Funcom Senior Community Manager Oliver "Tarib" Kunz said the first merge, which joined the U.S. servers Bloodspire and Hyperborea, took place on January 7 without any difficulties. "We monitored the new server closely and can confirm that the merge was going very well and without issues," he wrote in a post on the Age of Conan forums. "So we will now proceed with the next steps for the other servers."
As a result of the consolidation, the number of game servers across North America and Europe will be cut from 49 to just 18. With the initial merge having gone smoothly, Funcom said it plans to merge all European servers in "one go," followed later by another major merge that will cover all U.S. servers. A specific schedule, including downtimes, is expected soon.
Reaction among Age of Conan players has been mixed, with some expressing frustration over the forced relocations that have left some players and guilds on servers dedicated to unfamiliar types of gameplay. "Wizard-of-Ahhs," leader of a Hyperborean guild that has been moved to Bloodspire, said his guild members are angry about being forced from a role-playing-based server to a pure PvP environment, and that as a result some have already left the game. "RP is a different style of play, and it does not fit with dedicated PvP," he wrote in the forums. "Funcom dumped us into a PvP Server, and we're not happy about it - we chose Hyperborea PvP-RP for a reason... Forcing me to play hard-core PvP is not a way to keep people in the game."
But being forced onto a new and unfriendly server may end up being the least of the players' problems. A server merge of this magnitude is not a good sign for the future, and in the harsh light of World of Warcraft's continued success and growth it looks even worse. Age of Conan was positioned as the Next Big Thing in the MMOG arena and a legitimate contender to WoW's crown, but the game has been plagued with problems ranging from deflated boobs to the high-profile departure of Funcom co-founder and Age of Conan Lead Designer Gaute Godager in September 2008, reportedly the result of the game's ongoing issues.
Even the server merge itself proved troublesome: After being announced at the end of September 2008, the merge was finally scheduled to begin in early December but didn't actually get underway until well into January. It's possible that scaling back the game will give Funcom the breathing room it needs to build it into a winner, but more likely that this is the beginning of a slow and ugly spiral toward a very premature end.
(Thanks to the IRC crew for the heads-up.)