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The staff of MMORPG.com gets together to bring you some behind the scenes insights on stories, the industry and the site itself.

Author: staffblog

Contributors: BillMurphy,MikeB,garrett,SBFord,Grakulen,

Community Spotlight: Why are Instances Bad?

Posted by MikeB Thursday May 6 2010 at 3:38PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on the thread “Why Instances bad?” started by SEANMCAD. A fairly simple premise to an often controversial topic, SEANMCAD simply wonders why many gamers consider instancing a bad design choice:

“Why? I do not undertand. I am not supporting them becuase I dont understand what the issue is at this time.”

Mardy explains that instancing isn’t bad per se, it’s only bad when it negatively affects the “massively” part of an MMO:

“Instances isn't bad.  It's when a game overuse instance technology and fill the game up with nothing but instances.  So you feel like you're playing a mini game by yourself, rather than with "massive" amounts of other players.  Unfortunately most games do overuse instances.”

Angorim is strongly anti-instance, and explains that singleplayer RPGs offer a better storyline anyways, so the reasoning that instancing helps with storytelling doesn’t really hold for him:

“I've seen people make a terrible comparison between "zoning" (via single player games or load screens in MMOs) and instancing (multiplayer based, particular MMO only) which separates you from the game world in your own private "room." 

Instancing breaks the MMO aspect for me because I want a world full of people, not a single player game with light multiplayer functions.  If a story cannot be told within the context of a large player base and must be done with in an instance, then it really has no place in an MMO for me.

I get way better game play and storylines in single player RPGs than MMOs anyway.”

Emhster sees a purpose for instancing, especially when it comes to games focused on PvP:

“About instances in PVP Games:

Yes and no, it depends how it is implemented. Most FFA PVP games I've played ended up with major lag issues that needed to be taken care of... Its often due to client-side or network limitations:

  • Shadowbane had a lot of lag issues during massive raids. One of the widely used defense strat was even to stack as many players as possible so attackers would be lagged to hell while their client was suddenly loading every characters, turning them into sitting ducks.
  • Aion had some major lag issue in the Abyss during GvG. I'm not sure where it's at right now.
  • World of Warcraft had to limit the number of players in Wintergrasp, because their servers couldn't handle the load on heavily populated servers.

Instances is just a mean to help companies to deal with such issues... :P”

Echoing many other readers, lethys doesn’t find an issue with the concept of instancing, but more with how it has been used:

“They CAN be good but most of the time instances are used in such a way that I feel like none of my actions matter.  If I lose in a PVP instance I can just queue up the same one five seconds later, and if I clear a dungeon with a legendary dragon then I know that I'll be doing it again next week so that I might get the sword I want. 

It's all pathetic, mostly.  A good use of instancing will be APB, which tracks progress of action that takes place in instances.  Plus the instances are used in such a way that they don't seem like instances and they are also massive.”

Mehve’s take runs contrary to Angorims earlier point against instancing, highlighting the many ways instancing actually helps create better and more interesting challenges for players as it can be much more finely tuned and scaled properly:

“As already said, instancing offers a means to create more focussed, controlled challenges for players to undertake, that would be in too much danger of being wrecked if other bystanders were allowed to interfere. You can also tweak a given instance (i.e. alter mob levels within) on the fly, depending on who enters them, or allow multiple groups to undertake a challenge at once (some people may like camping world boss spawns for hours/days on end, but not me).

Or sometimes it lets a developer do those things, when they're just too lazy to make something work open-world. By it's very definition, it involves seperating the involved group/person from the main community, at least to some degree. So any time you do it, it's important that the benefits outweigh that fact.”

I don’t have too much of a preference myself. I would say I don’t really like “hub style” instanced games like Dungeons & Dragons Online, because I do actually want to be in a game world, and not what essentially amounts to a lobby. At the same time, I don’t need the game world to be as open as say Star Wars Galaxies originally was to have a good time. If I go back through my history of games I’ve played many games that used instances heavily (City of Heroes is a great example) and just as many that didn’t.

Bottom line for me is I want to feel like I’m in a believable game world, and using instances properly doesn’t really impede that for me. A fully instanced world, however, does.

