Instanced Persistence

Persistence has turned into a buzzword for developers.  When I read “persistent world” I think of a world that is static and there at all times open and available to play in that will not change when you close the game.  When I read “Massively Multiplayer Persistent World” I think of a world that is online and available to -everyone- playing that will stay online and open/available to everyone to play in together.  The trick here is what they really mean by persistent.

Many say persistent world but they mean instanced persistence.  Age of Empires Online is instanced persistence.  Your “base” is persistent for you.  You log in and see your town but no one else does unless they “visit” to look at it — when you want to battle against the AI or other players it’s a normal RTS game and your city has nothing to do with it; it’s a glorified lobby.  I’m betting Trion’s MMORTS in development, End of Nations, will be the same way.  Standard RTS games are instanced persistence in that they are there for the match, in that instance, and are gone after.  Global Agenda is instanced persistence.  You are in an instanced lobby (1 or however many are open because not everyone can be in their little lobbies at the same time) and when you go to do battle you are instanced away in something that is only persistent so long as that match is going on — it has an end.

What makes a MMORTS that instances their persistence any more “MMO” or persistent than the standard Warcraft 3?  The answer is simply that you have a really cleverly disguised lobby that you may be able to run around in or build something in, but in the end it is just a lobby.  This is why Global Agenda was ultimately not a MMO and had more in common with Call of Duty or Diablo than a real MMO.  It’s not persistent when you have 12v12 fights just like Team Fortress 2 and the winner gets their name on a map.

Be aware of what you are being sold on.  Understand the difference between something that is truly open and persistent vs. something that is instanced and merely hiding behind the guise of “social” interactions and rewards. Understand why developers do whatever they can to never use the word “instanced”; understand why it has become taboo to say the words yet use the method (hint: you sell more games if you mislead people) and how you can spot it before you spend your money.

A MMORTS that claims real territory control yet never shows you territory is hiding behind words. Playing a standard RTS match to decide who wins an imaginary territory is no more persistent than what we’ve been playing for well over a decade.  The same principles apply to MMOFPS and even MMORPGs.

  • Persistance is an odd concept. It was originally intended to refer to a world that continued on without you. Log off and next day you might find things have changed, players have attacked structures and changed the world in your absence.

    Since modern MMO’s don’t really have anything to change persistance is a hard thing to care about. If I have an attackable player house then sure, persistance matters to me. If “persistance” simply means that people I don’t know from different time zones are running 5 man instances at 4am while I’m asleep I don’t care.

    It mattered in Galaxies where people could attack your base at its vulnerable time. It matters in nullsec Eve where people can take your space. But in WoW? in Rift? I care no more that people play while I’m asleep than I care that people play Minesweeper while I’m asleep.

  • In EQ/WoW/Rift/LotRO/Etc it refers to the world being there and people playing without you. Others are playing and advancing and you’re not if you’re not playing. The world does move on. It’s not as obvious or as impactful on you as it is in SWG or DAoC since those games are about PvP in the open-world and losing something or gaining something at the expense of others.

    Big difference between something literally being there or not, as it is in Age of Empires Online and, I assume, End of Nations.

  • I hate instances. They are simply an easy cop out.
    They remove a real world feeling from games. Sure your playing with others, but in your own mini, controlled version. Instances remove challenges of the uncontrollable, primarily other players. Instances always, always, always start or quickly become gear checks and treadmills. Instances require farming of pointless mobs, instead of killing just what you are after. Instances remove player conflict, sometimes good but definitely not always. Worst of all, instances cause players to become socially isolated.

  • MMO’s are definitely not trending toward being social atmospheres in the industry today. I don’t care how much twitter or facebook outside network crap they integrate, the games are becoming nothing but instance cliques with your 5-10 E-Friends and no other meaningful interaction with anyone else.

  • Persistence means that whatever changes occur are permanent for everyone playing. There are very, very, VERY few MMOs that actually have this, and they are probably small, indie games.

    If my character dies in the game, and he can be magically brought back to life on some meta-game timer, that is not persistent. If someone kills a monster and that monster re-spawns, that is not persistent.

