Hyperspace Beacon: The pros and cons of SWTOR’s United Forces server merges

First, if you’re hoping this is going to be an article hating on server merges and declaring them the ruination of an MMO community, then prepare for disappointment. I believe that server merges when done correctly are more beneficial to the health of a game than attempting to over segregate the playerbase. In fact, if I haven’t written about it here, I have mentioned multiple times in other forums that I think a single-server is probably one of the best things to happen to MMOs. EVE Online and Champions Online were a couple of the first MMOs to embrace this idea, and I know I’ve applauded them for it.

Although Star Wars: The Old Republic isn’t going down to one single server for its whole game, it is greatly reducing the number of servers. On November 8th, BioWare will reduce the servers to one server for each of the major English-speaking regions: US West Coast, US East Coast, and Europe. Then one server for each of the other languages represented in the game: French and German.

Surprisingly, most of the community is reacting positively to the idea of combining the servers. While the studio hasn’t actually used the term “server merge,” it’s been clear that everyone’s being moved into combined servers once again. However, there is one hold-out community that takes issue with how the merges are being handled. There are pros and cons, and there is really no way to combine servers without someone losing something, but the hope is that the overall gain will outweigh the losses.

Combining the right way

Star Wars: The Old Republic did not invent this way of combining servers, but whichever game inspired the SWTOR dev team was on the right track. Although I have experienced many server merges in different games, the one that always stands out to me is Star Wars Galaxies‘ server merge and just how poorly it was implemented. So many players had to leave their home and hope that they would be welcome on a server that other players already called home. It was almost as if SWG had a limited amount of data storage and had to force people into other people’s land. However, that’s the opposite of true. SWTOR mirrored this way of doing server merges the first time back in 2012, and the development team clearly learned from that mistake.

The current plan is to combine the existing servers into five brand-new servers. Until the server merge happens on November 8th, no one will have called these servers home. Not only are they new to the players, they also have new hardware and “clean” version of the game installed on them. This will hopefully mean that the servers are more stable and carry less latency in more heavily populated zones. Making them brand-new servers means that no one is invading other another player’s home, and everyone gets a fresh start so to speak.

The names of the new servers are (and this is real) The Hot Prospect, Star Forge, Darth Malgus, The Leviathan, and Tulak Hord. And believe it or not, all these names stem from the Old Republic era ships or characters. Tulak Hord was an Old Republic Sith first mentioned in Knights of the Old Republic. The Leviathan was Darth Malak’s command ship. Darth Malgus was one of the main antagonists or allies when SWTOR launched. Star Forge was the end-base in KOTOR. And the Hot Prospect was Zayne Carrick’s hunk-of-junk starship in the Knights of the Old Republic comic.

How to keep your name

There are few things in MMOs that are more important to a gamer than his name. My internet handle and my in-game names have been the same since I was about 11 years old, and if I were suddenly asked to give it up, it might turn me from the game completely. With SWTOR’s server merges, I don’t think this will be a problem for me, but there really isn’t a good way for BioWare to handle the inevitable possibility that players will share the same name, which has to be unique in SWTOR. That said, I do think that despite possible bugs in the system, BioWare is handling this issue in a very fair way.

Priority has to be given to subscribers over preferred and free-to-play players. It’s not that these other players aren’t important to the game itself, but BioWare is a subscription game, regardless of what the advertising tells you. And the studio would be shooting itself in the foot if it didn’t cater to the players who help keep the lights on.

Secondly, the commitment to the character is important, too, and the first two factors that BioWare will keep in mind when deciding which character gets to keep the name: Is the character above level ten and has it been logged in within the last 90 days? Although a boost could help you clear the level-10 hurdle, it would still have to be an active character.

The if it comes down to it, BioWare will weigh the amount of time the character has been played. And whichever character has the more playtime will win out. So, if you think that you might be at risk of losing your character’s name, it might be a good time to rename your most-played character.

The ugly truth

Unfortunately, the way that BioWare is handling the server merges will not affect every community positively. And I think you know what community I’m going to talk about here: the roleplayers. Believe it or not, it’s not the server merge itself that is the issue; it’s the specific way BioWare is handling it. If you look up at the image taken from the BioWare post on the server merges, you will see which servers are combining with which other servers. And although BioWare officially dissolved the server designations quite awhile ago, Begeren Colony, The Ebon Hawk, and The Progenitor have been roleplay servers since the beginning of the game. And as you might also note, these current servers will merge into three different servers that have not had and will not have the classic designation as a roleplay server. This has put many roleplayers on edge – not because they do not participate in these other game activities, but there are segments of the non-roleplayer communities who not only do not participate in roleplay but actively grief those who participate in that playstyle.

