Curing the Ghost Towns

When leveling alts I notice a distinct lack of activity in leveling zones and hanker for the “good old days” of WoW when there were dozens of people in a zone questing together, sharing banter in /1 rather than just me, a couple of max levels farming mindlessly and an archaeologist flying overhead. A lot of my fondest memories are of group questing while leveling and today Blizzard have announced cross-realm zones a great feature that could be about to restore that feeling. Could this be the end of realms as we know it? Will it make our battlegroup our local community rather than our realm?

Cross-Realm Zones are coming to Beta!

In the World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria beta, we’re introducing a new technology that will enable players to meet up and group with other players in under populated areas of the world such as low level zones or areas that other players may have outleveled or moved on from. This technology will allow players to form a group with other players from within a select pool of realms in order to quest just like they normally would while still allowing the social structures of their home realms to remain intact.

Yes that’s right the combination of phasing and cross-realm dungeon/raids technologies have been merged to give us cross-realm zones! Now Blizzard has stated that this will not give us the dreaded loading screen between zones and for that we can thank the good old phasing technology. If that had been introduced it would have spoiled one of WoWs best features

Benefits

Apart from the benefit of putting many people in the zones, there are other benefits:

  • You’ll be able to group up with anyone cross-realm including friends;
  • No level restrictions on group members;
  • Loot rules work as normal;

Drawbacks

Sadly these benefits come at a price:

  • Capital cities and highly populated zones are exempt
  • Trading restrictions will apply as they do in dungeons;
  • More competition for gathering nodes;

The future?

The existing realm structure is very flawed. We have low pop realms, high pop realms and realms with huge faction imbalance. Players have queried why we can’t merge realms and that was not gonna happen as it would be a sign of decline. What we have here is Blizzard embracing the new powerful computer hardware and using it to fix that issue.

Further on down the line I foresee realms becoming obsolete because the virtual world can be virtualised initially at a battlegroup level but as hardware progresses who is to say that it couldn’t be at regional or even global level? 

Posted by Evlyxx

Website: http://www.evangelysm.com

This article has 3 Comments

  1. I suppose the one thing that might stop that is bandwidth and latency on the Internet. Imagine 5 million people (conservatively speaking) all connecting to the same server. Latency between load-balanced servers trying to replicate the same content would also probably make this very difficult to achieve well as a tank may have died on one server but still be alive on another in the same "zone" because the server is slightly out of synch. I don't see this being an investment Activision would be prepared to make into WoW as it can't have too long left before they shelve it unless they keep making serious upgrades to it to keep it looking fresh and relevant.

    1. The realm (what we call a server in game) isn't actually one server (as in computing device) anyway. I believe each time you get a loading screen you are switching from 1 physical box to another. So Kalimdor, Eastern Kingdoms, Outland, Northrend and sson Pandaria are different computer servers. Also, there are multiple instance/raid/battleground servers and the chat system is on another server too.

      To keep the promise of no load screens between zones Blizzard must already have some tech that allows you to change computer server with no load screen the single realm would just be a massive extension of that.

  2. I assume now that most "realms" are virtual now anyway – at least the ones added in the last few years should be to make them more resilient if nothing else. Yeah I am aware that there are multiple servers used to provision a single "realm" experience.
    The point still stands though about bandwidth. 5-10 million people all trying to squeeze through the same PoP to get to this single server and ensuring sufficient bandwidth to give a smooth experience would be extremely costly and possibly not currently even possible. Some of this requirement would presumably be offset by having a server per language unless they intend to run multiple instances of the game engine on the same server to provide the localisation. I don't know exactly how much bandwidth per person WoW uses but given the latency-sensitive nature of online gaming and the addition of features (like in-game voice chat) adds only to the bandwidth requirements. Provisioning large amounts of bandwidth across the Atlantic is expensive enough let alone provisioning for English speaking people down in Asia-Pac!

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