When I returned to Vanguard I played a lot on my recreated Mordebi Psionicist, doing Crafting, Diplomacy and Adventuring first in the Cliffs of Ghelgad and then in the area surrounding Khal. I farted around with a couple of other characters as well. I did see a few players here and there, but not that many, and never more than one or two in any single place.
Tonight when my Bard rolled into Jalen’s Crossing for the first time there were three players there. (“Hey, three other players! Wow, awesome!”) When I logged to jump over to my Psionicist and make some bags, I found half a dozen players in the Crafter’s Forum alone (“Gee, there’s a lot of people on right now.”) and about ten player boats parked out in the harbor (“The hell? What’s going on?”) And at Stupid O’Clock in the morning, no less, not at or even near peak time.
I am reluctant to jump to conclusions, but these anecdotes suggest to me that perhaps interest in Vanguard is on the rise. Could it be that population is already increasing just based on the news that Vanguard is going free to play? It seems possible given the crosstalk on forums and the like, but I haven’t any hard numbers to demonstrate it, and checking player populations with /who and the Player Finder tool is a dicey proposition. Nevertheless, I plan to do just that if possible over the next week or two. And even a small uptick now, before freemium has even hit, is suggestive.
Vanguard is an easy, easy game to be pessimistic about, given its history. Its population has seen increases before, during winback periods and when SOE offered everybody a month and a half of free time last year in response to the hacks, and those gains never stuck. But free to play and the promise of some future development is a literal a game-changer. If, as I believe, there are a decent number of people with warm feelings toward Vanguard but who haven’t subbed. I’ve heard a ton of people say they’d come back in a minute if there was development in the pipeline. Could those people be starting to trickle back in preparation for the transition?
It could be real increase, it could be just a blip, or frankly it could all be in Ardwulf’s imagination. But I have never, not even going way back, seen that many boats in the Khal harbor.
Ultimately, we will need numbers to prove whether Vanguard is on the upswing or not. Anything we can extract now is going to be very sketchy. Even after f2p goes live, SOE won’t release any information for months, and then it’s be translated into marketing-ese. But there is, thanks to Vanguard’s server architecture, a surefire way to tell, very granularly, whether the population is in fact booming. If the population of active players goes up by six or eight times, they’ll be need for another server.
I am inclined to think that the dream result of an f2p Vanguard with four to six active servers is edging into unrealistic. But extending those numbers, it only works out to maybe 20-30K active players. A small population by MMO standards, not impossible in this case but unlikely. At worst, though, we should see a packed Telon server, and that in itself would breathe new life into a game that’s languished and slowly withered for the better part of the last three years. It’s easy (yet scary) to dream big, but even the modest result would be a triumph.