Cause I’m a numbers guy.
This isn’t a comparions, just some analytics triggered by Bel’s recent post. Data points are taken from WoWProgress, since the previous wowrealmpop was apparently sold. Only for US servers to simplify things. These are not distinct data points, only indicative. It’s based on active characters, not players. Still, the ratios help. Alliance is listed before Horde for alphabetical purposes.
A few notes to start though. When WoW launched, it had a tight focus on the Alliance vs. Horde conflict – made sense as it was a followup to Warcraft 3. The world was more or less split in the middle, with spots in the mid 30s where both factions started meeting each other. I won’t go into why PvP didn’t work as planned, as that’s a book’s worth of musings. I can say that expansions alternated between the factions teaming up, and then breaking up. Feels more like a rom-com in that sense. BfA isn’t any different – it started as a conflict and it’s now in group-hug mode.
Dev choices over the years have broken down these faction barriers, so that the world has been “shared” since MoP. WoD is a slight deviation, given the 2 faction specific zones, but it also kicked off with a faction war… At the game stands today, the faction split is a mechanical one. People can’t group together cross-faction, or effect trade (the AH does work). Aside from that, the factions are cosmetic and story based,
Why does any of that matter? Because in early WoW factions meant something game-impacting, while today it only impacts the players you can play with. In open world content (yes, that existed), you’d be fighting against the other faction for the same resources and no way to really communicate about it. Nowdays, it’s about server population balances. If you want to actually see other people and want to play Horde, you’re not going to roll on Stormrage.
Curious Data Points
Onto the stats
- There are ~505,000 characters. 220k are Alliance (44%) and 285k are Horde (56%)
- There are 120 servers. The average would be 4,200 characters per servers. The median is 2,100 due to overloaded servers
- The highest pop servers are, with an Alliance / Horde % ratio:
- Stormrage (PvE) – 26,000 (97%/3%)
- Area52 (PvE) – 24,000 (1%/99%)
- Illidan (PvP) – 22,000 (2%/98%)
- Sargeras (PvP) – 18,000 (94%/6%)
- Thrall (PvE) – 17,000 (3%/97%)
- The lowest realms are all connected and around 1,000 characters each. Except Tol Barrad (PvP) with 548 characters (62%/38%), and Garrosh, which has 864 characters (34%/66%).
- In general, if a server has ~1,000 characters, it is a connected realm. The connections are meant to balance the faction ratios.
- The top 10 servers in population account for 16% of Alliance and 22% of Horde
- 50% of the Alliance is spread in the top 21 servers
- 50% of the Horde is spread in the top 14 servers
- The largest imbalances, for non-connected servers
- Alliance (all above 90%)
- Stormrage (PvE) – 97%/3%
- Proudmoore (PvE) – 94%/6%
- Sargeras (PvP)– 94%/6%
- Frostmourne (PvP) – 93%/7%
- Kel’Thuzad (PvP) – 91%/9%
- Horde (there are 12 above 90%)
- Mal’Ganis (PvP) – 0%/100%
- Area 52 (PvE) – 1%/99%
- Azralon (PvP) – 2%/98%
- Illidan (PvP) – 2%/98%
- Barthilas (PvP) – 2%/98%
- Alliance (all above 90%)
While not in the list above, WoWProgress lists server ranks in terms of raiding progress. If you value progression raiding, you do not want to be on a connected server, and you want to be on a faction-friendly server (e.g. don’t roll Alliance on Illidan).
PvE servers tend to favor Alliance, while PvP servers tend to favor Horde. Racial abilities are the main argument for this items being created, and even if they were removed entirely tomorrow, there are few drivers that would make a dent in this balance. BfA’s daily quests have highlighted this fact (zone zerging).
PvP servers that have large imbalances as effectively PvE servers. Which is nearly half of all of the PvP servers.
Character volume has a direct impact on the economics of a server, in both the material aspects (gold/auction house) and players to play with. If you want to play the auction house to trade for WoW tokens, you want to play on a relatively high pop realm and on the appropriate faction. The highest pop servers are a double-edged sword in that regard, as you will be competing against many more people for the same resources.
High pop realms are more likely to have stability issues due to the server architecture. These will hit during expansion launched, large patches, and on weekly maintenance cycles.
New players are better off taking a connected realm, as there’s a better balance of factions and players. I don’t think there are too many people left on the planet who a) have not played WoW, b) don’t know someone who has played WoW, and c) would start playing WoW cold without knowing someone already playing.
Guilds are the lifeblood of any server. They have players who are active in group content, and in the markets. There are multiple examples of servers “dying” due to guild migrations. This bit of info is a main reason for connected servers.
Connected realms are for all purposes but name, merged servers. The names have not been merged in order to avoid having to rename thousands of existing characters.
Blizzard’s main tool to keep populations stable is to charge people to move. For individuals, this isn’t too hefty a price (1 character per faction is sufficient, as you really only need to migrate gold, capped at 1 million).
While the data indicates that people can roll on the “wrong server”, the reality is the number of people impacted by this is minuscule. That said, WoW could certainly do with a server recommendation based on faction/playstyle. Or a pop up warning when rolling a new character of the wrong faction on a server.
That’s if factions even matter anymore. If it doesn’t, then allow cross-faction grouping and a shared auction house. Keep factions cosmetic and applied to PvP.
Thanks for doing a deep dive on the numbers. I find all of this fascinating but also was too lazy to go dig in and get it myself. I think factions in theory are a concept of the past that needs to die. I would greatly prefer if faction were a personal choice and that there were not any hard barriers between player populations. PVP could in theory be reworked to be teams of players competing to prove their strength rather than “warfare” and the already match based nature would work fine.
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Just as a tiny note, the auction house is cross-faction and has been that way for a long time now. Did you mean cross-server auction houses (beyond just the connected realms)?
You are correct, must be a brain fart. Thanks!