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MMORPG.com Staff Blog

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: “Instanced” gameplay is really “offline” gameplay.

Posted by MikeB Thursday October 8 2009 at 2:10PM
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Forumgoer pencilrick has sparked an interesting discussion on our forums entitled “’Instanced’ gameplay is really ‘offline’ gameplay.” The subject of instancing is always sure to light a few fires under the most passionate members of our community. After all, many of us are pretty divided on the issue, and the thread reflects this. There is a good bit of angst and trolling, but also some level headed arguments on both sides of the issue. Pencilrick’s argument is that, “If your gameplay is "instanced" or separated from the community by "phasing", you might as well be playing offline. And if you are with a group, then okay, the group might as well be playing offline, maybe at a LAN party at someone's house.
 

MMO's are about many players sharing a world, and not meant to be about isolated segregated experiences. The player who brags about having spent 10,000 gold on his instanced housing makes no more sense than someone bragging that they have an offline castle. If you cannot see it, it does not exist (in the gameworld). The player who goes into and comes out from an instanced dungeon, might as well have been logged off the whole time, as far as the community knows or cares. The player who "phases" into some solo quest against an 80 Elite mob and uses some gimme item that is part of the quest chain and which zaps the creature into a non-elite mob that is easily defeated, has no more bragging rights than if he had been offline.”
 

Obviously, this is a pretty heavy argument being leveled here, but member Maligar isn’t quite as nostalgic as some, saying, “Yes, because we all know how realistic and cool it is it is to plow through a non-instanced dungeon for 2+ hours to finally reach the end boss, only to have some other party come in, kill you and you entire team, kill the boss, get the loot and then walk away laughing. Thus forcing you and your team to respawn, start the whole dungeon over again, just to have the same thing occur right at the end. Yes, this sounds like an AWESOME time. Not.” And yes, I realize that a lack of instancing doesn’t have much to do with PvP, but Maligar’s point about the other team getting the boss kill still stands.
 

Having had my start in Star Wars Galaxies, which despite all its issues was still a non-instanced sandbox game, I can definitely appreciate the potential for good times to be had in a mostly non-instanced world. I remember being a newbie in that game and tackling Ft. Tusken with a bunch of other newbies and having a blast. I recall many of us lying prone along a ridge overlooking the Fort and using rifles to shoot the Banthas and Raiders below as the lower group tanked or kited them around. A pretty simple experience, but as a new player to MMOGs I found it quite refreshing and fun. Out of the 20-40 people present, I only knew one person going in, but I made friends for the rest of my years playing that game by the time we were done there. Unfortunately, though, for all the good times that can be had, a non-instanced world is rife with potential for griefing as in the example Maligar provided earlier, and so your experience with a particular game can largely depend on the idiot ratio of your server.
 

I do think that many of us intentionally or unintentionally wear rose-tinted glasses and simply want to be able to at least have the potential for those good experiences we had in past MMOGs once again. I spent many years playing City of Heroes, which was a total 180 from Star Wars Galaxies, and I can definitely see some truth in the arguments of anti-instancing players. I think people are so passionately against instancing because while a non-instanced game has a potential for grief, it also has the potential for the many amazing social experiences and relationships people have forged playing games that thrived on their community.
 

A fully instanced game on the other hand is almost guaranteed to lack the potential for these experiences, and I think this is why heavy instancing is an instant deal breaker for a number of MMO fans. It doesn’t matter how exciting the other features of the game may be, they know that the heavily instanced game everyone is talking about doesn’t have the potential for the aforementioned experiences that the non-instanced games of yore provided, and that is at its core, what they want from their MMOG experience. I believe these players are as interested in all the cool advancements that have come with the evolution of MMOGs that many of these games promise, but they simply believe it is all for naught if the game doesn’t allow for what really differentiates it from a single player game, and that is the community experience.
 

Making MMOGs more like single player games is a futile endeavor, as they always have and always will be behind the curve due to all the limiting factors developing an MMOG entails. Instancing is often touted by developers as allowing for the kinds of directed, high production value experiences that single player games offer, but the real question is, at what cost?
 

I’ve spent significant amounts of time in games on opposite sides of the spectrum (CoH vs. SWG) and so having experienced the benefits of both, I think somewhere in the middle is probably where it needs to be. Even the original poster Pencilrick acknowledges the merits and the “necessary evil” of instancing later in the discussion, “What I have resolved in my own head about this is that "sometimes" you need "some" instancing. To prevent over-camping of boss mobs, for example.
Still, I see instancing as a necessary evil at best and not a desired feature to implement in the absence of a compelling reason. For example, you would not want to instance a zone only for the reason of separating players, without over-camping being a mitigating factor.”
 