Needless to say, the roleplay community is concerned, from rolpelay forums to Discord servers. Eric Musco did mention during the livestream yesterday that BioWare is aware of the concerns and is actively looking for a solution, so we’ll see how it turns out.

Overall, I am positive about the merges, and I welcome them. But just like the roleplay community, I have my concerns, and I hope that BioWare comes up with an acceptable solution soon. What are your thoughts on the server merges? Are they good? Are they bad? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.

Every other week, Larry Everett jumps into his T-16 back home, rides through the hypergates of BioWare‘s Star Wars: The Old Republic, and posts his adventures in the Hyperspace Beacon. Drop him a holocom on Twitter @Shaddoe or send him a transmission at larry@massivelyop.com. Now strap yourself in, kid — we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!
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35 Comments on "Hyperspace Beacon: The pros and cons of SWTOR’s United Forces server merges"

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draugris

Overall i think it will be a positive move. I restarted SWTOR a few months before on one of the more populated servers in the EU, The Red Eclipse. The first time i did see another player was when i got to visit the fleet, it was awful. Also server performance was not very good, i always had the feeling that the server is lagging or that i had some skill delay. So i quit once again, it was simply not fun to play. I they make population higher with that move while buffing server performance with the new hardware i might give it another shot.

But i feel bad for the RP folks, on release i played on the german RP server Vanjervalis Chain and there was a very active and living RP community. I enjoyed my stay there. Mixing RP servers with regular rulesets will always cause trouble and i already can see players with names like xXAragornXx, D4rKn1nj4 or G3tPwN3d flooding the chat…

oldandgrumpy
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oldandgrumpy

Zero interest in logging into either of my SWTOR accounts. Hopefully those left playing won’t get there accounts screwed up by this merge.

Estranged
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Estranged

Consider me retired, I’m not paying to keep my character names. This new gear and story system was bad enough.

You had a great formula, you idiots.

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Melissa McDonald

I always favour one server. That’s how Second Life has always been.

Ein spiel
Ein volk
Ein velt

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Knox Harrington

Es ist ‘welt’ und nicht ‘velt’ :)

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Melissa McDonald

ja :)
i’m a pasty Scot what do I know LOL :)

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Sally Bowls

It is these sad times that I found your innocent phrasing a bit evocative of the “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer” slogan from the Age of Godwin.

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Bryan Correll

Could this possibly mean reasonable queue times for Galactic Starfighter?!?

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Arnold Hendrick

The correct way to solve the RP issue would be to combine all the former RP servers (Ebon Hawk, Begeren Colony, Progenitor) into just one. Will the RP server have few people than the others? Maybe. But it can be “right-sized” for a lighter load with smaller VMs. I am assuming that SWTOR has made the transition to VMs (Virtual Machines) on the server side. If they have not, doing that will save them more money than any number of server merges.

Where to locate the RP server? I recommend the US East Coast as the most central location. Transatlantic lag exists, but except at pro-level PvP an extra 0.1 seconds (100ms) isn’t a huge issue. Best of all, RPers who keep strange hours will now be delighted to interact with RPers from other regions. There is no need to designate the new server as “RP” – the RPers themselves will figure it out.

Now is the time to revise the plan – move all “old” RP servers to a single server – when the final merge is still a month away. Adjustments to server merges should not be engraved in carbonite at this point. But the longer they drag their feet on this decision, the harder it becomes to implement.

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Budukahn

It’s a nice idea but I think you underestimate the effect. In my experience, trans-american internet is a sorry joke meaning that playing on West coast US servers from Western Europe is something I wouldn’t consider for anything that wasn’t turn based. I used to play FFXIV on it’s American servers, but when they moved them to the east coast from the west the degradation of quality was enough to convince me just to move to the European servers.
I know you said US East Coast, but that in itself is going to be a problem both for Eastern Europeans and for those in the West Pacific like Australia and SEA. Either way somebody loses.
While it would be nice if we could all be one, big happy geeky roleplaying family, I just don’t think the tech or infrastructure is there yet.

ihatevnecks
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ihatevnecks

Are you talking about Pre-ARR for FFXIV? Because they were on the east coast (Montreal, Canada) prior to this year’s server move, when they were relocated to either California or Texas.. I forget which.

