How's this for a pleasant surprise: Blizzard has wrapped up testing of its Real ID Party system, allowing World of Warcraft friends who're scattered across realms to band together for dungeon-crawling shenanigans.
I was thinking about this just last night, actually. I've paid Blizzard's character transfer fees (twice), switching servers to gad about with colleagues only to have them abandon the World for greener, presumably less time-consuming pastures. To say nothing of the folks I've met -- online and in meatspace -- who simply happen to be on different realms. Wouldn't it be great if we could all hang out together, without having to start a brand new character or fork over $25?
Shareholders would likely politely disagree, but Blizzard is throwing us a bone anyway. The Real ID Party system allows you to tackle a 5-player dungeon with folks on your Real ID buddy list. Most of you probably remember the Real ID system from that PR boondoggle just over a year ago. The system was designed to make it easier for friends playing Blizzard games to chat -- or more realistically, give my Starcraft 2 playing coworkers a woefully good idea of how much time I spend mucking around in Ironforge.
Once a person is on your Real ID list and playing World of Warcraft at the same time as you, simply invite them to your group as you would a player on your own server. From there, you're free to warp into a dungeon (or enter the random Dungeon Finder queue), and play as you normally would. I'd offer up some hands-on observations after copious testing, but my server is currently down for weekly maintenance. Bummer.
Also of note: the Real ID Party system is free. I find that noteworthy because it feels kind of ludicrous that Blizzard would actually consider charging for this. But their blog post on the system notes that "It's always possible that we'll add features and functionality that could have a premium component." Oh ho.
My take: Tear down those walls, Blizzard. As a devotee of EVE Online and its single-server universe for nigh on 6 years, I can't imagine playing another MMORPG that kept me penned into a particular virtual playground. Of course realistically, you don't get to 12 million subscribers without splitting folks into buckets. Here's hoping advances in science and technology leads to improved server architecture, for the express purpose of granting my gnome warlock freedom of movement.
I kid. Mostly.