I suppose you could argue that it was an 'up' day for Dalaran with 20 or so people in it on a Monday night, but Stormwind? Of course, that other software product that Blizz dropped last week might have something to do with that, but the downward trend had been noticeable since the beginning of the year.
Ironically enough, the regular LFD random queue was the shortest it had been in well over a year for me, clocking in at around six minutes. Maybe you'd expect a quick wait as a tank or healer, but DPS? But on the flip side, getting into a random BG meant a 10 minute wait, a definite change from the typical 2-3 minutes.
I can't really make any sense of the weirdness surrounding the queues; while empty servers ought to translate into longer wait times for both sets of queues, it only impacted BGs. Perhaps the people who are left playing WoW at this stage of the release are those who are the true 'hardcore' players: leveling alts, crafting, transmogging, raiding, etc.* If that's the case, leveling alts might be the reason for the short LFD queue times: you get a bubble of people who began leveling alts at roughly the same time, and they all reached Cata instances at once.
Of these so-called hardcores, how many of these people are still blogging out there, working on beta, and figuring out their pathway to L90 on Mists? Maybe we bloggers have a skewed sense of things, because we're passionate enough about the game to devote words to it in addition to any in-game activity. But right now, I think we've long since entered the long lull before the lead up to the next expac, and the servers won't get busy again until the release date is imminent.
Which brings me to the Blizzard suggestion to merge servers in low population zones to give the illusion of more activity.
I can't be the only one who, when I first heard about the idea, said "I guess the first zones they'll do are Exodar and Silvermoon City. After all, nothing says 'activity' quite like seeing a hundred or so bank alts in one location."
From an activity standpoint, this proposal sounds absolutely great. It will give newbies the impression that there are a lot of things going on in WoW, and might convince them to stick with the game past L20. It will also make some historically dead zones more lifelike, and will help players in The Ghostlands and Bloodmyst Isle find groups for questing.
However, WoW being WoW, I have some concerns about the proposal. Not from a technical standpoint, but from a social standpoint.
What's the worst part about the social experience in WoW, particularly from the standpoint of a new player?
It isn't a lack of people to interact with, but an excess of antisocial people ruining the initial play experience:
- People who go kill opposing factions' quest givers in the intro zone. (These are intro zones, so unless a newbie decides to set the PvP flag there isn't any direct ganking going on.)
- People with names such as "Isukballz" or "Killitnow" challenging people to duels, killing the mobs you were supposed to work on, and spamming guild invites to any and all comers.
- The toon who decides to zero in on a player for some ERP.
- The "Yr doin it wrong!" or "L2P noob!" toon who spews trash into Gen Chat just because they think it's funny.
Based on an initial experience like that, it's a wonder that WoW gets new subs at all.
If Blizz is serious about bringing in and keeping new blood, then they have to address the social issues in WoW. This isn't Polyanna country, and it ain't EVE, either. People like to be welcomed and respected and tolerated. If they feel the environment is toxic, they'll move on. You can't expect a new player to blindly stumble through all of the social pitfalls and land in a good guild without guidance, and likewise you can't expect someone to blithely ignore all of the social issues that some players bring to WoW.
This is something that Blizz will need to tackle now, before Mists, when their system will strain under the weight of hordes of leveling Pandaren named Pandaspanx or Hotnfurry.
*Well, aside from the gold farmers, that is. When I left Icecrown a couple of days ago there were more people there (15) than in Dal (10). And as for me, I don't consider myself hardcore at all. I just get on and play when I can.