First and foremost: When it comes to accurate server population, experiences can vary... a lot. Unless you have a program that can instantly count moving heads, you're never really going to know hard numbers. The site mmogchart.com used to keep track of server-wide populations, but only in subscription-based games. I've yet to find any site or program that tracks population in free-to-play games. Even if I did, we're looking for individual server populations. The only tallying of players in F2P MMOs I've seen done is the kind that counts total accounts created through a game's website. You also have to contend with other issues like server caps on the number of people who can be online at the same time, peak hours and days of the week. All of these things can vary depending on the game, and most of the time this information is never made public. The point is there are no definitive data you can call up at the wave of a mouse.
You can, however, get information from within the game that will help aid you in your pursuit of a highly populated server. A good idea is to paint a small picture of what a server's population will be like that you just can't get from one random session. Just as it does when you're shopping for a new headset or keyboard, it pays to take some time and look over different features.
What I've tried to do is get a time-lapse snapshot of the life of a server by logging in every day for a week. A week is good, because we all tend to have our lives scheduled throughout one week. Apart from seasonal changes or intermittent activities like vacations, we all tend to stick to weekly patterns of behavior. I also logged in during peak and off-peak hours each day, and I stayed on for about an hour each time. I'm on the East coast, so I counted peak hours as being between 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. It was early enough on my side of the continent to see players still in-game, while West-coasters would be logging in after work and school. I also tried to engage in conversations, paid attention to the amount of chatting in zone and world channels, browsed the amount of different items in the auction house, and noted the players I saw.
I'd like to be able to tell you I gleaned some new and exciting information from all of this personal research, but honestly a lot of it wasn't surprising or unpredictable. I found Reni to be highly populated. On average, it appears to be the second most populated server next to Artemis. In fact, I'd have a hard time telling it wasn't Artemis, except for noticeably lower activity during off-peak hours.
The really big differences I saw are predictably -- again -- with the PvP servers. Compared to all the other servers, Grimdal seemed to have the lowest population. No matter what time or day I logged in, world chat was scarce, some zones had no conversation at all for 10-20 minutes, and the auction house was considerably thinner. This isn't saying Grimdal is a lost cause. During peak hours and even on Sunday morning, I quickly ran across a few people leveling and dueling in Varanas. While a few players started joining in on zone chat to have some fun, there still wasn't any world chat. To counterbalance the negative aspect of what I saw, there's the siege war features that show there are active guilds on Grimdal. The number one guild in siege war is on Grimdal, Along with four or five contenders making the top 50 list.
I only have one high-level character, and it's not on Grimdal. But I am on a PvP server, and I think my server may share similarities with Grimdal and other PvP servers. Overall server populations are lower on PvP servers, and the economy can reflect that. PvP economies are also skewed in favor of high-level player gear. Items don't usually suffer from inflation as much as deflation. For instance, daily quest drops and resources will never pull in a lot of money on PvP servers compared to PvE servers. You will also find less variety in low- to mid-level mods on the auction house. The PvP economies revolve more around high-level gear and the modding of that gear. Basically, players tend to level fast and raid hard, and the market revolves around increasing just those activities.
Artemis is the best example of a bustling RoM
economy. It's packed all the time, and items have more balanced value throughout the level climb. It's safe to say that it's a healthier economy than what you'll find on the PvP servers. Reni is pretty much the same. One really big difference is with bound items and the bind lifters. On PvP servers, you can circumvent the need for bind lifters by trusting players and PKing them until they drop a bound item they want to sell you. Naturally, next to no one spends real cash to unbind an item to sell in the auction house, but people will do so on PvE servers, and all those previously bound items take on new values when they are all floating around in the auction house.
If I wanted to, I could log onto a PvP server, unbind a valuable piece of armor, and place it in the auction house. The item itself will have value whether it's for mid-level or high-level characters, and it would probably sell, but it wouldn't sell for much. I definitely wouldn't be compensated for the diamonds I spent to unbind it. A better plan -- which differs from what I'd do on a PvE server -- would be to save my gold until I get to high level, then primarily farm dungeons.
Most MMOs show a population status at the server selection screen, but I think many players get weary of trusting this information. It's true it's not specific for what you'll find when you log in, but RoM's
server status is still a good indication. Most days and times if a server says it's full or crowded, it will be full or crowded when you jump in. It's the normal
status that can be harder to read. One day Grimdal and Reni could both say normal -- which doesn't happen often -- but it feels like Reni is much more populated due to a different concentration of player levels, a different economy, and an actual higher player-count that hasn't quite bumped it up to the status of crowded.
To answer the other part of Roger Ringo's question: I have been on almost every server at one time or another. At last count, I had around a dozen different characters spread between servers. Many of those were just to get me on the server to look around. I'm currently actively playing two characters on two different servers.
A big thanks goes out to Roger Ringo for the question this week. Feel free to write me with your questions. I love getting reader mail.
Each Monday, Jeremy Stratton delivers Lost Pages of Taborea, a column filled with guides, news, and opinions for Runes of Magic. Whether it's a community roundup for new players or an in-depth look at the rogue/priest combo, you'll find it all here. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.