    The changes that take place, just like life on earth, must be permanent for there to be real persistence.

  • @Lumin: You’re classifying something that’s dynamic, NOT persistent. Persistent simply means moving forward. Pushing through no matter what. It means that, in a persistent world, the world will continue to move whether you’re a part of it or not.

    @Keen: I could imagine a persistent MMORTS, to be honest. I imagine it like I would any other persistent world. You would have the ability, on incredibly large worlds, build up your base and sustain it. Be it through econ, war, so forth. But it would function like an MMORPG.

    The world wouldn’t be instanced, but would instead just be a gigantic world. Something where, when you log off, things can actually happen. Happen in a way that it can change the world around you. Such as losing what you’ve worked so hard to build. I guess it would be more like a sandbox, but with RTS rulesets and limitations. It’s possible. Just not likely.

  • @Shadrah: I can imagine that too. That’s why I laugh to myself when I see these games calling themselves MMORTS when they’re just…not.

  • “per·sis·tent


    1. Refusing to give up or let go; persevering obstinately.
    2. Insistently repetitive or continuous: a persistent ringing of the telephone.
    3. Existing or remaining in the same state for an indefinitely long time; enduring: persistent rumors; a persistent infection.”

    Persistence is arguably the opposite of what you describe Lumin. But, I am not trying to be argumentative, so I won’t say that…

  • I always return to playing Shattered Galaxy that is what a persistent MMORTS should be like.

  • Hey Keen,

    I don’t comment much but have been reading your blog for a few years now. I’m sure you will have your choice of career employment when you are done with school and it will be interesting to see who you go with, Blizzard, EA, etc! (I’m assuming you want to work in the gaming industry!)

    Anyway, I’ve played Wow pretty much since the beginning and for the most part enjoy it, it’s my way of unwinding after a long day at work. All my friends are on a PVE server but I sometimes wish I went with a PVP one (though I don’t know that there would be much difference these days). I’m more of a casual player because I can’t play for hours on end so I don’t raid. Lately, I’ve been chasing ‘Achievements’ and leveling alts because there isn’t much more to do with my main toon.

    I’m sure you have thought of this and I wondered if you have ever heard feedback from Blizzard or others. In short, I’ll always start and end my playing time in Stormwind City (yes, Alliance) but as I chase achievements, I need to spend more time in Kalimador. I thought it would be fun if there were a couple cities in Azeroth that could be fought over. If say, there were cities in Southern Barrens and Redridge (doesn’t really matter where) that could be controlled by pvp, I would want to participate because it would be advantageous to me. These cities would have daily quests, an Auction House, reputation to grind for good gear, achievements, etc. No timers like in Wintergrasp and Tol Barad but continual. If I logged out in one of these cities and then the Horde took control of it, I would be banished to Booty Bay or some obscure place when I logged in. If I could use this city as a hub, it would add a lot of excitement to the game! I think Warhammer tried this but I didn’t stick with that game too long, so I’m not sure.

    I know you have mentioned this type of stuff before and I’m sure others have said the same thing. Do you believe developers listen? Is it worth posting on Wow forums? I wish there were some kind of poll that could be logged into where ideas could be heard and voted on so Blizzard and others could see the numbers (by votes) of what people want and are interested in. It seems rare that a developer will post in the forums anything meaningful and for the most part seem to be a convoluted mess.

    I’m in my 40’s and its funny that I care, but I do. I’ve made a lot of friends in game and its a way that helps me relax and have fun. For better or for worse, I believe mmo gaming will be a part of my life for the rest of it. I want it to be as fun as can be!

    Thanks the opportunity to share my 2 cents and your continued effort to your blog =)


  • Todd,

    Your idea is shared by myself, Graev, and many others who believe in meaningful open-world PvP. What you describe is similar to the type of PvP experienced in Dark Age of Camelot and Star Wars Galaxies. It’s both persistent and dynamic and it makes for a real great time.

    I think the time for something like this being added to WoW is either far gone or just around the corner. It would require Blizzard to suddenly change the way in which they implement PvP, though. They always come so close but then shrink away from the idea and hide behind instanced battlegrounds and arenas.

