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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!