The issue of instancing is also a bit overblown, as there are a number of other factors that have contributed to the trend of many later MMOGs lacking that community experience. As user decoy26517 says, “Instancing is only a mechanic which can be used for good or evil. Let's not blame the instance but rather the developers who USE the instances for ill purposes!” Of course, it’s not as villainous as the language would imply but there is some truth to this point. A combination of factors, namely the decoupling of interdependence amongst players along with the instancing are in part contributing to the perception many people have of instancing today.
 

Newer games are simply too easy and don’t require players to really rely on each other at all, and this issue I would argue has a lot more to do with the problem than instancing ever could. After all, Warhammer Online wasn’t incredibly instanced. Sure there were zone lines, but the world was largely open. Yet a strong community wasn’t forged there. Why? Because the game was too easy and lacked any incentive to really socialize, as Mythic’s Executive Producer so candidly admitted in a recent article over at Gamasutra.
 

In the end, I’m going to have to side with decoy26517 on this issue: instancing is a tool, and tools can be used for good, or can be abused intentionally or unintentionally to ill effect. The merit of the tool has been proven; I don’t think we should be arguing that. Instead, we should be discussing the best ways to use it, as whether we like it or not instancing isn’t going away. But we might have a say in how much it is being used and to what extent.
 

Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Community Manager Michael Bitton. Each week, Bitton takes to our message boards and examines a specific topic raised by our community. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.

Yauchy writes:

I'll be the positive moderate.  It is a tool which can do more good than evil.  Game's online communities lack the quality or essence of older MMOs...especially as RP becomes less & less of a driving force in MMOs.

I enjoy instancing, I enjoy LANing, and after watching fights over "world spawns" & KSing, until they find a way to regulate those who ruin the old-world experience, I see it as a nice interjection among it.

Good post :)

Thu Oct 08 2009 3:42PM Report
m3ta writes:

 That's the beauty of EVE: Same universe, same characters, same.. everything.
What do i care if, on MMO xOx (guess), you got a sword double your size on server A, but on server B, you're a nobody? That's just silly.

Thu Oct 08 2009 4:04PM Report
mrwise writes:

This was a bit long to read, but as a replying to the title; 

 

I'm pretty sure it's not.

Thu Oct 08 2009 4:42PM Report
nosto writes:

I am super torn on the issue.  I remember in EQ it being awesome to be the guild who slayed the dragon on a 7 day respawn for all players.  But also, cockblocking occurred and progression would be null if only one guild controlled it.  However, instancing for dungeons I think is a crock, especially in games where the instancing is for 1 person.  I want MM not me on a server that could go down at any moment and make my game unplayable.  I am taking the risk to be on a game that depends on a server with other players to meet and play with others - not play an RPG by itself.

Thu Oct 08 2009 4:54PM Report
Polantaris writes:

I disagree with the idea that Instanced gameplay is really offline gameplay.

If it was offline, I wouldn't be able to play with 1) Random people, 2) My friends, 3) Guildmates.

I actually like what Guild Wars did, and created all battle zones as Instanced.  Not only does it give strategic advantages, but it also gives you a feeling that you're making an impact.  What's the point of killing 5 Scorpions, if 10 seconds later they respawn?  On the other hand, if the area is instanced, at least until I leave that area, it actually matters.  Not only that, making your way through the map leaves you with the knowledge that if you get massed by a lot of enemies and need to retreat, you can backtrack and not worry about respawns.  There's a feeling of real-life combat.  If I just cleared that bridge behind me, and on the other side is 100 guys waiting to slaughter me, I can run my ass off and if I make it to the other side I will survive.  In a game like WoW, if I get massed in the same way, and run away, when I make it to that bridge, another 100 guys will be waiting for me on that side as well, EVEN THOUGH I just cleared them out a minute ago.

Anyway, if it was offline, I wouldn't have groups of friends who are willing to help me, now would I?  Is Diablo's Battle.net offline?  No.  It's instanced as well, even if you don't realize it.

Thu Oct 08 2009 4:55PM Report
Sarr writes:

Of course it's not offline.

Someone forgot that offline playing is... playing with your PC. LAN Party isn't off line playing. It's still linked, and LAN is just a small "internet".

I'd ask otherwise - how many people do you need in those outstanding instances of D&D Online? Do you imagine people running there freely, making changes to whole dungeons, etc.? That's simply impossible.