Also, as a community manager I feel extremely heavy instancing sorely diminishes the value of community in these games, as depending on the game’s particular LFG system, you’re basically just trying to get bodies in for an instance, or using some form of matchmaking to take care of that for you. Having an actual game world allows you to meet other players more naturally, instead of simply out of necessity, and I think this kind of experience is really conducive to making friends and fostering a good community.

What do you think about instancing? Let us know in the comments below!

BadSpock writes:

Very good mechanic that has been poorly abused and unfortunately used by bad developers as a substitute for quality game play and coding.

WoW instances for dungeons, raids, even battlegrounds were genius.

The LFG system, removal of world PvP, and destruction of attunement turned the main game world into a lobby and level-up zone with NO end-game focus on the open world.

Thu May 06 2010 3:59PM Report
semajin writes:

This is either a lousy job at editing, or a group of people who know little to no english. On the topic of instancing, for certain key parts of the game it is acceptable. Some of us remember waiting hours in EQ at Crushbone Citadel just to kill a lousy orc trainer for a belt. Give me my trainer and belt in an instance and I'll thank you very much!

Thu May 06 2010 4:57PM Report
MikeB writes:

I do not edit the users' comments when I quote them here at the blog, no.

Thu May 06 2010 5:25PM Report
Nytakito writes:

To me it depends on a couple of things, first, how it's instance, and second, why it is instanced the way it is.

WoW started off great with instances for dungeons and raids. 

Compare that to AoC or Aion where even the open world zones are broken off into multiple instances which is absolutely horrid IMO.

The type of instancing for WoW dungeons is done to enhance the play experience and avoid things like waiting hours to kill an orc for a belt.

The type of instancing for AoC and Aion are generally done to compensate for poor performance and programming design.  Not to mention, the first time you "Zone" and then have to go through a list of instances to get back into the same area as your friends, consider immersion gone.

Thu May 06 2010 5:56PM Report
toddze writes:

they are a band-aid fix for lack of content, An MMO should have enough content to keep people busy and not bottleneck at any certian point.

 

They are fine if used in a personal story.

Thu May 06 2010 7:17PM Report
fansede writes:

instances are here to stay. a tool in the developer arsenal. With ballooning costs and time tables by demanding investors, instances help.

Thu May 06 2010 7:34PM Report
sschrupp writes:

I'm not a huge fan of heavily instanced "hub" style games like D&D Online due to the fact that they begin to feel like single player games, but other than that I think they can be a great tool. They're especially good for getting rid of "I play on server X, but my friend plays on server Y so now one of us has to lose our toon to play with each other". Server transfers aren't a good "Yeah, but you can just...." answer for that either.

Specific servers that you have to log into are gotten rid of entirely due to instances such as in Champions Online. This is a wonderful thing.

However, it's only wonderful if large open-world areas can contain enough players to promote a feeling of community or not feeling like you're alone in the world. If the population limits on open world areas are too severe people begin to feel like they're playing single player RPGs with slight multiplayer tendencies.

More specific content that focuses more on story or which is designed to give a small gorup of people a special feeling of achieving something important definitely benefit from instancing. If I'm in a group with some friends and in our adventures we come across a hidden cave system I'd much rather have it instanced so the adventure is tailored to our group rather than stumbling into another group that has already cleared the area out ahead of us.

That sort of stumbling into other groups and/or individuals is far more disruptive to me feeling like I'm part of the world than well designed instances. "Wow this is an awesome crypt. Nobody has been here in ages by the looks of things! I bet it's real dangerous. I wonder what sort of things we'll discover that nobody el.... er uh, hi guys. Don't mind us, we're just going to sneak on by you to see what's down this corridor. Oh? You've already explored down this way? Ah... well uh.. ok."

Thu May 06 2010 8:21PM Report
SnarlingWolf writes:

I prefer open world far more then instanced. And that includes hidden instancing, such as when you're moving through the world and you get put into city #3. You never zoned but there are people you can't see because they are in city 1 or 2.

 

Basically it goes in this order fo me.

