If Virtual Realms make it to the live realms and work, it seems like an excellent solution to the problem of dead and imbalanced servers. But how will it be implemented? And what if Virtual Realms don't work? Should servers be merged?
They predicted it
Dead Gnomes Society's alykii actually predicted virtual consolidation. Looking very prescient, alykii described what it looks like we'll be testing.
The only thing not mentioned in the patch notes about Virtual Realms so far is mail, but it only makes sense that with cross-realm guilds and auction houses that we'll have cross-realm mail.
- Cross-realm Guilds – the ability to join a guild physically located on another realm without having to transfer characters.
- One AH for each faction (yes, it would change the economy as we know it, but the AH interface needs a makeover anyway).
- Cross realm grouping for ALL content without necessarily having to go through the battletag system.
- The ability to mail items across realms to other toons.
- The ability to send tells to players not on your battletag or in your group by typing the name-realm.
Jeff LaBowski at Sportsbard also suggested cross-realm everything as a solution, but is reticent to try it.
This option makes me shudder a little. I think I would feel more like a number than a name. They would need to update the UI in the auction house. They would also need to start moderating public chats. If you don't know what I am talking about- roll a toon on Cenarion Circle or Argent Dawn and wander over to Goldshire. Read /1 general chat for a minute. You will only need a minute. This is what we can come to expect more of if we get more CRZ or "super servers". Not really looking forward to that.I admit that the Elwynn Forest general chat is pretty awful on just about any decently populated server. It's not just the infamous erotic roleplayers on certain RP servers. The general tendency toward Barrens Chat or worse exists in Goldshire for some reason.
It will be interesting to see how the chat channels will be handled on Virtual Realms. Perhaps the zones will be instanced as many other MMOs do. In both City of Heroes and Star Wars: The Old Republic, zones would be instanced but you could go to any zone you wished if you wanted to meet up with friends. Carmelo at Clever Musings did not like the way Guild Wars 2 handled overpopulated zones and is not looking forward to any possible implementation of overflow zones in WoW.
Blizzard could clearly design a better system, but I'm wary of the logistics. What happens when someone switches zones? Could you voluntarily switch to a different zone instance like TERA allows players to? Would that open the potential for abuse? People already complain about CRZ making it impossible to find rare NPCs. Would players constantly begin swapping between zone instances looking for the Time Lost Proto-Drake? Would spawn timers need to be adjusted to compensate for the dramatic increase to players in a zone?At The Golden Crusade, xsinthis2 also discussed Cross Realm Zones and the possibility of expanding it to the AH and guilds as being the only way to make CRZ work to alleviate the issues in low population realms. Anastrace said something similar in the comments.
Single player appeal
While most people agreed that either merging servers or expanding CRZ was the right thing to do, some are happy on their low pop servers. Although World of Warcraft is a multiplayer game, Jimmy and others like to play it like a single player game. Jordan is also a proponent.
WoW may technically be an MMO-rpg, but it is still a phenomenal single-player RPG. The amount of hours and quality solo play I've gotten out of WoW outstrip any rpg I've ever played in my life. Whatever console rpg I pick up, no matter how much I like it, I can only clock in about 100 hours before I get bored with it and need to put it down for 1-3 years. But I haven't put WoW down since 2007!Names
Quite a few people mentioned the inherent problem with names when merging servers together. Whether as one big meta realm or merging two or more realms into one, keeping one's identity is very important to most players. Many people, including shawneesue, thought that using the original server name as a sort of surname would allow people to keep their preferred names. I assume that is how it will be done on the Virtual Realms.
Login to the character, not the realm
A few people, such as Yoshihito, would like to see the realm choice come after logging into a character, rather than merging the realms. This system is used in Toontown Online, where you could choose non-full servers and teleport to friends as necessary.
What about the economy?
There was much discussion about what would happen to the economy, should the Auction House go cross realm. For example, gamer4279 thinks that prices would bottom out. But jemjem.nightfall believes that people will be selling more at the lower price, therefor making up for the difference with volume instead of high prices. On the other hand, shawneesue is afraid that auctions would come and go too fast to be clicked on. It's hard to say what a cross-realmed AH will be like for WoW before we actually see it.
Regardless of the method used, most people believed that some kind of merging of the realms, whether virtually or physically, was needed to fix the problems of low population realms. I, for one, am very excited about Virtual Realms and hope they make it to the live servers. And I think that this solution is better than merging servers. We'll have to see what patch 5.4 ends up delivering to us.