Not Being Served

I probably won’t get into The Old Republic until this weekend, but I’ve already got my first major crisis. Who am I going to play with?

There’s the bulk of my LOTRO kinship, who have started up characters on Juyo. One is on Space Slug with his son. And upon posing the question on my Facebook, I find that I have friends on five other servers. So wherever I choose to go, I’ll only be able to play with a small portion of people I actually want to play with.

Why do we still have servers again? What purpose do they actually serve?

I know some people will say that segregating people on different servers help preserve a sense of community, just like group finders should only be across a single server. I’m sorry, but that’s total rubbish. It smacks of “X server is better than Y server because we’re cooler/more polite/better players/sexier/whatever.” Here’s a stunning realization for you: Every server is pretty much the same. Yours is no better than anyone else’s, and if you’re afraid of a vast mass of people who “aren’t like you” coming to your server, then go back to your gated community and make sure none of them “unwanteds” come knocking on your door. Ask players of Guild Wars or Wizard101 — games that don’t have distinct servers that you’re “locked” into when you create a character — what they think of their community. And even if server Y is filled with a-holes or bad players, there’s no reason why a new a-hole/bad player will gravitate to server Y. He’s just as likely to show up on yours.

And it’s not a technological hurdle, as the previously mentioned games can attest to. At the very least, cheap/free and easy server transfers should be the norm (a la Rift), with some limits, in case you happen to roll somewhere and find out all your friends are playing somewhere else.

So why is this so? I think we still have servers for the same reasons we have classes, for the same reason the initial level cap is 50, for the same reason we have five basic stats — because (nearly) everyone else does it. The thing is, as we’ve seen with the new focus on dynamic content and the shift to F2P models, doing it “because it’s always been like that” isn’t the right reason to do pretty much anything. There are more MMOs out there than ever before, more choices for players, and more room for newer, hungrier developers to try new things and take market share away from “the big boys.” Why would a company seek to undermine a core concept of a genre — playing an online game with your friends — by sticking to a tired, old paradigm that is no longer necessary?

Different servers for separate rules sets (PvE, PvP, maybe RP)? Sure, I get that. Or you can have separate instances of the same world when one layer becomes too crowded, with free movement between them if you need it to meet up with someone. But the setup of a game’s server arrangement is going to be a major sticking point in my decision to buy/play that game in the future. It’s too late for older games to adapt, but there’s no reason the next generation of games can’t do it.

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