Cross Realm Leveling Zones?

I’ll admit, when I first saw MMO Champion tweet about a stunning MoP Cross-Realm Zones revelation, my only response was, “What the hell is that? No, really, what? Why? And again, what?”

I could copy/paste the official text from Blizzard, but I think I can safely bottom-line this.

Leveling zones are empty. Capital cities are full. This is a problem.

If we combine servers, leveling zones would have more players and feel more populated, but the capitols would be crushed in bored max level characters, and you would never find a mailbox again.

So, we will leave capital cities and high-population areas alone on separate servers, but combine the populations in the leveling zones.

Why will we do this?

Time for a direct quote.

Cross-realm zones give us the capability to ensure that level-up zones retain a population size that feels more like the high level areas of the game, leading to a more fun play experience for characters of all levels.

Before I even get into my opinion on this or talk about it, I want to address that statement.

There is one HUGE assumption in that statement. The assumption is, a crowded level-up zone provides a ‘more fun play experience’ than a low population one.

Did anyone ask you if you liked having the mobs and quest drops in a zone all to yourself? Did I miss a poll? The zones aren’t empty even now, they’re just lightly populated. Their new cross-realm zones won’t add people that weren’t there before, it’s just going to take the people that were already there, and pile them in tighter.

Maybe Blizzard is correct in saying that it will be more fun, but that was a statement of fact. They will do this, and it will make the game more fun. Period. End of discussion, because a flat statement like that doesn’t leave any room for discussion, there was a fact, and they are acting on it. If you disagree, then you are opposed to more fun for other people, you meanie, you.

Moving on from semantics, I’d like to talk about this concept like an adult for a few minutes.

I know it’s a stretch, work with me here.

What Blizzard has been coding and testing is a fact. They already had the idea, discussed it, committed resources to it, and have apparently gotten to the implementation stage for the big reveal.

But what made them think of it in the first place?

What I’m wondering is, what was the original intent. What benefits were intended to be gained, and who is going to reap them?

The normal image of a dev workshop is of a group of people tossing out ideas on improvements to the game. The goal of such an imaged gathering is to focus on new ideas that would please the existing customer, and retain them.

This could have come out of such a gathering, but there is another possibility that occurs to me.

They could have been having a meeting to discuss what they could do to try and retain the new players on a free trial account.

Any benefit to long term players who are already at max level would be incidental. We’ve already been through the zones, we’ve reached max level, we are at end game. We likely are in guilds, have friends, can get Heirlooms, and don’t need to group to complete quests in zones that had group quests and encounters nerfed.

It’s a subtle distinction, but this feels like a move intended to address the question, “How do we try and MAKE the world feel vital and alive to new players, when the existing players are all in capital cities?”

I’m going to take a moment to use a real world example to explain why I think this, and why I think it’s a very smart move.

Do you ever watch cooking shows? The ones where Gordon Ramsey goes to some failing restaraunt to tell them why they’re bollix? Or nightclub scenes?

One of the pieces of advice I’ve found fascinating, since I can test it myself when out and about, is to confine the space for the number of guests you’ve got, through things like moveable wall sections or dividers.

By keeping the space cramped, by pushing people close together but not too close, you build an artificial feeling of intimacy, of vitality.

Instead of large, echoing empty spaces that leave the area feeling like a lifeless void sucking all the music out of the room, you cram ’em all together, bumping into each other and chatting and hearing other people having a good time, noise and movement and energy, vitality.

People enter that kind of environment and feel that they’ve made a good choice; just look at all these other people that are having a great time, I made a wise decision to come here and have a good time too.

The idea is, you can have tons of space, but don’t open it up until the place is really jammed to capacity. People getting crunched in is better for overall business than a few people upset that they feel overcrowded.

That’s why I think that this came mainly from think-tank discussions on how to entice and retain new players, not from a discussion on how to improve the game for the existing playerbase as a whole.

I’m fine with it, I think it’s a good idea. I get that they have long had technology that increases spawn rates based on use… lots of people mining nodes increases spawn rates, that sort of thing. I’m not worried that, after fine tuning, we’re going to have a worse time trying to complete quests competing for drops. I LIKE having people in zones to bump into.

I think it’s a very nice improvement, and I love that the way it’s being implemented, when added to Real ID, means you can have friends leveling alts together and questing together even when they are on two different servers. That freaking rocks.

