One aspect of MMORPG play that governs the industry is their view of how death should be handled. In other words, when you die, do you stay dead. Or do you come back?
The truth of the matter is that the decline of MMO gaming is not simply one of economics. No, it's encompassing a range of features that has grindingly lowered the expectations of the player. For example, when a game claims to a sandbox, like Darkfall, but ends up with all their characters having the same skills, you lose interest because there is no diversity.
Likewise, not dying, or not fearing your death, causes you to do stupid things without worry about repercussion. Basically, it's freedom of stupidity.
The Death Market Concept
You'll notice in most MMOs, death is simply as follows: You die, you get resurrected ("rezzed", as it is known in many games). In some games, you can die and get resurrected in the same battle. In others, you whisk your ghost to a graveyard (World of Warcraft, for example).
Sound dumb? It is.
Knowing how to use the death mechanics, you could take on a much more powerful monster, cut him to half his hit points before you die, then rez yourself and fight down his other half. A carefully laid out strategy now allows you to use your death to an advantage.
And so we come to the crux of the problem: why are death mechanics so prevalent?
Well, for one, MMO companies fear you'll quit. It's true, there are large segments of our playing society that want to be able to come back to life. They just lost their favorite character...what's the point of playing any longer? But on top of that, there's another reason, and that basically is: because these are the mechanics that have been established long ago.
And so we are stuck in some form of cultural game phenomena, where death isn't remotely like death should be, and furthermore, it's hardly a challenge to overcome.
Ideas About Death
What can we do about it? What's a good system of death mechanics?
It's actually easy, and surprisingly odd that no one (or few) follow this mantra. When you die, you should stay dead, perhaps even be buried. Perhaps for a long time. In all honestly, being unable to play the game definately deters you from using death as an advantage (yet it still doesn't stop you from doing stupid things).
Yes, a priest could attempt to resurrect you, but let's look at how religion is supposed to work. Was your character religious? A fervent follower of the god/goddess this Priest worships? Does your character have "favor" with a divine entity?
You see how this can entail or encourage a brand new aspect of the game? Now you may actually have to bow to the will of the gods. In some games, you might actually want to attend religious services, or go seek the blessing of a Priest.
What do you think some of the results of implementing a more discourging death mechanic would be?
1. Would people be more careful about picking their fights? Probably, because dependent on how healing is implemented, they'll be more concerned about survival. Indirectly, this contributes to group mentality, but doesn't force the issue.
2. Would PVP be deadlier, more risky, and more rewarding? Absolutely, and on top of that, player-killers now have to worry about being ambushed by angry retaliation. This indirectly creates a sandbox implementation towards law and justice.
3. Would an aspect of RP be more indirectly effective in the game? More than likely, because although players would go to church, or pray, or seek blessings, for game purposes it would have same impact of a priest giving a sermon, holding a ceremony, etc. Plus, now we have more occassions for players to confront each other before going to blows.
4. Would there be fewer griefers in game? I believe so. At first, you might think that this means all out chaos. Not true; I've witnessed a game where death is rigorous. The players are careful about angering each other. Every now and then a griefer comes through; once the population is aware, they band together and hunt the bugger down.
In conclusion, the point of a more rigorous death mechanic is simple: give the players a greater challenge. You can strike a necessary fear into the heart of a subscriber without ruining gameplay; it's the same feeling you get when you're brand new and don't know what can happen.
But in the same instance, it also protects you from player-killers and lawlessness...because now, instead of there being no real repercussions from death, you have a venue, in game, to remove them from your sight.
So, in lieu of all the reasons provided, take one final consideration about the MMORPG and the mechanics of death you have been experiencing over the years. Ask yourself this important question: What really makes the adventure worth talking about?
Was it the instantanous, no threat, repetitive hack/slash/heal/revive? Or was it the fact that your risked your life?