Daily Archives: October 18, 2006

In Defense of Instancing

I have read and heard a bit over the last couple of months about instancing and how it is not the way things should be.  And there are some legitimate complaints about instancing. The primary one I have seen runs along the lines of, “You’re not part of the world experience if you can have your own private instance of something like a dungeon.”  Richard Bartle, in his 2004 article “Why Virtual Worlds are Designed By Newbies – No, Really!” goes further and makes the specific assertion that instancing leads to “boredom and disenchantment.”

I represent a fairly casual player demographic these days.  The seemingly endless hours of youth are now just a memory.  From this point of view, instancing is actually saving me from boredom and disenchantment in addition to enhancing the immersive nature of the game. 

On the boredom and disenchantment side of things I could go on for a while.  There is nothing more boring or disenchanting than having some free time on a Saturday night to get together with some friends in-game and finding a dozen or more other people working the same quests as you, or having a party of higher level players step right over you and blow away every mob you were working your way towards, or finally getting through a dungeon only to find that there are three groups waiting for the mob you want.  That leads to a lot more boredom and disenchantment on my part. 

And all of that is immersion breaking as well.  In fact, the breaking of the immersive nature of MMOs seems to me to be a bigger issue.  Having that immersive dungeon crawl experience is next to impossible without instancing.  I do not want something like Deadmines in WoW to be a competition between my group of friends with appropriate level characters trying to have a real dungeon experience and a seemingly endless train of level 60’s rushing their low level friends through to VanCleef so they can get some spiffy piece of rare equipment which they probably will barely use in their headlong rush to level 60. 

A traffic jam in a dungeon is not immersive. 

In fact, if you think back to the pen and paper days, adventurers were a rare breed, an exception to the general populace.  Long lines of groups seeking an armed audience with the man-hydra VanCleef and his ever regrowing head are totally out of character with the adventurer spirit.  That spirit should be more Lewis & Clark and less Disneyland’s Jungle Safari ride.

The lonely dungeon crawl with just you and your friends represents how things ought to be, to me at least, rather than the crowd scenes I recall at popular dungeons in EverQuest and EverQuest II.

Of course, I do miss the random, positive social interaction in such places:  The person who drops an un-asked-for buff on you just to be nice,  the other group you join forces with to accomplish a great deed, the poor guy all by himself on whom you have pity and let join your group and who ends up in your guild and becomes a good friend.  I experienced all of those situations and more in EverQuest and EverQuest II.  But are they worth the price of giving up instancing?  I do not think so.  There is time and opportunity for that in the rest of the predominately un-instance world, which is where I spend most of my time anyway. 

A natural rebuttal to my thoughts is, “Go play NeverWinter Nights” or some similar game.  That would certainly give the immersive experience and would be cheaper to boot!

The problem is, I sold my copy of NeverWinter Nights (with all of the expansions) to a kid up the street at our last garage sale for the grand sum of $5.  Why? Because being in a world that is live, vibrant, and full of people who are kind, annoying, helpful, obnoxious, dull, wise, clueless, witty, and every combination in between is the real addictive part of MMOs.  It is why people live in cities.  We want to be around people, even if we might not want to interact with them at any given moment. 

So let there be instancing in the proper measure!

Of course, this might brand me as a noob… but I never claimed to anything else!