Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Breaking Down Server Walls

I'd suggest that Blizzard's decision to charge an extra fee for their new cross-server friend-list queueing feature is drawing ire because it calls out precisely how absurd it is that picking the wrong server at launch means that you can never group with anyone who went elsewhere.  Between phasing, cross server queues, cross-server chat, and now cross-server grouping, Blizzard has already blended together its servers to such an extent that this feels like this should be a core game feature. 

Beyond that, you have to wonder whether any future MMO will ever go with the fixed server model again going forward.  Get the number of servers wrong and you either have unhappy customers stuck on deserted servers or unhappy customers stuck in queues, either of which will get you bad launch press.  Get it right and you have unhappy customers constantly pestering you to make it easier for them to actually play with their friends in a nominally social genre - let's be clear here, this new feature will take Blizzard some amount of time and therefore money to implement, and none of this would be necessary with a more flexible server model. 

Community is a big part of what keeps players involved in MMO's.  As MMO's make more use of soloing and instances, there's less and less community on any individual server - the old EQ server community model is already dead.  This story is just another chapter in the tale of why fixed servers are now more trouble than they're worth. 


Straw Fellow said...

Yaknow, all other comments aside, I'm surprised no big name title has ever picked up the Runescape method of servers. You can make your character, his name is global and nobody else can have it, and you can play on any server you want. You can chat with friends if they are on another one, or arrange it so you all try and play on one.

Sure, it cuts down on names by the truckload, but since all servers are the same game, why not? You can still have designated PvP, PvE and RP servers, just people can hop in and out at will. Or have separate groups if that floats your boat. At character creation, you pick PvE or PvP (or RP, in some cases) and are restricted to that server list. Otherwise, free to go.

It has its problems, yes, but the lack of ingenuity for the server issue boggles me. Don't get me started on Final Fantasy either.

Sente said...

The multiple server approach is an easy one to deal with scaling technically and back in the days when there were not a huge amount of people playing it was still likely that you may be on the same server just by chance.

EVE, Guild Wars, Champions and Star Trek Online have all dealt with that. Some other games, while still having separate servers, do a lot to facilitate playing and socializing together still. (City of Heroes is fairly ok in that regard)

It is a strange world when a key feature of MMOs which made them attractive to a number of us in the first place is monetized as an add-on feature, in a way.

typhoonandrew said...

Paying for a feature which should be part of the core development is poor form.

Why on earth was RealID introduced if it was not to link players? Linking players in a game should allow them to play together, as that is what we all enjoy. They are really missing the opportunity to crate a positive buzz, and instead are creating a negative swell.

Even if they back down and don't charge the damage in attitude has been created.

mbp said...

Guild Wars drop down "pick a server" menu is so wonderful and so easy to use that I long for the day when every mmorpg has it.

It solves so many problems automatically. Can't find anyone to play with? - switch to a more crowded server. Getting too much lag because of overcrowding? - just go the other way. Guild Wars server naming is simple and sensible: just a language and a number. The lower number servers always fill up first. It also allows them to dynamically add servers at busy times without making a song and dance about it.

I know it was probably easier for Guild Wars to implement this on their instanced gaming model but I hope that technology has moved on to the point where it will become possible even for "open world" mmorpgs.

Lexicorro said...

Non-regional servers help balance out online players vs time of day.

Aracos said...

I would agree that the separate server model used by WoW and other similar games is probably going the way of the do-do. Granted I know nothing about server architecture, so I can't speculate as to the difficulty of finding some other solution, but it seems inevitable.

That said, do we know anything about SW:TOR's server structure? They are the "next big thing" on the horizon, and if a change is coming to the way MMO's host players, maybe we'll see it from them.

Dimli said...

I have thought about this a little myself lately. However there seems to be a few problems. Basically like some have already expressed there could be you list of characters that you have and a drop down on which server you actually want them to log them into.

Straw mentions names are global in Runescape. This would be very limiting on a game with significantly more players, wow servers already have enough problems getting a reasonable name.
DAOC when they merged servers, you were name-server to people not on your home server. Would you have a home server at all?

Guilds, would they be global as well? How about the auction hall? Taking some of these systems to the global scale would dramatically impact how they work and how usable they are.

I'm definatly all for ditching static servers, but I think doing so on a more massive scale has a few more problems associated then at first glance.

I havn't had that much experiance with games that do this to some degree other than EvE but a single shard like they do wouldn't work either for a game like WoW. (too many people everywhere).

Angry Gamer said...

@ Green
"This story is just another chapter in the tale of why fixed servers are now more trouble than they're worth."
This is a beezy statement that is not grounded in reality. "Segregated Server" architectures are very well worth their trouble. Ebay, Amazon, Google all have implemented multi-server architectures to load balance.

But hey what are best practices on system stability, reliability and response time when you really want to play with Timmy right?

"The multiple server approach is an easy one to deal with scaling technically and back in the days when there were not a huge amount of people playing it was still likely that you may be on the same server just by chance."

This multiple server thing that everyone has the perception is "easy". Is in fact quite hard to do. In fact if you looked at the Eve architecture (and were in the biz) you would be blown away by the sophistication. And even eve has servers dedicated to systems... so in actual play you are roving across servers anyway.

BUT... Eve is a relatively low density graphics environment (foreground player interaction, as opposed to background).

With modern MMOs demanding every gear, weapon totem graphic be different your renders get to be cumbersome (remember Wintergrasp people... why do you think the shamans dropped totems at the end??? hmmm)

and if it were just a central server issue that would be one thing... what about:
Authentication Servers
Web Accelerators
Network Switches
Audit Servers
Backup Storage
Encryption Support Servers -for tokens
VPN Devices

All of this would need to be re-architected with no existing examples in the industry to support single server worlds.

Oh and you would need a 10 mb/s link out of your home.

Anyone want to buy a 10k PC and pay $150 network bill to join my single server beta of WOW 2.0???

No? didn't think so.

Angry Gamer said...

Oh and one other thing...

What about failures?

Do you really want to play a game where just one failure ends the world?

Oh and would not a One World offer up a juicy target to hackers?

Meh, hackers don't cause faults or system compromise leading to full service shutdown.... low probability risk I'm sure

happy game playing!

Green Armadillo said...

You are technically accurate - the EVE single server model is hard to scale for all the reasons you mention. What I was referring to could more accurately be described as free, unlimited server transfers between what technically remain separate servers. This has been implemented in all of the games that other commenters have mentioned above, and has yet to melt the internets.

Shopping, searching, etc with other users is not a core function of services like Amazon, Google, etc. Both companies can leverage their userbases to produce "suggested" hits, but the user ultimately cares about whether they find what they are looking for. By contrast, playing with other people online is a core function of an MMO. If the game is not going to do anything to encourage you to form social ties in-game, being able to play with out of game acquaintances becomes that much more pressing.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

The thing you lose by not having separated servers is community and types.

I've always been disappointed that games haven't done more with different game types. For example, WoW has PvP, RP, and RP-PvP servers in addition to the standard ones. Now, you can argue that the RP label is less meaningful, but people often prefer PvP or non-PvP servers.

You also get a different community. As has been pointed out with the LFD tool, when you have a large pool of people to interact with people are often less courteous. You also have different opportunities on different servers. A guild that isn't quite able to do global firsts might be able to do server firsts. Also, you might not want to play with certain people or groups. Don't want to have to deal with Goonswarm in EVE? You simply cannot.

Yes, there are some interesting benefits to having the ability to easily move between servers or having one giant server, but there are still some advantages to a traditional architecture.