My point to bring this up, is simply to point out that aside from what is developed and goes live is the question, “Why might they have come up and invested time and money in this?”

That is always a good question to ask. It reveals what a game developer feels is an issue important enough to spend some real money to address.

You can say all sorts of things, but I like the glimpse I think this gives us of what they are worried about…. and what kind of action they’re going to take.

I won’t say I love it just yet, until I get a chance to try it live, but I’m one of those that likes to feel as if I’m part of a living, breathing, vital game world full of people having fun.

With most everyone playing max level characters, server population being what it is means that yes, there are tons of people playing alts… but they are the minority on any given server. By bringing them all together, why, I get to play with others instead of being all alone.

I bet the PvP servers are going to have a blast.

The best thing, the very best thing to me is maybe this will stop Blizzard from their repeated attempts to FORCE max level characters to spend time in low level zones to give a false sense of vitality in areas low level character inhabit.

The games played with removing portals, adding portals, moving portals around, forcing us to go through the Dark Portal to get to Shatt, to take the boat to get to Northrend, to keep us flying and riding around, to design professions that force us to fly all over the world back and forth through leveling zones for dig sites…

Please, stop trying to shoehorn forced zone populations. Let it stop.

Connect the servers up like this, let all the people actually interested in playing in a zone together BE in a zone together, and the World… will be a happy place.

*bonus game… how many assumptions did I make in my analysis? See how many you can count!

20 thoughts on “Cross Realm Leveling Zones?

  1. Blizzard don’t want to enhance your leveling experience; they already nerfed the crap out of it so it takes you all of 2 days to hit Cap (if you take your time). So Why do they want to consolidate leveling zones? To reduce the number of servers, of course. It’s the bottom line.


  2. From a goblin’s point of view, this could provide some profit! Economies are very different between servers, and if all I have to do is go into the Valley of Trials or Goldshire and advertise on general to get customers from different servers… Does Gevlon know about this?


  3. Pingback: Cross-realm zones will not benefit low population realms | Rapid Fire

  4. I see this going off somewhat differently. I see some new-hire or intern that has been fiddling around with private servers or whatever for years and has finally gotten his moment to shine at Blizz pipe up in a meeting and say something like:
    “You know, if we did THIS then we could consolidate the zones on multiple servers into one zone and then you could accomplish THAT”
    Then someone else says, “hey, that’s right. Then maybe the starting zones wouldn’t be a ghost town.”
    Intern: “yeah, that’s a good point. See, my suggestion just added some value to the game. My life is complete.”

    Over-simplified, I know; but that’s kinda like what I see in my head from my experiences with young, energetic interns and new hires.


  5. From a slightly different perspective – this also optimizes server hardware. It must suck to have to maintain separate super low pop zones. I can’t begin to phathom their server architecture, but reducing resource usage for areas that are used by maybe 2% of the population has to help….


    • “This is kinda ironic after they’ve downgraded most group quests to make them solo-able.”

      I find it ironic after they have made the entire game solo-able. It’s weird that they want to force, or I guess encourage the multi-player aspect of “MMO” on new people, when in fact you can go from game start to game end now with almost no interaction with other people on any kind of personal level.

      I’m not complaining, I’ve contemplated, and have for a time in the past actually quit WoW when there was nothing to do and I wasn’t involved with other people to do stuff with. Raiding with a guild of people I was on a first name basis and knew who they were by the sound of their voice was the pinnacle of gaming enjoyment for me.

      It’s a tough thing to balance. Give people the ability to see the entire game, including the final end boss with out making it mandatory to have a guild, and yet encourage people to come together and play the game as it was originally intended. The game used to force you into being an active member in a guild (or at least be with a well coordinated group of people) in order to see the cool stuff. It no longer does.

      It’s an interesting idea, though I’m not entirely sure it will accomplish what they want. Unless of course they want to eliminate/reallocate server use in order to maximize the equipment they have. That may be the driving point behind it all as well. Consolidate older content, and spread out newer content to give existing players a better play experience. This to me seems like it would make the most sense to do what they are purposing.


  6. Wow…just wow. Forgive me but I gotta bearwall this. While on most servers this is a very positive obvious change there are some niche communities where this is gonna get awkward.

    A little context to begin. My main is one of the GMs of a wPvP and RP focused guild entitled . As a wpvp/rp guild whose story is based out of the crumbling human nation in Arathi Highlands we spend most of our time in…. Arathi Highlands. Most of us are hearthed in Refuge Pointe and spend a good deal of time role playing in the Stromgarde Keep on the south side of the map. Which brings me to concern number one, role playing.

