The 50 player limit is only the current alpha build.
That number changes often.
The final server design is to have one instance that will include every player. There is a ton of discussion on how they will accomplish this in other places, but in short, they will use server meshing tech and some load balancing to allow as many players as possible to be in the same area at the same time.
The exact number of players that “as many as possible” turns out to be is still an unknown, but it will definitely be a lot more than 50. But it is easy to confuse servers, instances and world servers or shards. These are all terms we interchange when talking about MMOs. But in the case of SC they are all different entities entirely.
There will only be one shard or world server. Meaning there will no longer be a US server and a EU server and an AUS server. Those will eventually combine into the one world SC server where all characters live.
Then there are the physical and virtual servers, or computers, that house and “serve” this universe to the players. This is where the swarms and meshes of servers come in to play. This is transparent to the player for the most part as we do not have any direct interaction with what server we are communicating with at any given time.
Finally there are the instance servers. Here is where SC breaks from traditional design. Typically the instance servers are population locked, meaning they hold X number of players and when they fill up another is spawned and any new players coming into that area are assigned to the new server. This is how the US, EU and AUS servers operate today. There is a 50 player soft cap (I think the hard cap is 55) for each instance of the regional servers. This is going to change in a big, and exciting, way.
IN the future the instance servers are not going to be run based on player population caps for a specific area of game play. Instead they are building load balancing technology to serve practically unlimited numbers of players certain features of an area of play. This can be hard to explain and even harder to imagine so I will try and use an example.
Let’s say OTG has 20 players logging in to play SC. We are all wanting to meet up for a cargo caravan event from Terra to Nyx. So we all log in and start travelling over to Terra, meeting up at the orbital station.
At the point where we are all sitting on the station over Terra we have all been assigned to a server that manages the resources for this region of the game world. That single instance manager may be handing off responsibility to multiple servers in the mesh of servers it manages. So under the hood 10 of us might be on one instance and 5 on another and 5 more on another. But we all see each other and appear to be in the same instance because the instance manager server is the go between for all of the servers in its mesh.
If 10 more OTG members suddenly decided to come join us, they might all get assigned to another server under the hood, but they would be managed by the same instance manager and therefore appear to be in the same instance as the rest of us.
Now that is a very high level and simplistic explanation for tech that does not exist. Yet.
Amazon has some of it built into their servers, called server swarms. These swarms run multiple copies of a particular server and load balance across them. What CIG is attempting to do is apply the same load balance logic to instances.
It is not a new idea. It is something that has been talked about for at least 10 years that I know of personally. But until now it has always been a theoretical design. Nobody has tried it to this scale. If CIG can pull it off, it will be the new way ALL MMOs will be designed in the future. MMO game instances that are locked to a certain number of players will become a thing of the past.
But all of this relies on two important parts. Network Bind Culling and Object Container Streaming. Without the ability to show the player a subset of the world data, and the ability to contain that data in manageable packaged chunks, well…it simply would not be possible to pull off the server design they want to create.
And just think, that was the short answer.