We would be remiss if we stated that Star Wars: The Old Republic servers were in a healthy state right now.
The active population has dropped considerably. Even those players on higher population servers are feeling the crunch.
When you have as many servers as SWTOR has, a low active population does not mean the game is not performing well. There are other things that hint to to low financial performance. However, having low populations does give the player of a sense of being alone. That is not good for a game that is supposed to be massive and multiplayer.
There are three dominant possibilities for dealing with this issue. Unfortunately, none of the solutions come with a great PR spin on it.
Server merges take the number one and number two spot.
The first solution is one that RIFT followed: Let players transfer servers as they like. This will allow for natural consolidation and players will be happy because they made the choice themselves. However, this leaves some possible infrastructure issues. That lone guy on server No Where is eating up internal resources that could be better spent on other areas of the game.
RIFT did do something interesting with its very low population servers. It converted them to test servers. This way the team did not have to completely shutdown the No Where server, and our lone guy is helping to contribute to the game’s long-term development by testing the next patch before it’s live.
The second solution is the mega-server solution. I have yet to see this one work well. However, there are a few trains of thought on this. But neither turn into the happy solution the developers are hoping for.
Star Wars Galaxies offered free server transfers to those players on specific low population servers to high population servers. Given the reaction of the players at the time, you’d have thought they were giving them a new NGE.
However, DC Universe Online did something similar, but instead of selecting specific existing servers for the population to transfer to, it removed all current servers and forced users to pick between two brand new ones. Of course, SOE got some heat for this action, but it was considerably less than the previous solution from SWG.
Lastly, BioWare can attempt to increase the actual population in the game as a whole. Apart from some free-to-play solution, this isn’t going to happen. However, is it possible to make a game F2P without making it sound like its going F2P?
In the past, games that were looking to increase its population would offer free trails. Star Wars: The Old Republic already has this going for it with freebee weekends and friend invites.
What if they copied the World of Warcraft solution and offered a permanent free trial?
Just about anyone that has played SWTOR would tell you that the level 1-20 experience is one of the best in any MMO. If you prevent leveling beyond level 20 or stop the story questing just as the player receives his ship then that might entice more people to subscribe so that they can continue to play. If they were to completely drop the box price to zero at the same time, then that would definitely get more people into the game.
In a recent interview with PC Gamer, BioWare Lead Game Designer Daniel Erickson talked about the Update 1.3 features. The interviewer asked if the new group-finder feature was slated to be cross-server. Erickson replied, “They will not be cross-server as we are coming up on a huge move to servers with massively higher population caps than we have today.”
Interestingly, this quote doesn’t really tell us which solution BioWare has decided to go with.
Obviously, going free-to-play is out of the question for them at this time, but that doesn’t mean BioWare isn’t opening up the servers to allow more people because of a trial-player influx. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely, but that doesn’t mean that is solution will not be combined with one of the other possibilities.
Maybe BioWare plans to open up servers have players transfer willy-nilly, but that seems unlikely without giving players incentive to consolidate. Perhaps BioWare will give gifts to players if they transfer to specific servers, but still allow them to go where they like?
Mostly likely, the quote points to the mega-server solution.
But who’s to say which solution will cause the least amount hate — as if BioWare was not getting enough of that as it is. I guess that’s where you, the fans, come in.
Which would you rather see: mega-servers made from existing servers or brand new servers?