To combat dwindling populations on some servers, Blizzard have announced that they’ll begin connecting realms. Connected realms will share guilds, a single auction house, and run the same raids and dungeons.
They realms will begin to be connected following the release of patch 5.4.
“In Patch 5.4, we’re looking to address [the problems of a low population realms] with a new feature called Connected Realms,” say Blizzard in the announcement post. “Building on our existing cross-realm technology, a Connected Realm is a set of two or more standard realms that have been permanently and seamlessly “linked.” These linked realms will behave as if they were one cohesive realm, meaning you’ll be able to join the same guilds, access a single Auction House, run the same Raids and Dungeons, and join other adventurers to complete quests.”
Blizzard say that the technology is a natural development from their cross-realm features which allowed players on different servers to raid the same dungeons. This step will address even more of the problems of a low population realm.
When it comes to linking the different servers, Blizzard will be connecting like for like, so don’t expect a PvP server to be tied to an RP server.
It’s not highlighted in the announcement but Blizzard are clearly at pains to avoid merging realms and, in doing so, having the servers lose their identity. They’ll even be marking player’s names with a ‘#’ to show they’re not from round your parts but are one of those foreign realms.
Blizzard haven’t given an exact release date, simply saying that they “expect it will be some time after the launch of Patch 5.4.”