Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Server Angst

Seemingly, 9 out of 10 bloggers started playing the “live” version of WAR on Sunday because they purchased the Collector’s Edition (CE) of Warhammer Online. Not me. I didn’t pre-order the CE addition; I pre-ordered the Standard Edition (SE).

No – for me, Sunday and Monday were mildly frustrating. I spent the better part of Saturday sorting out which were my favorite careers and logged a good six or seven hours on the last day of the beta. Then – I was cut off.

Instead, I spent a couple of days trying to decide on a server and enviously reading the WAR reports from other bloggers. I’m not really making this server decision on my own since I have a couple of good real life (non-blogger) friends that I intend to play with frequently.

Core vs Open
I have really been struggling with this decision. In the end, we decided on a Core ruleset. There are things I don’t like about either ruleset, but ultimately it was decided that Core is a more well thought out design.

A big part of what I enjoy about “ganking” is coming across my prey by chance. It’s my belief the only areas where I would “chance” upon enemy players in an Open ruleset would be in areas that are already deemed RvR in the Core ruleset.

It’s rather pointless to travel to the other faction unless your purpose is to stir up trouble. Quests and RvR objectives are not going to take you to those areas. Don’t get me wrong, I like stirring up trouble – I just think the Open ruleset was designed as an afterthought and seems more problematic than the Core ruleset.

Server populations
The oldest servers in an MMO almost always have the largest populations. The reason is pretty simple. If Player A is on a server and recruits a friend to play – that friend is going to join Player A’s server. If that friend, in turn, recruits another friend to play – the new friend is also most likely to join that server. And so on and so on.

I understood that there was something like only 15 servers available on Sunday’s CE launch. Any established guild that had officers with the CE edition almost assuredly decided to settle on one of those 15 servers.

This means that any guild member not in the CE will join that server. Moreover, any FRIEND of any of those guild members will also join those servers. And so on.

I don’t think it’s any stretch to say that those 15 original servers will be among the most heavily populated in WAR.

And while heavy populations are good for PvP, they are bad for...

Server queues
There has been a bit of confusion about the reason the server queues existed on Sunday and Monday. This post by Mark Jacobs explains it best.

The condensed version is that when a SERVER is introduced, it has a population cap of 1/3 of the actual maximum population. The day after it has been introduced, it increases to 2/3 of the max population. And on the third day, there is no artificial cap and the max is the actual maximum.

In addition, each faction is allocated ½ of the population cap. This means that on the first day, no more than a sixth of the max population is allowed onto a single faction.

These artificial limits are purposefully designed to encourage people to spread out amongst the servers AND the factions.

The importance of balance
We may not like the spreading out, but this is actually very important for several balance issues. The most obvious is realm balance. If queue times are artificially high for one faction early on, then players with little preference will naturally choose the faction with the lower queue time.

There is no better time to make this decision than at launch when players have no existing investment. In other words, the artificial cap is useful in encouraging people to make the switch BEFORE they level a character to 40 and THEN experience horrible queue times as the server population inevitable grows.

From a short-term perspective, the artificial launch cap is also useful in preventing too many players in the starting zone at launch. You simply can’t have EVERYONE in the first chapters at the same time or you’ll ruin everyone’s launch experience.

From a longer-term perspective, the artificial cap prevents everyone from playing on a single server. If we could – most of us would all love to play in one single shared world instead of being broken apart into different servers. Of course, this just simply isn’t possible and something needed to be done to force people to spread out.

Because even though there were only 60,000 people who purchased the CE, these 60,000 people have friends. And all those friends will want to play with them.

Short queues might be desirable
In my mind, the ideal situation would be a scenario in which you had a very short queue time. Wait... what? How can any queue be good?

Simple. If your faction has a queue, then that means it is at FULL population. This means that you need not worry about realm imbalance because your faction is outnumbered.

It’s actually to your benefit for the server to be as FULL as possible for your faction. Therefore, having a queue (in a weird way) is a bit of a good thing.

As long as it’s short.

A long queue is clearly not desirable. But a 1 minute queue? Hmm. Maybe that’s not a horrible thing.

Resolving my Server Angst
We decided last night to roll on one of the servers launched today. We get a better selection of names and a “fresh” start. We also decided to start with Order. If we hate it, we might switch. But at least to start, we will hopefully be avoiding ugly queue times.

However, I still believe (since this is still a head start server) that it will become one of the more heavily populated servers. I don’t think it will be anywhere near as popular as the those first 15, but I am hopeful that it will be popular enough to have plenty of people on the Order side.

I can’t help but think that those first 15 servers will be terribly overpopulated for both factions. A mere 15 servers at launch seems – well, entirely too few. In this regard, I agree with Heartless_ that headstarts do not work.

1 comment:

priestlyendeavors said...

In general, I agree. That said, I can think of one possible use (besides marketing enthusiasm). It might be useful as a gamma test. (Alpha, beta, gamma, ...) It might provide one more opportunity to ensure you're ready for the load. Yes, it's only 48 hours to fix the "oh crap" discoveries, but that's better than being on plus time.

Supporting this is the impression I've received that head start load was significantly larger than beta.

I agree with the problems you've identified, and further expect Mythic will be offering some sort of "please change servers" move in the not so distant future. And the idea of a gamma test, while sorta valid, isn't enough to have persuaded me had I been the decision maker. But it is a use.

On a slightly different note, which career did you end up choosing for now?