Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Instanced Starting Content

Should starting content be instanced?

Most games say no, though that leads to over-crowding on launch day. Some games, like Age of Conan, do start off with the player in a small instance by themselves.

I actually think that starting content being instanced is a mistake for MMOs. I don't think you can make the assumption that people start playing by themselves. There are a lot of people who start by creating a character with a friend or family member. I think that it is a bad idea to separate them right at the start.

When I first started WoW, I started with a friend. We both created undead, and jumped right into the game together. That was a very attractive feature of the game.

Plus, the distinguishing feature of this genre is that you are playing with other people. I think it's important that right at the start you see other people running around. That's what makes it an MMO.

Even the crowds lend the game a certain "energy". People running around like crazy, chat channels going nuts. It might not be mechanically ideal, but I think crowded starting areas are important to the social ideal of this game.

I think there are things the designers could do to alleviate crowds. In particular, drop the tagging rules right from the start. Have mobs drop items for everyone involved in the kill, rather than only one person.

Tagging rules are primarily to prevent exploits, or prevent other people from stealing your loot or kill. Those situations don't really applies to the starting zones.


  1. With phasing the 15 rats that appear in your zone could be different from the 15 others than non-party members see.

    I'd say that phasing would really help, but instancing would not be desirable. Akin to how the Archy phasing works now.

    That would mean no kill competition, and set a reliable speed for the quester. Although 1000 players with their own phases would be slower than the DK area on launch day.

  2. Tobold missed one critical detail: the crowd doesn't dissipate after the starting day. Some people lag behind, but the majority of players move through the levelling zones simultaneously.
    If starting zones are instanced, on the day 1 every player plays by himself and gets accustomed to absence of quest-camping and Barrens-chatting. On day 2, he levels up enough and emerges into multiplayer zone, in for some shock. All people who levelled in instances on Day 1, are here too. They camp quest mobs and swear horribly in /1.
    Being instanced on Day 1 won't save him from overwhelming crowd on Day 2, unless we instance Day 2 zones too. It's only logical from this point on that to prevent unpleasnt levelling process due to too many people, we need to instance all zones up to the level cap...

  3. Well, Age of Conan tries to do both things in allowing both instanced content and traditional MMO-style work. The instanced stuff allows the game to tweak quests to your class' strengths --a Barbarian is going to get different class quests than a Priest of Mitra-- and it also allows you to work your quests without finding that someone cleared a room just before you arrived, so all you have to do is waltz in and collect what you need.

    LOTRO does the initial intro quests as instanced as well, but doesn't have an entire side path like Age of Conan does.

    For all of the ease of learning an MMO that Blizz puts into WoW, they definitely throw you more into the deep end of the pool than some of these other MMOs do. I can see the appeal either way, so it's really a matter of preference.

  4. While I could see the benefits of a phased starting area, at least the Death Knight style shared phased experience that introduces you to a really gripping story with visible effects for the player, there is really only one reason I'm still playing this game. That is that when I started I had four real life friends who would bring their computers over, connect to my LAN and play Warcraft together. As frustrating as kill and object competition is (Vashj'ir, I'm looking right at your "find things on the ground" quests), I wouldn't trade the shared world experience for easier quests. I think they learned their lessons with the DK, Goblin and Worgen zones, and I would love to see that applied to the other races' zones.

  5. "Tagging rules are primarily to prevent exploits, or prevent other people from stealing your loot or kill. Those situations don't really applies to the starting zones."

    -> If you have tons of people in the same zone, whether newbies or end-game, kill steal becomes hard to avoid. Those situations do happen in newbie zones, and that's where you'd like to avoid them most: "I tried this new MMO for an hour and I already got KSed in the newbie zone. Let's get somewhere else."

    "Have mobs drop items for everyone involved in the kill, rather than only one person."
    -> I like this idea, although the naive approaches that exist so far in MMOs easily lead to exploits (as you said). Any idea(s)?

    "the majority of players move through the levelling zones simultaneously. [...] we need to instance all zones up to the level cap..."
    -> it's not the only solution. I guess the root problem is something like "too many people at the same place cause a local scarcity of resources, therefore a not-so-good play/leveling experience". What if local resources adapted to the number of players on the map? What if quests adapted? Imagine a 5-man dungeon where 4 groups are waiting for a healer to arrive to actually start. If the game detects those groups waiting for a healer, then have the dungeon dynamically change into a 10-man dungeon with only one healer needed per group. That reduces the number of waiting groups by 2. You can also increase mini-boss's difficulty so that people make bigger teams, and give the quest completed for the whole group.

    MMO designs should be based on principles like "the more the merrier", not "divide and conquer".

  6. Gentimon, maybe I phrased it badly.

    What I'm saying is that the "exploits" don't really exist in the newbie zones. So you don't need the protections against those exploits.

    Basically, tagging rules exist because of exploits. If the exploits are not important, then the tagging rules are not needed.

    Personally, I was thinking more like the game has the regular rules, but relaxes them in the starting areas.

  7. I'd place the decision into the players' hands. Let them choose whether they want to leap directly into multiplayer fray, or whether they'd rather play an optional instanced tutorial first.

  8. Instanced phasing could work, but I'd say do it Guild Wars town style. Set a cap on the number of players per phase, so that you don't have a thousand instances, but Maybe 10 to choose from. These instances would be deleted and added as the population swells or declines. This would create a headache though should the number of phases cap, but that wouldn't be any different than a server being listed as full.