The Daily Grind: How would you solve the housing server merge problem?

When ArcheAge launched, I was one of those who was brutally harsh about its mind-numbingly stupid housing system, a more or less open-world system that incentivized land rushes, greed, gold sinks, and cheating. As far as I could tell, even back in 2014, the game’s handlers had learned absolutely nothing from the previous 17 years of MMORPG housing buffoonery. One of my complaints? Not thinking ahead to server merges.

“Balance your server populations carefully and never add more servers than you’ll need after the three-month slump because if you think server merges spell doom for themeparks, know that they’re even worse for open-world housing sandboxes (Vanguard, SWG), only slightly worse an option than ignoring the problem and expecting your players to pay to move themselves and lose their land in the process (UO, LOTRO).” [This was before LOTRO’s free transfers.]

And now here we are again, seeing server merges so bad MOP’s MJ Guthrie, whose pixel home narrowly survived the last round of merges, intimated she was done this time once her house is nuked and she’s forced into yet another land rush. It’s too late for ArcheAge, I fear, but there has to be a way out of this — maybe it’s not too late for the next MMO with housing. How would you solve the housing server merge problem?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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59 Comments on "The Daily Grind: How would you solve the housing server merge problem?"

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Alex Malone

I don’t think there is a good way to handle this sort of thing. If two people on different servers are using the same plot of land, one of them must lose out following a merge. I think the most important design choice for me would be to ensure that the world has vastly more land than is needed by the server. So, if the server supports 10,000 accounts, make sure there is enough land to support 50,000 accounts. That way, land is never scarce, though competition will always remain for the best spots.

Following that, and knowing there is no good way, I’d just go for a “fair” way:

1) Ensure that some special sort of inventory exists for housing. This way, your house / mats / contents all end up in that inventory following a merge, keeping things simple in terms of managing stuff.

2) Ensure a history is kept in terms of town progression. For example, if it takes months for a town to grow / progress in terms of game mechanics, you need to ensure the town mayor or whatever can instantly re-designate a town of the same size. Players shouldn’t have to repeat the town progression on the new server.

3) Wipe everything. Yes, this will result in a mega land rush following the merge, but at least all players will be in the same boat rather than the “natives” having the advantage. You could potentially try to tie this into the story somehow – some Genghis Khan style horde has ploughed through the world and destroyed stuff, so now the server has to clear the remaining horde and then rebuild. Could somehow automate it so that the server places the hardest horde members where the largest player towns used to be, resulting in the need to form a few raids to clear the area before it can be claimed again?

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Chosenxeno .

People keep blaming Trion when the real issue is design. Instanced Housing is simply better in MMORPGs. Trion didn’t make the decision to make Housing the way it was. Forget Trion’s demonetization or whatever. The minute The Developers made housing and land the way it was the game was dead. Name one MMORPG where non-instanced housing works. NOT SURVIVAL GAMES. MMORPG.

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Byórðæįr

housing is one of those things that is resource intensive but also impacts long on and log off. When you have housing hubs that is where players log on and off. When you have people dropping houses anyway it is mess. Which leaves two good options instanced housing in the major NPC towns, and areas zoned off as wildness player town areas. Having played most if not all of the mmos at one point or another I can say with certainty that most have positive parts and more had negative points. So no one has actually figured out a good system yet. What we really need is a system where in the major NPC towns all residences and above shops are instanced. Some of them do need balconies where you can walk out and view town but in dessert online the change from you decorated home to the default as you look behind is glaring as is the view out the windows is to a empty zone. Maybe there is a good way maybe there is not. I don’t know.

The point is when the server merges happen if the homes are instanced versions then which server you are on does not matter as long as your home exists in that server.

That said most players would rather have more control of the outside of their home. So the only way that could work was if all the lots could be bought in a town by players and the cities are divided into different quarters, like a steam punk quarter for an engineer section or dwarf section, a mage section, and trade quarter or financial quarter, a noble quarter (mostly player owned homes that are more expensive but have more options for outside and layout designs, and so forth and the parts and outsides you can use are limited to those sections and buying the house and decorating it allows your outside to be the one people see and if a second player buys the same home they can use it as decorated or they can try to come up with a different design for the outside and once they are really they click a check box and sign post outside lets people who have bought a house in the quarter vote which outside design they like better. The inside being instanced goes down one story for every two up and each owner can decorate the inside by placing objects. This could also extend to castles on hiltops above towns and be instanced guild housing that the outer walls, buildings and main keep design could be voted on by the player guilds that buy into the property. The inside of course would be editable by the guild to how the floors work and what section of inside is controlled. Think like fortnite’s building system for the interiors. The outsides would have to be from set pieces so that the company running the mmo can optimize what is and what is good for the game.

