Dude, Where's My Country?

When we purchased WoW, we all made a (mostly) unconscious choice. Based on geographic location alone, we committed ourselves to life on a certain set of servers, walled off from other regions -- American, European or Korean, we're now stuck with the original decision we made months or years ago.

There are various good reasons to think about switching, or going dual-region. It's possible to run two copies of WoW, or even just the one, as long as you're prepared to cough up the initial payment and monthly fee twice over. You might have friends abroad you wish to play with, or you may be away from your home country temporarily. You might be a night owl or early bird, more comfortable in a timezone several hours distant from your own. Perhaps there is a particular guild you wish to join, or news items you wish to keep up with; perhaps you would prefer to speak a certain language.

There are also bad reasons -- if you're disillusioned with some less-than-savoury experiences on your home server, switching region isn't going to help any more than just switching server, as bad PuGs and antisocial players exist on all servers. Also, playing away from home for the purposes of selling gold or characters in a more lucrative market isn't going to win you many friends.

Here's my personal story. I've been playing with a group of friends in several online games for over a year; the clan is a large one, and has some international members, but most are based in the US. Several of us have been bitten by the WoW bug and have been levelling characters independently, mine being on my local European servers.

However, we've recently started a WoW division, and I've taken this chance to test out international play. I'm keeping both accounts, and I've bought a full-price, legitimate American copy of the game to go alongside my European one.

So far, it's been an interesting 'holiday'. I've observed a general difference in behaviour -- people seem more willing to yell and be rude to one another on these new, foreign servers than back home, though I've encountered some nice people too. I'll eventually get out of the low-level areas and cities to see if there's a difference elsewhere. I've also seen several "want to trade characters" advertisements so far, something I have never seen on the European servers I play on. Finally, I've found the American servers more laggy (I'm sure the transatlantic connection has a part to play here), with login taking much longer than it does in Europe.

I found it easy to set up the American account, even with my UK billing address, but I am now paying twice the monthly fee for the chance to play with different people. Given the times of day I can play, I am not even seeing half of the people I want to play with, but that can fortunately be changed. During the patch time last week I was unable to log on to the American servers for a day (thanks to a version mismatch that could only be cured by downloading the patch from the European servers), and this will happen every time a patch comes out, even a minor one; I decided to maintain a separate installation, but that means new addons to keep track of.

In terms of value for money, I do feel hard done by. It would be nice if there was some way to pay for a second account abroad without having to pay for a box (which I already own), but gold farmers and the like would revel in such a feature. I understand the need to pay for separate services; I'm consuming bandwidth and server space in an entirely different data centre. However, if I could transfer my European characters across, I would; the enforced separation between regions is annoying, since an international character transfer system would allow me to drop my European subscription. I'm not holding out much hope for that, however.

If you're in a similar position, with friends abroad that you really want to play with, you'll have to pay for the privilege. It's worth the extra expense for me, and if you can part with your 'home' characters and subscription then you won't notice much difference. However, it's nice having two accounts -- patch day isn't a problem, since I can play on one region while the other is down. The only real difference is the people -- if you don't have a compelling reason to play in a particular region, with particular people, then you will probably find it a waste of money.

Given the global nature of other MMOs (although not all) and many other online games, the separation between regions seems unnecessary, but with a game the size of WoW it does make some sense. One of the reasons WoW is a worthwhile game to play is the sheer number of people playing it; regional locking takes away that factor to some extent, and the lack of server-to-server transfers at the moment exacerbates it. Perhaps in the future we'll see some solution to this -- I certainly hope so.

[Thanks, Daniel]