Green Armadillo had an interesting post up yesterday where he discusses the coming battlegroup merges in WoW. He points out that it’s another step closer to global servers and I couldn’t agree more. One of the cons he mentions, amongst several others, has to do with server communities becoming less meaningful. My first reaction similar to GA’s, a mixture of disdain for the ever lessening meaning of our servers and optimism at the new possibilities these advancements bring to the game. I let it sit, though, and I’ve come to the conclusion that server communities really aren’t important anymore – not just in WoW, but in almost every game – and that we’d all be better off leaving them in the past.
I understand why people want to hold onto them. It’s a kind of identity, the server you call home. You get to know people better – theoretically, anyways – and can make a name for yourself. How you perform on battlegrounds and in open world PvP are meaningful because you start to recognize the key players on either side. More importantly, the community of each server takes on its own identity. In LotRO, Landroval is the RP server because the players have made it so. In WoW, servers build names through leading guilds. Servers very much shape how we experience the game. They’re important.
They’re also divisive and bad for the community. We take on this nationalist vibe for the servers we play on; “Realm Pride,” “Battlegroup Pride.” To be nationalist also means to hold oneself apart from everyone on the outside. Sure, we see melting pots, like forums and the comments sections of popular blogs. For the most part, people want to stay where they rolled their first character and feel awkward anytime they try a new server. In turn, players across the game feel left out when Landroval holds a special event while theirs does nothing. That’s why I left Meneldor; I started to see it as sub-par while the better, more active, servers had better, more fun things going on all the time. $30 later, I’m on Landroval with a new name.
Most importantly, they separate out friends. It’s a royal pain to try to get a bunch of MMO players on the same server. The companies running the game love that; it’s like built in peer pressure to spend, spend, spend. No one wants to pay $25 just to run a few dungeons with their pals and most people simply won’t – they’d have to leave their own server to do so. And, as GA so rightfully points out, games like WoW now have the technology to overcome this. We can chat cross-server. Surely more is within reach.
The problem is that moving into a single server is frightening. All the sudden, you’re faced with the GAME community instead of the SERVER community. What would it mean for Landroval if it were suddenly combined with every other server? Would that wonderful community prevail or get lost in the midst of all the non-RP servers? How about WoW. Would the weight of all that mouth-breathing, gear scoring, forum blather suddenly outweigh the honest folks who just want to have some fun running a dungeon?
Honestly, I don’t think so. When I look to the single-server games I’ve played, they’ve all been positive experiences (with the possible exception of Darkfall). Fallen Earth stands out as one of the best, most cohesive single-shard game communities I’ve ever taken part in. Now, I’m not saying that there’s not idiots and jerks in every game – because there are, lots of them – but that players become part of one cohesive unit. When you see somebody on the forums, there’s a chance of meeting that person in the game. When you log in you know that this is it, everyone playing the game is here, with you. It changes the atmosphere. There’s no, friend X is on Meneldor, Y is Argent Dawn, let’s all roll alts on Burning Crusade. It simply is and it aids immeasurably to the sense of world evoked by the game.
So while I appreciate server community, appreciate the great folks who come in and make each game worth playing, I can also appreciate that those same people would be there if servers were dissolved entirely. In point of fact, there would be more of them, all around you, and more accessible than ever before.
The question, when we take technology out of it, is if we feel the community in our games is strong enough to support it. If you ask yourself, would I still play this game if every server was combined as one, and the answer is no, I’d have to ask what that says about the playerbase.