The concept of choosing a server has really evolved over the years. Way back when MMORPGs first became a thing -- that is to say, people starting playing role-playing games in a large multiplayer setting (before they were called "MMORPGs") -- we didn't have multiple servers. There was one server because there wasn't enough people to justify more.
Then the genre grew and we had games come with with *gasp* 5-10 servers. After the population explosion of WoW, servers became almost ridiculous. There became so many servers it became literally hard to count them all.
Population explosion and opening so many servers has its obvious drawbacks. When populations dip, as they inevitably do, you have some servers become ghost towns and others become overpopulated. You also have a fractured community, and you may have friends on a different server. There are fixes, many of which games like WoW have done. There are alternatives, many of which other games have done.
With all that said, let's look at this question posed by Pantheon's MMO Twitter.
What do you look for when choosing a server to call home, potentially for many years to come, is there a process you follow or specific things you look for before deciding?
I know how I want to answer this question. I want to say that I don't have to worry about any of that because there's only one "server" and I can play with anyone I want. There aren't different ruleset servers such as PvP or RP. There aren't different geographic restrictions like EU or NA. We're all in one world together.
I don't want to worry about making a bad server choice. I don't want there to even be such a thing.
If we pretend that's impossible, and I absolutely had to make a choice, I'd go with a "normal" rule set where my friends will play. I used to pick the "RP" server, but there hasn't been a server-wide RP element for decades (plural). I'll always avoid the server where the zerg communities are going, because they tend to break games and communities.
I just want a normal experience where everyone can play together and there aren't massive queues or people getting stuck on a server they regret.
There are some asian games that do this pretty well by utilizing channels. Basically there is one big server but it’s broken up into channels that you can switch between. Like everything, this can be done well or poorly, and there are some drawbacks. but i think on the whole this system has the most potential if done well.
I would envision a single server with a lot of channels, and the UI for choosing the channels would show which channel your friends and guildmates are in so that when you log in you can select a channel where most of your friends are. I also envision each of the channels would have an actual name, not just a number, so that you can identify a channel as your “home” channel for you and your friends and hopefully people would stick to one channel and only change when it’s necessary so you keep a little bit of that local community feel.
The main challenge i think comes in how easy/difficult it is to change channels, and how often you want players to be able to do it. this would be tough balancing act to get right, but i think the trouble would be worth it if you can find a way to create a sense of community, and still allow players freedom to move channels if needed.
Other than the different types of server (PvP, RP etc) I pick my servers by their name. It’s the most important thing by far. I have almost never had a bad result doing that because names attract people who are at least to some degree aesthetically sympathetic. The problem for me always comes when the servers inevitably merge after a few months or years and I and my likeminded servermates get bodged together with people who chose a server with an entirely different name and aesthetic.
Anyone who doesn’t believe servers have different cultures and personalities, by the way, is either not paying attention or not sufficiently attuned to social and cultural nuance to notice. They always do and often it’s a very marked difference indeed.
I was on the original Galahad server on DAOC. I picked it by name but didn’t realize on that server the damn Hibs and Mids would team up against my beloved Albs. Heres hoping Camelot Unchained can recapture some of that magic.