MMO News, Reviews & Opinions
- Written by Temploiter
MMO Bits and Pieces: Death Penalties
On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero. That’s what Edward Norton’s character said in “Fight Club”. In the world of Massively Multi-player Online games, that timeline is usually pretty short. Death comes often to most players in MMOs. Whether the cause is a train of mobs, unexpected adds, a patrol coming up from behind, or a good old fashioned ganking, death visits us all. Death occurs in MMOs when our hit points reach zero. What happens immediately following this event was the subject of May’s Topic of the Month. Many aspects of Death Penalties in MMOs were discussed: their mere existence, their harshness, and appropriateness for various settings. As Kazara predicted when suggesting this topic, the opinions and arguments were in no short supply.
Should a Death Penalty Exist?
After we die, do we re-spawn in-situ with full health, buffs, and untarnished gear and inventory? Hell yes, says Shayde: “Useless and annoying. It’s a game, there’s no point to a death penalty.” Shayde explained that when you die, you lose, and that is enough of a penalty. The stakes do not matter to Shayde, who sees Death Penalties as getting in the way of fun with friends, they are antiquated and do not belong in modern MMOs. “Death penalties are stupid.” When confronted by an incredulous MMO_Doubter claiming that Death Penalties add risk, making surviving more fun, Shayde bluntly retorted, “Do you asphyxiate yourself to make breathing more fun?” I’m not sure, but I choked on some food once, and the first few breaths after that felt better than getting laid, I’ll tell you that.
Is Shayde alone in his views, no indeed! TUX426 agrees: “Games are meant to be fun, penalties are meant to be unpleasant.” I don’t think anyone would argue with that, but penalties exist in games all the time. Players are “out” in baseball, and have to go sit in a pit and wait for a long time for another try. TUX426 thinks that Death Penalties actually remove value from your characters, especially if the penalty is permadeath, which he argues makes your avatar disposable and worthless. TUX426 also mentions that in PVP, Death Penalties discourage participation, in his opinion. Suske too, echoes Shayde’s assertion that Death Penalties are old hat: “Death Penalties simply don’t fit in with modern Theme Park game design.” Spathotan agrees, to a point: "Im not a huge fan of death penalties since most of the time they are just credit and/or time sinks, nothing more." But he feels there needs to be risks as well, anything in between is just hectoring the player. Spathotan concludes, "if you are going to have a death penalty it needs to be drastic. Drastic or not at all."
Leading off for the members that are in favor of a Death Penalty are MMO_Doubter and IStillWantMySWG. Both want a "reasonable" Death Penalty. ISWMS likes the way death is handled in modern AAA Theme Parks like WoW, TOR, and LOTRO. While not giving any specific game examples, MMO_Doubter wants a Death Penalty and Item Decay or Loss. MMO_Doubter's ideal Death Penalty is "a choice of corpse run or XP loss." He bemoans that "dying means little or nothing" in today's MMOs. Joining these two is the always insightful Daffid011: "The [Death] Penalty should never be so severe that it discourages game-play, but at the same time a healthy penalty produces a sense of risking something that has meaning to a player." Risk versus Reward became an ongoing theme in the discussion, mostly between the pro and anti-Death Penalty camp, though Shayde refused the notion that a penalty added to risk at all. BurntVet was also in favor of Death Penalties, and brought up a good reason for them: PvP. In his view, no Death Penalties in PvP encourage zerging and believes a good remedy would be a progressive Death Penalty, increasing upon each death (presumably within a set period of time). Allstar also piped up in favor of Death Penalties, but would like to see easier ways to elude death if the Death Penalty is severe. I liked this idea, and reminded me of Burst Run when I was a n00bling in SWG. I don't know how many times my hide was saved by that ability. If there was a harsh Death Penalty, I'd like to see the ability to Sprint a good distance away on some kind of longish cool-down (akin to an adrenaline rush in real life) to help you escape peril.
Wait... Let's Define the Issue!
Part of these conversations and debate really revolved around what exactly is a Death Penalty. I personally went into the debate feeling that reaching zero hit-points and then re-spawning away from your place of demise was itself a penalty, because if you wanted to go back and continue the fight you had to run back (a time sink). Many others agreed that Death Penalties, in function, are some kind of time sink, as Kradgar aptly summed:
In a way, item loss, xp loss, money loss, repairs and even perma death are just stand ins for player time investment. You die and then need some time playing to be where you have been before the death.
Not to be outdone, MMO_Doubter reminded me that earlier he had commented that "any result other than maximum reward for minimal effort is a time- sink." I wanted to be sure to reflect that in the official record!
I think most of the participants came to also see a Death Penalty as a form of risk. Even TUX admitted it in a twisted sort of way when he agreed that there should be some kind of "Death Avoidance Incentive". I call that a "Risk". Though Shayde agreed to no such thing. He maintained that the risk of losing was risk enough, but he also said he didn't believe that re-spawning at a bind point was a penalty, it was simply a mechanic. I think we can agree to disagree on this point, but he is correct when he says it allows for many practical things to happen, like combat to be reset and mobs to disengage.
Among the Pro-Death Penalty groups, many felt that in a game that supports meaningful crafting, Item Decay, or even Item Loss, was a good thing to have. In some games, items have a durability rating and once that rating reaches zero the item's statistics give no effect. In many modern Theme Park games, a player simply goes to a vendor, pays a nominal (or not so nominal) fee and the item is restored to 100% durability. In some familiar Sandbox games, player crafters repaired the items. In some of those games the items were not restored and were rendered useless, or were restored to a condition less than 100%. This encouraged the ongoing consumption and production of player-made items. Daffid, MMO_Doubter, and ISWMS came out in favor of Item Decay. Spathotan, using the example of Star Wars Galaxies said "Gear degradation from death in SWG was good because it kept crafters in business." Shayde, perhaps begrudgingly added that he "can see how item loss would also help an economy, but that would only be the case if there was vibrant crafting." I agree, in a player-run economy, item loss and decay helps keep things moving.
The discussion eventually came around to the idea of Permadeath. Permadeath is a system where if your hit-points reach zero, the game for your character is over. You are free to create a new avatar, but the character that died does not resurrect or re-spawn. I was amazed at the breadth of opinions on this subject. I felt for sure this would be a hands-down "NO!" from the denizens of MMOFringe. I couldn't have been more wrong. Spathotan's statement about having a drastic death penalty or none at all gave me an opportunity to ask MMOFringers about Permadeath.
MMO_Doubter was first to weigh in saying he'd like to see Permadeath as an optional ruleset on certain servers. Spathotan, while seeing it as just another time-sink, agreed a server option would work. Much to my eminent surprise, Shayde also agreed that he could get behind a Permadeath penalty, if the game was designed around it. I was stunned. IStillWantMySWG also was in favor of Permadeath as a server rule-set. Daffid, thought Permadeath was an interesting concept, but it would not work in current MMOs.
To say I was surprised by the openness to Permadeath would be understatement. Perhaps this type of system could work. A current game where it exists (the only one to my knowledge) is Salem. Maybe we should all try that game out and see how we feel about Permadeath in practice, instead of in theory.
Discuss this article in the forums (12 replies).
We had quite a wide variety of opinions on the nature of Death Penalties and their utility in MMOs. Surprisingly, we saw a near consensus on the idea of optional rule-set Permadeath. Item Decay as part of a Death Penalty was seen to be a good thing in player-run economy games, but not in typical Theme Park games like WoW or SWTOR. It was a great discussion, by far the longest. Thanks to everyone who participated and to Kazara for suggesting the topic.