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WoWSep 14, 2020 5:00 pm CT

Do low population realms benefit from being connected?

We’re seeing a fair amount of realms being connected lately. This has been happening since July, when CM Kaivax told us Blizzard had done a survey of worldwide realm populations and would be connecting low population realms to allow more players to interact in guilds, grow a strong local economy, and otherwise provide more opportunities for interaction on those realms.

It makes sense — interconnected realms have more people you can play with, and it is a massively multiplayer game.

But I’m curious about how it actually works out in practice. Let’s look at the realms currently being merged.

Realms on the merge

Originally Posted by Kaivax (Official Post)

During a scheduled maintenance period planned for 3:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. AEST on September 16, the following realm connection will be made:

  • Aman’thul will be connected to Dath’Remar and Khaz’goroth.

During a scheduled maintenance period planned for 7:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. PDT on September 17, the following realm connections will be made:

  • Hydraxis and Terenas will be connected to Drak’thul, Mok’Nathal, Silvermoon, Skywall, Shadowsong, and Borean Tundra.
  • Darrowmere and Windrunner will be connected to Draka and Suramar.
  • Ghostlands and Kael’thas will be connected to Grizzly Hills, Lothar, Malfurion, Trollbane, and Gnomeregan.
  • Black Dragonflight, Gul’dan, and Skullcrusher will be connected to Andorhal, Eonar, Velen, Scilla, Ursin, and Zuluhed.
  • Exodar and Medivh will be connected to Alleria and Khadgar.

We are planning more realm connections for low-population realms, and we will post a new notification like this one next week.

I can’t pretend I know the Horde/Alliance balance on each of these realms, but I do know that unbalanced realm population favoring one faction over another is often cited by players as a reason they’d like realm connections, even in WoW Classic.  At the same time, I’ve seen some really bad takes on this — one player called this process “Blizzard putting low pop realms on the chopping block,” as if the realm connection process deleted them entirely.

That’s clearly not the case. And also, just as clearly, unbalanced realm population isn’t the only reason to merge servers.

Many of the most recent realm connections have created very large joined realms, with seven or eight becoming a single realm community. It’s hard to predict what the impact of such a merger will be. In some cases, realms with relatively few active players at max level will suddenly be in a community with hundreds, thousands, or even more players, changing everything from AH prices to farming for mats in the world and trying to do open world activities.

Worlds collide when realms are merged

That’s not to say the impact will always be bad. More players generally means a more active AH, for example. But a realm where most players have adapted to a extremely low Alliance population — usually by either switching factions, leaving for other realms, or what have you — can be swamped by a sudden connection into a group of realms with a much higher Alliance player base. Now, it’s great for the few Alliance diehards that held out, absolutely, but it can be difficult for the former big fish who now find themselves in the Western Interior Seaway.

I play on Echo Isles a lot, and it’s connect with Draenor. To be honest, it’s been connected with Draenor since 2013 and I rarely if ever notice it. I’ve seen players complain, but I personally don’t feel the impact. But some of the new realm connections are for RP realms, and in that regard it feels like a generally positive move — more players on an RP realm means hopefully a few more players willing to actually RP.

dark portal

Huge fish with big, sharp teeth

It’s fair to say that “big fish in a small pond” syndrome can and does affect player perception of realm connection. Not every player on a low pop realm wants the hustle and bustle of thousands of AH rivals, node farmers, and so on. That realm with the one functioning raid guild may benefit from a sudden influx of options but the guild that held on there may well be swamped by the rising tide, unable to keep recruiting now that there are so many potential homes for up and coming players. This can benefit the majority of players while also being a disaster for specific groups.

Overall I view the general direction of realm connection to be positive, but it does sort of obliterate the last traces of old school realm community.

Granted, I’ve looked on realm community of the kind found in the original days of World of Warcraft somewhat of a limited, vestigial hold-over nowadays anyway. Realms in 2020 bear very little similarity to the way they were in 2004 or 2007, but it can’t be denied that connecting six or more realms together takes a fire ax to whatever remains of the original concept of how realms worked in World of Warcraft.

With WoW Classic an ongoing thing, perhaps it’s not even important to preserve — we have the fossil of how realm communities used to work in active play. Generally, I tend to view more players able to play together with fewer restrictions as a positive change.

But it’s worth keeping in mind the ways it can be disruptive. The guilds that fail or are absorbed by larger ones. The competition for resources. The sudden shift in the population of a faction. These are all issues with realm connection, and one hopes Blizzard does make some effort to bring as little disruption as possible when they make these connections.

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