17 January 2012

MMO Structures That Need to Go Away Pt 1

The concept of servers (a.k.a. shards or realms) is an antiquated concept that hearkens back to the first days of MMOs when they figured out that 1 server could not handle every player at once.

Servers are a dividing point between players. They create issues of population problems (perceived and real) and server transfers. Having everyone unified together only creates issues for the game designer, not for the player. Some issues that come to mind: Name collisions and Auction House performance or segregation.

One game that has done this server-less concept more or less successfully over the years is Eve Online. In Eve Online, each "zone" (solar system in Eve, planet in SWTOR, zone in other games) is a server, so when you change zones, you are switching servers, and every player currently in that zone is on the same server. Auction Houses are divided across regions so that it's not one massive AH, and to provide opportunities of buying low and selling high across regions. Names in Eve can have 2 names (e.g. "John Smith"), which provides a larger variety than a single-name system. However, zone overpopulation is a real problem and bogs down performance in Eve (e.g. Jita on a Sunday afternoon).

This works pretty well for the type of game that Eve is, but the implementation could be different for other games. In SWTOR for example, each server could house all the planets in one instance. So, Instance 1 of Carrick Station is on the same server as Instance 1 of Coruscant. The difference being that players could change instances on the fly like we currently can when we are grouped with other players in different instances. Several instances could then be in a "collection", which would share the same GTN (auction house) and general chat channels. That would avoid a game-wide, super-massive, slow-performing auction house or chat, while also providing entrepreneurs with some gameplay options. When you log into the game each time, the game could check your friends and guild lists and place you in the same instance with them (or at least the same collection). Collections could also be dynamic in that they automatically scale up or down based on how many people are playing at that moment, so that the zones never appear too sparsely populated. In this type of model, the servers are not tied to your character. I believe this type of model could be more easily migrated to by games which are currently using a typical server model. Name collision could be handled by a random 4-digit code like we've seen with Real ID, Steam, and others. You could still send tells without the 4-digit code if the person you are sending to's name was unique to inside your guild list, friend's list, instance, collection, or just online people. Or perhaps you could send a tell to [Name] [Legacy Name]. In other words, alternatives exist to mitigate name collision. I know I really hate it when my name is taken, and it often is.

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