    While we spend a lot of time in Arathi role playing, I also know there are several other non-city areas on my realm where a good deal of role playing takes place (Darkshire, Swamp of Sorrows, Southern Barrens, Grizzly Hills, and Theramore to name a few). Is this system going to be limited to the same type of realm, or are we going to be bombarded with non-roleplaying people who wander into our hotspots and decide “lmfao rp, let’s bug them” which seems to be the first response of many when encountering role playing.

    The flip side is also true, some people genuinely don’t like being in a role play environment. I’m not sure as to why, but it makes them uncomfortable. If these people are on a non-role play realm then there’s no problem at all. They selected the correct area to avoid activities they don’t want to take part in or witness. If they get zoned into Elwynn on Moon Gaurd… well if you don’t know what that would mean I envy you.

    Now this will probably be mitigated in part during large events, seeing as there will be enough role players that people from different realms don’t get zoned in, as it were. Though, how many people is too many in Arathi? If I’m having a full guild meeting (around 50-60 people) will we get different versions of Arathi because the game thinks we’re all fighting over the same mobs? Will we be forced to relocate into a city to role play?

    In SWTOR they did something similar for planets, if the planets were over crowded on your realm they would split it up into two different planets. Suddenly you’re not on Coruscant, you’re on Coruscant 1 while your friend is on Coruscant 2. They had a nice little dropdown on the map that allowed you to move freely between the two… after a loading screen (SWTOR loading screens are terrible). If they do this for this zone splitting I will be fine, as we will have a way to at least guarantee we can all be on the same zone even if we have to do a little finagaling.

    Those are the simple fresh thoughts I have about open world role playing. Though, as I stated my guild is about role playing and world PvP. So concern number two, peeveepee.

    As a pvp/rp guild we take pride in protecting our lands. We love Arathi and Stromgarde. Since we love them, we do not tolerate any violation of their sanctity (aka a horde presence). Now this is fabulous for when a horde guild wants to do some pvp. They come to Arathi, if we aren’t there, they start killing npcs and through the magic of /worlddefense we will know what’s happening and will come to stomp them. This is a regular activity (most days even) where there is some sort of fight going on in Arathi. Now we are not the only wpvp guild, by a long shot. So there is usually wpvp going down. What happens if, say, a dozen or so horde attack Arathi and my guild and I bring a full force of twenty to fight them. Do we get a different zone because it’s too big? If the Horde call for help, and we call for help, and a truely large world pvp event starts to unfold when do we start getting split up and unable to fight? What about horde v alliance balance? Will there be 5 horde and 35 alliance on one zone and 35 horde and 5 alliance on another?

    Which brings me to another thought. Last night an awesome guild entitled decided they wanted to do a [For the Alliance!] run. This is quite a feat on our realm. Our realm’s main focus is pvp and a lot of us love wpvp. Trying to kill Garrosh when Orgrimar is full of lv 85s who not only have full pvp gear but are always wearing it is very difficult. Also these hordies are organized as they spend their time in rated bgs and in wpvp, so it’s not just a simple slug fest. There’s focus fire, prescision crowd control, great communication on vent channels of one guild or another’s. We were able to down all 4 Horde leaders last night though.


    We formed up 3 raids. We didn’t form 3 raids for logistical purposes (10 here, 20 there, 8 on the side). No, we did it to fit everyone. It took about 120 players to get enough so we could control doorways/hallways/entrances to Horde leaders and still do the occasional dps on boss themselves. We wound up summoning outside of cities and flying in. Will this be possible with the new phase system? Will we be on 3 different durotars?

    What about for the people who are on pvp realms (I’m assuming they aren’t mixing pve and pvp, if so there will be a different form or rage going on) but aren’t used to encountering world pvp? If they rolled on a pvp realm to be with friends under the assurance that wpvp is dead? What happens when an unsuspecting lowbie walks into Arathi Highlands to quest and it winds up to be my Arathi Highlands and they stumble onto a dozen max level Alliance slow walking and role playing? As a guild rule in Arathi Highlands red=dead. Well… that would be fun for us.

    I guess my point to all of this is, I don’t mind them trying to make the world feel populated, what I’m wary of is them actively harming the community that I am in. If this is done right then it could be fabulous. In order to do it right they need to do two things.

