This is a comment I wrote to an article on Terra Nova, signed by Big Bartle.
At the same time I mirrored on the forum an old thread on F13 where I explained my point of view on this system. What it is, when to use it and how. Or why not.
In my ravings around May, after CoH was launched, I was one of the few strongly criticizing the use of instances. But this specific to a point of view: virtual words Vs an arcade single/cooperative approach.
My point is that this approach isn’t wrong if you deliberately choose *that* strategy and *that* path. I believe that PvE (in its broader meaning) is strictly single/cooperative play. Today we have a market that is considered to lean strongly toward PvE.
Now these facts all produce together the same result: strongly instanced (PvE) games are successful because they know perfectly what they are. Their nature. They are bringing back their gameplay where it belongs -> to a single player/cooperative experience. So they work.
As I wrote long ago these strongly instanced games are good and successful because they are NOT mmorpgs. They know this and they do not “pretend” to be something else and offer gameplay outside of its proper space.
Because, again, PvE (from my point of view) intersects with single player/cooperative gameplay. They are a single entity that simply doesn’t work if you try to separate the two parts.
Now, my point of view is that it is never “wrong” to use something. It depends on how you use tools, like instancing. In this case I believe that we can lean toward trying to add more experiences to a mmorpg. So that we have a complex world, a meaningful implementation of PvP AND also a PvE part, where instancing can be used to deliver the best quality possible.
What I mean is that instancing “delivers a lot” in PvE exactly because it’s a “going back where it belongs”. What can be a choice is about integrating this part (PvE) with something else that incentivates what makes this genre different. Adding different possibilities, so that instancing becomes a way to offer what is pertinent to it, leaving another part of the VW to work under different rules and strategies.
Now all this is weakly tied to what you write here but it’s my way to explain what instancing is and how it can be used. In particular your last example seems near what already happens in Neverwinter Nights. And it’s here that what I write plugs in the discussion.
From a design point of view I also believe that the “resets” aren’t the main strength of this technique. What is relevant is that you can choose and fix a range of levels (power) or a number of players, so that you are able to (finally) offer a challenge. Where, instead, the current mmorpgs trivialize every attempt at delivering a decent PvE exactly because you can rip off the starting conditions, bringing to the encounter more players or letting in a strong character that powerlevels everyone else. Instancing simply adds *more control* in the hands of the creator. This means that we are less “sandbox” and a lot more content-driven experience.
And it’s here again that we discover what instancing is and how it should be used.
Instead what you write about using instancing to produce a more interesting world (and more control again, but to create something that can be more dynamic and more original). That’s a particular kind of potential that I wouldn’t limit to PvE. It’s something that can be used for PvP and so completely unrelated to instancing.