World of Warcraft patch 5.4 introducing Connected Realms
Upcoming World of Warcraft patch 5.4 will introduce Connected Realms, a new feature that will "link" a set of two or more standard realms, in an attempt to address the shift in player population.
Previewing the upcoming patch, Blizzard explained, "Over time, these shifts in player population can sometimes create a less-than-optimal play experience for those on less popular realms, making it tougher to find guilds, conquer group content, and get what they’re looking for from the Auction House and in-game economy."
Connected Realms will give players on lower-population servers more opportunities to group up, compete, and connect with other players. "That sort of interaction is a big part of what makes World of Warcraft fun, and this feature will help us deliver that experience to even more players," Blizzard said.
These linked realms will behave "as if they were one cohesive realm," allowing you to join the same guilds, access a single Auction House, run the same Raids and Dungeons, and join other players to complete quests.
Last week, Blizzard announced that World of Warcraft's monthly subscribers had dropped to 7.7 million which is still a solid number, but far from what the game once had during its peak. In 2010, World of Warcraft at one point had 12 million subscribers. I'm not sure of the population breakdown, but you can imagine a drop in four to five million subscribers would likely result in some ghost towns. Hopefully Connected Realms will address that.
Blizzard hasn't yet determined which realms will be made a part of a Connected Realm, nor how many realms will combine to make up one. And even though Connected Realms are previewed as part of patch 5.4, they haven't determined when they'll be creating the first Connected Realms, though they do "expect it will be some time after the launch of Patch 5.4."
You can read Blizzard's full comments on Connect Realms here.