    1) Only zone into the type of realm you choose (RPPvP for me) and wind up questing and talking with people from all the various RPPvP realms that would be really awesome. Spontaneous role paly out of cities could get a huge kick in the pants. As would world pvp. This would be almost a merger though.

    2) The ability to head to a specific zone/phase/instance of an area that you want to in order to play with your friends.


  7. This just furthers my assumption that blizzard devs don’t actually play the game. Consider the fact of how easy it is to level now, why would I want to compete for quest items with more players??
    It’s absurd.

    Blizzard is slowly losing their grip. Sad to watch.


  8. It’s got to be a tough balance between gentrification, social engineering, and city planning. And maybe a dash of NIMBY. Thanks for bringing this to my attention–like most big changes, will be interesting.


  9. I’m not a fan of crowded game spaces for the problems caused by too much demand for loot and not enough supply of loot/mobbing quest points and so on.

    What could be interesting (and okay I’m no IT/game designer so probably a complete overhaul but….) are questing regions that are not level bracketed. Rather they represent threads in the lore which quest chains for any level passing through the area. You’d still not be able to pick up quest chains until you were an appropriate level and the agro rules for monsters would need to be bracketed so that they’d only mob you across a range of levels … so that the lvl 85 monsters don’t just eat every level one player in the region and yet still threatening enough to make players take caution.

    As a low level you’d get to see the level 85’s actually doing really cool stuff and your gaming population would actually have a much wider range of regions to work through so you’d be more likely to come across other players. 🙂 How cool as a level 20 or 30 to be able to pause in your questing to take a ring side seat, so to speak, as a raid group takes on a world boss?

    Lets face it, each region already tends to tell it’s own story. This way you’d be able to come back to a region to find out more of its story as you levelled or be surprised as a quest line started somewhere took you back into earlier regions to discover a new twist in the story.


  10. Actually, when I saw this annoucement, my first thought was Blizzard is doing something about some of the truly empty servers out there without really doing anything about them.

    There are some servers that are practically empty on faction or another or both. I can’t see Blizzard closing or merging servers. This seems like a way to address a problem on some truly empty servers without merging.


  11. The feature itself is neat enough, but it’s the ramifications that have me excited. More populated leveling zones will be nice, I like coming across other players and used to love the random lowbie pvp that is pretty much gone now. So it’ll be nifty to have cross server zones.

    But again, it’s the ramification of that change that excites me. I play on a dead server. Just abysmally low population and getting worse. People have been leaving or transferring to higher pop servers in droves since late wrath and there’s just nobody left. No PUGs happen anymore, not for current content, not for Baradin Hold and not even for old raids, I gave up trying to form a Black Temple run the last few times because I recieved not a single response. If our raid team loses a member half the time we can’t get a replacement from trade channel. Trade channel itself is dead and the server economy is completely screwy. Ours is not the only server that is like this, many of the smaller poulation servers are experiencing the exact same thing and yet the larger population servers are doing just fine, they have no issue at all. How long until Blizzard starts combining cities in the same way, to reach an “ideal” population? Or maybe eventually auction houses? How long before servers are gone completely, and you just log in to a game world that gets partitioned on the fly depending on the active population at any particular moment? So yeah, cross realm zones are merely nifty, but I’m pretty excited for what this could mean on the horizon.


  12. The beta is currently what happens when you get multiple servers’ worth of people in one zone. Start a new pandaren and see how long it takes before you’re waiting for something to respawn, along with two dozen other people… it spawns, it gets ‘RA-‘ out of it’s inital ‘rawr!’ and then it’s dead, and one person has gotten their kill, the other 23 are still waiting, and another ten have shown up. Same thing happened the first day of the BC release, the entire server landed in Hellfire at once, and everyone’s standing around waiting for something to spawn.

    Honestly surprised they haven’t taken the low level mounts away. Leveling a panda on the beta server, and it’s gotten to the point where I point in the vague direction of where I want to go and hit autorun, then tab out to a webcomic or something entertaining to do while I’m waiting to get to the next part where I can do something fun. Very, very slowly traveling between distant locations, especially when you’re going to have to go back and forth between them several times (“Go kill these quilboar. Ok, now that you’ve killed those, go kill these other specific quilboar that are in the same place, and there’s no reason I couldn’t have had you do it the first time. Ok, NOW go kill this boss, in the middle of all that stuff that you killed and that’s now respawned by the time you’ve run back here and back again.”)

