Friday, April 13, 2012

Server Populations: What Difference a Day Makes?

In my last post on server populations, I noted that there was some support for the claims made by players on the forums pushing for server transfers. Low-population servers had very few players online, at levels that would make group-based activities exceptionally difficult. Recognizing this, the disproportionately large numbers of low-level characters on high-population servers hinted at players migrating to those servers.

But my data was fairly limited: just a slice of a handful of servers on one Friday night by /who-ing level ranges. As Shintar pointed out, there are reasons to wonder about whether Friday fits other nights.

So do the numbers hold up after looking at other nights?
Much like TorStatus, I've been collecting the server status of the SWTOR servers for a few months now. The above plot tracks the average server status for East- and West-coast servers for the past month. The shaded areas cover 'primetime' - 6:30 to 10pm within each timezone - and the black bars are the average server status across primetime.

Friday looks a bit like a weeknight, with similar numbers to Mon-Thurs. There are definitely fewer players than on Saturday / Sunday, where the evening playtime window is much wider. But from server status alone, it looks like a representative night.

But server status isn't population.

I re-collected the original data for the same servers, this time during primetime Tuesday. I'm primarily interested in three potential differences: (1) whether overall populations differ, (2) whether the population gap between high- and low-pop server differs, (3) whether the numbers of 50s differ.
Consistent with the server status data, the average population of a server varies remarkably little between the two nights (the colored vertical bars in the top left).

But the average masks striking differences between the two nights. On Tuesday, the higher population servers have relatively fewer players, while the medium population servers have relatively more players, slightly decreasing the gap between the servers. On Friday, the typical high-pop server had 4 players for every 1 on the average medium-pop server.  On Tuesday, this gap shrinks to 3:1.

Unfortunately, this trend doesn't extend to the lowest-population servers, whose small populations remain virtually unchanged - with on average 3:1 players between medium and low servers, and a 10:1 high to low player ratio.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the reset of the operations lockout on Tuesday sees relatively more players on their 50s for medium and low pop servers. High population servers retain an abnormally high percentage of low-level characters, most likely due to rerolling players.

As someone on a medium-pop server, I find these numbers comforting. The increase of 50s and overall population between Tuesday and Friday closes the gap between medium and high population servers, something I view as essential for server health.

But there is small comfort here for players on low-pop servers. Hopefully the uptick in the numbers of 50s on Tuesday is enough to coordinate group activities at endgame. But the bottom 5 servers don't see the same increase in overall players as the medium population servers, and the number of 50s online is still dwarfed by every other server.

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