Hello again all,
Today I would like to discuss that inevitable conclusion that must eventually be written into the stories of all our lives; death. Of couse, being that we're talking about MMOs, death is much less frightening than the real thing. No glorious calls in battle, tearful farwells before war or setting oneself adrift on an ice-flow.
In the first part of this two part series, I would like to discuss death penalties and what each of them mean going forward. As any game moves through the development phase there is without a doubt an argument that arises on that games forums about the death penalty, what is should be and how severe. Opinions usually range from perma-death-insta-character-deletion and goons dispatched to your house to rough you up some for failure to you should instanta-res with zero penalty and free gold for your troubles.
Alright I may be exaggerating a tad.
But none the less, it is a hotly contested issue and there is a great amount of disagreement on where the market should move. Before I discuss the future though, we need to establish what penalties are possible.
Ahhh, the olden days. When games were more or less cribbed directly from D&D, the loss of experience upon death was the norm. Some games had arbitrary caps such as you could not level down (DAoC) while other games cheerfully announced your failure to everyone around you (FFXI). This has been dying recently and most gamers seem pretty happy about it, though a vocal minority vociferiously defends this as the only penalty that is truly "fair" or "correct". This system is undoubtedly the most harsh of all the penalties.
I place CoH as the bridge between 1st and 2nd generation MMO's. The features it offers has a foot in both worlds. XP Debt was the best example of this. They never took away the XP you earned, so you could never go "backwards" but you gained debt upon death and had to pay that off with 1/2 of your future XP earnings until it was erased. Creative, but as the second generation arose, this died away. Less harsh, but still a significant barrier in the way of advancement. Also, I don't know, did Superman have XP debt when he came back after his death? Seemed more like a debuff penalty to me.
Upon death, your gear loses some % of its durability (10%, 25%, etc). This penalty hits you where it hurts the most, the pocketbook. So you may still be able to advance in level with only a minor hiccup in time, but finnancially, you experience some harship and are slowed in that way. One of the milder penalites psychologically although perhaps also one of the harder ones to square with reality. "Oh crap I died, I guess my Nike tennis shoes are 10% less nice now!"
When you come back, you come back at a res or return point, so you are out time returning to your destination. The true penalty of this depends on how many of these points are scattered in the world and whether or not you are in a group. If there are few points and you are in a large group (that can not res you for some reason if that mechanic is in the game) you are now separated from your friends (by possibly mobs as well as space).
When you come back, you have a debuff, such as a flat negative to max HPs, damage done, attack power or some other statistic. The penalty here is that you can not jump right back into the fray without hesitation and it can interrupt whatever you are doing for a few minutes. This is likely the lightest of the penalties depending on the length of the debuff. This is also the penalty most likely to illicit the quotes from the Princess Bride such as "Give him a break, he's been mostly dead all day."
In this system, you rise as a spirit or something of that nature and have to run to your body. This is a pure time penalty as opposed to the Res Point return as generally in this spirit form, you can not interact with the rest of the world (or be attacked, etc). Again, the true penalty of this depends on where your corpse is and how far you have to go to get there.
Note that of the five systems I list above, many games use more than one penalty, some even giving you options to choose whether you want the wear or to corpse hunt for example. I think it can be stated that the industry and the market as a whole wants to move away from the harsher death penalties. Vanguard had recently touted its "Extreme" death penalties during production only to have to soften their stance as the game developed. The game flopped by modern standards (though that probably had more to due with bugs and negative press than the death issue).
Notice also that all of these penalties really break down to the same thing, to the one ultimate currency that we can not make more of, no matter how hard we try;TIME. If I lose XP, I must work to regain that XP, costing me time, if I suffer item wear, I must spend money to repair it, which takes more time, and so on. Ultimately, the penalty for death in these games is some amount of time. Time is the one currency we as human beings hate to lose because each moment wasted is one moment closer to our own deaths, and sadly, I have not seen any res circles for us as of yet.
The question then becomes how much time is appropriate to "charge" and which penalty has the least psychological impact on the player. Obviously the company would be interested in minimizing the psychological impact because each time they mentally "injure" the player, there is more a chance he will stop playing.
I do not know what exactly the correct answer is, we need some penalty to stop zerging and make it feel worth it when you succeed, but not so much that people become timid and refuse to try anything heroic or epic because of the fear of death. Ultimately its something that will happen to every character, so we are not just deciding something arbitrary, but a part of the game everyone will experience as surely as they will hit level 10 on their way to 50 (assuming a level based game of course).
I am not going to give my answer this time, but instead allow some discussion to fester over the weekend, that is assuming anyone actually reads this massive bloated and most likely boring post.
Until next time, Don't you go dyin' on me!