering significant sub losses, or is it just a sign of the times kinda deal?