Server and Realm Population Balance

Server population has come up a lot recently in comments here on our blog and on message boards. Most recently I posed the question to the PotBS dev team in last night’s Dev Chat asking them what is being done to ensure an even population amongst nations. People who are not familiar with DAOC, WoW, or now even Pirates of the Burning Sea’s population woes want to know what sort of impact an unfair population will have on the less populous realm. Those who have experience want to know how to avoid it. I have a few ideas but first I want to explain the downside of unbalanced populations.

When one side has a clear numbers lead on another it creates so many problems. First it’s a natural draw for newer players or players looking for a server. Few people want to join the underdogs. Most people will flock to the more popular side in hopes for groups or an edge. Unbalanced populations also lead to lopsided gameplay. In DAOC Albion was a zerg and would just steamroll anyone regardless of tactics. Nothing beats numbers. Combine the lesser evils of lag with the woes of overpopulated hunting spots and you have one hell of a mess.

overpopulationIn Pirates of the Burning Sea the population issue on Rackham could lead to a very debilitating wave of destruction from the Spanish. With 2-1 numbers they could squash the Pirate nation and fight the British without concern of spreading themselves too thin. They have the armadas and Soeciety organization to occupy every region of the map. At first this will be accepted as part of the game and players will get their kicks from trying to overcome to odds. Eventually it will suck to lose all the time. Losing takes its toll.

How can this either be avoided or fixed? I’m glad you I asked.

To prevent unbalanced sides there must be restrictions placed upon how many people can create characters on a side before it locks out creation. No one likes this. It creates more problems that it solves. Scratch that idea. There’s FF11’s way of randomizing the server you start on forcing you to get codes to change servers – I loathe this system and wish it to die a most horrible death by fire. Okay, scratch punitive preemptive prevention and rely on the problem fixing itself through incentives for the losing side. There are several ways to create incentives for the lesser populated realm. Give an exp boost, allow them to cut more corners (DAOC let players create higher level characters through the instant leveling system on servers with lower pop realms), go to the extreme and add damage or resistance bonuses on severely under populated sides (not advised but effective), increase loot drops, free server transfers to low pops (not necessarily a realm pop fix)… you get the idea. The solutions are many. The implementation would be easy.

We have seen decent attempts at balancing server populations and they have shown some promise. Why haven’t we seen more aggressive attempts at balancing realms, factions, sides, etc? I think there is nothing more frustrating than starting out in a brand new MMO on what you think is a great server/realm combination and having it turn into a horrible one 2 months down the road. People are more inclined to quit than they are to start over. The solution to the problem is readily available. Should it be a problem in WAR or continue to be a problem in PotBS then fix it and fix it fast. You might even deserve that extra couple bucks a month if you do. (I’m looking at your WAR!)

  • You’ve been hitting them out of the park, lately, Keen! Population imbalance was my single greatest frustration in DAoC and one of my top 3 in WoW, playing Mid/Lance and Horde/Proudmoore as I did. PI is what killed world PvP on Proudmoore for me. One suggestion you had especially intrigued me: “free server transfers to low pops (not necessarily a realm pop fix)” I can actually see that being very effective in some instances. There are many pre-existing online communities that have subsets that play MMO’s- Ars Technica, The Older Gamers, Gamers With Jobs are just a few. Since most people belong to multiple online communities, they may make a MMO decision based on one community or just randomly that doesn’t pan out very well for them. It’s not unusual for a large community to have members on multiple servers who have just enough of an investment to be reluctant to start over. If an Ars Technica group of 20, 30, or even 50 decided to move to an underpopulated realm, it could give them a bump that might make the experience significantly better for the people already there.

    It seems like everything you’ve been bringing up lately has been something that concerns me- Mythic should hire you 🙂

  • Make it 20$ a month to play on overpopulated and $10 a month to play on underpopulated. 😉

  • Have been playing DAOC for 5 years.
    The focus of the game is RVR. The faster you can get a toon to lvl 50 and geared up the MORE time you have to enjoy the RVR.
    The Mids have the SM, but need 5-6 in group. Hibs have Enchanter, easy to power-level with . But, the Albs with the Necro tops them all. Fastest way going. People figured that out quickly. Less grinding in Hib and Alb, Mid sucked therefore low population .

    Hib had the animist to add to the fast power-leveling and XP grind, until a die-hard Mid player and Animist -Hater was put in charge of class balanced and totally gutted the class, slowing down the XP rate.

    People like to Play the game, not grind out levels ….