World of Warcraft to add "connected realms," Blizzard's solution to low population servers
World of Warcraft's subscription numbers may be in decline, but it still has a population that's bigger than Bulgaria. Even so, the nature of lapsed players, roaming adventurers and server emigrants means some of the MMO's servers feel particularly sparse. Now Blizzard have revealed Connected Realms - due to be introduced in Patch 5.4 - which they hope will boost world sizes without the need for server merging.
"Building on our existing cross-realm technology, a Connected Realm is a set of two or more standard realms that have been permanently and seamless 'linked.' These linked realms will behave as if they were one cohesive realm, meaning you’ll be able to join the same guilds, access a single Auction House, run the same Raids and Dungeons, and join other adventurers to complete quests."
Players will be able to group together across connected servers to take on the game's "bigger challenges". As to why Blizzard are choosing this method specifically, they say: "Other alternatives such as merging realms would require us to force character name changes if there were conflicts, and could lead to confusion for returning players who’d log in to find their realm missing from the realm list. Some players also feel strong ties to their realm’s name or history, and we don’t want to erase that."
For specific details on the implementation of the system, you can take a look at Blizzard's Connected Realms FAQ.