The Daily Grind: Is instancing in MMORPGs our real enemy?

The first MMORPGs I ever played hadn’t come up with instancing yet. They had perceptible server lines and time-sucking zone walls, but everyone was in the same world, fighting over the same everything, often waiting in lines for spawns or flat-out cutting in those lines with no recourse left to the players but to chuck their own manners or lose out.

It took time, but eventually the purveyors of online worlds figured out how to instance off content. Some instanced dungeons so we wouldn’t have to camp-check again. Some just instanced housing. Some instanced whole zones to keep the lag down, and some even instanced the overland world or storytelling areas, leading us to the point that some players argue that all types of instancing are bad, that it destroys worlds and breaks up communities and leads to tiny, unambitious lobby-based games.

I’ve never been convinced that instancing ruined the genre; some of the biggest “feeling” MMOs I’ve played were layered with instances to keep everyone together, whereas a truly open-world game can feel tiny if it’s so big you never meet another soul. To me, it’s not the structure of the gameworld but what players are encouraged and enabled to do within it that makes or breaks the feel of an MMO and its community. Instanced housing, for example, is better than no housing at all!

What say you? Is instancing in MMORPGs — the very thing intended to help us all fit into these worlds together without trampling each other — our real enemy?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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174 Comments on "The Daily Grind: Is instancing in MMORPGs our real enemy?"

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mysecretid
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mysecretid

PizzaDoh 
“at that point, you’ve joined a chat room, not a dungeon”‘
An excellent way of putting it. One of my least-fun gaming experiences involved waiting in a long line in early World Of WarCraft to kill a quest-target monster. It genuinely felt like waiting in line to buy movie tickets, or to make a deposit at the bank,
So much for feeling like an epic fantasy hero! :-)

Skyewauker
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Skyewauker

schmidtcapela Caec You do have a lobby though.  Thats the thing.  In WoW your lobby now is your garrison.  In The Division its whatever safehouse you logged out in.  In TOR, its the fleets.  MMOs have literally turned into what you say you dont have to bother with lol.

Skyewauker
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Skyewauker

disUserNameTake Skyewauker Everyone below pretty much answered it for me.  The day WoW and many others became an Instance Simulator is the day it started to go down hill.  This happened late in WotLK.  There is a reason that most people think that Wrath was the best expac.  They think of it because once LFD was introduced the game was set down a path that made the subsequent expansions shit.  Community went away.  Knowing people on your server went away.  The LFD tool coupled with cross realm has ruined MMOs forever and its something we cannot come back from.  

Millennials and there “veruka” ways have pretty much ruined gaming as we know it.

crackfox
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crackfox

mysecretid crackfox That was exactly my experience in SWG. Funny that you mention Berlin – iirc, the first player city on my server was called New Berlin. But at launch, before the sprawl of player cities, Tatooine really was Tatooine and I loved every barren inch of it.

PizzaDoh
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PizzaDoh

Instanced dungeons I think are okay – it allows the game to feel like you’re traveling to a dangerous area to kill some evil monster thing.

When you don’t have instanced dungeons, you walk into a sea of people sitting around waiting for a giant monster to spawn. It’s really not epic at all – at that point you’ve joined a chat room, not a dungeon.

Instancing is okay in quests when it’s brief and isn’t consistently putting you in further along instances keeping you from playing with friends if you quest too far.

tobascodagama
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tobascodagama

ManastuUtakata crackfox Nordavind

Oh, I’m using the capital-C just to emphasise the words that are programmer terminology. No special meaning there.

As for why… It’s just a peculiar usage of the dictionary definition: “A set, collection, group, or configuration containing members regarded as having certain attributes or traits incommon; a kind or category.”

ManastuUtakata
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ManastuUtakata

schmidtcapela ManastuUtakata crackfox Nordavind tobascodagama 
Now that makes much more sense. Once I separated game classes from “Class”, I am starting to see components of an MMO containing their own variables. From environmental details to player characters to entire zones to instance dungeons. It’s like looking at a game as Lego blocks, as opposed to one big program. Or the universe as loop quantum gravity, as opposed sting theory which I am sure some astrophysicist came up on a DMT trip. But I digress…
…thanks for explaining all of that. My understanding of why instance are called instances is less rudimentary for it. <3

schmidtcapela
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schmidtcapela

Caec 
Personally, I don’t play MMOs to have a “functioning online society/community.” Not interested in the least. I play MMOs because they are a kind of game where I can meet other players and join them on a whim, without having to bother with lobbies, out of game server lists, or any such kludges.

(Well, among other things, but as far the social reasons I play MMOs instead of single-player games or more conventional multiplayer games, that is it.)

Though I do agree that there is a long list of MMOs that might have had better success as single-player games with co-op capabilities. Heck, from time to time I say that I don’t care enough about TOR to even play it for free, but I would have pre-ordered and paid full price for a single-player KotOR3 with the exact same content.

schmidtcapela
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schmidtcapela

Rheem Octuris 
And that is why I never bothered with old Everquest. Despite enjoying company, in a game I refuse to depend on others. Ruins my fun.

schmidtcapela
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schmidtcapela

Estranged SC_Deadline Samizdat 
Not everyone is like you. I find asking others for a place in a group stressful enough that in WoW I played less than a dozen instances in the years from launch until LFD was added; contrasting that, in just the first day after I discovered LFD I played more instances than in the years before.

I don’t have anything against socializing per see. But I will never, EVER, ask another player for help in a game. Not even for a spot in a group, or to ask someone to join my group. Too frustrating and stressful, every time I attempted to do that I would instead log out in frustration, so I don’t even try anymore.

In other words: you want to get someone like me to socialize, you need to find a way that absolutely does not involve asking for help.