Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Let's Pretend Nobody Else Exists...

There are a lot of things Blizzard does right with WoW. Even the most ardent WoW hater has to concede that in general Blizzard doesn't release a buggy product when a WoW patch/expac comes through.* WoW also gives enough people what they want that they still dominate the MMO market, and they shamelessly steal ideas from other games and give it their own unique twist.

But there is one aspect to WoW that Blizzard has done poorly in, and it concerns how the US and European servers are configured.  Namely, that you'd never guess that the other one exists.

All of the other MMOs I've played in have at least given you the ability to create a toon on every server the game has, but WoW for some reason won't allow you to do that on European and U.S. servers.  You get one or the other, and that's it. A long long time ago, I saw the announcement of cross-server grouping as a way to finally get a chance to play with some of my blogger friends over in Europe, but I was quickly disillusioned when I realized that the US and European servers still don't seem to know the other exists.

This kind of turns the wonderful love fest of the Looking for Group documentary on its head, since I can see that Europeans play WoW via the blogs, Tumblrs, podcasts, and fan made art/videos, but I can't play with them without purchasing the game again for the EU region.

I bring this up because other games, such as LOTRO and SWTOR will let you play on European servers. Age of Conan consolidated all of their servers this past year as well.  GW2 is a bit closer to the WoW model in that you're locked into the server you start with --and creating a toon on a European server means your license gets transferred to the EU region-- but it still lets you select a European server from the start.

My kids have LOTRO toons across several servers, and they've often commented to me on people occasionally speaking in French on Gen Chat.** I recently rolled up a new Smugger on a European server in SWTOR, and I can attest how connected you feel seeing guild recruiting ads saying "we are an all Polish guild" or "we're an all Russian guild". Or that you'll see someone let loose some British slang in Gen Chat. You get that sense of togetherness, the feeling that people all over the world are hanging out in Coruscant with you right now, without having to leave the game at all.

And really, the lag for the European SWTOR servers is only slightly worse than the lag for the West Coast US server that I typically play on.

I understand that there are license issues at play here, but it still seems odd that this restriction is still in place a decade later, particularly when the world has shrunk with the advent of new social media and the explosion of smart phones and tablets. It just seems a relic of the past, when the most exotic location a fellow player might be from is Buffalo.

*Design flaws, yes, but bugs are minor compared to most other AAA software releases. Having spent time in software QA back in the 90s, I've occasionally wondered just how much pull the software QA team at Blizzard has. Typically software QA is a small speed bump to the rest of the release train, and even if the QA people are screaming that something isn't ready for release the software will ship regardless.

**Which they find incredibly cool that they're playing a game at the same time someone in France is.

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