    Blizzard could place a stranglehold on the PvP market if they were to place their polish into a meaningful PvP system. Personally, I think this is something for a future game of theirs since WoW is now over six years old.

    Developers listen, but I strongly believe that most do not understand or know how to implement a working system and the ones that do are afraid of risks. The MMO industry is turning into a risk-averse place which is unfortunate. We need some risks. It’s worth noting that I don’t believe it to be a real risk since it is proven that if you do it correctly it works.

    I hope you’ll keep holding onto the hope that a developer will create a game like we want. The more people that continue to want it, the greater our odds of getting one.

  • To me, claiming an MMO is persistent is like Sony advertising that their TVs broadcast in color. Duh, you can’t claim, as a feature, something that is a basic requirement. Persistent world was something to brag about in ’97.

    The unfortunate part for MMO players is that these developers are taking the whole genre back to a place where ‘persistent world’ will be a feature once again instead of a basic requirement.

    Instances and channels. . .it’s like you’re watching a black and white TV with rabbit ears on the top IMO.

  • @7 and @9

    Persistence: “Existing or remaining in the same state for an indefinitely long time”

    Something that happens in the game and is witnessed to have happened by other players and remains the same way as it happened is persistence. I don’t really know how you could define it any other way.

    If your character kills a monster or completes a quest, and that monster or quest duplicates itself as if it never happened for the next player, then it is not persistent. In other words, your actions in the world did NOT remain in the same persistent state after the action took place.

    If everything just resets itself after something happens, there is no persistence. The world is constantly resetting itself as if no change of state ever took place. Each player is, in effect, playing in a vacuum or “instance” that has very little effect on other players.

    If you make a change on the world, that change should remain in effect for all players to be called a persistent world.

    You want to see a truly persistent MMO? See my link.

  • Try Wikipedia:

    “A persistent world (PW) is a virtual world that continues to exist even after a user exits the world and that user-made changes to its state are, to some extent, permanent.”

    In most MMOs, A group of players doing a raid and slaying the big bad boss at the end is not permanent for the next group.

    In a truly persistent MMO world, saving the princess from the dragon should mean that the princess is always saved from the dragon for everyone else who plays. The person who saved the princess should be a unique “hero”.

    Alternatively, the guy who ends up slaying the dragon should be a unique hero as well because he is the only one who EVER did it. His actions remained persistent.

    “Legend of the Red Dragon” had a feature like this, where once the “dragon” was slain, the game would essentially end. Guild Wars 2 is trying to go this direction. This is the next big revolution in MMOs.

  • @Lumin: First of all, Wikipedia is a joke. That aside, though, you do make a good point. However, I think you’ve argued against yourself. Persistent worlds DO exist. Things you do in game, in some cases, do make a more permanent impact. What you’re talking about is more dynamic persistence? Changing something on the fly, while persistent, isn’t the point Keen was trying to make.

    He was simply pointing at persistence as an everyday word. Something that’s been overused to the point that it’s diluted what it originally meant. The problem with an MMO being truly persistent is this:

    What happens to the other X amount of people when that dragon was slain? Is another dragon, just not the same one, going to pop up elsewhere so they can feel heroic too? Or is it going to be a race to beat the game and leave everyone behind? I think this is where you might be getting it mixed up a little. Persistence in the form you speak of is better suited to single player games. That level of static movement is definitely not constructive to an MMO.

  • @ Lumin

    Points taken. Also, I would say that even in the traditional MMO sense of persistent a players actions are persistent with respect to themselves since they get the XP or resources from killing or harvesting. However, in terms of world persistence, I guess it kind of depends on your perspective. It seems to me that one can look at in terms of the “players’ actions” persisting in the world (which is what I think you are talking about) or the “world” itself persisting despite the players actions (which is where I was coming from).

    If you are talking about the world itself being persistent, I think those monsters and resource nodes need to respawn. However, if you want the players actions (such as killing the monsters and harvesting the resources) to persist, then they never come back again.

