Tobold has a new post on virtual world size and the effect of that on previous sandbox games. His argument is that concerns over players destroying ever centimeter of Norrath or overpopulating it with housing are unfounded since the new Norrath is set to be much larger in land mass than the previous incarnations.
I would add that player density will have a big impact on just how true this statement is. If everyone tries to collect wood in the same forest because it’s near a crafting centre then it could be depleted pretty quickly. What if you build your house on the remote slope of a distant mountain peak to exploit nearby gold ore veins. Word gets out though and soon your little house is surrounded by identical mining shacks. That gold will be overmined pretty quickly!
It may be the same with animals and creatures of course. If rallying calls bring a horde of players to a hotspot of activity then not only will the attacking orcs be decimated but as a side-effect there’ll probably be a massive spike in gathering activity, slaying of animals for leather and similar. If it’s possible to depopulate, say, bears from near the town as people hunt for their skins; then during the two months (e.g. given by SoE devs) of the rallying call, will the depopulation of bears then spiral out into the further wilderness as hunters spread out further and further to get more skins? I didn’t play much of Star Wars Galaxies, I wonder if gameplay systems naturally gathered players together for any reason, and if so what were the effects on the ecosystems around them?
The size of the world isn’t the single answer to all the concerns players have expressed about just how well-balanced and reactive the dynamic systems of this game will be. If the players remain more or less evenly distributed across the large game world then, yes, this will limit the impact of over-‘farming’ of resources and mobs. But is that realistic given the zerg hordes that we’ve seen caused by dynamic content in other recent MMOs?