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Star Wars: The Old Republic Column: Will TOR Adopt ‘Mega Servers’?

By Michael Bitton on May 29, 2012

We recently discussed the merits (and some of the intricacies) of implementing server transfers vs. server merges in Star Wars: The Old Republic, but a new interview with BioWare’s Daniel Erickson has potentially thrown the conversation for an interesting spin.

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In an interview over at PCGamer, Erickson responds to a question regarding cross-server functionality for the upcoming Group Finder feature being introduced with Update 1.3: Allies:

“PCG: Will they be cross-server at launch? Is that planned for the future?

DE: They will not be cross-server as we are coming up on a huge move to servers with massively higher population caps than we have today.”

Whoa. That was a fairly low-radar hint at a change that would have vast implications for the SWTOR community. Will BioWare be adopting ‘mega server’ technology for SWTOR?  Well, first of all, what the heck are mega-servers? I’m not particularly knowledgeable on all the technical details, but the gist of it would be significantly fewer servers with significantly higher server populations to boot. We first saw the implementation of this sort of server design with DC Universe Online, which was also facing significant population issues at the time and DCUO has benefitted greatly from the merges (though I pretty much lost all of my character names, bleh!).

If at this point you’re saying, “Mike, isn’t this just a fancy way of saying SWTOR would be merging tons of servers at once?” To which I’d respond, “Yes. Sort of.” Sure, it basically takes what is ultimately a massive server merge and casts it under a more positive light (server merges are obviously PR nightmares), but it’s also a technical feat that would offer some interesting benefits and drawbacks to SWTOR in particular.

On the plus side, Star Wars: The Old Republic would easily solve the ghost-town issues plaguing many servers, but more importantly, some sort of ‘mega server’ implementation would also address a larger issue that plagued SWTOR even when populations were booming: population density. The extremely linear themepark approach used in designing Star Wars: The Old Republic led to a situation where population density was always an issue, even at launch, outside of the first couple of zones. You really didn’t see as many people as you probably should have in most areas, and having the potential for tons more players on a server may solve this issue as well simply through brute force.

There are a couple of negatives to ‘mega servers’ as well, even when it comes to population density. While there aren’t as many people at specific questing spots as you may want to see, the implementation of ‘mega servers’ could result in too many people at any given questing area, and BioWare would have to adjust spawn rates and possibly deal with other performance or progression related issues to accommodate this. However, worst of all, and similar to DCUO’s naming issue, what would ‘mega servers’ or even straight up simple server transfers mean for players’ Legacies? BioWare’s been fairly mum on this so far, but I can say it would truly suck to lose my Legacy name to someone else due to some predetermined criteria BioWare comes up with. Said criteria will obviously be controversial as they may benefit some over others in terms of who receives the Legacy name (or even the unlocks!), and you can bet this would be another PR headache to deal with.

I didn’t really pay attention to the DCUO mega server process as it was happening (I wasn’t playing the game at the time), and I lost tons of awesome names as a result. I imagine that former or perhaps even briefly lapsed players could run into the same situation with their Legacy names and/or unlocks and may give up on checking out the game again as a result. Still, considering the pros and cons, I find myself excited at the idea of ‘mega servers’ for SWTOR. Sure, I may be reading far too much into what Daniel Erickson was saying, but if ‘mega servers’ were what he was hinting at, it could really jumpstart the life of the game. Jumping into DCUO now, over a year since the game launched, you’d think the game just came out yesterday. Stuffing as many people as you can in a server goes a long way towards making the server and more importantly, the game, feel alive.

Do you feel ‘mega servers’ would be the right approach for Star Wars: The Old Republic? Why? Why not? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

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