Rant: PvE Instancing
Camp Check! Anyone else remember the days of hearing this shouted into every dungeon you walked into? Chances are if you do, you’ve been around the MMO block a good bit and probably since Everquest 1.
I remember walking into Lower Guk and hearing that phrase every few mins and watching my chat box fill up with “ Lord, Frenzy, Assassin, Bed Room, Zone, Arch Mage…”. One could only wonder what room in the dungeon didn’t have a bunch of guys having a sausage party waiting for some rare guy to spawn so the group could fight over the loot. My brother spent weeks at the Frenzy camp trying to get his hands on an FBSS for his warrior, and back in the day this was a tale that was all too common.
Needless to say, a lot of people left Everquest 1 with a chip on their shoulder about how they want to spend their time. One of my RL friends spent a week in Nagafen’s room waiting for a spawn to get his cleric epic weapon. If I was going to sit in a room somewhere staring at the wall, I’d probably spend it in my bathroom sitting on the toilet because at least there would be a better chance of me accomplishing something meaningful.
Fast forward a few years, and Anarchy Online comes out with a revolutionary idea of instancing. The games random mission generator would not only spit out an endless supply of missions, but it would give you your own private dungeon where you would be free to take care of business without interference from other players. The game still had non-instanced dungeons, so there was not a complete changeover at this point.
Along comes WoW, where now every single dungeon is instanced. Now every adventurer has the chance to be that unique and special little snowflake, where he can go off in solitude in search of loot. With that, comes isolation of the games population. People are now herded into their instances like cattle with loot being dangled from a stick. The social aspect of the game starts to deteriorate as people are forced to be in tighter groups because if you enter the dungeon alone, you will always be alone. This forces players to be a part in guilds to have any chance, guilds like the one I lead, and now all players are forced to pay homage to the guild and raid leaders, even more so if they opt for the infamous loot “council”.
So what is the answer? Instance everything, and you end up chopping up the population and forcing people into guilds to be able to achieve any success. Instance nothing and bring on the camp checks.
What went wrong?
Everquest 1 filled their dungeons with the rare spawns every few rooms, which isn’t a bad thing. The bad thing is the frequency and chance of the rare spawn showing up. The typical Everquest 1 respawn time was 15 minutes on most mobs. Every 15 minutes you either got the placeholder, or the guy you really wanted. This in my opinion made the focus of the dungeon to find an unclaimed area, and wait. Every 15 minutes you had a chance of hitting the jackpot, so you minds well wait. This attitude then spread across you population has them all going into these dungeons and fighting over spots. Having a shot at the rare guy every 15 minutes was just too enticing in my opinion. A player could literally walk from the start dungeon to the final boss chamber without seeing a single mob due to excessive camping.
What went right?
There are 2 games from my experience who have achieved the perfect balance of instancing, Final Fantasy 11 and Everquest 2. Both of these games have non-instanced dungeons. What they do have are instanced boss fights. Going from WoW back to FFXI and EQ2 was refreshing for me because I was able to walk into a dungeon by myself and have the chance run in with someone else deep in the heart of the dungeon. At the same time you still have the opportunity to challenge the final boss for the story (FFXI) or the loot every few days (EQ2). Both games also have non-linear dungeons which also greatly alleviates crowding.
FFXI has the same 15 minute respawn timer like Everquest 1 did, the difference is that the rare guys don’t have a chance of showing every 15 minutes. In many cases they won’t even have the chance of showing up until hours or days after the mob was last killed. Since the odds are less in your favor, it acts as a deterrent to camping for them, and takes the emphasis off of camping a guy you probably will never see, to finishing the quest you came to do. If you see the rare guy, great, but only the most diehard farmer extremely dedicated had the lack of life to ride it out. The bad thing about FFXI is there is a lack of respect among those who take the hard road and try to camp. If you’ve been camping that guy for 3 hours and someone else shows up 5 minutes before the spawn, he will definitely try to take it from you. This is probably one of the harshest aspects and negatives of the game. The good news is that unlike WoW, most loot can be sold and is not all bind on pickup. Those who don’t have the time to camp can always just buy what they want in most cases.
EQ2 does have its fair share of instanced raid content, but I think that raid content is probably the exception to the rule. You don’t want entire raids of people competing over that content unless it is part of the mechanic like an outdoor raid boss. Although EQ2 has instanced outdoor zones in crowded situations is a mistake the breaks immersion and interaction. At this stage in the game no single outdoor area is THAT crowded that warrants this in my opinion.
The moral of the story is that I play an MMO because there are thousands of other people playing, not just my friends and guildmates. I want meet strange people in strange places under strange circumstances. That’s part of the adventure. Instancing kills this possibility. If I wanted to play a game with just my friends with no chance of seeing someone new, I’d play on a LAN or Diablo. I hope Devs of the next generation can pull back from instancing a bit so that we can have the adventure we are all looking to experience.
Co-Leader of Inquisition