On Connected Realms

Back when I first started playing World of Warcraft, I, like everyone else, was faced with a choice. At the time, I was completely unaware of how important this one choice was. I doubt most other first-timers had any idea, either. That choice was, of course, selecting a realm.

The realm I chose was Eldre’Thalas. Why? There were two reasons. The first was that it was a “Normal” server, meaning it was PVE. I had (and still have) no desire to be ganked unexpectedly.

The other reason why was because I thought it “looked cool” by virtue of having an apostrophe. That’s it. That is the entire reason I chose my home server, among 45 other PVE realms. Subsequently, that is why I met a bunch of awesome people in the guild of Fated Heroes, why I stuck with them to form Apotheosis (BC-era) and why I came back, post-Wrath, to bring Apotheosis v2.0 to life.

Because the server name looked cool.

When I look back on things, I recognize how huge a choice that was. At the time, there were no character transfers. Even now, character transfers cost $25 to pop from server to server (and believe me, I have spent a fair amount of money on transfers!), so the choice of a server is still a fairly important one. True, it no longer takes 20-30 days played to get a single character up to level 90, much less level 60, but server choice is still important, though it’s becoming less so.

With the release of Patch 5.4, Connected Realms (previously known as Virtual Realms) are being tested and implemented. Nethaera informed us on Wednesday evening that the first two realms that will be connected in this fashion are the US realms Bloodscalp and Boulderfist.

According to the US WoW RealmPop site, here are the statistics for both of those servers.

Bloodscalp:
Server type: PVP/Normal
Server timezone: MST
Alliance population: 13,581
Horde population: 32,167
Total population: 45,819

Boulderfist:
Server type: PVP/Normal
Server timezone: PST
Alliance population: 21,887
Horde population: 44,472
Total population: 66,459

I admit, this first connected realm confuses me a little bit. The Connected Realms FAQ explains that they wanted players from two (or more) lower-pop realms to play together. So why Bloodscalp and Boulderfist first? Looking at the list at RealmPop, Chromaggus has less than 16,000 characters in total. Garithos isn’t much better off, sitting at 17k. Balnazzar and Gul’dan are around the 18k mark. All four of those realms are PVP/CST realms. It seems to me as though the logical thing to do would be to group those four up pretty quickly, no?

Then again, maybe they want to start slowly, in the sense that they might want to try out this technology with just two (instead of four) realms to begin. And just two of those servers connected together would only be a total of about 32-33 thousand characters, which isn’t ideal. (Hell, all four of them merged isn’t a great population, either!) So I can understand that.

The other reason I’m confused is that they’re looking to create such a LARGE connected realm. ~46k + ~66k = ~112k characters. Either I missed a conversation/blue post out there, or I was extremely wrong in thinking that Eldre’Thalas, with its estimated population of ~74,000 characters, would remain a standalone realm. I was very surprised to see Boulderfist included, with just about eight thousand fewer characters on it than my original, home server.

The idea of Connected Realms was really interesting to me, on a community level (which I’ll get to in a moment), but it was all academic to me, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that I haven’t actively played since November of 2012. However, the idea that Eldre’Thalas may be included in this, at some point, brings it home. It’s not that good ol’ Eldre’Thalas can’t use more people (I’m sure that the Horde of ET, the few of them that remain, would agree with that sentiment), but the instant that you connect two or more realms together, the community changes.

Let’s talk a bit about community.

Back when I started playing, in October of 2005, my server (and I can’t speak to other servers because I only had characters on Eldre’Thalas, at that time) had a bunch of personalities. As you levelled, you knew of pretty much anyone who was a good player, bad player, moron, genius, scammer, you name it.

There was Atlas, the rather infamous leader of The Final Sanctum, who was, by all accounts, a jackass.

There was Suttles, who you could always count on to be yelling inappropriate things.

There was Warninja, who was always happy to open your lockboxes on the Ironforge bridge.

There was Joejoemco, who was pretty much always responsible for insane feats of kiting. Like, if Borelgore (from Eastern Plaguelands) was sitting dead in Ironforge? Yeah, that was Joejoe’s fault.

