Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Plight of the low pop server

I have been on my server since 2005 when it was first launched and in that time my server has gone from being a medium population server (ever so briefly) to being a low population server less than a year after going live. Since then, it has remained a low pop server. While at the time it wasn’t a big deal, the population on the server has steadily declined. During Vanilla, before paid transfers were implemented, most people rolled on a server and stayed on that server until they either stopped playing or found a reason to start over on a different realm. If you reached level 60 on a character, people tended to stay on that server because it was such a pain to re-level on a new server. Once paid transfers were introduced the barrier to leaving your server was removed. Players were free to transfer their characters to new servers to play with friends/coworkers/raiding guilds/etc.

Of course this didn’t affect the larger realms since the higher population numbers meant they could afford to lose some people to other servers without it affecting the overall population. Unlike larger servers, the smaller servers suffered because the realms couldn’t afford to lose so many people. As new people began playing WoW, most would pick the larger realms because the population made them more appealing than the low pop counterparts. Who wants to roll a new character on what appears to be an empty server when they can roll on a busy server that looks to be more fun? Not all transfers were off of low pop realms. Some people transferred to smaller servers to play with friends or because they grew tired of life on a larger server.The transfers in weren’t numerous enough to slow the tide of people leaving.

There are a few things that affect low pop realms that you might not think about on larger population servers:
·        lack of materials on the auction house prohibiting you from leveling professions without farming materials
·         difficulty finding people to quest/instance/raid with from the server
·        difficulty starting a new guild or joining a new guild
·        recruitment can feel like the most difficult thing ever
·        frustration trying to meet new people.

The last two are the hardest to deal with as a guild leader. I often have to PuG people into raids when we don’t have enough guildees to fill a raid. I ask those in the raid if they have any people on their friend’s lists that would be interested in raiding. And when that doesn’t work I’ve been forced to go to trade chat. On my server, trade chat is usually a barren wasteland.

I don’t mean that the server is a post-apocalyptic land, filled with horrible things, but rather in that it feels like everyone is gone except for me. When I say something in trade, it stays in the chat window until it eventually disappears. People rarely talk in trade and sadly when they do it’s usually a few trolls who want to spam anal jokes or other equally dumb memes. If you are trying to sell anything in trade, you might be waiting for a long while before anyone responds. Like I said, this is just for my server but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if other low pop servers experienced the same thing.

The auction house can often be hit or miss for items that are usually listed in large quantities on other servers. The number of people who are out in the world farming for mats is smaller  so the items go quickly. Prices are, of course, skewed because people don’t want to pay outrageous amounts for items like can be expected on larger servers where there are more people with money to spend. Trying to sell anything through trade chat is difficult, if not impossible, so the AH is often the only place to sell stuff. As with most markets, there are items that consistently sell, but even high demand items can take a relisting or two before they sell because people aren’t online looking to buy all the time.

And recruitment?? Don’t even get me started on how hard it is to recruit competent people! We have an age and personality requirement for our guild. In order to join  you have to be over 18 and be a decent person. We don’t force people to raid if they don’t want to, but if they want to raid, we help them get gear so that they can meet our raiding minimums. When we recruit we will advertise (not spam) in trade chat in a major city, use the in-game guild finder, advertise on twitter, and post on various forums. The people on our server (the few left) tend to already be guilded, not interested in our guild, or don’t meet our two requirements.
Trying to get people to transfer to the server to join our guild doesn’t happen because the server is low pop and people don’t want to spend the money to transfer. If people decide to roll a new character on the server, the server inevitably disappoints them and they leave. We have had a small number of people join the guild but obviously it was more luck that they found us than anything else.

By this point in the post you are probably wondering what the hell all this information about low pop servers has to do with anything. Well first off I’m on a low pop and this is what I have to do deal with every day I decide to play. Second, I am writing because Blizzard has yet to do anything about this situation and it has caused a lot of frustration. In order to get rid of some of this frustration, I am writing about it. So I’m bitching about the situation but do I have any real suggestions? As a matter of fact I have a few! While they may not be the best solutions, they are at least something positive that can be tried out:

·        Merge the servers
·        Open current tier for cross-realm raiding
·        Enable free transfers for guilds TO low pop servers from more than just 2-3 high pop servers

Merge the servers

This is often the first thing most people demand of Blizzard when it comes to low pop servers. So I’ll talk about it first. Currently Blizzard has about 256 US/South American/Oceanic realms. Of those servers, 54 are marked as low pop. That means that just over 20% of servers are low pop. Blizzard doesn’t release exact population numbers for servers, so we don’t have an exact population numbers for what makes up a low, medium,  or high population. We do have nifty websites like that gives an approximation based on armory trawling. Because this uses data from the armory, it includes alts and the unplayed characters that still show up on the armory. Obviously inflates the numbers that realmpop displays, but since that’s all we have it’s what I’ll use.