    However, the problem I see with the persistence you describe is what happens when the players have killed all the monsters or mined all the ore or destroyed all the buildings? You just have a desolate wasteland with nothing to do and believe me, with the mindset of many of today’s players that will happen about 10 times faster than you predict.

    You have to have an endless supply of monsters or how else do you satiate the players desire to endlessly slaughter them for money/loot/xp/etc.? Same with resources. Same with players, i.e. perma-death is no fun.

    Is it impossible to do? I don’t think so, but it’s certainly not cheap and I think that is why no mainstream MMO (for lack of a better term) has has attempted to go that route. You would need to create a virtual world containing an almost unthinkable amount of detail on an incredible scale. If monsters don’t “respawn” like they do in the traditional MMO worlds we know, then you would either need to have enough on release to last forever (which would be ridiculous) or they would need to breed. What if you killed all the goblin moms and dads? Ooops.

    I can just hear the newb in general chat asking:

    “Are there any dragons in this game?”

    “There were, but all the dragons were killed about 3 years ago, a few weeks after release.”


    Someone correct me if I am wrong, I am really trying to wrap my brain around this even being a viable concept.

  • This is why I could never get into Diablo or GW. It’s just a lobby with instances. But what says alot for the state of MMORPGS is I am considering playing both the next version of Diablo and GW.

    Cause…there is nothing else out there right now that is remotely interesting. I guess Terra. What the hell has happened to this genre?

  • @17

    “You have to have an endless supply of monsters or how else do you satiate the players desire to endlessly slaughter them for money/loot/xp/etc.? Same with resources. Same with players, i.e. perma-death is no fun.”

    I see your point, but I think in order for this to work, players need to approach this from a more fundamental standpoint and understand why this problem exists. Players need to lose the “your character is the most important part of the game world” mentality first.

    If -your- character is ALWAYS the hero (at least in a monster slaying, loot grabbing sense), it means that the world can never be truly persistent. If you want to be just as heroic as the next guy, it means that your character has to fulfill the exact same heroic deeds as him.

    This is the main problem with MMOs today – everybody feels they have to be the “best”. Because of it, every heroic character needs the same quests, monsters and plot-lines so nobody feels left out. This is why we lose true persistence.

    I say, let the “world” and “story” be the main character. What if we approached an MMO like a storybook, where every character started simply as a living, breathing member of society. They had no foreordained “quest” to undertake and they had no -right- to awesomeness. They simply carried out a life in whatever circumstance in which they found themselves in as best they could.

    What if those player characters did not simply *poof* into existence. What if they were “born” into families of characters that lived there. If that were so, characters could pass on their items and other possessions and powers onto their children. Permanent death for one character would only mean the beginning of a new chapter in the world story in which a family member would continue the success of the last.

    There would be an endless supply of loot because nobody would actually have a monopoly on it. And in this case, the loot would be far more important and sentimental if it had been passed down through family ancestry, bearing inscriptions and tales of past deeds. No longer would we simply find “Purple Sword of Slicing +2”, but a sword that had been in the family for generations and had been used to defeat the dragon lord of an invading army.

    What if, in that world, some players could actually BE the most powerful monsters? Instead of boring, re-spawning raid bosses, these creatures would be played by real people. Then THEY would be the ones raiding villages, and taking YOUR loot back to their lair. If a clan of player driven dragons were to go extinct, the development team could introduce new boss races made up of players to start new, awesome, story-lines.

    What if, in that world, there was no such thing as a “static” object? What if every object was made by the players in the world? Players could go about gathering the raw resources from their surroundings and make their own items, and even build their own villages to defend themselves in.

    All of these concepts are not difficult to program. There isn’t some “future” technology required to do this. If there were enough desire by a community and a studio to develop it, it could easily happen. But in order for it to happen, I think there needs to be a paradigm shift in players’ minds from the Gygaxian model of “I am the hero” mentality, to “The world is the hero”.

  • “This is the main problem with MMOs today – everybody feels they have to be the “best”. Because of it, every heroic character needs the same quests, monsters and plot-lines so nobody feels left out. This is why we lose true persistence.”