    Jamming another ten thousand people into the same location isn’t going to make that any more fun… and while the pvp clowns will be thrilled that they’ve now got several more servers worth of people to annoy, I don’t think it’s going to make it any better for anyone who isn’t a griefer.


    • As Minos pointed out, the key change here is that Blizzard is moving away from the existing one to one relationship between realms and zones.

      At the moment, every realm has exactly one copy of each zone. In Mists of Pandaria, two new things will become possible:

      1. Multiple realms will be able to share a single copy of a zone. So, for instance, an entire battlegroup may have a shared instance of Elwynn Forest most of the time. However, when a holiday event (such as the Harvest Festival) gets more players out of Stormwind and into the forest, then each realm may go back to having its own separate instance. The Blizz post spends most of its time talking about this aspect.

      2. Each realm will be able to host multiple copies of a zone. So, for instance, instead of the starting zones in Mists being utterly unplayable on launch day due to overpopulation, each realm may instead have a several *copies* of that zone running in parallel, avoiding the overcrowding problems that plagued previously releases. This barely rates a mention in the article (just the one sentence that Minos quoted above).

      To be honest, if I was Blizzard, I would have lead the story with the fix for the overcrowding problem, and mentioned the benefits in sharing levelling zones across multiple servers later. I played Champions Online for a bit and the sharding system there felt great – there were enough players in the shard that it felt populated, but not so many that it felt crowded.


  13. My first thought was also concern about too much competition for quest objectives. But you left out this bit of information:

    We are also able to split over-populated zones and will be testing this new technology on the Pandaren starting area (turtle zone).

    Sounds like they have the ability to populate leveling zones while still avoiding overpopulation. I wonder if splitting over-populated zones just means shunting off new arrivals to a new server, or if suddenly half the zone’s population vanishes like IRC splits of yore.


    • I think the idea that hard servers even need to exist is a misnomer. The game, and the technology industry at large, is increasingly moving into virtual servers running virtual OS in “the cloud”. You can rent a VPS for ~$5/month in the US to run a small website / proxy / VPN /whatever off of it.
      I’m excited to see this and think it can only be good. Eventually I’d like to see AH and guilds go this way as well. That would solve a ton of the under/over-pop and horde/ally balance issues.


  14. I work for a major game company that is not Blizzard. I’ve worked on games in early pre-production, and on some of the biggest live games in the world. Without giving away too many specifics, I can say this:

    Early on, it’s all about making the game as much fun as possible. Make a game that will get tons of people playing and coming back for more, that will retain interest, that will go viral. The creative types really get to shine here.

    But once the dust has settled and the basic framework is in place, monetization – that is, turning those eager players into eager payers – becomes king. Not to the extent that it’ll risk compromising the game’s fun, of course, but think of it this way:

    No feature is free. Making even a small change requires time from a lot of people: developers, artists, designers, QA, producers, and more. (There’s no such thing as “it’s just a one-line code change.” It simply doesn’t exist.) Team size is finite. Hours per individual is finite. You can only do so much per week, month, etc. There’s a hard limit and there’s no getting around that.

    So, you’re constantly making tradeoffs. Maybe you’re putting new character art on hold so that you can focus efforts on a UI overhaul, or vice versa. But in the end, like I said, monetization is king.

    What does that mean? It means that if two proposed features are battling it out, to see who gets to be implemented and who goes back to the drawing board, the higher-ups who make these decisions look at two things:

    How much will it cost? How much money will it make?

    99 times out of 100, the feature with the highest return on investment wins. It’s not about cynicism or materialism; it’s about the fact that we’re all paid to be here by a company that exists because it’s making money.

    The trick to great game production, from what I’ve seen, is to find those sweet spots between fun and money, between short-term wins and long-term retention, and keep your game sitting right in those sweet spots for as long as it can.

    I guess that drifted away from answering a question you asked and more into me blathering on about my job, but … I hope I was able to provide some perspective from “the inside” 🙂


    • Nice insight into it!

      My post was mostly a pre-emptive strike on folks that always take a new announcement, and start complaining about how they’d rather have had something else at end game. Or why pet battles, a feature that can be used by all players of every level instead of yet another thing you need to grind to max level before you get to enjoy.

      I like these “can you see the man behind the curtain” glimpses into what they think about, and how they try and address it.


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