MMO size is something that I believe is always left out of things. First off, you’ve got two very basic options at the start, single-‘server’ or multiple ‘servers’. I use ‘servers’ in quotes because in this day and age, you aren’t talking about real hardware, you’re talking about how the players are parceled out. Anyone who has given EVE a serious go has learned the upsides and downsides of single-server. However, EVE was not the first single-server MMO I had played. My first one was Anarchy Online, and technical hurdles aside (Let’s just say they had a bad launch), they had much the same separation of players as EVE has done. I wouldn’t be surprised if the EVE devs learned the strategy from AO.
AO was separated into rather decent size quadrants separated by zone lines, and each area had essentially a designated mission hub where people joined up at. Of course, there were cities with large amounts of people, however, chat was separated by level, meaning you could turn off level 1-20 chat if you were 30, or 20-50 chat if you were 70. Trade channels were designed this way as well, making sure that players were given ways to stay as separate as they’d like. I think this is key to actually fostering an environment, especially in a single-server. Single-server also is a better design for the new players, as they get readily accessible experience and economies.
So, single-server or Multi-server? Well, think about it honestly. If you indeed do single-server, the game world has to be large enough to pull it off. Single-server also removes any need for server transfer, mitigating costs down the road for the player base somewhat.
For a single-server to be in my design, the single-server becomes one single planet. Oddly, this is convenient and makes it even easier to control the environment. So, how to add in the separation brought about by servers in a single-server design? Well, you have to make communities, and sometimes the best solution really is the obvious one. Make a community. I’ll separate the barren surface into many communities. Say, ten total. Then, it’s time to give each community a look and feel. Here is where a lot of ‘race’ designs fall flat. In a game like World of Warcraft, Races are there to give a choice, but you do not choice a race based on ‘where’. The same can be said of EVE somewhat, Race is just starting space, which ultimately isn’t really useful in the grand scheme of things. I’d prefer race/society to be a choice that will actually funnel like-people together. So, that’s is what I’ll do here, with each community, or ‘Crew’.
Each ‘crew’ will be the remnants of the crew of each mining-colony ship that contained more than just miners looking for the fuel to repair interstellar travel, it would also contain the families, scientists, farmers, essentially everything to be sustainable in case things go south.
You are a colonist, your colony can not leave the planet, cannot call for help, and there is no space travel due to a universal (literally) fuel outage. Your technology is running out of its own fuel, and soon your society itself will be required to become self-sustaining. Your colony has been operating for 60 years without incident on a barren world we’ll call ZG-1287. It was never given a formal name to keep hope of leaving shortly alive. There are 10 colonies, each has developed its own sort of personality, ranging from gregarious to xenophobic and paranoid. The planet to date is a barren waste-land of sorts, with water only being found underground. There is a large distance between each colony making travel long and hazardous between them, making trade caravans their own communities as well.
Next, we’ll answer the original question with the new direction, How Many People?