Thursday, 3 May 2012

Regarding Server Population

"The delegation from Ord Mantell moves to install stairs."
The fine folks over at TORWars have put up their most recent podcast, which addresses among other things the perceived server population issue. Since this is a common complaint, I thought I'd weigh in on this.

I'd like to preface this post by saying that I play on The Fatman-US (PvP) so if my server has a population issue, it is one of overpopulation and not a lack of players. This overpopulation is not currently a problem, but it could eventually become one. On Free Weekends at peak times, you're looking at an hour wait to log in.

I think that the best case scenario here is for us to get real, hard numbers on server population that we can take a look at. Most other MMO companies do not do this, so I don't have my hopes up. In the absence of hard numbers, discussing server population becomes a lot harder.

As Asros pointed out today on Twitter, you end up in a discussion where one side cannot produce any facts and is acting solely based on their "feelings" on server population. The honest truth is that, without numbers, people are guessing. They can tell you what the amount of people on the fleet was at 6pm, but they can't tell you what the total number of people logged into the server are. Dulfy has done a population survey, but it is obviously a snapshot of each server's users at a specific point in time and is not indicative of how many active players actually play there.

There is no doubt that peak concurrent users is down, which is believable. As TORWars reported, the initial playtime was unsustainable. We've been told subscriber numbers are more or less stable, which also seems reasonable.

Now having said all that, I do believe that some of the stories of servers starting to empty are valid - mostly because I think people are re-rolling to more populated servers like mine in the absence of hard data. In my opinion, the best realistic scenario here involves a complete population review of all servers once paid transfers have been open for a couple weeks. I have no doubt that Bioware will be keeping an eye on this.

Stretching out with your feelings probably won't do you much good on this topic.

Bioware needs to be honest with themselves and seriously consider server merges if things look grim a few weeks after paid transfers open. Thankfully, Daniel Erickson has said that server merges, while not a preferred option, are a possibility. I hope it doesn't come to that; I really hope it doesn't. But I think it might, and here's why:

Unless additional incentive is given to players to transfer off of high-pop servers, I don't think you'll see many people leaving them.

Even if the transfers are free (Bioware has said free transfers will be offered to high-pop server players), there's really no incentive to leave. So there's the occasional queue - so what? People have had plenty of chances to leave my server a lot earlier on, like at launch when there were multi-hour queues. People play here despite queues. Lots of guilds have transferred here in recent weeks. I doubt these people will want to relocate again.

On top of that, you're looking at a situation where we're really not given any data by Bioware on server population. Why take a chance and transfer to a light population server, only to pay to transfer back later? With more data, people might make an informed decision. As it stands right now, it's a shot in the dark.

Hate to tell you the odds, but...

There are two scenarios I can see where you will have substantial traffic off of high population servers:

1. Paid transfers open, hundreds if not thousands of people transfer to high population servers, and queues become unbearable for the veterans of the high population servers. If Bioware is smart, they keep unpaid transfers open during this period, because this might actually cause people to abandon ship.

2. Free transfers open and there is some kind of incentive to jumping ship, or some kind of "trial period" where you can transfer back for free. I'm not going to say incentive is everything here, but excepting people who have burned all their bridges on their current server or just have personal problems with their current server, why would someone leave a high-pop server right now with all the uncertainty?

Here's hoping that Bioware offers some incentive to repopulate lower-pop servers. If not, the free transfers will likely be underutilized.


  1. Best post I've seen on the subject. It's not an issue I've had to contend with in SWTOR (I play on The Red Eclipse, one of the busiest EU servers), but I've been on low population servers in other MMOs and know the pain it can cause.

    I think BW have said there will be free transfers to some servers. Lets hope thats incentive enough.

  2. Thanks for the comment! I updated the post to make it more evident that Bioware is, indeed, offering free transfers.

    Even if they do so though, I'm just not sure there's any reason to leave.

  3. Interesting post, I certainly wouldn't leave my server, not for all the credits on Correllia