Mega Servers Interview With Mark Anderson
On Friday, I had the opportunity to sit down and have a little chat with DC Universe Online Game Director, Mark Anderson, about the upcoming Mega Servers that will change the landscape upon their inception into the game. The Mega Servers will see a staggered release over the next week and a half. European PC Players will be the first to see the changes, as implementation begins today, the 8th of August, with US Servers on the PC seeing the changes implemented on Wednesday. US PS3 users will see the change roll in on Thursday the 11th, and European PS3 users will see it take effect on the following Monday, the 15th. The servers are expected to be down for 10-14 hours in order to bring all the changes into effect. The full schedule of the change-over can be found in last Friday's Producer Letter.
Mark took some time in the Texas heat to explain why the Mega Servers (which have been talked about by the team since before launch) are coming in to play. The Mega Servers are being looked at as a big draw to pull people, who may have left the game due to the population woes, back to the game. A lot of time and effort has been put into the Mega Servers beyond just a typical straight server merge. “There's a lot of other things connected to them that it is really a big feature and not just a combining of servers”. What sets the Mega Servers apart from the typical server merge? “The whole goal is to get as many people playing together, at all times, in every part of the game that we can apply that to”, which he went on to say that it's not just about bringing servers together to lump population together, but more to limit the amount of restrictions on where you play, when you play. Mark referred to these as “flags”, so before, your server name would be a flag, PvP or PvE is a flag, PC or PS3 is a flag, Europe or US is a flag. These flags have been minimized and while it would be impossible at this point to merge the PC/PS3 and Europe/US flags into one server, the other flags that separated players can be reduced and eliminated with the implementation of the server merge.
With the implementation of the Mega Servers, there will now be one server for each region (Europe/US) per platform (PC/PS3). No longer are PvP and PvE on separated servers. The reasoning for this I've explained above, but this doesn't necessarily mean that people will no longer be able to take part in (one of the game's greatest strengths) its open world PvP. PvP v. PvE will be handled by the flipping of your PvP flag, handled by the player, at either the Hall of Doom or Justice League Watchtower. I confirmed with Mark shortly after speaking with him, the player will not be limited in the amount of times you can flip your flag between the two. Should you wish to level your character up without threat of unwanted PvP (which would be the concern of many non-PvP players out there), simply keep your flag flipped to PvE, and it won't be a concern. Others, of course, will be able to keep their PvP flag up as they level up to continue to have that Open World experience. Server size and population is also being mediated under a system that Mark described as “Phasing”, or layers, within the active server. “There's separate 'phases'... The police station has too many folks in it and it's becoming over crowded, we can spool up another phase. There will always be PvE and PvP phases running, but in the same way you can say my buddy's in this phase and I want to phase to him”. Phases essentially act as layers within the server, without hard boundaries as to population limits necessarily, that it allows people to group up with their buddies, or their guilds, or what have you. “There can be instances where there's something that's preventing that grouping, but we try to point those out and give you mechanisms to work around those if there is a hard-limit”. Phasing is handled through the Social UI within the game. “If you're in a different phase from someone in your group, or your league, or just your friend, there's a 'phase with' that lets you hit those lists from the Social Quick Menu. There are some boundaries there, you'll have to take care of flipping your PvE or PvP flag, but other than that you can find your friends and go to them just using the Quick Menus from the Social Hub”.
One of the biggest concerns about the implementation of the Mega Servers for a lot of the active DCUO players out there is naturally Character Name Overlap. I asked Mark to briefly explain how the overlap was going to be handled within the Mega Server so that everyone is happy. “How are we going to deal with it when there is a conflict, and how are we going to notify people as to who wins the conflict?”. The first thing that is looked at is whether the player is an active subscriber. “If your name's Bob and my name's Bob and you're an active subscriber and I'm not, then you win, you're Bob. My character, which, obviously, we still keep around, gets renamed. How that renaming takes place is they get an underscore and then a three-letter code that indicates their server, so the Killing Joke becomes _TKJ”. If there's a conflict between two active subscribers, the player that wins is the one who has the most time played. Don't despair though, you won't be stuck with the underscore and three-letter code. Obviously, you can stick with it if you just don't care, but players who are forced to take the underscore and code will be provided with an opportunity, a token, for a free name change. With the Mega Servers, the temptation would seem obvious to take advantage of the setting to attempt more big, open world events. Players of the game will remember the War of the Ring event in the high 20-levels that takes advantage of the entire population coming together to take part in this PvP battle. I asked Mark about the possibility of this type of content coming down the pipe in the future. “That's one of the things that people want to do. There's several places that we're attacking in the live game right now. Two thirds of our team is devoted to the live game and improving that and making it a better place to be. Obviously getting players back into the open city and those large events are one way to do that... it'll be something that we continue to look at, not necessarily just in terms of the Mega Servers, but just in general and obviously having more people in those places give us more options there. We'll continue to look at that stuff and make sure that there's a lot of cool things for players to go out and do”. “It really is a lot bigger than (just a straight server merge). Again, it's crossing off those things that keep you from playing with other people”.