This is plainly a educational post about how the WvW is structured and designed plus the populations issues accompanying with it currently. The purpose is to educate players about the current WvW systems and help facilitate related decisions making. The explanations given are based on my personal understandings resulted from observations and reading related sources from either the devs themselves or logical assumptions from fellow players over the years. If there are any portions that you feel is inaccurate or can be misinterpreted or left out, feel free to point them out.
This is not a population balance suggestion thread so please post your population balance suggestion(s) on thread(s) of your own.
Current WvW is a server based design in which each server has their own population base made up of Pvers, PvPers & WvWers while the server population fixed threshold is based on WvW itself. The current WvW design and past events contributed to populations disparities between servers.
This is a timeline base on anet's decisions regards to servers or WvW. Hopefully from this timeline you will see that the current WvW issues are partly because of the decisions of the past.
2012 August 28 - Gw2 Launch, all servers are free to transfer with weekly restriction
2013 January 16 - Announcement of Guesting feature and ending of free transfers
2013 January 28 - Guesting feature implemented, free transfers ended
2014 March 18 - Second WvW tournament pre-sales, discounted and free transfers to selected servers
2014 March 28 - Start of Second WvW tournament and end of pre-sales
2015 July 23 - Announcement on server's population threshold to be base on WvW
2015 July 28 - Server's population threshold is now base on WvW
2016 April 22 - Start of World Linking beta
2016 September 06 - Announcement of Skirmish Score System
2016 September 09 - Implemented Skirmish Score System
2017 February 24 - New algorithm for server's population threshold implemented
2017 May 31 - Announcement of Competitive Pack (Reward Patch)
2017 June 06 - Implemented Reward Patch
Before 2015 July 28, there were observations that selected servers have their populations threshold increased.
Despite having megaserver, it doesn't change how the server is structured. Players still have to choose a server and therefore belong to a specific server, server's threshold is based on WvW population itself thus WvW is now currently structured in this manner
When we put different servers side by side with each other, we can have something like this
Just by looking at the images, we can easily determine the obvious issues.
Base populations are all the players in that server, regardless if is PvErs or WvWers or PvPers or inactive or even bots. According to the timeline, we can see that there were a lot of chances where populations can move around and get to uber stack on any servers. All the past events resulted in a disparity between servers' base populations and since WvW populations is correlated to the server populations, it will affect the populations balance.
The fixed threshold is universally same for all servers which theoretically sounds fair on the paper but practically speaking it isn't. A threshold isn't a hard cap, it is simply a indicator on when to open and when to close a server. Therefore, it is possible for any servers to exceed that threshold by large amount which can become population imbalance issue to servers that exceed the threshold by small amount. This can happen because of the base populations. There are servers with huge base populations where many initially don't play WvW but that doesn't necessary means they will never play WvW so if they do start playing WvW, it can cause the server to exceed the threshold by large amount. There are servers too with large amount of inactive players and that doesn't necessary means they will always be inactive so when they do return to play, they too can cause the server to exceed the threshold by large amount.
This fixed threshold has another flaw due to its fixed nature. There are servers that are very low in WvW count therefore it will takes a lot to hit that threshold. This huge space allow what we called stacking and inorder to stack, we have to destack from elsewhere. It may looks fine since they will still hit the threshold but let's not forget that we also need take into account of the unpredictable server's base populations and the limitations of the threshold algorithm which will be explained next.
Population threshold algorithm was based on populations alone and later modified to include play hours. The logic behind this change is that there are players and servers with many of such players who don't play as long hours as others thus resulted in certain empty timezones. The pro of this change is that it is a possible fix to the empty timezones. The con of this change is that it is also a cause for unbalance timezones.
Let do a logical assumed scenario of let say that server ABC has a WvW populations of 1000 that plays 1 hours therefore resulting in data value of 1000. Then, server XYZ has a WvW populations of 250 that plays 4 hours therefore resulting in data value of 1000. Both servers hit the threshold therefore is locked. If players of server ABC suddenly feel motivated and put in more hours, the population balance logic will completely collapse at that point onward.
Another flaw of this algorithm is it doesn't account for EOTM. While it is logical to exclude EOTM because EOTM is a mix of servers but at the same time it also become a exploitable area. Since the population threshold algorithm only takes into account of WvW, then, in the event that guilds or individuals decided to hang out in WvW due to whatever reasons, the accuracy of the population calculation will take a hit. Also, it is likely possible for players to game this algorithm just by getting everyone to hang out in EOTM for weeks while waiting for the algorithm to update in order to stack the server further.
The algorithm is observed to be updated by using data over a period of an month. Whether this data is entity based or collectively based, it is hard to determine. However, we can say that the data will take a month to be reflected on the status. While this can possibly prevent massive bandwagon, it also a flaw where any major guild wars 2 events that capable of pulling populations off WvW will end up opening the servers for that long, including previously extremely full servers, tipping the balance even more when the events are over.
In WvW, we all want our servers or guilds to be able to grow to the point of able to match the numbers of other servers but is that possible? Using the image referenced from above, how likely are servers that slightly exceeding the threshold able to grow to able to compete against servers that far exceed the threshold? Unlikely because their growth is limited by the threshold. How long does it take for attrition to kick in for servers that far exceed the threshold? It is unpredictable because players can play multiple years and let's not forget about the returning players and players from base populations.
In essence, world linking is a soft merger between servers where it give anet the flexibility to swap servers around if need to. However, world linking doesn't resolve population imbalance, it only resolve population decline. This is because every server is different in their populations across timezones, it will be quite a miracle if anyone is able to find matching servers for all the servers. This already difficult decision to minimize population differences is made even more chaotic when large groups of players performed transfers between servers or deliberate boycott WvW to tank populations, throwing populations data into disarray and thus take months for it to become accurate once again. At the mean time, the rest of the populations have to deal with the extreme inaccurate populations linking decisions made base on it.
Again, this is not a population balance suggestion thread so please post your population balance suggestion(s) on thread(s) of your own.
Founder & Leader of Equinox Solstice [TIME], a Singapore-Based International PvX Guild
Henge of Denravi Server