    The other option is you make the end game content hard and don’t let just anybody get the best loot until they put some effort in. Those that put the effort in feel heroic standing around in their rare loot in a persistent world, and the remainder have a goal that keeps them playing.

    Before you say, “That won’t work everybody will quit.”, explain the ongoing success of EQ and even WoW to a lesser extent.

  • There are many fundamental aspects of traditional game play mechanics that are not consistent with suspended disbelief reality. Some are so well established that we don’t question their implausibility, such as cherry picking a mob out of a field of mob clones that should be able see you clearly attacking one of their own, but are outside of one’s agro radius. Whether this is a good or bad thing is difficult to say; imagine if the one ogre you pulled in a field of ADD ogre buddies was able to start a chain reaction alert onto you. You would certainly die unless you always hunted in zerg packs. Quests in story driven MMORPG’s will suffer from a lack of persistence as developers can write individualized plot lines. So how much persistence is actually conducive to enjoyable game play?
    Sometimes lack of persistence might be a good thing. I am a fan of non-repairable weapon degradation; one really appreciates something when they know it won’t be around forever, it makes your items more valuable, stimulates the crafting economy, and forces one to try different equipment options (as opposed to treating fairly cool items as just disenchanting fodder).

    I don’t mind instances in arena type situations; I just dislike the loot grinding aspect of these scenarios. A balance of open world and instanced PvP is fun if well implemented.

  • *can’t write individualized plot lines

    Keen, is it possible to allow posters to delete their previous posts as a primitive editing function? Perhaps until someone else posts afterwards?

  • @Lumin: You’re asking for far too much from an MMO. Especially in today’s market. The sheer amount of time needed to be spent playing a game like that makes it an illogical choice. You’re basically talking about the dev’s laying out a flat piece of land with trees and rocks on it.. for us to shape into a world. Do you know how long that would take? You’re asking for something that really isn’t practical.

    While I understand the concept, and realize it could be a cool one.. it’ll never happen. Firstly because no one company is going to trust that much of their game developement to the community. Then, secondly, there wouldn’t be enough players to get it going in a reasonable amount of time. You have to understand, MMOs are played by a smaller and smaller percentage of people who dump their entire lives into them. Which is almost what an MMO like that would take.

  • @Shadrah (#23)

    I’m offended by developers or companies who think we’re too stupid to handle the responsibility of shaping their online worlds.

    I know for a fact that every one of those features I listed in my last post can work because they each exist in the MMO I run. It may not have graphics or a state-of-the art game engine, but the principle behind it is the same.

    The players in our community do an amazing job of producing incredible lore and molding the world. I have certain dedicated players who actually control mega creatures such as dragons and other powerful entities. They beat the heck out of the robotic, re-spawning garbage that MMOs employ. They wander the game world terrorizing villages, kidnapping maidens, stealing loot, or just making things interesting. They create quests at an -organic- level for the players to undertake, and they do it in a very mature and responsible way. These aren’t “GM” created events as some MMOs employ, they are run by the players themselves and happen all the time in the game because that is how the game works.

    Every last object in the world is made by players, from the biggest castle cities, to the tiniest trinket. Each item can be personalized with your own inscriptions or images. And for those who possess magic abilities, they can enchant them with mysterious powers that may or may not be apparent to the unwary passerby.

    Remember Bard and his Black Arrow from the Hobbit? It was special, not because it was magic or because it was enchanted, but because it was a family heirloom. That made the plot device a thousand times more awesome than some shallow, artificial, magical enhancement. The same thing could be said for Frodo’s Sting or Gimli’s axe and many other objects. The thing that made these items special in Tolkien’s lore was not the superficial “magic”, but the way in which they tied the characters in the world together. We need to get back to that kind of object personalization in MMOs and RPGs in general. Items shouldn’t just be a “phat loot” badge, it should define at a base level, who the players are.

    We also have absolutely no NPC people. Every intelligent faction in the world is a player, role-playing both good and evil characters and every shade in between. When you raid an “Orc” dungeon in this world, you’re raiding a society of monsters played by real individuals.