There was Rastlin, the Horde shaman, who was awesome about creating flasks and rare-ish alchemy items for people, back when you needed to go to Scholomance or Blackwing Lair to find an alchemy lab to make flasks, even arranging things with Alliance folks via the neutral AH, if I’m remembering right.

There was Thack, the main tank of Eternal Force, who was That Guy standing in Ironforge in full Tier 3, on his black scarab mount, having been the guy to ring the gong on the server back when the gates to Ahn’Qiraj were opened.

Since, at the time, battlegrounds weren’t split between battlegroups, you also got to know cross-faction folks pretty well — or, at least, you recognized who murdered you brutally in Warsong Gulch. (Dar, the orc hunter, is who taught me what the hell Scattershot was by using it on me, causing me to exclaim “what in the fuck was that?!”. Elu, the tauren druid, showed me what a bear could do for flag carrying.)

Once you connect realms, the community changes.

However, since the peak of WoW’s population, back in late Wrath of the Lich King, since the introduction of Looking for Group and, later, Looking for Raid, plus the fact that battlegrounds and arenas are battlegroup-wide, there’s very little community remaining on many servers. Larger servers, such as Proudmoore (where I raided for nine months), had enough Alliance-side population to actually have personality. With pugs running constantly, plus gold DKP runs and pre-made groups, Proudmoore was a thriving community (disclaimer: I haven’t had a regularly-played character there since May of 2010). It was so different compared to Eldre’Thalas and its relative silence.

I came back to Eldre’Thalas after about an 18 month break during Wrath. I barely recognized anyone. People applied to Apotheosis, saying they’d been life-long ETers and I was like “who the hell ARE these people?”, although I did recognize the names of guilds they’d previously been in.

Even during Cataclysm, I didn’t recognize a lot of people. I still feel as though there wasn’t a ton of real community on the server. My guildies mostly stuck to in-guild activities, as did I. I tried a normal 10m pug of Dragon Soul on my hunter at one point. I was pulled in on Blackhorn (I was obviously replacing someone who had given up in frustration) and spent two hours working on that fight with these people and we couldn’t get it down. That and Baradin Hold pugs were pretty much the extent of my forays into server activities.

So, if  connected realms change the community of realms where there’s not a lot of community to start with, then this should be a good change, no? I kind of think so.

The other strange thing about Bloodscalp and Boulderfist’s imminent connection is that these are two Horde-dominant servers. Once connected, the total approximate Alliance population will be 35,468 characters compared to the Horde’s 76,639. And these are PVP servers. True, it’s not as though the Alliance aren’t already used to being completely outnumbered by the Horde on these servers, but good Lord, that’s more than twice the amount of Horde as Alliance. One would have thought that Connected Realms would not only bring up overall populations but seek to perhaps even out the faction imbalances, no? Well, I guess not.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Connected Realms are a good idea, even if the idea is not quite unfolding the way I had thought it would. Ultimately, linking realms in this fashion does not make life difficult for anyone (except auction house fiends) and, in fact, helps to build community (where there might not have been much) between separate servers that are now linked.

There are still some unanswered questions I have, in addition to the ones I posed in my last post on the subject:

Old questions:
1) How many realms will be in a Virtual Realm?
2) With which realms will others be connected? Are they going to tack Chromaggus on to Tichondrius, for instance? Or will they do it by lumping together five to ten low-pop realms to be one large Virtual Realm?
3) Will Virtual Realms have names?
4) Will players be able to transfer to a Virtual Realm (and then get randomly dropped on a server within that VR) or will they continue to transfer to individual servers?

New questions:
5) What is the ideal population size of a Connected Realm?
6) When will the actual lower-population realms start to be connected to others?
7) What’s the approximate cutoff that makes a realm “too big” to be connected, if such a number exists?
8) Is there any interest in making sure factions are better balanced?

Oh, and while I was poking around the official forums, looking for people’s reactions, I found this post in the Bloodscalp forums about Connected Realms and had a good laugh, so I absolutely have to share it! :)

Also, don’t forget to check out Kurn’s Recruitment Checklist, to better aid you in your 5.4 recruitment push, and if you need a bit more help, there’s always Kurn’s Guide to Being a Kick-Ass Guild Master! In particular, Module 2: How to Recruit is full of great recruitment info (as you may have already gleaned).

