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Free Transfers in Online Role Playing Games: Are They Good or Bad?

Introduction

Online role playing games are usually separated in to a lot of smaller servers, rather than having all people playing together. This helps to create communities among the players, allow people to get to know each other better, and reduce the populations so that hunting mobs and doing quests results in thousands of people having to keep competing with one another. Along with this, it also benefits the game publisher in that they save a lot of money on server hosting (both hardware and bandwidth), so it is really a good thing all around.

With this article, what I want to do is look at server transfers and whether or not they should be allowed, as well as the pros and cons to both charging for them and offering them up for free. This should help shed some light on why some games do free transfers, others charge for it and some do not even offer them!

Servers Are Like Homes

The best way to think of a server is like your home. This is where you spend a lot of your time, and it is the area you are the most familiar with. When you log in to your game, this is where you go straight to, and it is where you are going to find all of your friends at, as well as guilds and other things that are an integral part of the gaming experience.

When you choose your home, though, you are doing so pretty much blindly. Prior to moving in (picking your server) you do not know anything about it except the basics, such as where it is located and what type of player it is best suited for (PvE, PvP, PvE-RP). Past this, you have no idea what is on the other side of the glass, so there is really no choice but to dig in and hope for the best. Usually you will be able to make do with what you ended up with.

Why Move?

While the decision on a home usually is not that bad, and you get along with those you are around, this is not always the case. The same thing happens when choosing a server, in that you may realize after a while that the one you chose is not for you. Maybe it is dominated by a single zerg guild. Maybe the players are just immature for your taste. Maybe it is way too population or under populated and you want something different in that area. Whatever the case is, this happens quite often.

When you realize that the home is not for you, what are your choices? You can move elsewhere and start all over, or, in the case of games that allow server transfers, you can actually take everything you have done (your progress) with you when you move. This keeps you from having to start over, and is a very efficient way to allow you to check out different servers without the need of having to keep creating new characters and doing the same things over and over.

This is kind of like the difference between a brick house and a mobile home. With the brick house, if you want to move to a new location you have to leave it behind, get a new house and start all over again (in this case you would be able to keep your belongings, so for our analogy let us consider the belongings as your knowledge of the game that you have acquired so far). As you can tell, this can be quite a bit of a hassle, and people often do their best to try and avoid moving.

On the other hand, we now have a mobile home. Let us say that we are going from California to Nebraska. We do not need to sell our home and buy a new one. Instead, we can transfer absolutely everything we have from the first location to the second, which effectively keeps our setup the exact same. The only difference is that we have new laws, rules and neighbors. This is the same way server transfers work, in that you get to keep everything the same except for changing the server type and rules, and the neighbors (other players) you have to deal with on a daily basis.

As you can probably see, having the option open is a good one. While most players will never have the desire to go to another server, some will and therefore there should be some way of facilitating that, whether it is going to be free or paid transfers. Even if you are not planning to make a move, what happens when, for example, the population on your server starts to drop, or a group of people basically take over the entire thing? In cases like this, being able to leave is a great option, but usually only one you will want to do if you do not have to start all over again after.

Argument for Free Transfers

As far as I am aware, the concept of allowing transfers from one server to another is actually pretty recent, starting at or around the time of Rift: Planes of Telara. It is possible that other games offered similar services for free in the past, but not that I know of.

Now, when we consider the server transfers, we usually look at it as paying for the work involved. Most transfers should just be based on database changes, which can be automated. In fact, we are already having data written to the database just while on the game playing normally, so this is not forcing the server to go out of its way. Because of this, should it not be free to transfer?

Some games, like World of Warcraft, charge money for each server transfer you want to do. This has always been looked at as being a way to nickle and dime you with fees, so it has not been taken that lightly. People will do the transfers as needed, but they would be much happier if they were not forced to keep paying the fee with each change.

Guild Wars 2 has a somewhat hybrid approach to it. It used to do completely free server transfers, and just recently started to charge for them. The good thing about this is that although there is a fee for transferring to a new home server, they do allow what they call guesting, which allows you to temporarily visit another server. The only down side to this is that you can not join their World vs World battles, but this still gives a great way to allow you to visit with their players, learn what the community is like, etc. While the fee is there, this means that you can give the server a go before you commit and pay, so it really is not that bad. Not to mention the guesting system is arguably pretty cool since you can guest to a new server every day, which means you can skip around often and get to know new people!

Argument Against Free Transfers

This is where things start to get a little bit heated. While free server transfers are an awesome thing, especially being that they cost the game publishers nothing to do, there is one large issue: community. So we already covered why people usually want to do their server transfers; population and issues with the community they are already a part of. But this leads on to a big problem as well, which is the exploitation of different communities.

To help illustrate what I mean by this, let us create a scenario (this is a fake one, although it is based on things that have actually been seen in games such as Rift that allow unlimited free transfers):

So let us say that JohnBoy wants to go around scamming players. He does it, he gets away with it for a while, and then finally the server catches up to him and starts barring him from being able to do things that require a group. For example, people will no longer allow him to have control during pick up group raids, they will not give him materials in return for crafting, things like this. He then decides that he wants to continue his scam, so what does he do? He transfers to a new server where players do not already know him. Now that he has done this, he can run his same scam again, rack up a lot of stuff, and then go off to the next server. He can continue doing this pretty much indefinitely, due to the point we are going to go to next.

