Sure, there are more people in the zones, but I've been surprised at how quickly the zone population plummeted a month after release.
I've been cruising the lowbie zones up through Arathi Highlands and Stonetalon Mountains, and if there have been more than ten other toons in a zone with me I'd be surprised. And before you point out that I play at odd hours, I've also been on in the evening and midday this past week and found no difference to the zone population. If anything, I've found more people on Darkshore in the early morning than in the evening (which is also typically raid time). What bothers me is that I've seen even fewer Horde than Alliance in Ashenvale, and that used to never happen.
Why have I been out and about? Leveling Skinning and Leatherworking to fill in the gaps in my gear. Of course, leveling these professions means that I have to range far and wide to collect skins and/or leather, so I see a lot of the zones. I've also seen my FPS drop as soon as I enter a new zone; not the official FPS, mind you, but there's a visible slowdown on screen on some zones* that I can only attribute to the cross-server manipulation.
I was hoping that the lack of toons in Darnassus was just a blip on the radar, but that seems to not be the case.
This whole cross-server change has made me wonder just how many servers they merge at one time in a zone, and whether this is dynamic or not. While I do have to admit from a technical standpoint it's pretty impressive, I'm kind of disheartened by the knowledge that things would be even worse if Blizz wasn't performing their wizardry.
Let's call the cross-server zones what they really are: Lowbie Server Merges. They're indicative of an increasingly visible problem that WoW has: most of the toons are at or close to max level, and there's a lack of new blood coming into the game.
Okay, now with that declaration there is a big caveat. Blizz encourages new players to go to "New Player" servers. A brand new player --not one invited to play by a current player-- will most likely end up there, meaning that those servers will have a disproportionate share of lowbie toons. However, those "New Player" servers have a reputation for having such a small server population that they couldn't even rate "Low" on the activity listings.**
I've hashed all this before when the cross-server merges were first announced, but having seen the Mists wave come and go I think this discussion has to be reopened.
To fix this problem, I'd so something that for Blizz would be truly radical: Make L1-L60 playable without a subscription. That doesn't mean completely F2P, since you'd have to buy the game (+expacs if you want to play a Pandaren, Goblin, or Worgen), but after that purchase having the first 60 levels free would bring in a lot of activity to the game. I'm also amenable to extending the Starter Edition to L60, which would get a player to Outland and just enough to whet their appetite for more.
Would Blizz lose money on this idea? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on how many people convert to a subscription, and how much money it would cost to handle the server load, versus how much technical expertise it would take to expand the lowbie zone merges seamlessly.
Now, this might wreak havoc with the auction house, given that gold farmers will use this to flood the market with goods for sale, but you never know what might go down. A subscriber won't necessarily need a separate account, but the subscriber's children or significant other might. An occasional player who can't afford a sub can keep in touch with guildies. The player who left and wants an extended test run can do so. The Old Timer who grouses that the only way AQ40 should be run is at level can now do so.
And maybe it will make some of those old L55-60 zones more relevant again. Okay, that's probably asking too much of Silithus, but the others....
*Ashenvale and Stonetalon are two of the worst.
**I overheard this one once in Gen Chat in the "yo mama" vein: "Your server is so empty that it dreams of the day it can be classified as a New Player server."