Player Number Decline Is A Reason WoW Gets Virtual Realms
The upcoming 5.4 patch marks the climax of the Mist of Pandaria expansion as heroes of Horde and Alliance will face off Garrosh Hellscream in the showdown. This update also sees the coming of some new ideas from Blizzard such as in-game microtransaction, Flexible Raids and Virtual Realms. In an interview with Taiwanese media GNN, Lead Systems Designer Greg Street admitted that player number reduce was one of reasons why they brought in this feature.
Virtual Realms is a cool idea at its core. It's basically an advanced version of cross realm play that allows players in the same virtual realm to join the same guild, access a single Auction House and group up to run a raid. Of course you can team up with others in your virtual realm to do quests and explore instance. This feature benefits guilds and groups in low population servers but if you see it from another degree, it's a result of player number decrease. Greg Street said player departure is a reason, but it literally allows you to play with friends from a different server without transferring your characters.
Virtual Realm is not the final name. And unlike Cross-Realm Zones which are dynamic, Virtual Realms are practically fixed.