What are you looking for in a realm?
Where do your friends play? Say you've got a neighbor, a couple of coworkers, some buddies and a family member or two scattered out across various WoW realms. All things being equal, as long as your playstyles and general game goals align, you may find it worthwhile to meet some or all of them on common ground. It really is more fun when you can play with real-life friends.
What's the faction ratio like? Life on a realm with a wildly imbalanced population (many more of Horde than Alliance, or vice versa) can be sheer hell -- or exactly the kind of antagonistic atmosphere you were looking for. Do you want an even shot, or do you relish the idea of being the underdog? While Blizzard doesn't make accurate player population census figures public, you can get a pretty good picture of population balance at sites like Warcraft Realms.
Is the realm population high or low? Low-population realms are usually very welcoming to new players. Realms marked "New" are most especially appropriate for rookies and perennially leveling players, since you're most likely to find other similarly leveled players working their way through the content. Wannabe raiders will enjoy a higher demand for recruits among low-pop realm raiding guilds, and guilds here are usually much more willing to mentor and gear up less experienced players. And of course, you'll never find yourself waiting in a login queue for a low-pop realm. On the other hand, fewer players overall means fewer players for you to group with, especially if you're still somewhere along the leveling curve. The lower population also means a much less robust player economy, meaning slimmer auction house pickings and higher prices for you.
High-population realms have a different set of benefits and challenges, most of them relatively discouraging to rookie WoW and MMO players. Players may find themselves staring at a login queue (from mere minutes to an hour or more) at the very times they want to log in and play the most. While the economy and dungeon finder/PUG population is robust on high-pop realms, the more anonymous atmosphere might mean more obnoxious, "it's-only-a-game-you-n00b" behavior. On some realms (and this isn't to say that low- and medium-pop realms are immune to these dangers), you might even find that bad behavior becomes the expected social norm. And if you're considering a "Full" realm? Don't. These communities most definitely will not welcome you with open arms; you're more likely to be met with outright hostility.
A medium-population realm, of course, offers the most balanced picture overall.
What's the word on the realm's official forums? Unfortunately, most official realm forums tend to be rather trollish affairs. If you keep that reservation in mind, it may be worth your while to skim them over for any exceptionally lumpish warts. Don't make any introductory or exploratory posts there while you're still looking, though; realm forums are notorious for mocking outsiders, and you're not likely to provoke any productive conversation.
Are you looking for something off the beaten track?
Read through the last month or two of posts in our community news column, The Classifieds
. You'll spot recruiting notices from all sorts of guilds, from specific roleplaying concepts to world PvP guilds -- and if you don't see the type of guild you want, feel free to send us a "looking for guild" message of your own. What language do you speak (or want to speak)?
If you hope to play anywhere but a predominantly U.S. realm, be sure to check what languages are most frequently spoken. Visit the official realm forums, and even run a new character to a big city to listen in on general chat for a while. Be sure to take the temperature of what languages and cultures may not
be as welcome on a given realm. What time of day do you play?
Do you want to jump into the thick of the pack, or hide yourself away from the crowds? Choosing a realm based in a different time zone
can help you make your way with or against the flow.
Narrow down your search If you're looking for PvE raiding:
- If you work an odd schedule, you may be able to find a realm whose "normal" evening/night hours align with your usual gaming hours.
- If you enjoy instance groups or want to join in on endgame raiding, you'll want to align your schedule with a realm's "normal" play hours.
- If playing the auction house is your game, peak activity usually occurs during the late afternoon and evening hours.
- If you prefer solitary leveling or farming, you may prefer to avoid the crowds and play at a realm's off hours.
- You're less likely to be attacked on a PvP realm during traditionally quiet hours.
- Battlegrounds will run less frequently during non-peak hours.
For arena PvPers in search of a more vigorous PvP pool:
- A realm's overall progression (how far its guilds have gotten into the current raiding content) can help you figure out which realms may be more likely to have the type of raiding guilds you're looking for. Look up progression on sites like GuildOx, or check the realm progression stickie found at the top of most realm forums.
- Low-progression realms offer more possibilities for casual raiders, since guilds here are still working their way through the current content. And since these players haven't farmed everything out already, gear requirements are likely to be less strict. If you want to take things as casually as possible, look for a low-population realm.
- High-progression guilds are more likely to have hardcore guilds tackling hard modes -- but competition for spots in those guilds is more likely to be competitive. Gear requirements will be much tighter. Many face-paced, hardcore guilds may go on hiatus toward the end of an expansion cycle, making it difficult to break in.
If you're looking for world PvP:
- You're more likely to meet players who are interested in PvP on PvP (or RP-PvP) realms than on PvE realms.
- Arenajunkies.com's recruitment page can be a huge help in finding potential arena teams. You'll find that most class/specs are desirable by 1800+ to 2200+ teams.
- High-population realms are naturally home to more arena teams you can choose from. Certain realms have become known as high-rated PvP hubs and attract players from across all rating brackets; these realms include Kel'Thuzad, Mal'Ganis, Blackrock and Tichondrius.
If you're looking for roleplaying:
- High-population realms generally have more active world PvP. Nosing around Arenajunkies.com will tip you off to realms that have become well known for their PvP activity; you'll also be able to send private messages to people on those realms.
One last review for the road
- Create an alt and stop by for an evening in one of the main cities. Alliance roleplayers usually make their way to Stormwind, while Horde players often head to Silvermoon. Avoid Goldshire entirely.
- Don't stop at a few questions in general or (heaven forbid) trade chat; wander the streets to see if you can find any roleplaying action.
- Install an addon like MyRoleplay that lets you look over other players' character descriptions.
- Google around to find out if the realm has an IRC channel, wiki, public RP voice channel, unofficial realm forum or special in-game IC or OOC chat channels.
- If you can't find any signs of life on a realm that's been recommended to you or has shown other indicators of possible RP activity, level up a little bit; time spent on a different day of the week may open up a treasure trove of activity.
It never hurts to sample the goods. Make a level 1 alt and spend a week or so seeing what the action is like on different days of the week. If you're moving to join a new guild, see if they'll allow you to hang out in guild chat with your alt to see what the atmosphere is like (not likely for a tight raiding guild, but many social guilds won't have a problem with this). How to initiate a realm transfer
Once you've researched and selected your new home, it's time to make the big leap. Blizzard explains the basics of transferring characters to another realm on this very complete reference page
Visit the WoW Rookie Guide for links to everything you need to get started as a new player, from how to control your character and camera angles when you're just starting out, to pulling together enough cash for mid-level expenses such as mounts and dual specialization, to what to do when you finally hit level 80.