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?