    So, yeah, when I hear people say it’s impossible, or we lack the technology, or we can’t trust the players, or it isn’t practical, it bothers me a bit. I know it works because I see it work every day. I won’t say it doesn’t require a fundamental change in the way we -think- about MMOs. The current model has been so ingrained in the psyche of players that it will require a major company taking a chance to change that trend.

  • @Shadrah: I’ve been considering allowing long-time commentators to have the ability to edit their posts. Giving it to everyone isn’t possible since it would require them to log in, and this blog is not tied into any account system other than its own internal one.

  • Mind shedding some light on this “MMO” you run, Lumin? Is it actually massive, or do you just throw the MMO tag around like everyone else these days?

    If it is actually massive, I wouldn’t mind giving it a go.

  • “Mind shedding some light on this “MMO” you run, Lumin?” Uh…If you click his name it takes you to some MMO I never heard of before. So it’s massive in a very small way.

  • Thanks Sanz, didn’t even notice the clickable names before 🙂

    It looks like a MUD to me, which is not nearly the same as an MMO.

    MUD concepts work great on paper (pun intended), but inevitably do not translate well into 3D environments. I’m not saying it is impossible, just highly unlikely that we will ever see your game, per se, in a massive 3D online setting.

    Still, many props for making and running said game, Lumin.

  • @Lumin: The problem is that you’re using a text based browser game as an example. We’re talking about something on the scale of World of Warcraft. Something that large that has to be shaped entirely by players. It’s MUCH easier, at least in my experience, to right a book.. then it is to film a movie. That really is the two extremes here. I mean, sure it’s been done. Look at Minecraft. Prime example.

    I’m more concerned with the the level of depth you’re trying to accumulate. It’s too much. You’re asking people to turn their lives into a video game. Sure, some people would be more than willing to do so.. most won’t. And yes.. developers don’t stop us because they think we’re stupid. They stop us because they want to make money. Because, in the end.. whether you like to think so or not.. this industry is a business. Throwing a blank slate out to the masses and crossing your fingers isn’t a sound business model.

  • @29

    “We’re talking about something on the scale of World of Warcraft.”

    What scale? The number of players? The number of models used? The size of the world? The number of staff? Scale makes no difference when good concepts are used. And who says that writing a book is easier to film a movie? Sure, anyone can publish a crappy book, but there are plenty of crappy movies too. A great book can be just as difficult to write than a great movie. Tolkien’s novels took most of his life to write, while the corresponding movies only took a few years.

    “You’re asking people to turn their lives into a video game.”

    And the insane grind required in most modern MMOs doesn’t already do that?

    In my case it is actually just the opposite. In the world I run, I make heavy use of offline persistence. When you log out of the game, your character does not. Instead he is left doing whatever it was you assigned him. There is no magical “*poof – you’re logged in!*, *poof – you’re logged out!*” BS. Everything stays persistent – even the characters.

    If he was gathering wood, he continues gathering wood. If he was mining ore, he continues to mine ore. This system removes nearly all the grind from the game. You can be offline while your character is doing the dirty work. Instead of spending your waking life slaying boars, you can be role-playing instead.

    To handle offline PVP, I employ a “guarding” system. This means that family members or clans can set up well-equipped soldiers and guards to protect children or other individuals in case of an attack. They auto-defend themselves and the attackee using their abilities and equipment. Players can also leave their character inside a locked building, or behind the parapets of a city wall. This greatly enhances a character’s defensive capability in case of an attack.

    I’ve found a system like this works great for protecting people from ganking or other unsolicited attacks while the player is offline. A troll will think twice before walking into a quiet village and trying to slay everyone in sight. A game with a high amount of depth can be accomplished with very little effort by the player – you just have to think outside the box a little.

    “Throwing a blank slate out to the masses and crossing your fingers isn’t a sound business model.”

    Tell that to Markus Perssons. The opposite of what you just said is actually true. Players will come in DROVES to a game that gives them a blank slate. Mark my words, whomever takes the “blank slate” concept to a major MMO will be a millionaire overnight.