That means one you have to buy the lot and you can only buy one lot per town, and when two players own the same lot they both can create a version of what they want it to look like in an instance and click a button to apply changes if their is more than one owner with a design ready check box then the lot owners in that quarter gets to vote on which design they want to be in their neighborhood. I think that would give enough flexibility on the player wants but engineering the code for that might be a wee bit hard.

styopa
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styopa

AA goes down as a really good game in so very many respects COMPLETELY DESTROYED BY THE INCOMPETENCE OF THE BUSINESSPEOPLE RUNNING IT.

I’m so goddamned bothered by it because games struggle so hard to get things that AA managed to do right in terms of gameplay, mechanics, class balance, etc.

For them to have so many hard things successfully to be betrayed by their business runners…well, I don’t think the word tragedy is overstating it.

Oh I know, it wasn’t just the business. There were some colossally bad choices made technically (client-side files, really? What the Serious F*ck were you thinking?) but again, in terms of classes, abilities and such it really did have strong promise.

Or is it a James Dean / Firefly situation: that it died so fast it can be remembered for its potential, rather than for all the crap that would have been more evident had it lived even a little longer….?

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Daniel Reasor

Just stack the castles on top of each other to make skyscraper apartment buildings.

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Toy Clown

I quit AA after the 2nd time of losing all my properties. While it’s a game, it’s a game I sunk hours and effort into creating homes for my characters. With it came a lot of aggravation dealing with other players to acquire my houses. Even had other players try to force me out of my houses because they were in a path to them wanting the largest mansions.

I couldn’t do it a 3rd time. I know people still playing AA that have entire villages they’ve built from day 1 on Tahyang, and now they’re debating quitting and moving to other games.

ArcheAge was a great game before it came NA-side and during alpha, but suffered from bad management decisions through it’s life. I still remember all the drama over the last server merges, and the people that said, “This is the last time.”

I think ArcheAge could benefit from figuring out how to stop making these bad decisions or stop the people pushing them through, and also adding in instanced “apartments” in NPC cities that players can drop into, combined with open-world housing. I remember XLGames bringing that up a few years back as a solution to housing, but obviously it was never dwelled further on.

I can’t see AA having much of a dedicated playerbase left after they merge the servers again. Every time I see another post go up about drama in AA, I can’t help thinking to myself that I’m glad I got out of the game.

MJ Guthrie
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MJ Guthrie

Yah, I own a whole little corner in Falcorth and it took me like a year and a half to collect it all and make our guild village. I’m not going to go through all that again.

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Shiro Madoushi

You shouldn’t have trouble placing it all back down after the merge.

MJ Guthrie
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MJ Guthrie

Yeah, right. Getting the entire corner of a housing lot to fit all of our things during a land rush? No, not possible. Getting exactly where we want back, where we worked so hard to build? Yah, can’t see that happening either. There are other folks on other servers that are gunning for that same spot as their own to rebuild their spot, and probably plenty more who just want it too. Really, it isn’t worth it now to have everything that was worked for for years stripped away to fight all the same land grabs and hassles again.

taradyne
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taradyne

Yeah I have friends who have sunk thousands of hours and dollars into building their “town”. Fortunately they are on Kraken so will not have to move this time, but they are on notice now that it could all go poof.

MJ Guthrie
Staff
MJ Guthrie

Tahyang was safe last round, but you see how long that lasted. Be prepared!

Reader
Barantor

Black Desert, Black Desert, Black Desert….
Instanced, but not in it’s own zone like Lotro, built into the world where when you look out the window you see the street you live on. Yeah there might be others that have the same house as you, but with so many useless doors in MMO towns I don’t understand why they don’t do this more often. It makes cities/towns actually feel lived in rather than empty NPC streets.