Open world isn't worse than instancing. Instancing isn't worse than open world. Both have their pros and cons. Neither is better - it all depends on a game.

Thu Oct 08 2009 5:20PM Report
Yamota writes:

Instancing is all together a bad thing. It is a cheap trick by the developers so they come up with better ways to disperse the population. Instead of creating more and varies zones that will appeal to many kinds of people they instead take the same zone and rehash it X times.

Take Eve for example, they have no instances but since the world is so huge, the chance of a population congestion is low. Same with games like Asherons Call that had a huge world. So really instancing is just a shortcut that devs use because they are incapable/unwilling to create a large world.

Thu Oct 08 2009 5:46PM Report
Ruyn writes:

Totally agree about it being offline gameplay.  Should be a warning label on the box before you buy the game.

"This game has significant instancing and may cause cancer" 

You get the point.

Thu Oct 08 2009 5:47PM Report
Dwarvish writes:

I think Polantaris has it right (5th post) . Guild Wars was a good example.

I play persistant for the most part.Stuck on ion now, but I loved the early days of Guils Wars, going out with a group of friends and taking time to get through a ( at the time) very tough mission. the world was ours and no one could come in and spoil that. What we accomplished as a group was our accomplishment.  It felt good to sit  for a bit and savor the moment...more like rl. No spawns or griefers.

 That said...as time went by and we allgot better the need for a good group was less importamt and most of us did the same missions solo with henchmen and heros..alone..in hard mode. The community starts to break down as far as regular gameplay went but there was still pvp, guild battles etc.

Both styles have advantages and disadvantages.

The writer's comment:  If you cannot see it, it does not exist (in the gameworld) is sad.

I play for me and/or friends. I couldn't care less what  nameless/faceless thousands of strangers think.

Thu Oct 08 2009 6:16PM Report
Blazz writes:

Eh, instancing is good sometimes, and I think WoW's done a reasonable job of putting instances around - that said, they pretty much ONLY have instanced dungeons.

If they had more places with "open-world" dungeons, I'd say they're doing their part to cater to both player types, but they don't...

More open dungeons, Blizzard! Sorta like that big area RFD!

Thu Oct 08 2009 7:25PM Report
ctshame writes:

i think games need instances for things such as boss battles because i know in older games when i needed to kill a boss id have to wait inline for everyone to kill him and sometimes people would come in a group and kill it when i need it and thats a big turn off. So how do you solve that make an instance but make it so its not a one man instance, i mean let it be so the player can choice to run it alone but at the same time have some sort of group system for it like team battles in guild wars the player clicks start and he gets grouped up with random people and can run it. that way its still multiplayer. But i do think instancing is needed for some stuff so even if it sucks it makes it fair for more people to go kill a certain boss and etc.

Thu Oct 08 2009 7:43PM Report
eludajae writes:

Instanced gaming is NOT offline gaming, I have never been in an instance that allowed for soloing you had to enter with a group. If the communities were not full of whinny little jerks all the time we would not need instance dungeons in our game and we could remain with the contested zone quests only, but since there is a group of people that play online usually those that are under the age of 17 that decidde to camp mobs, just to keep them off the timers for others to not complete quests and such, well then the developers would not have had to resort to instanced dungeons, would they. Get over it its here its staying and they are fun to play with a group of friends online. So all this whinning about its supposed to be an online community, well stick it, 30% of the online community are jerks and suck, they can do it alone from now on, the only people bitching about instances are the jerks everyone learned to hate camping their mobs, because now no one will go in an instance with them. To bad so sad...

Thu Oct 08 2009 9:05PM Report
dhayes68 writes:

Clearly there is a role for instancing.  A group of people gather to accomplish a specific goal that could take 4 to 8 hours, its merely sanity that provides them an opportunity to do so without being griefed.

HOWEVER to go from that to what AoC and Champions Online did for example, where ever single part of the game is instanced is, imo, completely counter to what MMO's are about.

As usual, with all debates, the answer is moderation. Thoughtful extremely strategic use of instancing greatly enhances play for all. No instancing can be intense but counter productive, total instancing is just completely pointless in an "MMO".

 

Thu Oct 08 2009 9:39PM Report
raccoon writes:

I'm of the thinking that some instancing is beneficial for the game, since you're able to pack more content (such as various mission doodads for alternative ways of completing missions, just as an example) into an instance than you could possibly do in the open world.

Then again, I'm also slightly biased since I seem to have run into more than my fair share of griefers and the like. The MMO community is just so much larger these days since back in the day when spending all day on the internet made you a freak. So instead of a reasonably close community of outcasts, you have a massive community filled with all the asshats that you run into in your daily life. Most of which decide that an open world means many targets to screw with.

