Edit: Camelot Unchained kickstarter is live today, which is relevant to today’s topic. I’ve not donated yet, but more on that in a different post.
After the WAR bubble burst, one of the many complaints was a lack of population in the RvR areas and PQs. Many attributed this to the general decline in the number of players playing overall. Pushing that line of thinking further, many believe you need hundreds of thousands of players AT LEAST to make a game feel populated and ‘alive’.
That’s horribly wrong.
For WAR, the game’s poor design lead to the feeling of under population. Unless you were part of the initial population surge through the leveling game, most areas felt empty, and RvR battles were non-existent. This would have been the case had WAR retained 1m subs, 500k, or 100k.
On top of those poor design decisions, WAR’s population was always spread across multiple servers. Some retained population well, while others were ghost towns from basically day one. If you happened to pick such a server, you got screwed. And as the population overall started to decline, more and more servers dropped below ‘critical mass’.
How many players do you need on a server for things to feel alive? In Ultime Online: Forever, the concurrent population often hovered around 300 (I believe), and yet the game felt lively. Some of this is due to UO’s design, which on most fronts is simply superior to themeparks, WAR included. But design aside, you really don’t need that many people to give the world a lively feel.
The reason we had not seen MMOs with only one ‘normal’ server (EVE is different, as always) in the past was due to cost. The theory was that MMOs had to be very expensive to produce, and so you needed to attract a lot of people to make any money. As many games have shown recently, and will in the coming years, that theory was about as accurate as the 4th pillar being a core value in an MMO.
This is a huge win for MMO fans for a number of reasons. We get away from the cookie-cutter “MMO for everyone” WoW-clone design. We get MMOs that are more targeted, be they PvP-focused or otherwise. We also get MMOs that (hopefully) won’ succumb to chasing the ‘everyone’ crowd later on and watering down things for the core that is actually playing.
At least, that’s hopefully the trend something like Kickstarter can help start. We’ll see if devs and players alike actually see it through.