I started talking yesterday about dying in today’s MMO games. I labeled it as “Part 1?, though I wasn’t really sure what I would write for the second part. I knew, however, that writing the first article would get me thinking about it, and I would probably have at least something more to add later on. Well, after stewing on the issue for a little while yesterday and this morning, I have that little extra something to add: Part 2!
I made an effort yesterday to point out why I don’t believe that a death penalty exists to “add playtime” to the game, for any reason. I’d like to clarify this point and, at the same time, chance my stand on the issue a bit. I said yesterday that there are plenty of ways to force (whatever it means to be “forced” in an online world) players to play a bit longer and thus increase your subscription, but I don’t believe that death is one of them. I still believe this. However, coupled with a larger world, longer quests, a more detailed and consistent set of background lore to fulfill, and longer battles, a death penalty could serve to increase the playtime of many people. The glory of the MMO generation is that if your game has even a slightly large population, having this increase in playtime applied to everyone uniformly would add up to a very respectable total. So, to be sure, I don’t believe that death on its own is more than a negligible contribution to additional playtime (at least for the majority of a given playerbase, who will quit the game after reaching the cap level).
If not to benefit the greedy capitalists, what are death penalties for, anyway?
Well, to answer this, I think it’s good to start with some of the responses from the original mmorpg.com forum thread that started this whole discussion in the first place.
First idea, put forth by an mmorpg.com user:
I don’t know about most people but I like death penelty because of the feeling that if I lose I’ll actually lose which makes me play better and actually gives me a bit of a rush when pvp as apposed to other games were I lose nothing so theirs no reason for me to feel like I need to stay alive Hope thats clear
First of all, that sentence is so long that I drifted off in the middle of it. I started watching this video, which, as bad as the video was, was a better investment of time than trying to decipher that sentence.
For many folks the thrill in the game comes from the risk of loss….the great the loss, the more fun they have….
This is an idea that was brought up many times during this discussion, and I feel it’s a very important point to consider in its various forms. MMO and RPG developers were once (or are still) MMO and RPG players themselves. Wouldn’t that somehow imply, then, that they are putting their ideas and visions of the perfect MMO or RPG into play during the game’s creation? Vanguard may not have been the best game ever*, it was Brad McQuaid’s ultimate vision, and for him, probably one of the best RPGs he’ll ever play (err, that’s up for debate).
If we know this, then we can surmise that the reason for a death penalty at all (and the reason your character doesn’t simply stand up again after death) may be to impose some kind of heightened sense of accomplishment for not dying. It’s a simple concept, really. You’re in a battle that will push the limits of your level and your skill. If you die, you know you are going to lose your last hour or so of work, and you’re going to have to run back and perhaps brave this area again. If you die, you’re going to be very unhappy, and perhaps even frustrated with the game or with your course of actions. However, if you live, you’re going to be equally as happy, your body will release those lovable endorphins, and you’ll become even further drawn into the world of psychological addiction** and intrigue that is MMO gaming. So yes, the original idea is a good one, and could perhaps be a compelling reason for a death penalty. As anyone in economics, finance, or gaming will tell you: with no risk comes no reward (except, as pointed out to me by a friend, in riskless money markets, where the reward is ~5% APY).
Second idea, not really an idea, but I’ll talk about it anyway:
Losing exp is no fun […] Losing gear? I can’t get down with that. […] Running back to my corpse isnt really much of a penalty. Neither is paying for armor repairs, even though it could get expensive after many deaths.
Ah, this person touches on something that many MMO players, especially new ones and those in “denial” (they won’t acknowledge that an online society is just as complex as a “real” life one, whatever that even means) don’t realize. Time is money, so losing experience and having to pay for repairs are fundamentally one and the same. However, and I think many people will agree with me on this, I think that repair costs are far less psychologically and emotionally taxing on a player than an experience loss. Experience loss is one of the most horrific things that can happen to you as a player. There’s some big, evil hang that reaches into your character and takes what you’ve earned. Not fun. Paying repairs, however, can be normalized to the point where, at least when the servers are new, the time it takes to make the money to repair is the same as the amount of time it takes to earn back that lost XP. Of course, in a game like WoW, where there’s only repair costs and no experience loss, the effect diminishes greatly for alts, wherein the player’s main can fund almost unlimited repairs for the alt with only a nominal time investment.
Maybe EQ2 hit the nail on the head with their system: repairs, which are expensive but not horrendously so, and a system of experience “debt” wherein the player earns only half of their regular experience. That way, nothing is taken from the player directly, and the time investment can be smoothed out over hours of play. There’s no interruption of the “moving forward” aspect of the game that most people are so fond of.
It keeps people from being complete idiots in groups.
This is a good one — imposing a penalty for death means that, in a group, imposing your lack of skills on your teammates will result in not only wasting your time, but their’s as well. No one likes the guy in the group who keeps wiping them. In all fairness, there are more situations in a group in which people are likely to die, but the cause is usually reasonably transparent. To me, this is one of the most compelling reasons for a death penalty. With an online society like is present in most MMOs, getting a name for yourself as being bad in a group is not the kind of reputation you want. This is more of a “social darwinist” perspective on the situation, but I think that, out of the reasons outlined in Part 1 and Part 2, this is the most fundamental to the online experience.
Anyway, this post is dragging on somewhat, so I’ll gather my thoughts and maybe there’ll be a part 3 that’s actually interesting!
**not scientifically proven… yet