Are Linked Server Groups the Answer to MMO Faction Balance?

By Jeff Francis
Do linked server groups help mmo faction balance?

Factions in mmo games have long been both a blessing and a curse. An mmorpg faction does help create a sense of identity for players, but the biggest drawback has always been for the game to maintain a balance between multiple factions. If one faction is too strong, then gameplay can become stale as the weaker faction begins to check out over time as getting repeatedly beat is no fun. Developers often work hard to ensure that there is an overall mmo faction balance in online games, with varying degrees of success. Blade and Soul recently decided to tackle this issue by instituting linked server groups for both Europe and North America. Are linked server groups the answer to mmo faction balance?

In a blog post detailing their attempt at mmorpg faction balance via linked server groups, Blade and Soul developers wrote, "As we add new features and evaluate the game as a whole, we’re constantly looking to ensure a high quality experience. In order to adapt with our evolving player base, we’re going to be connecting the world zones between multiple servers together so that characters on other servers are playing in the same world zones and in the same language. These linked servers will have a combined Faction population count, thus we have also taken care to look at faction balance to consider the server groups. You’ll be sharing zones and channels with characters from other servers in an entirely seamless way. You’ll be able to group in the world with other players from your linked server group, create or join a clan with them, and send mail to other characters in your linked server group."

To be honest, I rather like how Blade and Soul are using linked server groups to help maintain mmo faction balance. The developers ensured that players would share the same language and geographic zones when determining which servers to link together, and I really like how players from the linked servers can group together and even form clans. Some players have said that this is essentially a megaserver, but I think it's a little bit less than that. A true megaserver would have all the players in the game on one single server instead of broken into individual groups.

So will this use of linked server groups help maintain mmo faction balance? The answer to that is both yes and no. Generally speaking, I can fully understand why the developers of Blade and Soul have put so much effort into creating a stable and ongoing mmorpg faction balance. The reality of mmo factions is that they come with both good and bad. On the one hand, an mmorpg faction provides a framework for the player to interact with the game's world. They help provide a welcome sense of community and identity as can be seen by World of Warcraft players who proudly cry out "For the Horde!" However, maintaining a balance between factions has always been highly problematic for online games. If one faction is too strong, players from the opposing faction may stop playing certain aspects of the game (such as PvP) entirely. I've played a number of online games where there was no true mmo faction balance. My Republic smuggler in Star Wars: The Old Republic was constantly targeted by Sith players in open world settings. I found playing PvP in World of Warcraft wasn't that exciting in World of Warcraft as the Horde routinely overwhelmed my fellow Alliance players. Over time, a lack of balance in factions can lead players to quit the game, which further compounds the problem. Eventually, the server becomes a virtual ghost town for one faction, which then usually leads to the other faction dwindling as well as there is no one to fight against.

Blade and Soul characters

As for the Blade and Soul attempt to use linked server groups to facilitate mmorpg faction balance, I do think it will work in the short term. The developers have stressed that they are matching servers to ensure optimal balance between the in-game factions. This is easily done in the beginning by tracking the player numbers and their faction affiliation. However, I do see some issues cropping up in the future that could seriously impact an ongoing mmorpg faction balance. The main concern is that the number of players associated with a particular faction can change quite a bit over time. What will the developers do if a lot of players for one faction quit the game? Will they rearrange the servers that are linked together to compensate? What if all the servers become imbalanced over time with one specific faction being the most popular choice for players?

For the long term success of using linked server groups to attain mmo faction balance, the Blade and Soul developers will have to constantly monitor player numbers and activity within the fantasy mmorpg. They will have to find ways to address the eventual change in player faction numbers that always happen over time in every online game. They can address such problems by changing which servers are linked together, or they can try to lure players to join one particular faction over the other. I've played a couple of mmo games where the developers offered increased xp boosts and other minor benefits if a player chose to play Faction A instead of Faction B. Overall, I do think that Blade and Soul can help achieve mmo faction balance by using linked server groups, but this balance will only last for the short term (perhaps up to a couple of years). Regular monitoring and tweaking will be needed by vigilant developers to help maintain faction balance for the long haul.


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