Best: Completely open world

Next: Hidden zoning but feels like an open world

Last and unenjoyable: Heavily instanced where you run through some sort of zoning mechanism into your own section of the world and have loading screens.

 

 

It's much more immersive and exciting to run around in a huge world without loading and with the possibility to have everyone else in the world run past you or help you.

Thu May 06 2010 8:36PM Report
SwampRob writes:

Please please give me instances in every MMO.   Look, the whole world doesn't need to be instanced a la Guild Wars, but if I'm given a quest to kill boss X in dungeon Y, the last thing I want is someone interfering.   Instances are an absolute necessity unless you can find an MMO that's completely free of asshats.

Thu May 06 2010 8:39PM Report
Alberel writes:

Using instances to replace camping is a poor excuse... you can just as easily make the spawns triggered and maintain an open world.

There are plenty of ways of reducing camping/downtime and preventing player interference WITHOUT the use of instances. Instances should only ever be used a last resort with no other option to solve the problem since they are against the entire nature of the genre and kill the community.

The biggest problem with instances for me is the obsession with using them to tell a personal story. I don't WANT to have a personal story that is identical to everyone else's. What many of us want is a global story that involves the entire community as a whole rather than 100s of identical instanced versions of the same story.

The sort of thing that Cataclysm is doing to change WoW's world is the kind of community-wide storyline event that should happen regularly for story progression in an MMO. It's a pity that Blizzard saves such things for special expansion events and keeps all the storyline events entirely instanced and character specific. Phasing makes this even worse as well as it's really just more instancing with a gimmick attached to character-specific storyline progression.

Thu May 06 2010 11:46PM Report
hanshotfirst writes:

I don't care about instancing, but load-screens are another story.

Minimize load-screens, make them immersive and part of gameplay itself, or eliminate them altogether, then you can instance me up the wazoo.

Fri May 07 2010 1:08AM Report
shabazzster writes:

Instancing is good if you need to capitalize on game/sever-space and memory. Pretty soon, the server issues will be a thing of the past with Onlive and other cloud gaming services coming out this summer. However, instancing is absolutely necessary if you want to do things like "create player homes". I also believe that instancing can be done without limits if  all scenes within the game are on the same in-game master clock, as long as the devs keep all in game tasks set to (and in sync with) this in some creative way. That way you don't have the feeling of seperateness so out in the open. The ingame master clock "AI" creates the central connection to all players on all servers giving a pseudo single shard effect no matter how many different instances  are in appearance.

Fri May 07 2010 2:31AM Report
Yamota writes:

Instancing is bad because it goes completely against the notion of a virtual world. Once you start to create, short-lived, private, mini-worlds you will start to get on a slippery slope.

Reason is where do you draw the line? For guild-meetings? For small-scale PvE raids or do you go completely instanced like in Star Trek Online where everything is an instance and thus a persistant world really does not exist?

The possibility to bump into a friendly or hostile gang simply is not there and the feeling of sharing a world is gone.

Likewise with PvP it eleminates the need to form alliances and friends because the combat is occurring in instances of 12v12 so why then have an alliance of houndreds of people?

Instances is a un-creative devs sollution for the MASSIVE part of MMORPG and is, imo, killing the genre.

Fri May 07 2010 2:38AM Report
hogscraper writes:

"Instances are an absolute necessity unless you can find an MMO that's completely free of asshats."

Completely agree 100%. The first few MMOs I played had way too many experiences where people ruined the game by capitalizing on my hard work. Most hard bosses had to be gotten to by killing mass amounts of monsters. Nothing like spending hours fighting your way to a boss to watch some other group fly past you to engage that monster. Then you get to wait up to a day for it to respawn? That's not immersion that's enabling douchebagery. Or having a game where you kill everything and some stealther pops and steals the loot?  Wow how exciting...

Fri May 07 2010 3:34AM Report
erictlewis writes:

yes top heavy instancing breaks the world down. More of us wont open world game play.

Instnaces are a dev's cheep way out and an easy soloution.

I just point and dnd and lotro.

