MMOs have always had problems with balancing populations since the beginning of their conception. Faction balances and server population issues plagued the industry and has always been a hot topic by both the very prominent and those less so. World of Warcraft was no exception to this and Blizzard has gone through lengths in the many years of its existence. While there still isn’t a hard solution for faction imbalances, Blizzard has managed to solve the server problems through their introduction of the cross-realm zones (CRZ) and the capabilities of cross-realm queues of both in PvP and PvE. Old news, yes, but the way it has affected communities in this present time can be felt, and no matter how great these additions are, there’s always a sad side to it.
WoW: More Uptime, Less Interaction
Don’t get me wrong here; while I find many things that have gone wrong in the usual MMO experience, the ability for cross-realm activities has greatly enhanced my game unlike many other games I’ve played that do not subscribe to that idea. You’d be able to make a mass of acquaintances and friends from other realms and, as many of us know, connect us further to other people, making the possibilities of a strong community, of your own creation, endless. My end game raiding consists of mostly playing with people in other servers who are quirky and interesting in their own right, making every journey through the Siege of Orgrimmar a great adventure. I probably would never find such people of equal awesomeness in my own realm. For that, I’m very grateful for the cross-realm service.
In fact, some of my cross-realm friends decided to stay in their very dead realms like Jubei’thos due to how convenient playing with other realms had become. They surely did not have to rely on having anyone else in their server as our other friends were but a whisper away. It’s also awesome that they get to have Timeless Isle all to themselves and Pandaria’s Zandalari Warbringers are left untouched, ripe for the picking at their own pace and rotation.
However, there is a sad side of this. It is the way people interact now with one another. I’ve never played WoW in its earlier days, but I’ve read a lot about how strong realms were bonded with one another before cross-realm activities became possible. Much like the other MMOs I’ve played, a server was always a home; a place in which you could chill and socialize, a place where everyone knew your name, and a place that made connections so tight, that the actual distance between you and another person did not matter at all. There are always the common archetypes like the best PvPer, the server troll, the server white-knight, the number-cruncher, and so many more that spiced up your game time. With cross-realms in place, all that is just as distant as that online friend of yours from Indonesia.
With how easy it is for players to access parts of the game now that requires anything past soloing, much of the population took for granted the very social aspect of the MMO. Players are indifferent to one another, except for a few instances of course, considering same-server players to be just mindless NPCs taking up space and catching damage with their face for you. For some players, rather than improving their game in order to participate with a group they like, they simply take the “carry-me” route and hope for the best, not at all taken by the consequences of their actions with regard to the ease of finding another group, though, a successful group is a different matter all entirely.
Take for example an experience of mine with another player during one of my guild’s hosted events in Openraid:
Me: Oh, hey, Someguy who is apparently un-guilded! We’re on the same server!
Me: I can’t see your realm’s name beside your name. Took me a while to notice that!
What? Dude, I’m just trying to be friendly, and maybe some common ground between us could have broken the ice. Such a shame; was a damned good healer too. Many more events like that took place in my time playing WoW; too many to count, and it’s led me to believe that the manner in which we all partake in this game is now very akin to how one plays an FPS like Call of Duty or some such. There is no feeling, no interaction, no semblance of humanity, and, overall, no soul. I’m pretty sure a lot would agree, without our friends and guildies, that WoW has become a meaningless instancing of raids of angry randoms yelling at the guy who died on belts.
Who’s the Best in PvP!?
Back in SWTOR, a game that had no such luxury of cross-server activities, servers were so tight that a new player could often be left out by the rest of the community. PvP was one of the game’s high-points and servers had their own number of amazing players that relished on the e-fame. While the e-fame is nice, it isn’t the point; it’s that everyone knew one another and the competitive atmosphere and friendships created by such a community, whether good or bad, can never be replicated in a different situation. When everyone competes at a locality, it gives room for growth between the players both in skill and social aspects, instead of just a random mass of players you could possibly play with that you could care little about.
Typically, forum warriors on and about the whole “My server is better than yours” argument would annoy me to no end, but now I appreciate that sort of flaming. It endears because of a sense of loyalty and pride in being a part of something greater, and is simply caused by the fantastic experience of being in a local community. Cross-realm queues, while they serve a purpose in making it better to play with a bigger pool of players, make battlegrounds devoid of any emotion due to how much of a melting-pot WoW has become. Again, like my example earlier on the PvE aspect, it becomes akin to an FPS matchmaking lobby. Even if you fought the best Mistweaver from Sargeras, who cares? You don’t know him and you’ll most likely never see him again anyway, unless you’re up in ranked pretty high, and then that’ll piss you off because you can’t get past 1900. If you aren’t in the top 0.5% of the PvP heirarchy, and most of those people you don’t meet on a regular basis, there isn’t much to shoot for, now is there?
Battlegroups, were of course, a proto-type of the cross-realm queues and had long been a part of WoW, but it still had the server community presence, albeit at a much larger scale. It still had the “who’s the best team/X-class user in battlegroup” essence about it, and a community that looked forward to challenging their local best with their own improvements and innovations. Sadly, with the direction that WoW is taking these days, I don’t see anything that will alleviate this.
Good Thing I Have Friends
No matter how bad you may perceive cross-realm activities can be, this is completely nullified by having your own set of guildies/friends. The once awesome server community can still be done all on your own, so long as you have the social skills for it. And because of cross-realms, your own little community’s growth extends far more. It’s never fun playing in a silent world, and the quirks and exceptional scenarios that normally occur in MMO worlds no longer happen. What sort of scenarios, you ask? Well, I’m sad for you that you have no idea what I’m talking about. Many gamers and game developers forget the “Multiplayer” part of MMOs and treat it simply as a single player instance that feeds them entertainment.
Smaller populations do tend to have better communities, and it isn’t at all strange for people to develop relationships faster in those scenarios. However, with communities like those, they tend to exclude the bigger world, almost always just absorbed in their own dimension, so I can’t say that it can be a replacement for the server-wide relationships that could have been had. A good way of seeing this is in a fellow’s article on the current state of guilds in this MMO era. Guilds are still a big part of MMO gaming, and should never be left out. It’s really just finding the right group of people for you.
While WoW is but a shell of its former self, community-wise, it isn’t the end of the world, but things could only get interesting when you have your own set of friends. Along with the advent of the boosted 90, you can expect more terminal communities from the early levels alone, and becomes even more empty at endgame. Not devoid of population, but devoid of anybody that cares about what you do or think. Regardless of how bad you view the WoW community is in general, distant past or present, it’s always going to be the icing on the cake for every game. Perhaps the server troll or douchebag survived, but that isn’t really anything to be happy about.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, Community, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday