Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Galactic Census: SWTOR's population
The SWTOR forums are filled with complaint threads about dead servers and players rerolling to higher-pop servers in order to continue playing the game. (And begging for transfers / mergers... or even just LFG.) Because the forums can be a negative place, I'd assumed that most of these posts were written by players who just weren't having much fun in the game.
But I'm a data nerd, so I did some digging.
Unfortunately, there isn't great data on SWTOR server populations. TorStatus reports the average status of a server listed on the SWTOR site, but it isn't quite clear how that relates to the actual population, and it can't break apart the balance of players inside a server. (Plus, what counts as a 'Heavy' pop server could change over time, masking a loss of players.)
I created characters on 22 different servers during Friday primetime. I selected 5 servers that were high pop, 5 low-pop servers, and 12 servers in the middle. On each server, I recorded the number of characters within 5 level brackets (1-10, 11-20, 21-30, 31-40, 41-49) and the number of level 50s.
Before I start, I want to caveat EVERYTHING in this post with the observation that this is just an initial sample of data. I've got much more planned as I explore this topic.
Even more startling is that the data suggests players are migrating to the high-pop servers.
To give a sense of what being on a low pop server is like, here are the chat logs from 2 minutes on Ord Mantel on the highest population server - Fatman - compared to 15 minutes on a low pop server.
This wouldn't be so alarming... except that participating in most endgame activities requires a large number of like-minded players. Even a simple Huttball match takes at least 16 players in the que. That is half to one-quarter of all the 50s online for the smallest server in my sample. A ranked WZ system on that server - or a 16-player world boss - is absurd.
Small numbers become even harder when there aren't socializing tools in-game. While cross-server LFG is typically blamed for undermining server communities, when the community on a server gets small enough, the absence of a LFG tool isolates those players even further, ironically turning an MMO into an isolating experience.
Worse still, imagine guild recruitment to replace someone in an operations group.
Again, a word of caution: this is just a snapshot of a few (mostly pvp) servers. Until I have more data (working on it) the findings here are more intended to be thought-provoking and give a little more context to ongoing discussions about the state of SWTOR.
That said, I really feel fortunate to be on a medium population server with a stable set of guildmates who remain interested in operations and endgame shenanigans. But for those who aren't, I hope Bioware resolves these issues... quickly.