Fri May 07 2010 6:01AM Report
Pedrob writes:

So for a few rotten appels everyone must pay? MMO's are meant to be played among other players 24/7, it also creates a strong community.

Given new players are very selfish, but not all, look at all the players from the times of UO, EQ, DAoC, SB, they all played in open worlds without instancing and they all built incredible communities with very few selfish players.

Over time I've seen how instancing can be a handy tool when it's wisely used, 1 ot of 5 dungeons being an instance for moment when the other 4 open intances are full, and similar ways, but not being used as the main or a primary way to do things.

As for the ones complaining about quest items, that's just poor and lazy coding by the Devs, everyone in a group should get credit and quest items when the NPC is killed, quest NPC's should have a very fast respawn and quest items that you have to collect need to be permanent in the world and just stop working to the player alone after he/she picks it up.

Instances are fine as long as they are used to complement the open world, and making sure with the current MMO hypes at the first 3 months, those open worlds have to be 500% more dominant than the number and size of instances.

Fri May 07 2010 6:57AM Report
Phry writes:

Instances can be useful, and done well they can be fun experiences, the problem is if the game 'only revolves around instances' thats where for me, the game starts to become, less and less, an MMO, and more a single player game with the multiplayer option.. MMO's for me are social gaming.. if you take away that part of it.. there isnt really much left..

Fri May 07 2010 7:25AM Report
astoria writes: I did feel disconnected from the world in Guild Wars due to the instancing. I think it was the fact of not seeing anyone else in most large areas. Have been fine with it in Age of Conan as the single player instancing is really just for select areas. Thought Fallen Earth did a great job with seamless instancing (they have a popup window but no full screen zoning page). City of Heroes actual greatly benefits from instancing. You can modify the difficulty and number of foes in mission instances. If you could do that in the open world, noobs would get griefed, in fact they do already with mission triggers and higher level toons are called for “clean up at X” And this ‘kills immersion’ talk? Health bars over people’s heads kills immersion. Loading windows lets me drink my coffee. Fri May 07 2010 7:37AM Report
Hermes_Zum writes:

lagzillas is the major enemie...

Fri May 07 2010 8:35AM Report
battleaxe writes:

Anyone saying all instances are bad skipped EQ.  Back in the day, dungeons weren't instanced.  One of the most notorious non-instanced dungeons that everyone loved to hate was Blackburrow.  At times, so many people were in there that you could walk from one end to the other and not encounter a single mob.  Groups of players would sit and wait for a single spawn point to respawn, kill those mobs, and wait for the respawn.  At other times, because the respawn rate was so high, you couldn't kill your way into the dungeon without an army.  This led to the famous "TRAIN TO ZONE" because a group that decided the pull was too much would race to the zone line.  The aggressive mobs would attack anyone from the zone line back to their spawn point if the group successfully zoned.

Instanced zones also removes competition for major spawns.  When the big bad dragon spawned once a week, everyone wanted to be there.  On a PVE server the only way to keep the guy ahead of you from getting there first was to round up a ton of mobs and let them kill you next to the other group - the mobs would attack and kill the other group, allowing your group to take their place.  They'd do the same thing to you until one of you actually engaged the boss.  Depending on the kill method, both groups still had a shot.

Fri May 07 2010 9:29AM Report
minten writes:

Yea i will have to agree with battleaxe. EQ by far has been the best at useing the instanceing that i have played.  You didnt have to do the dungeons in order to adavnce till later expansions. Then they got a little carried away with them. Instancing like many ppl have said before takes away the multiplayer part and makes it just an rpg.  You should have to group with other ppl and work to earn something. Not just play by your self and know that you can get what you want. This takes the fun and competive aspect of the game.

Fri May 07 2010 10:17AM Report
daltanious writes:

Instances are GREAT! Love them. Just only for having only 1 server to choose is enough, even if no other benefit. And if well done as i.e. in CO switching between instances is matter of seconds (and nightmare in Aoc, at least at start, do not know now).

Fri May 07 2010 4:39PM Report
Kasmos writes:

Instances, for the most part, have ruined most MMOs in my opinion. Maybe that's why I love Darkfall so much, because I know no matter where I go if there is someone "there", I'll see them, and they'll see me, and that anything I do in game will have an impact on everyone else, not just the few people in my "instance".