Let us assume that he instead decided that he wants to take everything he got and mix back in with the population on his home server. To do this, he is going to have to change his name, as once his reputation has gotten as bad as it has, there is pretty much no going back. But how is this possible? After all, when you move from one server to another you keep your name, right? Sort of, although there is a way around this; a trick, if you will.

Because games usually will not allow you to pick the same name as someone already on a server, they will require that you change your name after you transfer. If you are planning to go back to your main server later, the trick is to pick a server you can transfer to, create a new character with the same name you have already, and then transfer there. Because your name will already be taken by your new character, the system will force you to change it. Now you can pick any name you want. Once the cool down period is over on your transfer, you can then take your character, with its brand new name, back to your home server and now you effectively got a free name change and can resume whatever it is you were going for!

I would argue that this is technically exploiting the system (using methods to obtain things you should not be able to via normal means), but it does help illustrate that there is a big problem here. With free transfers, you can do pretty much anything you want with no real repercussions, since all you have to do is leave and come back with a new name. Not only this, all of your progression and items are still there, so you did not even lose anything through the process other than a little bit of time! As you can probably see, this is a huge issue and is often not noticed by game publishers. Luckily, there is a way to fix this: paid transfers.

With paid transfers, it costs actual money every time someone wants to go from one server to another. If they want to just take their character off to get their name changed and then return, that costs twice as much. Some games will offer up name changes for a cost as well, but regardless as to how you go about it, the fact is that the cost becomes prohibitive. The more you do the server skipping, the more it costs, and unless someone has a ton of money they do not mind throwing at the game, they are just not going to find it to be worth the cost.

But What About Guilds?

This is an awesome question. What happens when a guild makes the decision to move from their current home to a new one? Well, in games with free transfers this is already difficult as you will always have players that do not want to leave, regardless of the reason. When dealing with transfers that also have costs involved, it gets even harder to get people to make the move. After all, while your guild leader and officers may think that making a move is a good idea, not everyone is going to want to throw out twenty dollars for it. As a result, guilds can often tank if they are not well prepared for this.

One way I have seen this work out, although I really do not think it is feasible in most cases, is for people to help chip in together to pay for those who otherwise do not have the money to transfer with the rest of the guild. The times I have seen this happen it is usually with more prominent members of the guild. I just do not see this as being that feasible as the cost is increased greatly with each person that needs this type of assistance. Not to mention you never know what is going to happen to the guild over the next day or week, so it could end up turning in to a waste of money.

I generally think that the only time guilds should be transferring is if it is free to do so. The chances of falling apart due to the cost are pretty high, and I, as a guild leader, am not that much of a risk taker when it comes to things like that. After building up and running a guild for a long period of time, the last thing you usually want is to end up having to create the guild all over again due to something like this.

Should Paid Transfers Be Flat Fee Or Dynamic?

This is something I found to be really interesting. While I am used to server transfers either being free or paid, the paid ones have always used flat fees. It did not matter what server you wanted to go from or to, the cost would always be the same. This was, up until Guild Wars 2 rolled out their paid server transfers.

With Guild Wars 2, the transfers use a dynamic cost system. It takes in to consideration the population of the site you want to move to, and the cost is adjusted accordingly. If you want to move to a low population server, for example, the cost of doing so will be much less than one with a high population.

This interesting twist has a great benefit: it keeps everyone from just transferring to higher population servers. Since a lot of transferring is due to wanting more population, it makes sense that when tasked with the choice, the majority of players are going to choose the one that is high or possibly even has queues to log in. When the costs are dynamic, however, there is a new thing that has to be looked at, which is maximizing the value of your money. Analyzing the servers you can transfer to, their populations and what their cost is will help come up with a good balance, therefore giving you the best deal possible.

The good part about this for the servers and players that are on them is that instead of everyone just jumping to the highest population one, they will start to fill up the medium ones as well. This increases their population, which helps everyone involved. Not only this, but as the servers start to get more and more full due to the transfers, they will go up in cost as well, so people will start filling up lower ones. Over time, this should help keep the population at least somewhat balanced between the different servers, although it could take a long time to get the full effect. This is much, much better, though, than having everyone just find a server with a queue and start moving there, which does not help any of the lower servers and hurts all of the people who have been on the more popular server since the beginning (in that their queue will keep increasing). All in all, it is an awesome idea and it helps fix a lot of the issues we currently face on a regular basis.

Conclusion

I understand the desire for free server transfers, and I love the idea behind them. After all, if nobody has to go out of their way to make them happen, they should not have a fee attached to them. While this is true, I also feel that having the fees helps cut down on the number of players that are trying to exploit the system. When people are allowed to transfer all they want for free (even with cool downs of a week or two), some will take that as an open invitation to exploit their community for anything they can get. This is really something that is pretty sad, but it happens. By having fees, it cuts down on this dramatically. At the end of the day, though, no matter which method is chosen some players are going to be hurt. It is really all about finding the balance between the good and the bad aspects and trying to manage everything the best as possible.

Games


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