WAR’s Numbers Game
In a MMO population is key, with SW:TOR around the corner and many people preparing to leave from WAR in this article I look at some of the causes of low population in Warhammer Online.
Seeing player count
There is a line that can be crossed where players can have too much information about population, back when Dark Age of Camelot started the player count on servers were displayed, at first this was to show off and say “Look how many people are playing on our server”, but as these numbers dwindle people read it as “look how few people are playing on our server”.
With the /who command and the addon /whom, you can get an overview of where the action is and who is in each tier, the downside of this is that a number of players run as anonymous and so won’t appear, which makes the situation look more dire than it is.
Warhammer is a game which requires people, the whole game is focused around killing enemies,If you see high numbers in a zone, the game feels alive and you want to join in, if the zone is empty the game feels dead and you don’t even bother to go to a zone, which has a spiral effect because you not going to the zone may make someone else not go to the zone.
One of the things Warhammer did nicely was the WAR Report, telling you if there light fighting in a zone / medium fighting etc, and having hotspots on the map also draws players to a location, this is nice, but when you see them all clustered around the enemies warcamp, then it becomes less interesting.
When you are outnumbered solo or in a small group vs a superior force in the RvR lake there is nothing really to do, it’s extremely difficult to get any kills against a larger force, and this is why I prefer a World of Warcraft style Tenacity system (increase hp/damage/etc by %) instead of the reward and can be stacked the more outnumbered you are.
Because of the endless trial there seems to only be constant action in Tier 1 and 4, and even in Tier 1 there gets a point where the enemy are pushed back to their Warcamp and bottled up, making people from both sides log out.
Reasons for low players
Ranking up keeps and locking the zone takes a long time and is very tedious, and when a zone is captured and the fighting moves to another zone many people will do something else, returning when some other people have taken the time to rank the keeps, this is a contributing factor to people not being seen in RvR.
Another factor which contributes to the game feeling dead and scenarios taking a long time to pop is that because of the two sided nature of a scenario the victor of the first skirmish will always push the other team back to their spawn point and keep them there for the remainder of the battle, because few kills happen this makes scenarios last until the timer runs down, makes the loser not want to queue again and increasing the time between both sides re-queuing.
I had the opportunity to participate in Thanquol’s Incursion last night for the second time and did contemplate why more smaller dungeons like these didn’t exist, without trash mobs and just a public quest with some boss stages with RvR rewards is quite refreshing and appealing. I wonder if some of the scenarios that aren’t being used could be turned into something similar, a set of PvE instances to use these assets and get some sort of RvR currency or item rewards.
One of the design decision that stand out to me in WAR, is that its just one overwhelming force pushing the other until the loser quits and the winner quits because there is no more people to kill.
Mythic has a habit of reacting too late to problems and isn’t only a result of their low resources but with design decisions, I have no doubt that next year the remaining Warhammer servers will merge together in order to keep action constant for the remaining players. However the players deserve some action now before it’s too late, like the Ywain cluster on Dark Age of Camelot the consolidated population remains constant because of the increased action.
Regarding patches the lower population has been complaining about long scenario queue times and have been asking for 6v6 scenarios (that were introduced for a while and then removed) to be permanent, this scenario change would have decreased scenario queue times and made the game feel more alive and should have been released already.
The scenario change has been wrapped in the 1.4.5 with the fortress changes, and whilst it’s nice to see a development on WAR for a quicker patch turnaround time the major features of a patch should be split, developed and tested as smaller modules and released in a quicker turnaround. I fear that by the time 1.4.5 patch arrives most players will be embedded into SW:TOR to really care.
EDIT (10/12/2011): Mythic have announced that Gorfang will merge into Badlands and Karak Azgal will merge into Karak Norn, this is without an expanded set of character slots so this may cause some problems. See the full post. Whilst this is a welcome move with SW:TOR early access starting more or less the same day it will help but is still too late.