World of Warcraft (WoW) is by far the biggest Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) video game in the world, with over 11.5 million subscribed players and around 800,000 people playing at any given time.
According to Blizzard, there are an estimated 5000 – 7000 active WoW subscribers in SA. Of course these numbers only refer to the players that Blizzard is aware of. According to an industry source at iGame, there are around 20,000 users currently playing on private illegitimate local servers. At one stage, there were reports of around 40,000 registered players on these servers.
Private WoW Servers
Private locally hosted World of Warcraft servers present two primary benefits to their users. Firstly, they are free, where as official WoW servers cost around R160 per month to use.
Secondly, they offer far lower latencies than the legitimate servers which are hosted in Europe and the US. With international latencies of between 500 and 1000 milliseconds, many WoW players resort to seeking out local alternatives.
While they may deliver much lower latencies and are free to use, private servers are known to be buggy and unstable. Reports of bugs and broken quests are regular, with a number of players leaving the servers due to technical issues.
Ultimately, players are left with a choice between paying to play on the official servers along with the handicap of high latencies, or playing locally and illegally, enjoying low latencies but being stuck with a buggy game.
Will Blizzard ever come to SA?
Rumors of an official locally hosted WoW server being in the pipeline have recently surfaced, and upon further investigation we have discovered that iGame in partnership with Megarom are currently in talks with Blizzard.
iGame, iBurst’s gaming department, is offering to host the server using their own staff, equipment and resources. All they need is permission from Blizzard.
The discussions with Blizzard however have not been as smooth as iGame would like. The problem is that Blizzard has identified and red flagged South Africa as a piracy hotspot because of the strong illegal WoW server presence.
While Blizzard is holding off on green-lighting a local WoW server, negotiations are at least underway. An insider at iGame informed MyGaming that they are ready to go live with a server as soon as Blizzard gives the go ahead.
“All the tools and resources are in place, and if given the opportunity we could have an official WoW server up in 24 hours” said an iGame insider.
Most European WoW realms sit with populations between 5000 and 20000 players. With 7000 currently active local WoW subscribers in South Africa, not to mention triple that number of players using private servers, it seems feasible that SA has the population to make a single realm viable.
According to our source at iGame however, it is not that simple, and Blizzard has stated that they require at least 40,000 South African WoW subscribers in order to seriously consider allowing iGame to host a dedicated WoW server locally.
An alternative to a dedicated WoW server is the idea of a “peering real server”.
“A peering real server allows players to connect at local speeds and use local bandwidth and although it is not a full realm, i.e. no support systems etc. it does simplify connection with the benefits of being hosted locally.” iGame insider.
A peering server would not require the population that Blizzard demands for a dedicated server. While it does not have direct access to Blizzard’s tech support, it is based on legitimate WoW server architecture and software, and has not been hacked or modified, which makes it a far more stable option than the current local servers.
Furthermore, the peering sever does connect to Blizzard’s official servers, and is compatible with Blizzard’s patches and updates. If looked after by the technical department at iGame properly then a peering server could potentially provide us with the best possible WoW gameplay experience in SA.
A peering server would allow players to migrate between local and international servers, retaining their characters and gear, much like how players currently move between European servers. Furthermore, iGame would provide a local mirror for WoW content updates and patches that would be directly linked to Blizzard’s international servers.
The ball is in Blizzard’s court at the moment. While iGame’s local WoW initiative has been met with apprehension from the publisher, it has also enjoyed a degree of interest.
MyGaming has submitted a set of questions to Megarom, who has sent them to Blizzard to answer. Further details will be published when they become available.