Through Tobold’s open Sunday thread blog entry, I found some links to Classy Gamer’s investigation of population density for Age of Conan of the European side and some update on posting this being censored on the AoC forum.
I think Classy Gamer did a good job there, although perhaps some investigation on the level ranges also would have made a better estimate on where there may be any issues. I am not surprised that his post was censored, even though it did likely not violate any forum rules from an outside perspective. Game companies do not have forums to promote open discussions about anything; they do that to try to strengthen their game community and get some valuable feedback.
Many of these forums are a bit of cesspools and working with these can probably cause people to loose perspective a bit. That does not make it better, just understandable.
But back to the numbers; what triggered my thoughts here was not so much that there might be a problem for Age of Conan here, but rather why certain numbers would be considered an indication of a population density problem.
I do not believe in that because a certain number X indicated a problem in game A that it would necessarily indicate a problem in game B; not without looking at the game design for a particular game.
In particular, the teaming and community aspects of the game design affects the supported density. If a realm has 500 players online at a given time then that is a problem only if only a small subset of that player base are candidates to team up with. If every single one of these 500 would be a good candidate for a team or chat or something then there would not be a problem.
However, if the game restricts who can or are likely candidates to team up with based on level, quest status, travel distance, class choice, ease of finding each other etc then it will become a problem. In Age of Conan’s case it does have some elements going for it such as the apprentice feature compared to some similar games, but that in itself is not enough.
I am not sure how much consideration goes into the game design for such things; I suspect that there is not that much effort in terms of population density considerations other than perhaps allow multiple instances of a zone.
I am quite sure that Funcom knows about all the numbers that Classy Gamer produced and probably in much more detail as well; how to address it is another matter and when it would need to be addressed in that case. Server merges may be one choice, but other design changes could be viable also – in theory. In practice they will probably not do design changes other than maybe for the long term. Open up for server transfers would be the most likely option I think that they would start with – more neutral option and without the negative view of a server merge.
That is, if there actually is a problem. It is still just a bit over a month since it was released. Any game with a lot of hype around it is risking getting into this position though; the question then is how well the game design handles lower population densities.