When I began playing MMOs I didn't even know what a server was. I installed Everquest, stared at the list of incomprehensible names and decided to pick one I had an outside chance of remembering. Prexus.
I learned the ropes on Prexus but after a while I dallied with other servers. I tried Brell Serelis because I heard it was the unofficial role-playing server. I played on Test because, well, Test is Best. Then, as EQ waxed and new servers flowered I made sure to start a character on every one as it launched. When time came to pick a legacy server for my characters in EQ2 I chose Luclin , even though when I go back to Everquest these days it's on Stromm that I mostly play.
It fast became clear to me early that servers differed. DAOC forbade you to play different realms on the same server so it wasn't long before I knew the flavors of three. After that if I played any MMO for more than a month or two you could bet I'd have characters on more than one server and the theory held. Servers differ was the orthodoxy and the orthodoxy was true.
Fast forward. Technology advances. Megaservers holding tens of thousands, even single servers hosting entire MMOs become possible. Just because something can be done, however, does not mean it should.
For the last half-year I've played a lot of Guild Wars 2. GW2 mandates that all characters on an account play on a single server. This I loathe. For most of this time we had free transfers, which neither I nor Mrs Bhagpuss will countenance. The character belongs to the server on which he or she was born. Short of a server merge, there is no compromise with this.
Now we have Guesting, which is an acceptable way to sniff different air, but guests, rightly, cannot carry the banner of their host world. World vs world remains the province of the server of one's birth and it is in WvW that proof can be found, should proof be required, that servers really do have communities, atmospheres, ambiances. Still. Even now. After all these years.
Yak's Bend has battled many worlds. From the glory days against Tarnished Coast to the nadir when we threw ourselves despairingly onto Kaineng's swords, every match has hammered home the point: servers differ.
If you doubt it, browse the forums. See the gulf in tone and content between the matchup threads these last two weeks when Yak's Bend, Crystal Desert and Stormbluff Isle sought to outdo each other only in politeness, mutual respect and diffidence and the Maguuma, Dragonbrand, Kaineng thread that took three attempts to get started before hostility levels fell below Moderator lockdown tolerance.
Servers, shards, worlds, call them what you will, are the backbone of MMOs. If we lose this, we lose something precious. Let's not do that.