Finally, I’m starting work on my second Kick-Ass Guide! This one is targetted at raiders and will be a lot shorter than the guild master guide. I hope. Well, at 358 pages, the guild master guide is kind of massive, so hopefully it won’t be too difficult to release a shorter guide in a shorter period of time. The GM guide took me close to four months, so I’m aiming for half of that time before the Raider guide is out. Keep yourself up to date here or follow me on Twitter (@kurnmogh) or sign up for my mailing list over at Kurn’s Guides! :)

5 comments

  1. R says:

    I encountered “Coalesced Realms” (the term I saw on my tooltip when I hovered over a toon) on my server last night which isn’t one of the two servers mentioned. I didn’t experience any issues. The tooltip also indicated that I could Join/Whisper that person. Not sure if it was a native game element or an add-on that included that info in the tooltip, though.

    I’ve seen very mixed info in terms of faction balance plans. The first comment I saw from Blizz indicated clearly that they weren’t planning to factor in faction imbalance. That seems to have changed but I’m not sure if it’s been changed in an effort to minimize imbalance, if anything I suspect for transparency purposes (you shouldn’t generally notice you’ve been CRed) they would INTENTIONALLY combine servers with similar imbalances. Horde-heavy with horde-heavy, alliance-heavy with alliance-heavy, neutral with neutral.

    In terms of population numbers, I don’t think we have access to anything resembling useful info in that regard. Based on those pop lists my server has about 40% of the pop of a high-pop server but the actual experience between the two is more like a 20-50x difference in populated areas, not a 2.5x one. Total numbers of characters on a server would likely include a lot of orphaned characters whose mains were moved which would taint the numbers SIGNIFICANTLY. I believe the goal will be to have the combined PLAYING populations pretty high but not quite to the point of login queues. Blizzard will have the data in terms of how many players are actually on each server at any time so they can do much more accurate combinations than those of us can who are scoring from home. I’m optimistic.

  2. Jaymz says:

    @ R – The “Coalesced Realms” on your tool-tip will show for anyone not on your realm, be it CRZ or if you are invited to another realm by a friend (or vice versa).

    @ Kurn – Just using ET as an example I can tell you that there may be 70+k characters on that realm but there is definitely NOT that many playing the game. The post I read (or at least that I recall) said that Med and Low pop servers are all being looked at, so ET is definitely available to be connected. As to the reasoning behind doing 2 Med pop servers first… More data to process with less Xrealm issues. IMO that’s a smart move.

    There was a blue post on the EU forums about Connected Realms that said something to the effect of, “While faction balance will be looked at and used as a factor we can’t really use it because we can’t guarantee it remains after we connect these realms” – Which makes perfect sense, some players will welcome the change of connected realms and others will hate it and transfer off which could and most likely will cause a new imbalance (or maintain the old one).

    And lastly, since I know how much you like these kinds of discussions… If they combined the 4 lowest pop realms, what good would that do the end-game community on those servers? As I’m sure you can see, there really isn’t one. The ideal thing, IMO, to do is find Med pop servers to combine those extremely low pop realms with that already have at least some form of end-game raiding/pvping/etc going on. This will give those on the low pop that want to end game play a place(guild) to go, as well as those who aren’t sure a place to learn before jumping in. — In short I don’t think having a Med(80-90k) pop realm with a bunch of people who’ve never really done anything at end game is a good idea.

    I’m excited to see how this plays out in the end, and I really do hope that ET gets combined with at least one other server to bring it’s “Playing Population” up. I’d really like to go back “home” =)

  3. Kurn says:

    R – Jaymz is correct, “coalesced realms” isn’t the same as “connected realms” and is, as I understand it, more of a function of CRZ-type shenanigans. :)

    The faction balance is an interesting quandary. Were it up to me (and, clearly, it is not!), I would at least attempt to merge high-Alliance and high-Horde realms. It’s true that they might not stay that way, but when you look at the US realms like Area 52, Illidan or Mal’Ganis, these are without question Horde servers, while Stormrage, Kel’Thuzad and Darkspear are unquestionably Alliance servers. The quality of life for the “other” faction on these servers cannot be great. Why not bring that quality up, or at least make a good effort? These servers almost certainly did not start out with a huge imbalance — it’s taken nine years to get to that point. IMHO, it would be worth a shot. That said, I hear your transparency issue, although it won’t be as transparent because suddenly the server will seem to almost double in population, in some areas/zones/etc.