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Greaterdivinity

You don’t do them. There’s no real “nice” way to merge servers with a setup like this. It’s a matter of game design, this game is designed for persistent servers that aren’t merged every year or two, at least if folks want to keep the land they get.

Now, is there room for a server that resets regularly and allows folks to repeat the land rush? Absolutely. But beyond that, servers should remain stable and with as few merges as possible.

But it’s looking more like player numbers are dipping and Trion likely needs a cash infusion, so reset everything and start from scratch all over again! Yeah, I’m that cynical with Trion nowadays : /

taradyne
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taradyne

This.
ArcheAge is a pvp game designed for brutal land rush events and the possibility of loss. I don’t think it’s a good design, which is why I don’t play it anymore. But the thrill of acquisition, the fight for expansion and the satisfaction of holding onto what is precious is fun for a lot of (other) players.

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Slaasher

Well clearly it isn’t since this appears to be the main reason that people state they have left the game.

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Paul

Single shard / plenty of land. Instanced housing ruins it for me.

Minimalistway
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Minimalistway

If i’m facing this problem? i’ll run away, honestly! it’ll happen again in the future, so the main problem is not solved, instance housing system is not really a bad choice here.

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cista2bpo

Single shard. I haven’t played a game that is not single shard in a few years, the last multiserver game I played intensively was ArcheAge for about 1-2 months at release.
I plan to play Chronicles Elyria when that starts in 2019 though, will see how that pans out. If that also has many servers it will not be able to keep me interested for long.

miol
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miol

Turtles! ;P

Just like in the Twin Saga (or so I’ve heard), keep housing mobile! Get rid of housing plots entirely! And just like when you log out, your house should disappear too!

To maybe avoid cramping, hubs (and the near neighborhood) could have queues, if max amount of turtles, or caravans, or TARDIS, or blimps,… have been reached, but since have many services are available inside your house, there is less incentive to visit hubs all the time anyway! Or if you prefer that, leave them as for JRPGs typical different world map, as Twin Saga seems to have done!

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Schmidt.Capela

Not sure if you were joking or not, but Trove has a housing system quite similar to this. Players build their “cornerstone” (the housing by a different name), and then can summon it to any of the various temporary plots that you find across all kinds of maps. As soon as the player logs out the house vanishes, freeing the temporary plot for someone else.

miol
Reader
miol

Thanks for pointing that out! /bow

Always thought Trove had a big instanced playground you can aquire for housing, similar to Wildstar…
Gonna check that out! :)

edit: I was serious with my answer. I only find turtles as a funny, yet awesome way to implement that! Did you see it walk in the embed video of linked article/interview? XD

miol
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miol

*since having many services available :/

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Dobablo

Whoever makes the most cashshop purchases gets first dibs on the plot after the servers merge. There you go. Problem solved.

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Thomas Zervogiannis

Competition is fine, it is a design choice, but it is not fair when you lose something that is earned because of a merge. Non instanced housing should definitely go with single shard.

Bobuliss
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Bobuliss

Don’t need to worry about server mergers if your game only has one server. Just sayin’. Also instancing is lame and caters to people who are afraid of competition.

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Duane Does not check email

Players are out in this position based on programming decisions, not their fear of competition….

So back to the original question…

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MesaSage

Open world housing demands continually expanding the available land. Just like real life. If you need to merge then let the players pack up their stuff in a box and move it, to be unfolded on their new lot (of which there are ample). That’s about it.

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Shiro Madoushi

This is mostly a non-issue in ArcheAge now. The real answer is just have so much available land for housing that there is always open space. ArcheAge has been adding new housing space with almost every major update. They have also enforced a stricter limit on the number of properties that can be owned per account. Even the highest population legacy servers have plots available now.

I hate how people say that the only answer is instancing or megaservers. It’s not. Instanced anything takes away from the game world. There’s nothing worse or more immersion breaking than living at house instance #827 in a game.

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Utakata

Phasing? Use instancing? Have housing on a separate server? Megaservers? Non?

…either way, players should be compensated for any inconvenience a server merger may cause. It’s not their fault the servers are merging in the first place. Why should they be punished? So yeah, better professionalism on the gaming company if they can’t make any of the suggestions above work.

