The Rise of the Megaserver
Many games are adopting the megaserver system these days. We see it in Guild Wars 2, The Elder Scrolls Online and today it will be part of Wildstar. It is a pretty sweet “new” technology that makes these games feel alive and exciting by abolishing the barriers between servers. With this technology there is never a dead map or server for you to log in to. However, these megaservers do make problems for competitive server communities found in games like Guild Wars 2. Are megaservers the catch-all solution for server population issues in MMOs?
I will be the first to say that megaservers are a vast improvement over the previous systems we’ve come to know in MMOs over the years. If you have any amount of experience in MMOs you will know that server population has caused people, guilds and entire communities to abandond low population servers. Nobody likes that scenario where you potentially lose gaming friends and guilds due to moves like this. No MMO likes seeing it either as it can quietly leave the impression that the game is bleeding players. It sucks no matter how you slice it, but sometimes it was a necessary movement in order to still like you were in a game with other people.
Just recently I was playing Wildstar for the first time since launch and I felt terribly alone. Nobody was talking on zone chat and I struggled through some fights that were designated for two or more people. I only ever saw one or two other people at any given time. It was an incredible disappointment but seeing Carbine announce that they are moving the individual world servers into the megaserver system got me excited. Finally I’ll be able to get stuff done with strangers and friends alike. For Wildstar the megaservers will breathe a needed life into the game.
That illusion of global population is what megaservers provide. That illusion of population on a server is what will keep a game like Wildstar feeling alive and therefor keeping their players. It is a great solution for most games. Some games, like Guild Wars 2, can suffer due to the need of a clear server distinction within the game.
One of the biggest draws to Guild Wars 2 is the World versus World (WvW) arena where servers are pitted against other servers. Guilds and people were identified by the clearly defined lines of server worlds. Top tiered servers are ranked so high due to their coverage and skill. Being in the top tier encourages more people to leave other servers and move into the top tier. Due to megaservers, however, low tier servers gain an illusion of community that doesn’t actually exist within their server. Somebody sitting outside the portals to WvW could see a large map discussion on WvW and get excited but when they join their map they see absolutely no people defending for their server. At that point you have to wonder if there is something wrong with this game mode or if there is something wrong with your server.
Megaservers are about providing a way for a game to put forth a solution while still saving face. It is a way for a game to say, “Hey! We’ve never had to shut down a server. We’re just so awesome like that.” Megaservers allow them to ignore shutting down a server or two. Games like Wildstar benefit for that because PvP isn’t about a server and PvE could stand to have that new life breathed into it. Games like Guild Wars 2 need a better solution because there is a massive chunk of the game that is all about that server distinction on top of that need for new life in PvE.
The solution might be that we need to look towards cutting off a dead server or at least merging it with another. If worlds are competitive then you need to adhere to a solution that keeps servers competitive. It isn’t a solution that I like but it is the only one that seems to make sense. Games like that need to remove low population servers so that players can stand a feasible chance in the competition that can provide real rewards. Not addressing that real issue could have bigger consequences than that of just simply eliminating dead servers.
The Elder Scrolls Online went the most intelligent route by launching with megaservers. Due to that there has been no time for any server to designate themselves the best at PvE or PvP. The only choices are North American megaserver and the European megaserver that any player can choose from at any time. Wildstar will face an upset within the community once they patch in the megaservers, but they face much less of a challenge than the one within Guild Wars 2.
Don’t get me wrong, however. I’m not saying these things to smear the megaserver technology. Megaservers are the next big thing for any MMO and almost every MMO should consider adopting it as quickly as possible. Abolishing the server boundaries and making every player capable of interacting with any player is absolutely a step forward. Future games need to be certain that this technology is truly needed for their game, especially when a major feature within the game is a war between servers. I eagerly look forward to the next big MMO to step forward and say, “There are no servers for any part of the world! Just log in and get to it!” Maybe after we reach that threshold we can move on to something more daring like a truly open and living world experience.