13/06/2012

When free transfers are not a good thing

So Bioware finally announced the first of the highly anticipated free server transfers today. I think they did a good job at trying to communicate how it would all work in advance, but forum trolls who don't bother to read are unfortunately unavoidable. I feel a bit sorry for the moderators that have to deal with all the "why isn't my server included" threads.

That said, I was still very unhappy with what I saw, as it seems that my fears in regards to transfers are about to come true: the current free transfers all offer to move characters from low population realms to high population ones instead of the other way round. This means that Bioware is trying to consolidate server populations instead of balancing them. I don't think that this is a bad idea per se, but I do think that trying to do so via free transfers is a bad move for a variety of reasons.

Even with transfers being free, it's inevitable that a lot of people won't use them, whether that's because they don't even know that the feature exists because they don't follow the news, they are only moderately active, or they like(d) their server to begin with. However, many people will transfer, and removing some of the most active players from an already low population realm is going to have dire consequences for those that remain. Server community will fracture as familiar faces disappear without notice. Warzones might stop popping completely. Guilds will crumble under the pressure of arguments about whether to transfer or not. New or returning players will find a server that's completely devoid of life. Do you think that they will all bother to read up on transfers or just quit because "this game is clearly dead"?

At the time of writing this, Luka Sene hasn't shown up on the transfer list either way, but I'm not looking forward to when it does as I expect it to become an origin server now.

The thing is, I don't think that consolidating servers is a bad idea in general. I can absolutely believe that there are too many servers right now to balance the population in such a way that all of them will offer a good play experience. But if you want to merge servers, then just merge servers. Some people will be annoyed initially if they are forced to change their name, but at least all their friends will still be there, not to mention that they'll have more people to play with in general. All this bitty transfer approach is going to achieve is the loss of existing server communities and cohesion issues for guilds. Not to mention that the current free transfers might turn out to be a "fake choice" anyway, if Bioware decides to close down the near-dead origin servers later on (as many people suspect).

Don't get me wrong, I understand that they probably have reasons to do it this way - presumably technical issues as well as a fear of bad PR - but I'm worried that this might end up coming back to bite them in the back in the long run. Actively killing off low-pop servers while leaving them up as ghost towns might not make the big gaming news, but players will be affected nonetheless.

After browsing the forums for a bit and seeing a lot of forum warriors spew hate at anyone who doesn't think that these free transfers are a good idea, I think this set of comments sums it up best:

"If they do it like was done with Warhammer, they offered the free transfers to specific servers then after a couple months they merged all the rest. By doing it this way you do not have as bad PR issues and you also are getting a more realistic view of the new servers user count based on who actually transfers."

"Warhammer? Where is that game now? LOL"

17 comments :

  1. This is also exactly the way Blizzard handled free transfers when they debuted them in The Burning Crusade ... that didn't turn out too poorly.

    Realistically, this is the best way to do it; they're consolidating servers. Also, we've only seen the first day of transfers; let's not get all Chicken Little yet. The way this will probably play out is this:

    1. Offer free transfers to higher pop servers
    2. Lower pop servers languish for a while until paid transfers come out
    3. A few of the lowest pop servers (say about 5) are turned into the new 'Free to Play Trial' servers; existing populations are encouraged to move to new servers via free transfers.
    4. Game has a healthy, active population.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm nervous too. Do I leave Shien? If it does happen, where are all my guildmates (who don't log on, the bastards) go? Do all the connections I made make the jump too? It's nerve-wracking for sure, but overall, this is best for the health of the game.

    Also, there's nothing wrong with a very low pop server either ... there is a sizeable portion of the playerbase that actually enjoys a low population.

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    1. This is also exactly the way Blizzard handled free transfers when they debuted them in The Burning Crusade

      Did they? I have to admit I don't remember those times first hand because at the time I was one of those players who never read the official website... but a quick Google search only yields results about free transfers from overpopulated servers to lower pop ones, not the other way round.

      And I agree that it's okay to have some lower pop servers, but from the way it looks right now they seem to be heading for just a couple of mega servers and loads of empty ones.

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  2. For those people who are on nearly dead servers, they will hop to the new one so fast! For those people who are on highly populated servers, no big deal. For those of us on mid-population servers... well that's a different story. Currently, my server is respectably populated, but not one of the big 5. On a given night there are probably 60+ people on the fleet. We have an actual "community" where I recognize people's names as they banter in general chat.

    If we become an origin server, we HAVE to move. Although our server is fine as-is, once it becomes an origin server, and people transfer off, it won't be fine anymore. And there's no way that enough people are going to be stubborn and stay for it to be worthwhile.

    So I'm right now stalking the transfer page, hoping that we become a welcoming refuge for people on dead servers rather than having to pack our bags.

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    1. With 60+ on your fleet, I have no doubts that you will be a destination server. Heck, I was on the Rep side of Shien last night and there were 50+ (only 30+ on Imp side) which would put us in the top half of server pops (probably). I think we'll be ok ... but you're right. If either of our servers is an origin server, you're almost going to HAVE to move to avoid the server becoming a ghost town.

