The population tipping point

I’ve been wondering about server populations and the effect it has on me as a player. I’m sure that the collapse in player population had an effect on my enjoyment of SWTOR, it also was a factor in the ease with which I gave up on Vanguard. Towards the end of my years of playing WoW that game too suffered greatly from a ghost-town feel to most zones.

There are practical implications beyond the feeling of isolation of course:

  • the economy of the server’s auction house will empty of player made/collected goods (this is happening on Argent in Rift at the moment) or prices will become ludicrously high on most goods (observed in LoTRO)
  • empty zones are often ‘over-populated’ by monsters, so solo’ing through said zones becomes harder
  • group content, especially any not available in ‘dungeon finder mode’ is very hard to complete
  • longer queues and fewer options for instanced PVP and dungeons

This isn’t an exhaustive list but it highlights some of the issues I’ve encountered. We rarely get to see any reliable or accurate stats on server population trends, so a server might be busy at the level cap (‘top-heavy’) but empty in low or mid zones. Equally the server might just be less popular and be slowly loosing players either to other servers or as they leave the game altogether.

I do wonder if there is a tipping point at which a server’s population will start to decline due to these factors. If you find yourself on such a server, and unless or until a server merge is forced by the operating company, do you jump to a more popular server or stay put? Jumping can be expensive as in many cases there is an account charge for transferring characters.

My main reason for thinking on this is that in Rift Argent seems very quiet at the moment. I’ll wait until after the expansion launch to see if that helps enough for me to stay – but for me to enjoy Rift longer-term there has to be a healthy server population. I’ve heard several of the other servers are full-to-bursting.

What about you, does visible server population matter in your games? What influences your choice to stay or move server?

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One Response to The population tipping point

  1. pkudude99 says:

    Something that I think that SWG did right as far as the “visible population” goes was to make it so that every few hours of play you HAD to go to a cantina. A doc with a droid could heal your wounds anywhere, but only an entertainer in a cantina could heal your Battle Fatigue. This had the effect of making it so that entertainers were always in place and people were constantly coming through. Sure, the “popular” cantinas changed over time (Anchorhead and Theed at 1st, eventually changing to Coronet and the “MOP” on Dantooine), but they never went away, not even with the NGE. It made it so that even though the game was a soloer’s dream, you still were constantly seeing a ton of people becuz you constantly had to go into a hub location. Even if you didn’t interact with anyone other than to watch a dancer or listen to a musician, toss them a tip and then be on your merry, you still saw all the people and heard all their chat in /say and /shout. It definitely made the world feel alive. Even after player cities came into being, the cantinas there were still the social centers of the game.

    No other game I’ve played since has had nearly the social :je ne sais quoi” that SWG had for me. SWTOR and the space stations comes semi-close, and maybe Agartha in TSW, but there it’s all LFG spam, not really social interactions like SWG had.

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