Blizzard, Trion Worlds, and Obvious Juxtapositions

Now this made for a pair of eye opening announcements.

Last week Blizzard mentioned that it might charge a premium to allow players to group up and do instances with their Real ID friends on other servers.

Then today, Trion Worlds announced that they were going to allow free, once a week, server transfers.

On the surface, this is very easy to cast as “Trion = Good, Blizzard = Evil.”

I mean, Blizzard wants you to PAY to play with your friends!  Granted, they are such good friends you rolled up  on different servers, but they are still your friends!  And you have to use their dubious Real ID service to do it.  That is two strikes right there.

You want to shake your head in disbelief when you read this sort of thing.

Meanwhile Trion is giving us what we want, mobility amongst the many server silos.  Once a week, you can move.  Blizzard charges you $25 for the privileged, and I seem to recall that the you cannot move again for another 30 days. (And $25 seemed like a good price a couple years back, when SOE was charging $50 for character transfers.)

It is hard not to stand up and cheer for Trion Worlds.

But it makes you wonder what is really going on.

Because, almost assuredly, something other than the obvious is going on.

On the Blizzard side of things, you might wonder if they really want people to use this service.  Or if they want the overhead of server transfers.  As was pointed out over at Blessing of Kings, charging for them is a barrier that keeps only those who really want the service from using it.

The realities of having so many players means that sometimes you want to allow flexibility, but discourage it just to keep costs under control.  A certain percentage of server transfers end up in a call to customer services.  So even if the transfer is no more than a database entry, once a live human is on the line an individual transfer is probably a loss.

Not the best justification in the world, but I can’t tell you how much a customer service call really costs Blizz.

Meanwhile, here is Trion Worlds, with Rift a couple of months old now.  I have to wonder if they are being clever about dealing with a contraction of population, if the initial rush has peaked and they now have more servers running that are really viable.

Announcing server mergers is always viewed as bad news.

But announcing free server transfers, that is a huge win.  Not only will your population take care of your server mergers for you, how and when they want to (some people love to play on nearly deserted servers), but the good publicity makes Rift look like a game you really want to play.

Each announcement may be more a reflection of the situation in which the company finds itself.

Of course, this is speculation on my part, but it seems like reasonable speculation.  And it all seems like an indictment against this many separate servers architecture, which is the real problem with which both companies are attempting to deal.

What do you think is going on?

21 thoughts on “Blizzard, Trion Worlds, and Obvious Juxtapositions

  1. Tesh

    I can almost buy the reasoning on Blizzard’s charge for server transfers, but when I see something like Wizard 101 that has player-controlled free server transfers literally on a sixty second cooldown, or Guild Wars letting players jump servers pretty much on demand, I can’t take anything more limited seriously.

    To that end, I see Trion’s move as a PR bit of oneupmanship on the tails of Blizzard’s ridiculous latest RealID hook. It may indeed be a bit of a back-end scramble, but since I see that sort of functionality as something that should be in on day one, I can’t complain about them waking up.

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  2. Zogan

    I would not be surprised if the free server transfers in Rift are at least partially motivated by PvP warfront faction balance, which is a big and often complained about problem in some server groups. Making the available servers different for each faction seems like a workable way of encouraging the population to even out a bit, and I notice they mention this in their FAQ as well.

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  3. Muiran

    Trion has said the transfers are only for select realms, so to me this seems like it involves a heavy dose of putting a good face on server imbalances or general low populations. Want to place any wagers on being able to transfer *to* Faeblight? Not that I think Rift is dying or anything, but phrasing is important. Blizzard has offered free transfers in the past to attempt to balance populations or ease overcrowding. Although the lack of a cooldown and probable wider availability is nice. I can’t defend $25 for a server transfer, but I also wonder if Blizzard’s architecture isn’t very amenable to that sort of thing.

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  4. Ravious

    I once read that for some MMO, perhaps WoW, transferring was actually a pretty rough thing that involved digging a lot of character “hooks” out of the server and placing them in the new server.

    It wasn’t like GW (or W101?) where the character server is actually separate from the world server, and when the world server needs the data the character server gives it to it.

    IOW, if they don’t build the game with character transfers in mind, like perhaps WoW, it can be pretty rough. Now they’ve (WoW) had years of working character transfers so possibly the tech is much better now.

    Still in the marketing game, regardless of tech, feasibility, and other objective factors, Trion looks to have just kicked WoW in it’s teeth. How big a steel-toed boot and how big a mouth is up for further debate.

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  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Tesh – Comparing Wizard 101 to Blizzard may not be as valid as it seems. Wizard 101 probably doesn’t have nearly the population to support.

    Then again, maybe Wizard 101 just had the foresight to build in easy character transfer infrastructure in advance, in which case, good for them. I’d like to see more of that.

    @Ravious – Oh yeah, Trion won the headline war this round in a big way. It would have been hard for Blizzard to give them a better lead-in.

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  6. bhagpuss

    My impression is that Rift’s population is growing, if anything. In the last week or so the number of servers showing “High” or even “Full” seems to have increased. It seems busier in game than it did two or three weeks ago, too.

    That doesn’t mean the population is evenly spread, however, so allowing people to move around seems like a good idea. Presumably if there really are heavily underpopulated servers, they could depopulate even more as players move away to busier shards, so we might still see server mergers later on.