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wratts

If you’re determined to go open world without instances, to me it clearly becomes a managed economy problem. First thing, is you need dedicated plots rather than a “just grab-a-grid” system. Next, you need publicly visible boards of what plots are up for sale or not, and a marketplace way for everyone to participate and resolve wins on the server to avoid the speed hacks that were notorious when I was playing. From there, you get a sense of who owns what, and when they’ve owned it, so you can start to make (and publicize) what the rules will be in the event of a merge.
There are still things around the margins you should do, either a token system to control how many plots an individual can own at a time, or progressive costs (purchase and taxes) to make land-barroning difficult. You do need better list and trade systems, including property swap mechanics.

It really amazes me that for a game like AA, where the open land ownership is probably one of the three biggest draws of the game, that they never figured out that a Wild West approach isn’t going to satisfy at least a Western audience with our (frankly irrational) fairness expectations

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Utakata

There’s nothing irrational about our fairness expectations. It’s likely far more universal than you think. And ArcheAge here is ran by a Western company. I think that’s 3 strikes and you’re out. :)

taradyne
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taradyne

It might be managed in the West by a US publisher but it was developed by a Korean studio.

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Utakata

Err…Trion is running this show. XL Games just dumped the code onto them so they can get some royalties off their product to my understanding. So then are you still absolving Trion of all their responsibilities over this? o.O

And I fail too see how this is supposed prove our “irrational” expectations of fairness.

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wratts

From what I’ve been able to observe, Trion has relatively little control in this publishing relationship. Particularly when it would come to new features/functions like what I described that would create a more fair land ownership scenario. I don’t think they have the capability to include a land trading registry and swap system that would require code changes, for instance.
Near as I can tell, anything more sophisticated than basic account management, awarding items already developed, or the periodic cash shop promotion is pretty much beyond what they’re able to do

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Utakata

Regardless of who divvies out the intellectual properties, Trion is running the AA show for the West. They the ones that have gotten blamed for all the mess, exploits and shenanigans repeatedly when bad stuff was reported of them. It’s certainly seems convenient to absolve them now to make a dubious point.

…to which I’ll add, what a horrible and cynical position to take. A position which is unlikely true. You can claim folks have messed up ideas of what fairness is. And there maybe regionalist arguments for that. But you can’t claim fairness is an irrational expectation based on cultural relevancy, and the likely limited understanding of it.

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wratts

I think you misunderstand my claim. I claim fairness is an irrational expectation, primarily because you’re not going to get it. Secondarily I’d say it’s subjective and largely immeasurable, so you can’t ever really prove whether you’ve gotten it or not. Mostly though I was just being flippant

Not sure what leads you to think I’m “absolving” Trion of anything, particularly their non-existent effort to clamp down on rampant cheating. Simply pointing out that they don’t have the capability to deliver some of the solutions I’m saying are required. Will admit I could be wrong on that, having not reviewed their contracts or technical capabilities, but it’s a sincere evaluation of their situation when it comes to delivering enhancement functionality

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Utakata

While I can agree one can never true fairness in a game, I’ll have to agree to disagree here on pretty much everything you said. Instead, it is a reasonable expectation for any game to strive for fairness, even when it’s not always possible to do so. And this stance is fairly universal to my understanding. That is, cheating is likely as frowned upon in North Korea as it in the US, as an example of this.

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Schmidt.Capela

Huh, why should a player even stick around and keep playing if he doesn’t feel he’s being treated fairly? This is a game, for heaven’s sake, not the real world; if things are bad people can just leave and go find their entertainment somewhere else.

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wratts

I’m not sure, but people do stay, so I guess I’d say it’s irrational to expect fairness when the evidence is that fairness isn’t important enough for designers to feel compelled to ensure it

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Sray

Irrational behaviours abound in the world of video games, and even moreso in MMORPGs. The people who tend to stick around in overtly unfair games are usually the ones who are benefiting from that imbalance or feel compelled to stick around for some reason (generally because of money and/or time invested) inspite of the fact that leaving is in their own best interest.

The point beimg that irrational behavior is so prevalent in gaming today, that rational expectations are often treated as irrational.

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starbuck1771

I would solve the issue by not merging servers and finding way to increase the amount of players. However we are talking about XLGames who are motivated by greed.

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Schmidt.Capela

It’s not really about it being XL.