According to realmpop, the lowest population on a low pop server (Chromaggus-PVP-US) is about 18,600 and the highest (Destromath-PVP-US) is 58,000. Compare this to the lowest population on a high pop server (Dath’Remar-PVE-US) at 80,000 and the highest population (Tichondrius-PVP-US) at 205,500. The gap between the smallest and largest high pop servers is larger than the highest population on a low pop server.

So now that my math has made my head hurt, let’s talk about merging them servers! So if you have so many servers with such a low population, why not merge them into one medium or high population server? The Blizzard developers are constantly asked about this and questioned about why it hasn’t been done to correct the problem. Their responses are usually “we’re looking into it but it isn’t something we’re going to do right now.” The reasons they give are related to problems with character/guild names across the merged servers as well as the problem of forcing people to leave their server.

I get their concerns, I really do. I’d be more than a bit upset if my mage and guild of 8 years suddenly had to have its name changed. Is this an insurmountable obstacle for realm merging? No. Through cross-realm grouping we’ve already experienced running a group with people who have the same name but are on different servers. How does the game handle that? It added their realm name to their character name. So what you’ll see is Arthasdklol – Ursin and Arthasdklol – Illidan in the same raid without the game breaking. Why not merge the servers into a new server and add the previous server name to the characters with name clashes? If you have a character with a unique name then you don’t have to add the previous server but if you have a commonly used name, you add the – previous server name to the name. It allows people who’ve had their names to keep them.

This also works for guild names. There could be an Avengers of Azeroth – Ursin and an Avengers of Azeroth – Dalaran, for example. I think if they did this it would allow guilds to still keep their names as well as allowing each guild to represent where they came from. I’m sure that this would take some work to get sorted out but honestly a little hard work now means later on a lot more people are happy in game. Sure it might look a little weird at first but if it’ll give me a server with real people to play on, I’ll get used to it!

Open the current tier for cross realm raiding

Why are raiding guilds transferring off low pop servers and taking a large amount of people with them? Because they can’t recruit people for their raid teams and so they must look to greener pastures to maintain their way of life. In the last three weeks my server has lost about 5 raiding guilds because they couldn’t find new recruits. Two of those guilds were in the top four guilds on the server for progression and the other three were not far behind.

Each guild has given the same reason for leaving the server: finding new recruits that can raid at the level/time that the guild requires was next to impossible for them. So they all went to larger realms where they could recruit the people that they needed. I know that as a raid leader of a casual guild, I HATE having to cancel our raid because we don't have enough people to fill the raid. It’s super frustrating to spend an hour in trade trying to find one or two people, but have no luck. If I were in a progression raiding guild, and was the raid leader of a team that often cancelled raids because people weren’t available, I'd be looking to move somewhere I could find people who could raid.

Blizzard has given us the ability to run dungeons, heroics, scenarios. and raids together through the wonders of cross-realm grouping, but we can only raid the previous tier of content. This means that while the Throne of Thunder raid is the current raid tier, we can only raid MSV, HoF, and ToES since those are considered the previous tier. I've been in several successful cross realm raids with people from twitter. If I am running MSV or HoF with my guild and I find myself short a dps or two, I can hit up my friends list, openraid, the TLR forums, and even twitter to find someone to fill the raid. Cross-realm raiding has made it possible for people to be on different realms and still get a chance to raid. Your server can be a low pop pvp server and it won't matter because you can invite friends to fill your raid.

My suggestion is to allow us to cross realm the current tier of raids. If I don't have enough people to raid new raid instance, I can find people who want to run it. My guilds biggest draw is that we have a great time when we raid. It's a low stress raid and we often have moments when we can't stop laughing at something that happened in raid chat or vent. When we pug people into our raids, they tend to enjoy themselves and eventually we either get a new guildee or a person that we know is really good and is willing to pug for us when we need someone.

This raid culture has gotten more than a few people to either transfer to Ursin or to start a brand new alt on the server to play with us. If I could raid current content with cross realm people, it would
(1)   allow us to actually raid when we are short people
(2)   possibly get us a few new members, and
(3)   let people who wouldn't other wise raid the current content, raid said content.
Blizzard says they don't know if they will allow this because they’re unsure what affect it'll have on guilds. I guess Blizz seems to think that guilds are only created to bring people together to raid. Maybe they've never heard of several small guilds coming together to raid together without merging. Or possibly they've never had alts that have raided with other guilds. 

Whenever opening current content to cross realm raiding gets mentioned, there are a few vocal people who claim that it will ruin progression tracking. I guess they seem to think that if you can suddenly raid current content, a pug of cross realm raiders will manage to magically down everything and lay claim to all server firsts for each person. The chances of that happening are slim to none. Even fi it were a potential issue, Blizzard could make it so that realm first kills are like guild raid achievements; You need 80% of people from a realm for it to count as a realm first for that realm. For example, I am raiding Heroic Terrace of Endless Spring in 10 man mode and have eight guildees in the raid, I pug in two people from twitter and we manage to not only clear the raid but we also get a realm first for downing the Sha of Fear. The 80% of people on my server (my guildees) will get a realm first achievement while the two pugged people will not. 