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  7. Elumine

    Interesting. I can’t say I know much about RIFT, but this is bringing some deja vu from what happened to Aion after it came out. Aion also had server balance issues. They initially tried balancing servers based on the number of existing characters of each faction and prevented you from creating chars of the opposite faction if the character count was too imbalanced, but that didn’t work. About half a year (I think?) later, they did server merges and offered limited free server transfers. They’re now down to just a few servers and paid transfers.

    I’ll admit there’s probably more going on here than I know about, especially since Muiran’s comment mentions that it’s only free to select servers and not a huge free-for-all. There is some value to each server having its own community and economy though, and too many transfers kind of messes that up.

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  8. Random Poster

    A lot of the stuff that Blizzard does for WoW was never intended tobe done when it was designed, so there is more work involved than if the programming hooks were already built in.

    For example Blizzard has repeatedly answered questions about the standard bag you start the game with having it’s size increased. Seems like a simple thing to the rest of us but they have repeatedly said it is one of the harder things for them to do because of legacy code. Which this comes ot mind because Blizzard just mentioned they are nuking the keyring in WoW and that one of the possible benefitsmay be the baility to increase the default bags size.

    So for a game like Rift which took most of WoW’s features and implemented versions of them this is probably much simpler to implement.

    Though I still think $25 per character is too high and should cover all toons on a server not just one.

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  9. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Random Poster – Oh, I know that legacy code problem. I worked on a graphical development platform where the biggest customer request for years was to be able to cut/copy/paste between projects. Such a simple request. What Windows app does not support this?

    Only the code came from our old OS/2 version of the environment, where you could only have one project open so there was no point in coding such a feature. So the code required to take all possible states and assumptions for any given object in our environment was daunting. I recall a couple people spending a couple years on the problem and getting to the point where you could copy about half of the possible objects from one project to another. The rest would come up with the “splat” icon, as we called it.

    There are no simple features, only problems you had the foresight to anticipate.

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  10. coppertopper

    Don’t see any negatives to this. Like everyone else, even Trion probably saw some server faction imbalances coming. Until the tech is there to have 1 server, this will be a problem for all future AAA mmos due to the tourism factor.

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  11. Stabs

    I think Trion is the first game to play Blizzard’s game back.

    When Vanguard was set to launch with more interesting classes WoW hybrids suddenly gained genuine end game options instead of being hybrids.

    When AOC launched WoW announced the Death Knight hero class.

    When WAR launched WotLK not only launched 3 weeks after but arguably included the best RvR zone in any MMO (Wintergrasp).

    Trion is the first company I’ve seen go into the AAA MMO market with a plan to play WoW back at the oneupmanship game.

    What will happen next? Trion will announce RIFT has more North American players that WoW does. (Carefully glossing over the fact it’s not nearly so popular in Europe and lacks localisation for as many regions as WoW; just as WoW glosses over the fact its 12m, sorry its 11.4m is mainly Asian players paying much less than $15/month).

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  12. angry gamer

    Yes this indicates that Rift has a superior database architecture than Wow… although Wow has gotten better. They seem to have mostly migrated to a full character data model.

    @stabs

    Yes I too look forward to see how well Wow responds. If I thought that they would fix cata enough to make it competitive I would have stayed but it’s obvious that right now they are putting all of the wow players on “farm” right now and raiding Titan.

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  13. Pingback: Contemplating Rift Server Transfers « MMO Gamer Chick

  14. ScytheNoire

    Trion is one-upping Blizzard, as they have done repeatedly. But this has more to do with better design than anything else. Blizzard has never been at the head of the technology game, and considering WoW is from before 2004 in design, it has many limitations. Trion was smart about their design, and thus, they can do this. But Blizzard has been over-charging customers and trying to charge for as much as they can for a long time. This is nothing new. Make the money while you can. Then look good when you reduce/remove prices later.

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  15. Pingback: [Rift] Character Transfers and Old Marketing Plays | Kill Ten Rats

  16. Krumb520

    I don’t really think trion needs blizzard to slip up,. I mean think about it WoW is becoming an older game like it or not, and it doesn’t have much more to offer the loyal players that have stuck with it. Yes they brought us Cata and that was exiting, but that exitement quickly wears off after you’ve seen the revamped zones, got killed by deathwing, played end level content, etc. When you compare rift, which IS a brand new game, you can find new and exiting things to try, Soul systems, rift invasions, etc. I even see many of the people I used to play wow with end their subscriptions to play rift, and WoW without friends makes it even more dull. I even went as far as to start a trial account for rift and I’ve got to say Trion did a very well job as far as gameplay goes, not quite as polished as WoW but it works. The only problem I have with rift is the annoying WoW bashers that show up whenever you mention “WoW” or “Blizz” (as I have been a loyal blizz fan since Pre-BC and am not going to cease all WoW activity just because I found another game I like). But beside those “haters” rift seems to have a very friendly community and I have found it to be different from wow yet the same enough to not feel like a fish out of water.

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  17. Pingback: Blizzard Says Pay, Trion Says Free | MMO Melting Pot

  18. Pingback: I’m going to post about server transfers, again « Hardcore Casual

  19. TheGrumpyElf

    I am one of those people that have no issues paying for a service, cross server dungeons or server transfers, but given the option of paying or free I will choose free any day.

    This could bring an interesting turn of events if it continues. The days of paying for extras will start to disappear and companies fight over customers and offer free services.

    The users win there.

    That would be nice.

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  20. Pingback: On Server Transfers | Tales of the Aggronaut

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