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rafael12104

Well, I’ve said my piece in the other thread regarding what I think is going on with the game. Here, I’ll simply say that RP servers were fun and different. You could just play the game content straight, but you also found other neat things like RP guilds and areas that were more RP than others. Not saying that that might not continue on the new servers because as you know there wasn’t anything really specific to the RP servers in terms of areas, content, or rules. But it will be a lot less likely and sadly easily trolled.

But hopefully RP will continue. It wasn’t my cup everyday, but it was fun to partake every once in a while, especially in a guild where you are known as your toon etc.

And yet, the servers mergers had to be done. The game is floundering. GTN and the in game economy is suffering. Not to mention group finder etc. etc. Mergers will help at least.

Polyanna
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Polyanna

PRO: It had to be done.

CON: Should have been done two years ago.

Estranged
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Estranged

TRUTH: they stopped a winning formula and destroyed the player base.

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BalsBigBrother

Well even though my characters will be going to the server with the coolest name I really don’t see myself playing this game again at least not any time soon. Who knows I may get my Star Wars mojo back at some point but at the moment it is something I enjoyed in the past but have since moved on from.

Hope the folks who are playing will continue to have fun once the server merge dust has settled :-)

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Cypher

My exact thoughts on the game… have actually cancelled my sub for realsies this time… switched back to subbing to ESO and am falling in love with it all over again :-)

plasmajohn
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plasmajohn

The Wildstar RP community went through something similar. But when the dust cleared it wasn’t the end-times that many had predicted. Yes there was some trolling but it was only remarkable in how rare it was.

While I hope SW:TOR’s merger is similarly uneventful I’ll note some differences. While Wildstar’s community could get rowdy it didn’t approach how vile some of the fleet chats could get. While there was some open world RP most people RP’d on the housing plots due to how flexible its housing system is.

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Paragon Lost

When the Lotro went through it, it was an utter shit show and still is. Sucks ass to be quite blunt, I end up keeping World Chat off now. Though I’ll turn it on briefly here and there I’ll quickly end up turning it back off. Also character names, guild (kinship) names are utter crap and out of genre. I play Lotro mostly now as a single player game now a days, which to me is sad. I speculate that SWTOR will go about the same.

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Knox Harrington

The fact that they didn’t already have a plan in place to protect the RP community before announcing the mergers is more worrisome than their statements after the fact. RP’ers have kept this game afloat for years now. The raiders and killers have all but abandoned the game. The cash cows on RP servers who like to dress up their Star Wars Barbie dolls are the ones keeping the lights on.

For Bioware to not respect that shows an incredible disconnect between them and their most loyal player base, not to mention the fiscal incompetence. The last bastion many players in this game has is RP. If Bioware haphazardly ruins it, they’re going to lose the last section of the playerbase that keeps giving them money despite how much they fail in every other aspect of game development.

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Paragon Lost

Yup, it’s gonna go about as well as Lord of the Rings Online went. With a bunch of out of genre names that tend to be offensive in nature, with game chat being full of political, racist, sexist, trolling. That’s my money bet. :/

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Knox Harrington

(Darth Trump) is now recruiting! Grab them by the Wookie! We’re gonna build a wall around Korriban and keep out all the aliens! Purebloods only! Make the Empire Great Again!

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Arnold Hendrick

I agree, Knox. In a separate post I suggested a way for them to solve the problem they’ve just created.

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wratts

Personally, my view is that if the MMO doesn’t support active roleplay (which SWTOR barely has afaik) then fortunately the third party tools with Discord are becoming so common and so easy to use that setting up a community with an overlay is pretty trivial. Not to sound unsympathetic, but this really seems like a problem players can solve on their own now

Woetoo
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Woetoo

I think you’re right about SWTOR not supporting RPers very well at all. *cough, chat bubbles*, *double cough, chairs*

But as someone who doesn’t RP, but did play on the Ebon Hawk a fair amount when I was actively playing – I can still foresee the mood being ruined.

It’s the little things, like RP-walking into the bar at the centre of fleet and not getting a whisper asking wtf you are doing. Or having some numpty ride around you in circles on their overly large mount while you walk somewhere. And when you get to the bar, there’s a couple of people there having an IC chat. And that’s just walking. There’s so many other little things that anyone who’s been actively RPing in SWTOR has come to expect, despite Bioware’s ongoing negligence.

