MMO Server Sizes

Over the past few years the trend for MMO servers has clearly been to increase the population size and decrease the number of servers–even down to one. The mega server idea seems awesome. One big server for everyone? Sign me up. That is, until it becomes clear that instancing is used to separate people into different instances and the population feels smaller and more divided anyway.

MMOs in the past had smaller server populations and larger worlds, but they worked better. Why? I have a few ideas.

Zones were laid out well (so was the world) and players were encourage to spread out yet group up creating the feeling that you were always with other players yet not constantly surrounded by crowds.

Players knew each other. Some of the things I’ve written about recently, like downtime and slower combat, brought people together to socialize. Reputations mattered. You might hunt in the same zone or dungeon as another player for days or weeks. When looking for a group you would often get back into groups with the same people. This fostered immense camaraderie.

I’m all in favor of individual servers without instancing remaining the standard. The number of servers needed at launch is always a point of debate, but playing it smart isn’t difficult. Don’t make too many servers. Don’t launch a world with everyone in one or two starting areas. Avoid the instancing and mega server mentality that creates a shallow world where players needn’t interact with anyone.

I’m curious to hear whether or not you guys are all into the idea of individual servers or mega server tech, and why.

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flosch - July 24, 2014

A megaserver in which, for load balancing reasons, you are randomly put into a phase/shard/instance, and which makes it hard to switch between them, gives you the worst of both worlds: You are basically playing on a small server again, but this time, you also won’t meet the same people regularly.

A megaserver with zone instances is as if they took everything that is bad about dungeon finders, and applied that to the rest of the world.

Rodalpho - July 24, 2014

Megaservers are the future. They aren’t going anywhere.

I like a hybrid version. Imagine virtual servers laid on top of a megaserver. The backend is all one giant server, but players are “phased” (in the WoW coalesced zone sense) into specific named shards.

Your friends, guildmates, and any players with recent interactions of any kind (excepting ignores) are always visible in the same worldspace. Areas are phased apart and together based upon desired population densities.

This preserves the community interaction and economy of a standard 3-5k player sharded server, but allows for immense flexibility in providing superior gameplay (no empty zones) and not separating people from their friends.

Trippin Ninja - July 24, 2014

I think Rodalpho is on to something there. Mega servers can work if done right. Personally I hate meeting someone who plays the same game and is on a different server especially considering most companies would charge you to change servers. It shouldn’t cost me money to play with my friends if I already pay you 15 a month. At the very least let me invite them to a group and they can be a guest on my server.

The players are the main reason there’s no co-op any more. Many of today’s customers are very impatient. Like boot you from an instance in less than the time it takes to log back in from a disconnect impatient. While mega servers aren’t helping, it doesn’t feel like they are making it worse.

Personally I think they just need to give better incentives for co-op. Bonuses to xp or drop rates or something along those lines. If you have a group finder tool allow the user to rate his group mates. Not a rating that the whole community can see otherwise trolls will just ruin it. Make it a rating system just for that user. So if I give guys 5 out 5 stars the group tool will try to group me with them first and then move to 4 stars and so on. Won’t be long and I’ll be grouping with folks that I prefer to play with and relationships can be established even on a giant mega server.

bhagpuss - July 24, 2014

GW2’s Megaserver has been interesting. At first it was chaotic but after a couple of months it’s working reasonably well. If I do the same kind of content I tend to see some of the same names each time. It isn’t like a random selection of total strangers every time, at least.

On the other hand, it definitely isn’t a “community”, not in the way WvW, which still operates on a per-server basis, is. I think there has to be a way to get the infrastructure and population advantages of single servers/megaservers while still keeping the “Server” communities of old.

I don’t object to the concept but the implementations so far need a lot more work.

Rodalpho - July 24, 2014

Err, GW2 is actually somewhat close to what I outlined. You do have real servers, and they combine in low-pop (leveling) areas.

Rawblin - July 24, 2014

I’ll take the real megaserver every time, if it is an option. By real, I mean a server that IS mega, not a server that just CALLS itself mega. EvE is a perfect example of a REAL megaserver. One server, everyone that has ever or will ever play EvE plays there. All at once, all the time, forever. Many, many, manymanymanymany zones. No instances.

The fake “mega”servers we have coming out these days are just that, fake. There is nothing mega about an instance that holds 100 people… “ohhhhh, ahhhhh!” That is just silly. Instancing and even phasing are the exact polar opposite of what a truly living MMO world needs.

So given a choice, I’d go with a Megaserver every time for my ideal MMO. But it is hard to do well. You need a massive world (and I do mean massive) and tons and tons of zones within said world. And then you need a reason for people to actually travel and move about, and whatnot. It’s a fine edge to balance on.

So if that is not an option, then small 1500-2000ish player (max concurrent online) servers are great for real MMOs. Living MMOs. They are what we started with. They were amazing.

And if you really think about it, we are a minority. We always have been. We were playing MMOs before they were mainstream. We ARE a niche crowd. So we don’t necessarily need massive servers or even a megaserver. The old tried and true would probably work just fine for a game that caters to our desires.

Baba black sheep - July 24, 2014

I don’t believe the players are the reason there is no coop anymore. Well technically it is the players but only because recent game design allows them to act that way. Grouping is basically an afterthought because everybody can tank and 5 out of 6 of the group can heal. So if you disco for 3 minutes oh well let’s just pull up the lfg tool and get another dps ported right to where we are in this dungeon.

It used to be freaking hard to get a competent group and it took potentially an hour to get it to the dungeon. And lo and behold if you wiped during the trip there or in the dungeon because getting back was going to take another hour and praying the in is potion didn’t wear off.

Rorik - July 24, 2014

What we want and what server hardware can handle are two very different things. Instancing and phased megaservers are going to be the way of the future because they distribute the load over many pieces of hardware. With server virtualization and cloud computing being so appealing and cheap I don’t see game companies switching to a unified game world server like Eve where everyone can see everyone if they are close enough. I just read today on MMO champion where a Blizzard dev talked about how much more taxing it is on their hardware to expand the distance where NPC’s pop into view.

Once hardware tech is fast enough, or cheap enough (it may be fast enough now, especially with new RDMA networking speeds) we’ll hopefully see larger non-instanced populations.

The other thing to consider is name uniqueness for characters. For games that don’t allow spaces, hyphens and apostrophes a mega server would make naming characters a huge pain.

Jenks - July 24, 2014

I agree with Rawblin, a real mega server is the best option.

Real mega server > old style ‘small’ servers >>> games with instanced zones.

John - July 25, 2014

The bigger the number of players within a zone/around you the lower the graphics should be. So no, I prefer the normal server setup in which there will be no instancing and no phasing. There will be standard people there that you will meet and will know them for good and for bad.

Also one mega server means, no server rulesets. PVE, PVP and especially RP. I like playing on RP servers, how a megaserver can give me that? Should I spend half a year to meet all the possible RP players, add them to my “friend” list so to meet them again in our separate phasing/instance? (Rodalpho example).

No, keep it classic and make a veteran reward system like “3 months of sub, you have a free server transfer”.

Rodalpho - July 25, 2014

Remember, you see players from your own virtual server first; players from other servers only show up when the population count in a set area drops below a set threshold.

Your virtual server is tagged PvP or RP. If your area falls below the population threshold, you’ll start seeing other players who fit those same criteria.

John - July 25, 2014

So you take part in a kind of survey that you check your interesting and then it puts you on a virtual server with same players as you? If thats how is working then ok.

Rodalpho - July 25, 2014

No, like I said in my first comment, you pick a virtual server just like you do now. Some are RP, some PvP, etc.

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