There has been a growing trend over the years in the MMOG community. More and more players are voicing a dislike, or dare I say, utter hatred for instancing. Even as more and more developers incorporate the mechanic into their games. Go to any MMOG forum and you will find several threads about how instancing does not belong in MMOGs. I must admit, I have a hard time understanding the backlash to this type of content, and I believe player objections to instancing are far more about an ideal than reality.
I understand some of the issues with instancing, by its very nature, instancing limits the number of players that can share content. In a genre that has “Massive Multiplayer” in its name, instancing removes a good deal of that “Massive” part. It can also limit the social aspect of the game. There have been many times that I helped a doomed group about to wipe in a dungeon without instancing. The group thanked me, invited me to join them, and in the long run I made new friends. If these dungeons were instanced that would never have happened. I would have missed out on meeting some good people, and great players. Many of whom I am still friends with years later. Instancing does limit social interaction; but is that one small aspect worth all the other problems that come without instancing?
We should demand gameplay like this
In those same dungeons that I have saved groups and made friends, I have also had my fair share of problems. Problems like kill stealing, or trains being ran through groups to cause wipes. Many MMOGs have tried to address this by locking mobs to the group that attacked it first. While this prevents kill stealing, it just encourages players to camp spawn points. How many times have you been in a group and another group pulled one of your mobs? You end up calling them every name under the sun, and complain about how people suck and aren’t following the rules. Here’s the real deal, plenty of people in other groups have said the same thing about you and your group. These things happen in crowded dungeons, usually by accident and sometimes by Ass-Hats. How many times have you spent 30 minutes or more getting a group together to run a dungeon, only to find that when you get there, the dungeon is crowded and being camped already? Many players have a finite amount of time they can play, and don’t want to spend it standing around waiting for another group to finish so they can actually do something in game. The mechanic is broken, it’s not fun, and leads to player frustration.
On top of that, many players don’t realize that we force instancing on ourselves. That’s right, even in games with no instancing whatsoever we find a way to engage in the practice. What do I mean by that? Look at how a normal open dungeon is ran. You form a self contained group and head into a dungeon. Other groups might already be in the dungeon, but you rarely if ever involve them. Instead you follow in a line, waiting for your chance to kill a certain boss mob for the +5 Shiny Bauble of Smiting. Or your group sits in a corner and grinds out mobs for XP. You don’t really include other groups or players as you go. You simply play the content with your group that is not being used at that time, or wait until you can. You are using the same mechanics that would be used in instancing; it’s just that other players can see you. That and you are having a lot less fun doing it.
If we run most dungeons like an instance, why can’t we just go ahead and make use of a superior mechanic to do so? Instancing eliminates almost all of the headaches we have in a traditional dungeon crawl. You don’t have to worry about anyone camping spawn points, or waiting for other groups to clear rooms or boss mobs. The dungeon is yours, play it how you want, when you want. Not to mention the superior gameplay you can only get with instanced content. Developers can create more dramatic and interesting dungeons. Traps that when activated drop the floor out from under you, or lock doors. Wouldn’t you rather play where walls can crumble to the ground or alternative paths that can be opened up for the party? None of these things can be done without the use of instancing.
As an added benefit, you get to have more of a story driven quest. Instancing can help alleviate the feeling of grinding. In open dungeons I am usually counting XP as I grind, or waiting for a certain drop. I’m not interested in the content, because there is no story, no personal involvement. I see dozens of other people doing exactly the same thing that I am. I don’t feel heroic, or drawn in, I simply grind to get to a result I’m looking for. Now take a look at some of the more popular single player RPGs out. Look at Mass Effect 2, or Dragon Age, and see how their dungeons match up. The end result is the same, I’m clearing a dungeon and fighting a boss mob, but my motivation for doing so is different. I have never looked at my XP in either of those games. It’s not about grinding, it’s about the story. I feel like a hero, and want to see the story unfold. In an MMOG you can’t be the savior of the world, but you can be the savior of an instance, or story. This feeling just can’t be obtained in huge open world dungeons.
You can't get this in open world
Look at the some of the dungeons in games like World of Warcraft. I defy anyone to play through instances like Naxxramas or Ulduar and then tell me that the open world content is better than instancing. Those instances provide great custom content, boss fights that are challenging and take coordination to master. This quality just can't be duplicated in open world environments.
MMOGs are supposed to be large open social games. I understand this, and even I don’t want a game that in purely instanced. However I do feel instances when properly used can add a great deal too any MMOG. I want the huge battles with 40+ players, and seeing thousands of players run across the country side, but I also want to feel like a hero. I want interesting and varied dungeons that you just can’t get with the open world model. MMOGs today are almost all about getting to end game. We rush to the end as fast as we can and then complain there is nothing to do. Largely this is because the gameplay leading up to the end, isn’t very fun. The only way to make it so is to use instancing. It can give us some of that superior single player gameplay in our MMOGs. Players need to give up the ideal that all MMOGs should be open world, and embrace new mechanics that can improve gameplay.
Would Ultima Online, or EverQuest be any less of an MMOG if they started incorporating instancing? If a game gave you 50% open world, and 50% instancing, could you argue that it was not an MMOG? Instancing is not a 4 letter word, its 10 letters, much like innovative. More importantly it adds the one thing so many MMOGs are lacking today… Fun.