      ... I think I'm starting to see Shintar's point ...

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    2. That's exactly it, people have different definitions of what a server's ideal population size should be, and free transfers like this can quickly lead to a domino effect: the ones who think that it's too quiet leave, but now it suddenly also becomes too quiet for those for whom it was fine before... and so the system ends up uprooting previously happy players too.

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  3. SHIT. Shien just showed up as an origin server. Dammit.

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    1. My condolences. :( Like you said yourself, considering that they offer free transfers from somewhere like Keller's Void to Jedi Covenant, they don't seem to be planning for anything but the absolute biggest servers to survive.

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    2. Shien's going to be a ghost town by tonight ... I really thought we'd be ok but it's really not much of a choice. Stay on a ghost town or move to a new server? Crap.

      I didn't want to have to pull the trigger, you know?

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    3. Seems my fears were completely unfounded. Nearly my entire server turned out for the move and it was buttercream smooth.

      Ebon Hawk is a great place to be!

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  4. I try to remain tentatively optimistic about all this. They have made noises about superservers before even announcing the date of server transfers, so I wasn't really surprised about how they handled this. I say, wait and see what happens. Especially since these are the summer months, and we might see an uptick in server populations all across the board come autumn.

    *drinks kool-aid* ;)
    *vanishes*

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    1. I wish I could share your optimism. However, I'm still enjoying the hell out of the game itself, so obviously I'm still hoping that things will turn out alright.

      Also, welcome! I don't recall seeing you comment on here before. I've added you to my blogroll. :)

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  5. Two problems with this. One they could've avoided easily by using a naming system along the lines of what Champion's used. But they didn't, and they've made their game all about story. People aren't going to be happy about being forced to rename their characters.

    The other is that forcing everyone onto a few large servers (as appears to be the long term plan) is going to make the game play much less well for a not insignificant portion of the players. More people on a server, more laggy if you don't have a top of the line computer.

    It's prompted me to try to get my mains through their stories while they still have their names, because I can only assume that after the free server transfers comes the "oh, and by the way, we're shutting down the servers people transferred off of, lol" announcement. Never mind that some people will have opted to stay because they a) need a lower population server for their computer to run the game reasonably b) want to keep their characters' names and/or c) don't group with strangers anyway. (As I'm in b and c, I'm staying put as long as my servers exist.)

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  6. Luka Sene up for transfers to the Red Eclipse; just updated today.

    http://www.swtor.com/community/showthread.php?t=477706

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    1. Yeah, I've seen that. It will be up for discussion in our guild.

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  7. Hello! Here on your blog via a Google search for details on the Jedi Consular storyline and felt I had to comment on this.

    I haven't checked whether or not my server (Crevasse City) is up for transfers but I can almost guarantee it is; it's got the lowest server population out of any MMO I've ever played, even Vanguard: Saga of Heroes (and that's saying something). My sister and I are levelling our mains together (for name and story reasons) and on any given weekday we're the only people on the planet. The highest I've ever seen in a zone was maybe 8 or 9. I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen another player that wasn't my sister. It's a bit of a jarring difference, coming from WoW and being on the most heavily populated EU server (Argent Dawn). It doesn't really bother me so much, yet, because like I said my sister and I are levelling our mains together (and we go back and do heroic dungeons when they're low enough level that we can two-man them). Probably when we reach endgame is when it will get annoying.

    But the idea of Bioware shutting down low-pop servers is actually a worrying thing for us. We chose Crevasse City because it was the first server we came across that had the names we wanted for our characters free. Our character names are hugely important to our gameplay--it affects the choices we make in conversations (yes, we're technically playing Doctor Who characters in a Star Wars environment, stranger things have happened), and being forced to move to another server and (potentially) change our names makes me a little worried and apprehensive.

    If Bioware DOES start shutting down servers, I wouldn't be surprised if Crevasse City was first on the list. It's pretty much a ghost town server personified.

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    1. Yep, Crevasse City became eligible for transfers today as well. You're getting the "option" to move to Corellian Run.

      Other than that I just wanted to say that playing Doctor Who characters in a Star Wars game strikes me as very creative and amusing! Thanks for popping by!

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    2. We checked name availability and both the names we want (Rory and Amelia/Amy) are taken on Corellian Run, so for now we'll stay on CC, and hope we don't get shut down in the meantime. :/

      I have to say it's pretty entertaining doing the DW-in-SW angle. :) I don't know how familiar you are with Doctor Who's canon, but I'm playing Rory Williams as a Jedi Sage and my sister is playing Amy Pond as a Smuggler. I try to choose all my interactions as if it were actually Rory doing it, and the results are oftentimes hilarious. I almost screamed with excitement last night when, upon completing the Czerka questline Tatooine, Rory pulled an almost direct-from-canon moment. :D ("Do you need me to repeat the question?" *entire fleet blows up in viewport behind him* turned into "Does this answer your question?" *destroys ancient relic*)

      Good job on your blog, I've read several entries and they are entertaining and informative. :)

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