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Life's about to get a bit easier for World Of Warcraft players on underpopulated servers. The MMORPG's next content update will introduce a feature called Connected Realms to allow players from different servers to more freely interact with each other.
WoW players can already be matched up across servers for dungeons and low-difficulty raids. As of last year, they can quest alongside players from other servers as well thanks to cross-realm zones. Connected Realms will knock down even more walls between servers.
"A Connected Realm is a set of two or more standard realms that have been permanently and seamlessly 'linked,'" explains Blizzard. "These linked realms will behave as if they were one cohesive realm, meaning you’ll be able to join the same guilds, access a single Auction House, run the same Raids and Dungeons, and join other adventurers to complete quests."
The goal behind this feature is to help out underpopulated realms. On these realms, players have few opportunities for group activities. The small number of players contributing to the auction house also makes it harder to find certain items. In the past, these players would have to pay to transfer to another server in order to improve their situation.
"As WoW has evolved, we’ve seen players naturally gravitate toward a subset of very active realms, leaving behind lower-populated realms. Due to the massively multiplayer nature of World of Warcraft, certain kinds of gameplay experiences simply aren’t well-suited to a low-pop realm. By allowing players from two or more lower-pop realms to play together, we hope to give more players more opportunities to participate in group-oriented activities, helping to foster a more vibrant in-game community."
Players on the more desolate realms have been asking Blizzard to merge the game's servers. Blizzard opted for Connected Realms instead because they felt it would be the least disruptive. For example, mergers would force certain players to change their names in the case of duplicates. Connected Realms also leave the current realm names intact, which should please nostalgic gamers.
Blizzard haven't determined which servers will be affected by Connected Realm. Battlegroup, faction balance and server size are all factors they're looking over. They can confirm, though, that only realms of the same type (PvE, PvP, RP) will be connected.
World of Warcraft has seen a steady decline in subscribers since the beginning of the year. The game lost 1.3 million subscribers from January to March and another 600,000 since April. When subscriber numbers dwindle in an MMO, there's a potential snowballing effect. Once players start quitting, the remaining players have fewer people to play with. As a result, they start logging on less and possibly quitting altogether. Connected Realms will, in theory, reduce this bleeding.
Connected Realms will be implemented in Patch 5.4 of WoW. The patch, currently on the public testing realm, will also introduce Proving Grounds and an in-game store.