But I guess it also has to do with the fact that this genre, due to a bunch of different reasons (WoW as a prime example) has attracted too many people that can't handle living in a world where you're never truly safe or "alone".  Eh, at least there are some developers finally having the balls to break away from them.

Fri May 07 2010 7:31PM Report
Maelkor writes:

In a nutshell instances break up a community into really tiny pieces that rarely interact with each other. Thus you can have an MMO that plays like a simple multiplayer game. Limited usage of instances can enhance a game where you want to control all aspects of an encounter and scale that encounter to a specific group of people or an individual. Making an entire game out of instances usually means a completely disconnected community that spends little time interacting outside of a small circle of influence(guild, RL friends). Once the core of such a group gets tired of playing that game and starts cancelling the entire group will usually cancel as they have no one left to play with and dont want to bother making a completely new set of ingame friends.

Sun May 09 2010 12:26AM Report
Maelkor writes:

After rereading the bottom part of the post I would also like to add that the style of questing in current games does the exact same thing to the games social structure as heavy instancing does. It breaks the content up into tiny chunks(usually 5 to 10 minutes) and gives no incentive for players to redo that content(IE help other players finish quests they have allready done)  such that you have fragments of a community all going off in random directions all of the time like a litle kid with ADHD. If you can even get a group together you almost always have people leaving and joining every 5 minutes. Rarely long enough to form any real bond for future adventures.

Thats why I would love to see a developer revist the open world with no quests concept. 

Sun May 09 2010 12:33AM Report
Morcotulcon writes:

Well, i think that instances can be really useful in games if they are well done. IMO, Guild Wars beeing instanced all the time was a bad idea, but i think that the mmorpgs at this time need to bring us much more story, and one way to do it is put half of it in instances.

It depends on the number of ppl that the instance requires too, because it is a part of the story. Because of that, 1st: there should be times where the protagonist choses to play with his online friends; 2nd: there should be times where he must play alone, because it is a trial to see how good he is without others, a trial to gain something new (skills, gears, transformation, a weapon completely custumized for him, etc.) and/or a trial that gives the player the chance feel like he owns an epic situation alone.

But of course, the bad thing about instances, besides not meeting others while playing, is that when used in story-lines, it is something that wll the other payers do too. Well, that IMO is another problem not directly related to instances: players just dont have the influence they should have in playing a game. Guild Wars 2 is working on that now. every single choice you do, every single kill you execute, every single village you save, has different results. Maybe devs should do the same with the instances in story-line, but not just 2-3 versions of the same thing but 8-10 versions, or more if they can.

 

A full-instance game is not so bad either. Its true that you feel lonely in those games and they arent true mmos. but with some features that can be much better. Look at Mabinogue: Heroes/Vindictus, or Dragon Nest (i've tried this one in korean OB), they are really awsome because the gameplay is so energetic that players dont mind that much about not meeting new players when they're having a difficult time killing mobs.

The fun, in this games, is in playing the game and "meeting other players" as a great second perspective but not that weak as we think it is. while most open-world games have the "meeting a lot of players" as the priority and than give a damn about the enjoyment of playing the game content itself. Later we see the majority of players leaving a game because the comunity s***. In a matter of fact, if the game was enjoyable enough by itself, the players wouldnt be that worried about the community, because they can play with their pals where they want, when they want and only if they want or not.

Sun May 09 2010 8:10PM Report
Complication writes:

instances.....

GOOD FOR:

 - keeping servers from crashing with burden of to many players, just split zones into shards so players can still be immersed in live players

 - NOTHING ELSE

BAD FOR:

 - making a world seem alive, NPC'S DONT MAKE A WORLD SEEM ALIVE AND BUSTLING! live players create a world, without them its a ghost town!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 - dungeons are no fun if your alone or your group is alone. Competition!!!! its what made the early mmo's fun

 - i play mmo's to socialize while i do epic things on my avatar. stop pushing me into a single player game with mutliplayer mini-games

Wed May 12 2010 5:30AM Report

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