I've haven't ended my subscription to Warhammer yet even though I've had very little time to play it lately. The few times I did login it seemed like the player populations have become even more disproportionately distributed. I'm not just talking about the Destruction versus Order imbalance either. Certain zones and scenarios in the game are ghost towns while others are overflowing with players. This isn't exactly breaking news though and a lot of bloggers have mentioned how this population imbalance is effecting RvR and public quests. However, the issue seems to be growing worse over time and Mythic seems to be having problems directing traffic so to speak. Warhammer is one of the better MMOs out there, but it has some problems with it's game design which is dividing the playerbase at an accelerated rate.
The Dividing Factors:
The tier system seems like it would be a good idea at first glance. Mythic divided the forty ranks in the game into groupings of ten and then designed game mechanics to prevent the higher ranked groups from bothering the lower ranked ones. Warhammer is supposed to be a more casual PvP game then games like Fury or Darkfall so it makes sense to cut down on ganking and other types of bad behavior associated with player combat. However, this also puts limits on player socialization and their ability to help one another out. The power levelers in the game quickly reached the top tier while the slow levelers were quickly left behind. Warhammer accidentally created a system that effectively divided its playerbase quicker then any other MMO I've seen before.
Usually the longer a MMO exists the more spread out the population becomes across all levels. World of Warcraft avoids this by taking so long to make expansions that even snails have time to hit max level. But other games have to rely on mentoring or sidekicking features which allow players to temporary boost or decrease their level so they can group with friends. Unfortunately, the tier system makes this very hard to implement in Warhammer and Mythic is also probably worried about people skipping the lower end content to get to the end game. The scenarios in Warhammer prove that Mythic is familiar with the idea of temporary adjusting levels/ranks. Its just a matter of getting a design nailed down to make it work outside an instance.
I know the concept of putting different races and factions on separate continents is popular, but in this case I think its yet another factor which is causing the player population to be unevenly distributed. Players pick their favorite race no matter what and some races are just more popular. Even though Mythic provided instant flight points between some of the different racial zones it hasn't lead to any sort of balance. I'm not a lore expert in Warhammer so I'm not sure if it was absolutely necessary to isolate each race's war progression. I think the smarter thing would have been to interweave the progression a bit more. Maybe have the RvR areas between different races intersect at different tiers.
Uneven reward distribution
The other big problem is that the reward system encouarges grinding scenarios over fighting in RvR areas. Even the public quests seemed to give better rewards then actually taking down a Keep Lord. Not to mention that difficulty in gathering the numbers for taking down a Keep Lord and then winning a roll. I get the feeling that Mythic was so excited about RvR that they overestimated its popularity and kept the rewards small. Luckily, this is the one area where Mythic is moving very quickly to fix. Adjusting the rewards should help make the RvR battles more attracted for players. However, the primary reason people grind scenarios is because the experience is good. Mythic really needs to look at either nerfing the experience from scenarios or making RvR sieges just as good for leveling.
These three issues are only moderate problems, but together they manage to steer a large percentage of players into just a few areas of the game. This leaves the rest of the world feeling deserted which is probably not a good thing if Mythic wants to retain any new players. It's a little too late for a redesign of the game to make it less dependent on an even population spread. Instead Mythic is going to have to introduce some new features which encourage players to spread out a bit more. Adjusting the rewards in the RvR areas is step in the right direction, but they need to think about some more major changes.
- Automatically lower the ranks and limit the abilities of players who enter lower tier areas
- Introduce a sidekick system for lower ranked players
- Introduce controllable objectives that act as portals between the different racial RvR areas.
- Introduce a revolving renown/experience bonus that moves between each race's RvR area.