Instancing has so many different connotations these days. I usually hate all of them, but for some reason I’m really enjoying their implementation in EverQuest.
The instancing in EverQuest is done through the “/pick” system. When a zone reaches a certain threshold of players the game generates a new instance. Players can freely move between these instances once every 5 minutes (when out of combat) by typing “/pick” and then choosing which instance (Example: Commonlands 1, Commonlands 2, etc) they would like to enter.
This type of instancing or redundant zoning system exists in several MMOs, but for the first time it feels like it works. I was thinking about why that might be the case, and I came to these conclusions.
No Phasing. Each zone is a full version of that zone. Nothing about the zone is individualized. Contrast this to SWTOR which has a similar instancing system, but then takes it a step further and phases players within each instance of the zone. The result takes a truncated world and further isolates players. I never feel alone even when there are six versions of my zone.
Group-centric. Everything in EverQuest is still about grouping. Yes, you can solo. Yes, you can do things by yourself and still succeed — even more so with the /pick system — but having such a group-centric focus makes the instances work because people are still moving from pick to pick (we call them “picks” not instances in-game) looking for people to group with.
Item Camping. Much of my time in EQ is spent looking for items to better my character or my alts. Since items can be traded freely (most of the time) that means I can camp a level 40 sword and pass it to my level 1 alt. Having multiple versions of zones means I’m not out of luck when the spawn I want is camped… though somehow they always are!
No Quests. There aren’t quests. People aren’t constantly running around leaving zones. In EverQuest, players tend to spend their entire play sessions in one zone. I’ll stay in Lower Guk for hours grouping and may not return to town for days. If I do, it’s to sell and gate right back.
No PvP. EverQuest is a PvE game. There aren’t instances of battlegrounds or people running around fighting each other. I felt this was important to mention as perhaps it alters people’s mindset.
Shared Dungeons. I want to make sure those reading this realize that all dungeons are “open-world” dungeons. You do not ever get your own version of any zone. Players are always sharing the world and even without changing it they are contributing to a social dynamic. We constrain ourselves to rules such as waiting in line for spawns, respecting someone who has a camp (9/10) and lending aid when needed.
The world of Norrath is huge. There are maybe 3,000 to 4,000 players on at a time max. Somehow the world feels packed full of people, and everywhere I go I’m rubbing shoulders with other adventurers looking to advance. Somehow these things have all come together in EverQuest and made instancing of this particular variation work.