One of the great features of MMOs is playing with your friends or guild. The social aspect of MMO keeps people playing over long periods of time because of the friendships they form. In looking at how groups play together I thought about the concept of instancing and how developers might better cater to player groups as a whole. Imagine having seven friends who play together yet only having the option of a five man instanced dungeon, this can be frustrating.
Right now Warcraft runs five, 10, and 25 man dungeons. The 40 man raid was scraped after a few years because getting 40 people to do anything was so difficult. I spent many hours on these 40 man raids and was amazed at how little players got for hours of team work among 40 people. Times have changed and Warcraft has made it easier to get groups together. Yet even on the server where I play (one of the originals) guilds are finding it hard to fill out their 25 man requirements for raids.
My main question is how hard is it for a developer to scale an instanced dungeon based on the number of players who enter it? For example, if there are seven people in your guild who play together every night, why not scale a ten man raid to seven. Perhaps the instance scales down a bit. There might be less trash mobs or less hit points on the boss. This way your seven players can run the instances whenever they want. I am not a developer and I have no doubt this would take a while to work out. However, developers might think of the ease in which players can enjoy joining their friends.
PvP is a different story. The systems can be much more flexible. Although many battle grounds in WoW work on a set player amount, you simply end up in a pick up PvP group almost every time. This is okay in many ways because the strong teams can stick together in the fights and do well. I remember many times seeing full guilds jump into a battleground to claim victory.
PvE is very different than PvP because you can scale it accordingly without impact half your player base. The PvE side of the game is straight up for friends and guilds to work together. Sure when you have a solid group of seven you can always pick up three more for a ten man group. Perhaps this open pick up system helps to form future friendships? However, scaling a dungeon or raid to the number entered would just add another flexible game play element to MMOs.
The question of loot is always important and I think WoW has done a good job not only giving decent loot from the end boss of each instance but also using tokens for players to buy loot later. The problem with this system is that WoW’s loot upgrades come pretty quickly with patches and additions. Also there is no scaling up with tokens. If you want to downgrade a token for lesser loot it is easy. However, there is no system to upgrade. If I want to spend twenty Emblems of Conquest to get ten Emblems of Triumph, I should be able to do so. The downgrade scale also is one to one, which just does not seem fair. This level of flexibility combined with players able to enter dungeons with any number of players would make the game even more friendly for players overall.
One issue that arises from this idea is the concept of soloing. If you allow dungeons to scale to any number of players the questions arises of soloing an instance. For hybrid characters like Paladins, Druids, or Shamans this might be a possibility. For pure classes this could be much more difficult. I do not think soloing an instance makes sense, however if we are going by an open system, it would have to be included in some form. How many times have you been denied a group or found yourself waiting a while to join a pick up group. If you could use that time to prosper you would. Again this is just an idea, but in an open system players would not have to wait to do anything.
Overall I think the instancing systems will eventually cater to player needs in this way. Right now it is still a growth process and players must stay within the boundaries. With all the changes coming in Cataclysm perhaps a revamp to the instancing system is something Blizzard could take a look at.