The Daily Grind: How should studios handle overpopulated servers in MMOs?

    
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The Daily Grind: How should studios handle overpopulated servers in MMOs?

It doesn’t matter how many servers you have for your MMO, some of them are just going to be more popular than others. That’s inevitable. It happened in World of Warcraft, it happens in Final Fantasy XIV, it happened in City of Heroes. The only games it doesn’t happen are ones that use a megaserver setup, and that has its own issues which are a separate discussion topic altogether.

So let’s just accept that you’ve got an overpopulated server. The question then becomes what you’re going to do about it. Do you offer incentives to transfer people off? Do you add hardware to that specific server to support more people? Do you change login procedures? Do you split the server? There are no good answers, and no matter what you do, something is going to cause problems. So what do you think, readers? How should studios handle overpopulated servers in MMOs?

Please note that if your answer is “not let it happen in the first place,” you’re arguing that the best way to fix a car is to not have it break.

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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Robert Mann

If the servers are legitimately overcrowded (not just a temporary thing with launch/xpacs) then you offer moves with a small, but useful, reward (and the caveat that you may not move everyone who signs up for it, if there’s a more than sufficient amount) while noting that guilds that all sign up together will be moved or not as a block (so the guild won’t break up.) If you have anything other than quick guild formation with low costs, you temporarily change how guilds are made for the duration of the offer.

If you still have issues, then likely it is because you have a trash system around something like names on any given server, and people are afraid of losing their name with no way to check… or maybe you did the stupid of making 15 PvP servers in a themepark game and wonder why the 5 PvE servers are overcrowded. Or maybe your guild size is abysmal, so no groups over the 12 person limit will EVER consider this, because they can’t guarantee playing together.

In short, if the first part didn’t fix the problem, it is because you are doing something to make players unwilling to move. Because, given the option to move with their friends, without penalty (and actually with some reward) you will likely see fair demand.

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AGx-07_162

Two things, in my opinion: Lock character creation and offer players more things to do. The reason why FFXIV has such long wait times for dungeons and raids is because that’s all there really is to do. People craft but they tend to do it while sitting in queue for one of these things. Despite being a horrid game in many ways, I think BDO has the right idea. There’s so much stuff to do that combat might be the last thing on your mind. This doesn’t un-crowd the servers but it does help alleviate the crowding on any specific activity which makes it more accessible.

Polyanna
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Polyanna

Megaserver or GTFO.

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Anstalt

Lock character creation and offer free transfer off the server.

The situation will only be temporary anyway so I would expect the situation to last no longer than a few days.

Alternatively, throw more hardware at the server to allow it to handle more people. However, I suspect this is unlikely to be an option as the limiting factor is more likely the engine and how many characters your computer can handle.

As long as they don’t go for megaservers / instancing, I would be happy. I’m all about the community and megaservers and instances are anathema to community.

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Sally Bowls

Don’t have old fashioned servers. Pick some mega/virtual/instancing tech. There will be 1000% or even 10000% more demand on the Friday night of launch versus 3AM Tues in six months.

ceder
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ceder

Allow unofficial servers and incentivize (or discourage or both) players to play them versus official ones. Pretty much that’s what Wildcard studios/Snail Games has done with Ark.

However, that, and most any suggestion, are relative to the game and tech, though. Until technology renders issues like ping, crowded/overload, and other things, its just not going to change anytime soon.

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Bryan Gregory

“Servers” are old, outdated technology that should be left in the past. Megaservers are the future. Megaservers are now.

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Vunak

I disagree completely. Separate servers foster communities a lot better than any Megaserver ever could. The only exception I see to this is something like BDO where you can choose what Server (channel) you want to play on, but they are all linked to one larger server.

ceder
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ceder

Server “culture” is relative. Large server/mega server situations can have just as much or more robust communities and identity as more traditional server size/setups. Also the reverse can hold true too. This is because “culture” is more groomed by the game’s design/design philosophy rather than the hosted tech its on.

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Bryan Gregory

The only reason you believe this is because megaservers weren’t a thing until post-WoW MMOs were a thing. Most modern MMOs are anti-social solo games. Let’s redo oldschool MMOs like FFXI or EQ with megaservers and see if your belief still stands.

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Vunak

Old school MMOs like FFXI and EQ would never of had the tight nit community they did if they had megaservers, which was a huge part of their charm and a large part of people nostalgia over those games. Especially a game like FFXI where your entire experience was creating lasting friendships through partying and repartying with those same people for multiple things.

People would have been disconnected and non caring about the people they were grouped with because it is pretty much a given they would never see those people again. But in FFXI you saw those people very often, running through cities like Jeuno or just randomly seeing them in a leveling zone.

So no, Megaservers are not the answer as they create a community disconnect as can be seen with just about every game that utilizes megaserver tech. The only exception to this is BDO and that’s because its not a traditional Megaserver and you can choose the server you want your character to be on, its just a connected group of servers to one larger server. It doesn’t place you randomly like megaservers generally do.

ceder
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ceder

Megaservers/servers are only as good as the tech and the game using them. The combination always is the culprit for issues in regards to the article. Either a dev has eyes too big for their server/game stomach to match current tech/engine limitations, or they’re attempting to fit a square peg of a game with the round hole tech of current server architecture.

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Robert Mann

My problem with Megaservers is that, in most games, they merely ensure that I will see more irrelevant people loading every time I go anywhere.

Honestly, I could do with micro-servers for most MMOs.

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Dread Quixadhal

Get rid of the concept of “servers” other than for ruleset differences. EQ2 had the tech in 2004 to handle this in a nice sane manner. In EQ2, every zone in the game would automatically instance itself as the population in that zone grew. New people entering the zone were put in the most empty instance, but enough room was left so people could forcibly move to the instance of their choice (to meet up with friends). Groups were automatically kept together.

There’s utterly no reason to split the community up by “server” now. All it does is make sure you will NEVER get to play with all your friends at the same time, since they will be scattered across different servers to play with THEIR friends.

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Rottenrotny

Here what not to do: Megaservers.

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Robert Mann

Well, at least not in your standard MMO of today where other people are pointless.

quark1020
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quark1020

Not much you can do. People want to go to that specific server for a reason, so a good idea would be to find out what and see what can be done in other servers to incentivize them.

Other than that, keep the option open to let people transfer their characters out of those servers, free of charge. People will still try to get in, but at least people who get tired of the crowds and lag are free to leave to other servers as they please.