Every MMO has a lifetime cycle; it has an initial growth, holds its peak players for a while, and then the player base starts decreasing. Some MMOs can get a second wind, but it’s both rare and doesn’t last forever itself.

ArcheAge is in the decline phase. Not much that can be done about it apart from carefully managing it to make its decline as graceful as possible.

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TheDonDude

Eh… greedy developers wouldn’t want more players? ‘Increase the amount of players’ is easier said than done.

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Dobablo

Just by chance just a couple of hours ago I saw a Kitchen Nightmares clip. A restaurant manager claimed their problems were because of a lack of customers and the way to make things better would be to get more customers.

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starbuck1771

Correct and how do you do that? Find the problems with your product and fix it. The AA forums have been full of complaints about issues and the only response ever really given is we’ll pass it on to the developers which is only on rare occasions.

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starbuck1771

It would be easy with Archeage. 1. Reduce the amount of lots a player can own per server on their account to give everyone a fair shot at owning land. 2: Do away with the labor point system as it is a burden. 3: Relax restrictions on F2P players. These are just a few of the things that would help build the community.

If you actually read the AA forums you would realize these are just a few of the issues that caused players to leave the game.

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Oleg Chebeneev

Not spreading community between servers in the first place. It should be one sandbox where everyone can find a place, huge landmass with alot of housing opportunities. No merges = no problem.
If size of world doesnt allow it, then I see EQ2’s system optimal. Where every house features many instances, each owned by player. In this case during merge players will just keep their instance.

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Schmidt.Capela

This issue is inherent of non-instanced housing: it ties players far more strongly to the “land” and the community around it, so whenever you need to deeply change either the land or the community — as happens in a server merge — there will be hell to pay in any game with non-instanced housing, potentially making what is already a bad situation (servers without enough players to be viable) into something even worse.

Or, in other words, I’m not sure it’s possible to avoid the issue if you want the housing to be non-instanced, out in the world for everyone to see.

Instanced housing, on the other hand, avoids the issue entirely (well, assuming the devs don’t go for some dumb artificial scarcity system).

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Sorenthaz

If you’re going to do open world housing, make it phased. Don’t do the stupid “hurdur rush to claim it guys!” shenanigans because it always ends up the same way.

That’s how Black Desert does it and how WoW did it with Garrisons.

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Sleepy

I never had a problem placing a house in SWG, and often close to where I wanted, too – fond memories of my house at the top of the huge cliff on Naboo. Just stop making your world the size of a postage stamp and using persepective and scaling tricks to give the illusion of size.

pepperzine
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pepperzine

Exactly what I was thinking. We found plenty of open land in SWG, and often times enough for an entire city of players. It all boiled down to the sheer amount of land available due to the size of the galaxy and having multiple planets as options.

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Dagget Burmese

Either instance the housing in the 1st place, or have a megaworld with enough real estate for *everyone* you expect to ever play.

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Thomas Zervogiannis

I think Black Desert Online solved this issue elegantly by making it instanced, while at the same time an integral part of the open world and attaching game play and sensible cost to it. This way, the housing inherently had a “land multiplier” design built into it – server merges would not affect it at all. The possible restriction being that you cannot attach competition/contesting game play to it, if you so wish as a game designer.

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Veldan

I personally didn’t like BDO’s system much as a housing system. It’s good for what it tries to be (a system where you can buy property in multiple towns for different purposes, like crafting and storage), but as actual player housing I didn’t really care for it.

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Thomas Zervogiannis

I also did not like the implementation at all, but the concept was nice and solid.

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Veldan

1) Make sure there are enough housing spots on the new server for all the people who have houses on the servers that are to be merged
2) Convert the houses of people on the old servers, including items and upgrades, to a single package, which can be opened on a new housing spot post-merge to instantly rebuild their house
3) Solved?

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BalsBigBrother

Don’t put yourself in this position in the first place and build your mmo around mega server tech so you can scale your sever system to the population without affecting the players.

I personally can’t think of any other good solution that is going to please everyone.

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Veldan

I don’t see how megaserver tech can ever be compatible with open world housing.

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Schmidt.Capela

Megaserver tech is actually compatible; it causes one big issue, though, in that to use open world, non-instanced housing with a megaserver you need enough housing plots for your whole player population, which would make the housing areas large enough players might rarely see anyone else there, particularly after the MMO’s population started to decrease.

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