Fri Oct 09 2009 2:38AM Report
daltanious writes:

I have not read past paragraph I admit, anyway imo comparing instancing to offline is pure bs. I think instancing is the best of possible options. With instancing like in Champions Online and many others there is only 1 server so you can play with any player you wish, no miriad of problem and migrations betwen servers, .... etc etc. Only problem is that your position is reset to home position. And I do not like this if this is 15 mins aways. I loved in Aion that you change channel and you are after transfer on same location. However Aion has servers.

Othwerise .... I wish ALL games would have only 1 server and instances. And some easy option to change between them.

Fri Oct 09 2009 4:41AM Report
Xeronn writes:

instancing is bad , no way around it

 

all the "problemms" some peple see with open world are in fact the single thing that draws me to MMO`s

 

killing that bos means nothing if anyone else can allso kill him. There`s no competition left , and that leaves just a few players against booooring scripten NPC`s

 

 

Fri Oct 09 2009 5:46AM Report
Delusive writes:

I like instancing when it has to do with mob respawns etc, but I don't think they should be soloable. I think a minimum party of two should be required and it scales the difficulty based on the group size. My wife and I like Aion, but we hate working our way through an area, just to turn around and have everything respawned. Guild Wars did good, but they needed some open areas as well. I do not like Champions Online instancing, it feels like they did it just for the one server aspect, which is fine, but they should have added more instancing like CoH has.

Fri Oct 09 2009 9:55AM Report
Gikku writes:

Well I am one that thinks instancing is a good thing. I played EQ for bit over 5 years and the ganking of an end boss or even a world dragon was at best frustrating for a guild that wasn't as big and powerful and could have players place toons in the area looking for the spawn. That is one thing I do not miss. For some I suppose it was great but many of us would not agree.

Instancing is something that allows a group to go in a dungeon and fight and battle to the boss/bosses and kill them without fear of someone running in and ganking them after your group worked hard to get to them. A peace if you will.

IMO it is not taking away from the game nor is it like playing by yourself. It was something that was needed to stop all those grand people that just love to let someone else do all the clearing so they could run in and gank the prizes.

For those that have such a negative look at instancing I have to think maybe it has took away your ability to gank from others.

Now on the issue of instancing for a certain quest mob I am not sure on that as the games I have played have not done that. If it is a boss or quest mob in the open it is there in the world and it stays there. The respawn rates are better so you don't have to wait for hours for it to reappear and if you tag it first it is going to be yours in most cases. That was also and improvement in gaming.

 

Fri Oct 09 2009 10:14AM Report
Palebane writes:

I consider instancing to be more of a development crutch than a tool. If you're party get's killed at the last boss by some PKers, the person or group that did the PK deserves to have revenge brought down upon them. Either that, or play a non-PvP server/game. Todays games have zero accountabiliy. It's no wonder the communities are so shallow.

Fri Oct 09 2009 5:41PM Report
uttaus writes:

I think WOW had a good balance in the begining. Dungeons with large entry areas that promoted people doing entry quests together then maybe grouping up frp the instance dungeon together.

The advent of instance battle grounds I believe is HORRIBLE. One of the early joys I had in the game was fighting invading forces that poped up from time to time. Sure it was horribly unballanced but it was some good times.

I havent played in over a year and I understand there are new forms of Instancing / phasing that seperate players. It sounds like a bad idea but I have yet to see its usage and I sure as above said it is a tool niether good or bad. Its all in how you use it.  

Fri Oct 09 2009 11:32PM Report
Terrh writes:

Personally I like to play MMOs because the world is ever changing, constantly developed and I don't need to set a time to play.

In that respect, I *LIKE* Instance play. I pretty much don't ever team with random people, unless they are already friends of mine. O play the games because they're MxORPGs, the Multiplayer bit is just something I chose to live with.

Sat Oct 10 2009 4:42AM Report
Suraknar writes:

I have to agree with this article as well, within the context of a Massivelly Multiplayer, Online, persistent world kind of game, RPG in the end or not.

With instancing the Online Persistent World is simply not shared by the Players playing it anymore since both players and Environment and chopped up in compartments and "rooms" segregated from one another.

One of the pillars of what defines an MMORPG is the part about it incorporating a persistent World (not a persistent Lobby in the shape of a village).

And a heavily Instanced Game is not persistent because the instances themselves are not persistent. They come and go, being created and being deleted from memory as needed...not unlike..an offline session with any other game.

Mon Oct 12 2009 1:53PM Report

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