I was thinking about stuff like the PvP/Pve phasing. Perhaps add an RP phase/state. But then you’re just painting a target on your back to the griefers who swap instances just to make some RPer’s life a living hell. Plus general and trade chat would need to be separated for all the reasons I just gave and more.

Overall, I’m sure there’s a solution. But Bioware won’t do it. Not if history is anything to go by.

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donvweel

I can see the benefit of separate servers for different communities such as pvp roleplay etc. Otherwise they are an impediment to grouping. Only other advantage would be freeing up more character names. A unified server is probably better overall.

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Greaterdivinity

but there really isn’t a good way for BioWare to handle the inevitable possibility that players will share the same name, which has to be unique in SWTOR.

Transition to an account-name based system, leave legacy server “tags” on characters so you can have the same name as long as it’s unique to the legacy server tag etc. There are options…just none that I have the faintest hope that BW has the time, budget, or engineering expertise to accomplish : /

It’s not that these other players aren’t important to the game itself

You should probably tell that to BioWare, because from day-1 of the F2P transition that’s been the overt and subtle message from BW without fail. They’ve had a few moments where they briefly talk a good game about making the game more F2P friendly (a few years back during the December interview rounds they made mention to MMO Bomb of lifting some F2P limitations, which turned out to to be a whole lot of nothing. Then there were the PvP limitations that were supposed to be lifted like 4 years back that…never were) but largely the loud and clear message is that non-subs are largely irrelevant to BW.

That being said, giving active subs preferential treatment here makes total sense and I’m not criticizing it in this instance.

Eric Musco did mention during the livestream yesterday that BioWare is aware of the concerns and is actively looking for a solution, so we’ll see how it turns out.

I’d be BEYOND surprised if they did anything meaningful. This is the kind of thing that shouldn’t be an issue, they should know full-well which servers are their “RP” servers, even if they no longer have that official designation. The fact that they split them up the way they did indicates that RP probably wasn’t anywhere on anyone’s mind during these discussions, and unless they want to shift servers around (which I’d be surprised if they could do, or did) I don’t see any way to really nicely handle this – at least short of opening up server transfers for free temporarily and hoping all the RP folks centralize on one server per region so they can all end up in the same place : /

Overall though, I’m with you. This is a beneficial (in the longterm) merge that’s been much needed for many years, it’s great that we won’t get anymore BS band-aid server transfer sales. My excitement that the mergers are coming is tempered with all of the downsides that come with the way BW has chosen to merge servers again. I get that it’s very likely a result of how the game/servers are set-up and that changing it to a system that would avoid a lot of the downsides would probably be a time consuming and expensive undertaking (if it’s even possible, I still don’t have much confidence in their engineering team), but one could still hope!

Everything they posted through the end of the year seems mostly good to me, as an outside observer. It’s embarrassing that the operation is slipping to 2018 for the final bits, you’d figure they could have at least finished it this year given that they were doing 1 boss at a time.

But I don’t see anything that will remotely draw me back into the game, especially since the GC system is till in-play and locked behind a sub. I’m on board with some of the other responses from more dedicated players that I’ve seen – this is good stuff but not terribly compelling enough to bring back/keep many of us playing right now. Maybe next year when they reveal their next roadmap.

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Katriana

So I notice from the chart shown that my characters will end up on the same server together. Convenient for me if and when I get back to this game, but it raises a question I don’t see addressed here. Namely, what happens if combining characters from 2 or more servers puts you over the character limit? Is the number per server going to be increased or will we be forced to purchase additional slots to access them all? I’m referring mainly to total number allowed for subs since the limit for FTP is a different issue and I wouldn’t expect that to change.

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Emperor Caligula

Hm, seems SWTOR is a bit on their last leg, when they have to merge already again, to a mere four servers. Not that I am surprised. The last big expansion was a cool story, but it wasn’t a MMO at all.

SWTOR should have had more sandbox elements from SWG.

Should, could, might have… so many missed opportunities.

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starbuck1771

Which is why I play on SWG Legends. Bioware continues to do a halfassed job and doesn’t focus on the things they know will bring the players. I enjoyed the Space and crafting/housing systems of SWG. Those are things that Bioware turned to crap in SWTOR. :P

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