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The problem of "sharding" in WoW

Alice from the great gameblog Wonderland loves playing WoW, and posts about it all the time-- I especially like the "The other me is Epic, I'm just an alt" shirt from her latest post. But, she says, "the problem with WoW" is those darn servers it seems we're all dealing with. She's got friends across almost all the servers, including US, EU, and even Oceanic, and yet she can't visit them without paying a fee again and again. In fact, she says Blizzard just changed the client software on the US and UK clients, so that you can no longer access one server from a different client-- you have to buy two seperate clients to access the US and EU servers. For players like me, who only play in one country, it's not really an issue, but for Alice, who just moved to California from England, it's, as she says, "rubbish."

But that doesn't mean I don't have my own problems with Blizzards' (and MMORPGs in general, since most of them are "sharded" in some way) servers-- my friend started his characters on different server than I was on, and so since I joined him, I've now got sixties spread across different servers, and I've got to pay $25 to transfer each character-- if and when Blizzard opens transfers to my already overpopulated server. And then there's the problem of queues in general, which everyone, it seems, is dealing with in larger quantities.

So what's the solution? There may not be one. Free transfers from server to server would keep players happy, but would also freak out in-game economies, bunch populations up (more queues), and cost Blizzard even more time and staff hours to do (which means less spent on development and keeping servers up). It might be nice, as Alice suggests, to put everyone on one big server, but I doubt Blizzard has the technology to do so at this point-- even if it was technologically possible to put all seven million players in a world where they could interact with each other, doing so would require much more of a code overhaul than letting flying mounts run free, and that's not happening either. For the world of Azeroth as we know it, it's unlikely Alice's problem will ever really get solved.

Which leaves room for competitors to step up, I guess-- EVE, Guild Wars, and even MySpace are all listed as alternatives to this problem of "sharding". If an upcoming MMORPG has a great solution to these problems (and a match to the cool style and gameplay of WoW), I'd like to hear it.

Filed under: Realm News, Analysis / Opinion, Realm Status, Blizzard, Instances

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