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Debate: Instancing

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Debate: How does instancing impact MMORPG community?

Editor's Introduction: Last week's debate was a huge success. We hope you enjoy our second topic as much. This week Garrett and Frank debate the trend of instancing PvE areas and how this impacts the community of an MMORPG as a whole. Upcoming titles such as Dungeons and Dragons Online have recently embraced instancing in its most extreme form, brining this issue to the fore.

Garrett Fuller: Good Morning Gamers! I know all of you are red-eyed from your Friday night grinds, but it's Saturday and Frank and I have another debate for all to discuss: should MMORPGs continue using instances for PvE content or should they keep the world open to all players? I believe that the more instances a game has, the more it hurts the community!

In Ultima Online players could band together and enter a dungeon or enter go it alone, knowing people inside could give them a hand if they ran into trouble. Online world type content is a major draw for MMORPGs. People enjoy meeting random players and exploring new areas together.

The whole ‘Looking For Group’ concept in WarCraft takes players away from banding together for their online faction or community. Darkness Falls in Dark Age of Camelot was the best example of allowing a community to band together. Once Midgard took over (my former realm), players all over the realm rushed to clear the Hibernians or Albion out. Then players could enter and either solo or form groups to explore this dungeon. It was wide open and not limited.

Instanced dungeons keep players away from the multi-player part of online games. You join games to be part of a world, a growing community, if the game is designed correctly then players in a certain faction (Horde in Warcraft for example) should work together. Many MMORPGs have guilds for players to work together, but why not encourage those guilds to work together too?

The 40-man raid system in WoW is a perfect example of limiting content for players instead of opening the zone up for the whole community. Instancing in a small form can be okay, but the large and most important areas of a world should be open to all.

Frank Mignone: Instances have become a real trademark of the modern MMORPGs. Like all things, new features tend to evolve in hopes that they improve the product, although the effectiveness of those changes vary by opinion. In the case of instances, I think they're a step in the right direction.

How many times have you and your group of guildmates entered a very difficult dungeon, fought tooth and nail to the very end, only to find a line of other groups waiting for their turn to kill the boss monster? My exciting evening of adventure with my friends, upon reaching its climactic end turns into a trip to Disneyworld with the kids? I even get to wait in lines! Worse than that is that when you get to your turn, quite often you’re ganked by a camping Zerg waiting to kill anyone who actually bothered to play the dungeon to the end (anyone who plays MxO really knows what I am talking about).

The instance allows the group to enjoy playing as a group, without distraction. Sometimes two merging groups work well together when they converge on a specific dungeon. But let’s be honest, most of the time it starts out 'Dude! We were here first!' and simply escalates well beyond the kindergarten standard of people being immature. That's fun how? I know a lot of people in WoW who have joined guilds for no other purpose then to be able to participate in instances they cannot enter as a solo'er. They meet new friends and start participating in activities in and out of the instance with groups. You say its killing group play? I think it's one of the only new features in the modern MMO that is actually encouraging it.

Garrett Fuller: I am not against instancing in a limited capacity. What I do believe is instancing takes away from the community. I am for more world content! The more instances a game provides the less likely players will be to interact with the community.

In DAoC, the Midgard realm where I played really carried with it a sense of unity. Dragon raids were open to all, PvP groups took you no matter your guild, and Darkness Falls allowed players to clear dungeons together. In WarCraft, I only know my guildmates on the Horde side. Luckily, I made friends with a few other guilds through PvP. Other than that the realms of Horde and Alliance remain separated into their respective player guilds with no joint efforts to further the realm as a whole. High-end raid guilds become enclosed and elite without doing anything to support their realms. Instances breed this type of mentality. There is no open world danger in WarCraft.

MMO means massive multiplayer online. Instances take the "MM" out of "MMO". 5-40 man raids (both PvE and BGs) can not compare to the excitement of interacting with literally hundreds or thousands of players at the same time. Instances are like the YMCA. Get kids off the streets into safe controlled activities so they can't get in trouble or cause trouble in their communities. It’s a great concept for a real world community, but death to an online community.

You need people outside interacting for better and for worse. The more you instance a game, the more you create a fancy chat room for people to mingle in until their own special game is prepared for them. I am not suggesting eliminating the 5 – 40 man instance, but that should not be the main focus in a game such as WarCraft. After all, both sides are supposed to be at war with each other, not hiding out in safe 5 man caves.

Frank Mignone: You can hardly blame large, elite guilds in WoW for not supporting their realm as a result of instances. In WoW, there really isn’t anything to support, as it is a hollow war story. No victories, no defeats, and no territories changing sides. It’s like someone made a war movie based on ‘Ground Hogs Day’ (where Bill Murray lives the same day over and over again) and nothing he did the day before really matters. That fact would not change, be there instances or no. If you were to implement Dark Age of Camelot’s Realm vs. Realm gameplay into WoW, suddenly those battle instance that earn realm points have purpose, no less than dragon raids. Except it’s not subject to the goofballs who often crash the event with no more focus then a pair of broken bifocals, and do nothing but kill the fun for those of us who take the war seriously. I think Instances not only encourage the group mentality, but it improves the overall quality of that experience by weeding out the negative elements.

A lot of people have criticized Dungeons & Dragons Online for its instance-based gameplay. However, for those of us who actually play D&D know that it is fundamentally a game where you sit down with 5 or 6 friends to role-play. You and your band of comrades carve out your own story. I do not recall in a single D&D session someone showing up, telling me he just ‘pwned’ my warlock. I also never had to contend with another band of warriors who beat us to the enemy. It really is trying to bring the D&D experiences to gamers in a digital way, being rich stories focusing around a band of friends, which happens to be something MMORPGs have failed to achieve thus far. Instancing is the only way this could be brought to fruition in a ways that feels like a true D&D session.

Garrett Fuller: I'm not blaming the large guilds in WoW. I am blaming the design of the end game. Closed off raids in instances do not encourage player interaction for the entire realm. So WarCraft gives us a world event that ends up being a resource sink for all players doing absolutely nothing for Horde or Alliance unity. While I agree with Dungeons & Dragons Online in creating a much smaller server population. I do not agree that the entire game should be instanced outside of one central point. They are pushing D&D Online as an MMORPG, when really all it allows is for players to dungeon crawl together.

Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights gave the player a D&D experience. Why call it an MMORPG when it is just a huge instance dungeon for small groups to run off to? Part of MMORPGs that make them great is the interaction with the entire community. Ultima was great because there were no boundaries or rules. The world was wide open. Dark Age of Camelot kept certain zones separate for PvP but still allowed anyone to go in whether solo or grouped in a huge zerg. Playing on a PvP server in WoW you do have the world to fight in, but why bother when instances give such a huge bonus to PvP honor? Bottom line is that instancing in a limit capacity is okay. However, MMORPGs should not make it the focus of their game.

There was something fun about playing a rogue and hiding in a dungeon waiting for unsuspecting players to come through and jumping them. While I personally get extremely angry when I die in this scenario, I do believe it is a necessary element to MMORPG game play. It is a game world after all and part of the reason players are drawn to MMORPGs is to interact with a huge server of people.

Well folks where do you stand on this issue? Do you feel the Instances take away from the game community as a whole? Or do you believe they help players gain a better experience in an online world? I leave the question for you....

This week we're going to add a ripple. You can discuss the topic in this thread where we have also opened a poll.