Hello Shadow, I should step back because I've no experience managing a server (always been just a player) so I might be wrong but, since suggestions are free, I try to suggest an alternative option you could consider.
Did you ever consider the option to open a speed server?
An idea of speed server could be something like this "The speed server will remain opened for a month, offering players a chance to not only speed-level their characters, but also take advantage of special items that will help them along.
While playing on the speed server, players will receive rewards for participating in different activities. One of the things players will be rewarded for is hitting a specific level (although what level that is has not been revealed). Players will also be rewarded for the amount of time they spend playing on the server and for purchasing items from the shop.
After a month the player could transfer their character on the main server getting some more reqards based on the level of the character and the time spent playing on the speed server at the day of the transfer".
I found it to be as a very common option in the latest days on some MMORPGs and it allows the new players to build their characters faster (with higher rates of exp, drop, upgrade and basically everything) and, after a certain period of time, to move the characters on the main server .
From my previous experience as player in other servers it works very good, allows to keep the main server alive, attact a lot of players and lot of money too since people will rush to get as much as possible on that as it's only temporary.
This could come with (or without) some changes on the main server to make it more in line with the modern expectations of players. I'm pretty sure that everybody will accept even drastic changes and the sacrifice to loose something they worked hard for to keep the server alive (instead of loose everything).
That would/could be a good idea. I've seen these "speed servers" and in most cases, they worked pretty well.
- On one side you'll have all those new players who bump from server to server (new ones) in search of that "adrenaline/addiction" the game gives you with a fresh start for everyone. Plus the "old" players from the actual SG who are bored/tired and want to start again from scratch. This combined will, OF COURSE, bring a good amount of $$ for the server if the Item Shop will be prepared optimally (just imagine, for example, all the $$ for the costumes when everyone will start).
- On the other side you'll still have the old server with the player who would rather see the server die with them than leaving and playing on a new one.
Once the speed server reaches its own cap time(I wouldn't let it run for more than 70/90 days) you can merge it with this one.
That's a win-win situation because you'll get new players ( $$$ ) with the speed server and keep some of the old with SG, and then after the merge, you'll still have a good amount of players who will play on the merged server. Or at least you should.
If all this speed server thing will work, you can repeat it multiple times. Basically, the speed servers will be more like "seasons"
And if this will not work, you can start a new one as you (Shadow) are projecting to do, without the chance to merge it
P.S. If the new server will have easier features then you can progressively put them into SG too because at that point, let's be fk.ing honest, this server will be pretty EMPTY and I think the players will be kinda forced to accept them. Because what would be the options for them?
1) Do not accept them and let the server die, which will happen anyway because we'll have like what, 50 players ONLINE? Then you'll close it because it will cost more than it generates.
2) Accept the changes and wait for the waves of players from speed server.
P.P.S (for all the players) Remember guys that this game needs to generate $$ for the Team&Co because otherwise what would be the point, of running it?
Would you run it for free or with negative income, only for the sake of it and the nostalgia this game brings to most of us? I don't think so...