WoW! Thoughts! — On the Disaster of Cross-Realm Zones

Thoughts on Blizzard's surprisingly shoddy implementation of Cross-Realm Zones.

Patch 5.0.4 has been live for just under two weeks.  For as much as I played the beta, I’m still amazed by some of the new features that I’ve come across.  But one feature that was grossly untested in the beta is Cross-Realm Zoning.  Blizzard started rolling this feature out to live realms with 5.0.4 slowly, planning to bring it to all servers in time for the launch of Mists; almost like a virus infecting people one at a time.  And while comparing Cross-Realm Zoning to something so hostile and potentially deadly may seem harsh, plenty of players would argue the comparison is tame given some of the issues with Cross-Realm Zoning so far.

Once I got past the initial surprise of seeing players running around with hyphenated names (as with Cross-Realm dungeons and raids, home servers are appended to the names of any foreign characters), I didn’t mind seeing those people there. Cross-Realm instancing is serving its purpose of making the world feel alive again.  Dalaran and Thunder Bluff were surprisingly populated on my last few visits, which added to the feeling of playing a game with an active community, instead of maybe seeing one person at the bank knowing full well everyone else is in Orgrimmar.  What surprised me though was that Blizzard had said capital cities were not going to part of the cross-realm experience.  So I’m not sure if seeing those people in Thunder Bluff means that only Orgrimmar and Stormwind are considered capital cities, or the presence of those players was a bug.

And the implementation of Cross-Realm Zones thus far has been surprisingly buggy.  When traversing zones, my skill points spam my chat window as though they were freshly acquired.  Also, whenever I go to craft an item, all of my recipes are listed three or four times.  It appears I gain a recipe copy each time I cross a zone boundary.  When initially announced, Blizzard said that different realm-types would not be eligible for crossing.  According to the forums, this is not happening.  PVE-server based characters have found themselves in PVP-server realms, and role-players are finding themselves greeted (sometimes with hostility) from characters on other non-RP zones.  Tol Barad and Wintergrasp have become unplayable due to the bugs affecting those zones.  It’s odd that this is happening. MMO’s are known for having their share of bugs, but Blizzard’s standard of quality is usually better than this.

The problem in this case is that due to the nature of Cross-Realm Zoning, Blizzard did not have the luxury of testing their code out before putting it on live.  With only four servers available in the MoP beta (and one server for the PTR), Blizzard had no way to fully test the code that is intended to balance populations across nearly 250 servers.  The only place with enough players and servers to see how the system would fare is on the live realms.  We are in the beta, and this is a problem.  When Blizzard announced Cross-Realm Zoning was live they failed to mention that it would be such a buggy implementation, and that we’d need to bear with them for the duration of what they were attempting.  Although there were those who logged in on the 28th without being aware that 5.0.4 and all the changes it brought were upon them, the general populace could have at least braced for some of the turmoil that we are going through now.

What surprises me is that Blizzard didn’t take a more measured approach to applying Cross-Realm Zones.  Given the small number of role-playing zones, as well as their special nature, they should have held off on crossing them until the end of the process.  It would have made sense to just start with just the PVP or just the PVE servers and once that entire subset was working, then move on to crossing other types.  Somehow, these server types have become comingled, and it’s to everyone’s detriment.  Blizzard needs to fix the bugs in this system, and soon.  As players become displeased with the Cross-Realm Zones, Blizzard may find themselves wishing they had just merged servers to address population imbalances rather than subject their players to such a poor experience.

Once Blizzard is able to sort out all the bugs and make sure that Cross-Realm Zoning is working as intended, the only real adjustments will be player expectations about what it means to play an MMO.  There are plenty of complaints that Cross-Realm Zoning is going to lead to a scarcity of resources.  Now, three servers worth of players will be all be competing for the same resource nodes that previously supported one server.  Also, with more people thrown together, there will be increased competition for rare and quest mobs.

The ability to easily gather or hunt what you needed was one of the few perks of a low population server.  Now, Blizzard is removing that, while still subjecting those players to a weak auction house.  Blizzard says it will monitor spawn rates, and I’m sure they will.  It’s fair to be concerned about that, but right now, the whole system is so buggy that we have no idea how Cross-Realm Zoning is intended to play.  Give Blizzard time to get the technical bugs fixed, and then they can go about tweaking the system to be fun and enjoyable.

Fundamentally, an MMO is about playing with other people.  Seeing people out and about, and competing with them (even if just for resources amongst allies) is the natural state of the game.  This is not meant to be a single player experience, no matter how much we may want that sometimes.  With all the different player-types intermingling and causing frustration, it’s easy to lose sight of that fact.

Ghostcrawler has tweeted that more information about Cross-Realm Zoning will be forthcoming and confirmed that the mixing of PVP and PVE realms is a bug.  Major maintenance is scheduled for Tuesday.  With any luck, Blizzard will fix this before the problem gets any worse.  Otherwise, we might see many sad pandas come September 25th.

WoW! Blurbs!

Some of the Dev’s are doing an AMA over on Reddit.  Who do they think they are, Obama???

As alluded to above, Ghostcrawler is on twitter now.  He’s been very responsive to comments. (read: he tweets ALOT!)

You can now fish without a pole.  No, its not noodling

Blizzard has announced the Guild Mentors!  If you need one of these guilds, you probably aren’t reading this.

Ask Creative Development III has been answered.  Way to keep hammering them on Elune being a Naaru.  I’m sure if we keep at it, by Ask CDev VI they’ll finally break.

Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz

Senior Producer

Host of WoW! Talk! and The Tauren & The Goblin. Sometimes known as the Video Games Public Defender. Wants to play more Destiny and Marvel Heroes but WoW is all-consuming. Decent F2P Hearthstone player. Sad that he lost the Wii that had Wrecking Crew on it. Would be happy if the only game ever made was M.U.L.E. Gragtharr on Skywall-US. Garresque on Ravencrest-US.

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