It’s a simple solution to a potential complaint.  It wouldn't mess with progression tracking because it’s almost all members of my guild and the probability that we would have gotten that kill if we had two more guildees is pretty high. No one is going to magically jump up in the progression charts quicker than they would have moved by being able to pug in cross realm people. BUT people will be able to raid with their friends and progress and see the raid tiers before they are old content. 

I would even go as far as to say that by allowing this, progression guilds could see a high influx of new members because they could run the current tier of raids with applicants and this would allow the guilds to know whether the applicant would be able to pull their weight in a progression raid without having to pay money to server or faction change. If someone wants to join a raiding guild, they have to apply to the guild, pay to transfer a character to the new realm, run a few trial raids with the guild, and find out if they’re a good fit. If they pass they get in and the money was well spent but if they don't get in, the applicant just wasted money and they are now stuck on that server until they find another guild elsewhere. If I was in the situation where I was looking for a raiding guild, I'd love the option of NOT having to shell out money to find a guild that works for me.

Enable free transfers for guilds TO low pop servers from more than just 2-3 high pop servers

When Blizzard does allow transfers from high pop to a low pop server it’s usually from one or two high pop servers to several low pop servers. This usually means that the high pop server will see a small handful of people actually leave it to go to the low pop servers. The high pop server doesn't see a decrease in population and the low pop populations continues to decline.

My suggestion is that they open realm transfers from the top 10 high pop servers to 3-4 low pop servers. Now this won't make more people leave each server than normal BUT with enough servers having the option to transfer off, the usual tiny trickle of people could turn into a slight stream of people heading to low pop servers. There are enough high pop servers that Blizz could easily do this enough times to get at least a few new people on most of the low pop servers. It's a stretch, but at this point anything is better than nothing.

So that's at least three things that Blizzard can do to help the low population situation. Will they do any of these things? No clue. Would I LOVE it if they did? Hell yes I would! Until then, I'll be on my server, doing my thing with my guild, and hoping that we can get a few more people to join our guild and/or server.

Come on Blizzard, don't make me cancel any more of my raids due to not having enough people!


  1. I feel your pain! I am 10m raiding guild GM on the low pop server Tortheldrin and can relate to everything you have mentioned. Recently we had the only other raiding guild server change so it leaves my guild as the only raiding guild. Being on such a dead server makes things so hard! Thankfully, we have a core group that rarely misses a raid but being on a low pop server makes it difficult to WANT to log in on non-raid nights. You should check out for a podcast on making the best of low pop servers. Anyway, great read and hope your server sees better days in the future :)
    -Danasc├╝lly of Tortheldrin

  2. Looks like you have been thinking about this for a while.

    " Open the current tier for cross realm raiding"
    I dont see why they couldnt uirui kuuuuhygchyytfjhk open it up just for low pop realms. I feel merged with other realms as it is with the cross realm zones.

    anywho loved it and so did The Spawn, who decided to join in my comment.

  3. It's not just buyers that suffer on a low pop server either. With a smaller customer base it can be a pain selling items too, often having to relist repeatedly, especially on rarer items.

  4. That would be a major pain for me. I spend a lot of time at the AH and not being able to sell my items within a short time would drive me totaly nuts.

  5. Well Said... If only Bliz would listen! I had to move my main to a high pop server to raid... loved it.. always something to do. I had been ready to quit the game as it takes so long to put something together that it isn't worth playing. My old guild is in trouble and about to disband so I came back. Had been the first GM of it. I am hoping I can get a raid team together... Seems Bliz doesn't understand why they are losing so many people and you spelled it out perfectly!

    1. Great article.

      As a GM of a 300+ people guild in Argyos, I feel the same pain. It's never been the same since CATA, and it's only getting worse after 5.3. So many viable raiders had left the server, making it very difficult to find good people to form viable raiding groups, and the TOT raids are simply too hard for ... casual raiders.

      If the change the loot drops in a way that lower population servers have slightly better rates, it would at least provide an incentive for someone to move from a high population server to a lower one. Otherwise, there's no real reason to pay $$$ to go to a server where trade is close to dead, and you can't pug into raids easily. I favor this or server merge.

      I think they really need to merge the servers so that all servers at least has 1/2 or 1/3 the population of the highest populated servers. The "world" is only attractive if it's populated. It's depressing to be the only one loitering in Stormwind ... sometimes....

  6. If only Bliz would listen! I had to move my main to a high pop server to raid... loved it.. always something to do. I had been ready to quit the game as it takes so long to put something together that it isn't worth playing. My old guild is in trouble and about to disband so I came back. Had been the first GM of it. I am hoping I can get a raid team together... Seems Bliz doesn't understand why they are losing so many people and you spelled it out perfectly!
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