Whether you call them server transitions, evolutions, consolidations, megaservers, or connected realms, server merges are a thing that affects most MMORPGs at some point in their lives — if they are lucky. The really unlucky ones sunset or fade away before a merge can save them.
So if you’ve been playing MMOs a while, you’ve probably gone through at least one merge. We’re guessing you have some war stories to tell. So that’s the question I posed to our staff for this week’s Massively Overthinking: What’s the worst server merge situation you’ve ever seen or lived through in an MMO?
Brendan Drain (@nyphur): Maybe I’ve been extremely lucky, but I’ve never had a negative server merge experience. The only merge I really recall was in EverQuest II, and the result was just that the ghost town of a server I was on suddenly had people to play with again. To be completely honest, I think sharded server communities are a huge mistake that most MMOs have implemented simply because it worked for World of Warcraft even though there are objectively better server models out there. Obviously not every game can have a single-shard supercomputer like EVE Online, and load balancing tricks like EVE’s Time Dilation aren’t ideal for twitch-based games, but there’s no reason you can’t have all servers sharing a common login pool and let any player log into any server.
Every player obviously needs a unique username across the entire playerbase in this server model, but when you’re creating a cohesive online community that’s hardly a negative. This idea is working perfectly well in dozens of MMOs already; RuneScape of all games implemented this over a decade ago and hasn’t suffered the load balancing and server merge problems sharded MMOs come up against when the playerbase grows or shrinks. They’ve even released servers with different rulesets, for particular sub-regions, and dedicated to particular minigames so that people can self-organise and group up more easily. No server merges also means no negative press about server merges.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I think the worst for me was Star Wars Galaxies. It was handled pretty well compared to some recent ones (ArcheAge comes to mind), but it affected me more than any other merge I’ve gone through. Most merges just swindle me of my awesome names (hi, RIFT) or unbalance the factions (hi, World of Warcraft), but SWG’s merges meant I lost open-world property as well as some items (bits that didn’t transfer properly originally) and history (crafter namestamps). Moving my whole guild to Starsider was better than going down with the ship, but I never could shake the feeling that we newcomers were perceived as interlopers or tourists, that we didn’t really belong there and had no sense of place or ownership. We even manage to found a new city, but it wasn’t on one of the central planets like our old city, and we didn’t last long as a group. Having seen how badly AA and SWG fared, I can’t imagine how Ultima Online might someday pull it off, which is why I bit the bullet a few years ago and just transferred off a dying shard myself at the cost of my awesome housing plot. Sigh.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I’ve only been involved with a very few instances of server merges in my main games, so I guess I should count myself lucky. I was displeased when my SWTOR server merged a while back because I lost a few of my hard-fought names that I thought I secured at launch.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): Luckily, I dodged the bullet with most horrific server mergers (like ArcheAge’s recent one that would have made me quit the game if I had lost my land). Either that or I have conveniently blocked the worst of the horror from my mind so I can continue to live and function in relative peace in my games! The one merge that I recall living through is on EverQuest II — though “living through it” is a bit of a misnomer. The server merge happened when I’d stepped away for a small break from EQII. However, upon my return, I found myself on some random server when I used to be on a roleplay server. It was disheartening because the community that I had grown fond of was seriously splintered: A bunch took advantage of a free transfer opportunity to Antonia Bayle (which I could not do because the offer had expired), while others remained and tried to keep some RP going on a server that wasn’t especially amenable to it. Basically, I could stay and play with a few or pay and move to play with others. Hey, that’s ringing a bell for…
WAIT! Stop the presses! Oh the memories are coming back now. No wonder I blocked them out: It was not one, but two instances of losing my houses in a single game! The winner of most painful, heart-wrenching server merges goes to Vanguard. First, it was not only a case of losing our beloved RP server (hence the memory trigger), but my little guild lost a little coveted piece of land that we poured much blood, sweat, tears, and coin into and built up a small tavern. It was a huge group effort to secure the money enough to buy the plot of land in a nice spot with easy access for travelers, and then I spent oodles of time decorating it just right. I was so proud of that place and we held many events with gambling, contests, and the like. Along comes server merge number one and KABOOM! I am camping the game and log in literally 10 seconds after the server is back up only to find another person has managed to claim the spot first. I took a small break at that point from the disappointment.
But wait, the agony didn’t end there! So after a while, the group takes me sailing to find another at least suitable spot, and we eventually settle on a coastal plot in the south of Kojan. This time, we build a large house and make it not only a tavern but an inn. It took a lot of time and materials, but I was extremely proud of the stage and the upstairs rooms. Again I start holding a few events, which is harder because many RP folks gave up after losing their server the first time and blending with one that didn’t give RP a thought. Then guess what? MERGE TIME! That is right, another merge — and another lost house.
Honestly, I never did get back into Vanguard much after that, and never, ever had the heart again to decorate another house. I just couldn’t bring myself to it, and every time I logged in (somewhere other than my home) I was reminded of the losses. So much to love about the game really, and i did keep popping back in to enjoy those aspects, but I never got over the loss.