Two unique aspects of ESO are the megaserver and the system to group players into instances, called channels, with similar players. We can assume that players can interact in some way with everyone on the megaserver. Whether that interaction be limited to chat, trade or maybe more, the majority of the players you will be interacting with will be those in your channel.
While all the metrics used to group players into channels are not known, they will most likely include self-identified playstyle and geography at a minimum. Grouping with social contacts is also a confirmed metric. The more specific the metrics, the more channels there are likely to be. Popular demographics will probably require many instances.
On a side note, since Zenimax will be gathering this kind of demographic information, it is likely it will be used to determine what type of content should be given priority in the future as well as for marketing purposes. For example, if they find that relatively few players are interested in world based PvP in Cyrodiil, Zenimax may focus on arenas or more PvE content. However, this is a topic for another day.
Elder Scrolls games have as many ways to play as there are players. It would be hard to group players into even 10 categories.
For a player that loves exploring, nothing beats finding a new cave or uncharted ruins. However, say that new cave you found already has 12 other explorers in it that have all but exterminated the inhabitants. An explorer may find that a channel with mostly PvP players swarming in Cyrodiil presents more opportunity for exploration since relatively few people will be wandering the other provinces. This assumes that channels span the entire world and not just zones.
A channel with a focus on PvE may end up with Cyrodiil ruled by a handful of smaller guilds and overpopulated questing areas. Someone who enjoys small group PvP may find this channel more enjoyable than a PvP centric channel. A crafter would likely find it much easier to gather resources in PvE channels with low Cyrodiil populations. It is hard to imagine all the implications static playstyle channels would have on ESO.
Zenimax has probably already taken this into account and plans to ensure that channels are broad enough to counteract most of these situations. Campaigns may fix the problems with low population PvP zones if it groups multiple channels together.
Dynamic Channels in ESO
Zenimx may be designing dynamic channels. For example, the system groups players based on metrics other than playstyle and social contacts and then dynamically distributes players based on what they are doing. For example, there could be a predetermined ideal number of players currently questing in a certain channel/zone combination, some number of players currently engaging in PvP and a different number of players loitering in the city. Essentially, the dynamic system separates players based on current activity rather than playstyle since no one does the same activity all the time.
The problem with this system is that some playstyles are really better with fewer players such as exploring. Also, it would pretty much guarantee you always had competition when questing. With heavy phasing, some of these issues could be overcome. It seems unlikely that Zenimax will choose to make channels this dynamic.
There are many questions concerning how channels and phasing will work in ESO. Hopefully, we will get answers soon. Including enemies, what is the maximum number of players you would want in your channel/zone? Minimum? How does over/underpopulation affect your playstyle?
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