    As to the numbers, you’re right, even the RealmPop numbers aren’t a great measuring stick. They are total numbers of characters seen in the various categories (faction, race, class, etc). However, it’s the best metric we have at this time. Blizzard’s numbers are obviously much more accurate and I’m relatively optimistic about the entire process, but I do wish they would be more transparent about the reasons why, the population numbers and such. (As long as I’m dreaming, I would like a million dollars.)

    Thanks for the comment. :)

    Jay – Sure, the 70k+ character number for ET includes alts, obviously. Assume that most people have, I don’t know, one main character and three alts of varying level/importance. That means about 18,500 players each with 4 total characters. I completely understand that character numbers do not equal player numbers.

    Yeah, I guess I understand about the first two realms to be connected, but I would be pissed if I were on Chromaggus… and still playing. ;D

    Faction balance, well, see above response to R. Nothing is guaranteed and I think that you’re right, nothing will prevent a mass exodus or a mass arrival that would further screw with the attempt to balance.

    That’s an interesting idea, re: bringing a low pop server to a mid-pop realm and connecting them. I wonder about the quality of the players, whether that might further dilute talent on a smaller raiding realm. But again, raiding is not the be-all and end-all that it once was. (Which makes me sad.)

    I really am curious to see what server, if any, Eldre’Thalas is linked up with…

  4. R says:

    Okay, I assumed since I haven’t seen any info about CRZ coming to MoP yet that seeing Coalesced folks running around TI (quite a few, actually) was an indication that it was at least somewhat live.

    Thing is, though, players on those servers (ie. the vast majority who are in the vast majority) LIKE it that way. It became that way intentionally. If you suddenly merged, say, Area 52 and Stormrage I don’t think many from either server would be happy about it. I prefer some faction balance personally as well but obviously a lot of players disagree, otherwise there would be balance on at least a FEW of the top servers. As it is, based on Realmpop, Tichondrius is the only one over 80% balanced in the top 14. Plus, most of those high pop servers are PvP… while I don’t think PvP realms should be ALLOWED to be imbalanced toward one faction or the other, it also makes me wonder if PvP is the reason why the imbalances occurred in the first place. One side, literally, won the server. Doesn’t explain the PvE servers on the list, what few of them are up there, but those stand as the representatives of PvE servers for Horde or Alliance.

    As for transparency, I agree that more people isn’t exactly transparent but it would be more noticeable on a faction-dominant PvP server if there were suddenly 10x the number of opposite faction players running around and suddenly questing, which had always been relatively peaceful (if a server is 95% Horde and an Alliance toon kills a Horde one while leveling, how likely is that Alliance player to NOT be camped for the next hour?), is now getting ganked regularly. I think that could be too much for a lot of players to handle.

    Regardless, it’s an interesting situation… I think Blizz would be best (and safest) served by keeping faction imbalances intact, at least on large servers but probably on small ones as well. Then again, I also think they should break up the large servers… even after a few days the lag there is crazy.

    I’d had a similar thought where instead of combining the bottom 20 servers together into one you combine smaller numbers of differently-sized realms (say, 50, 100, 150 and 200 together instead of 180-200). The only problem I see with that is that the largest server would dominate… they’d have the bulk of the guilds, history, friendships, etc. Everyone else would basically just be new server transfers and being forced into that role may or may not go over well (they’d be the equivalent of 5% Alliance on a 95% Horde server, outsiders trying to scrape out an existence). Combining like-sized servers might be a more fair way to let the new server culture adapt naturally.

  5. Suttles says:

    This is suttles, from back in the day. I’m thinking about getting back into world of warcraft with the new expansion being released soon. What happen to all the old schoolers? Are you still playing?

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