It seems like the concept of permanent death is one that has been debated and turned over for years, with no real resolution. From what I can tell, there is a core group of people who are looking for a game that provides players the opportunity to permanently lose their characters in a game. I can see the upside to this particular feature, but honestly, of all of the features I’ve looked at in this blog, perma death is the one that presents the most obvious cons.
Like I said, I can see the benefit of perma death in an MMO. This particular feature would provide a unique gameplay experience where players are actually cautious rather than all about rushing in to every encounter. Then, when combat did break out, I would imagine that it would be an unequalled adrenaline rush for those involved. In short, for at least a short time, I can see a perma death game being entertaining.
On the other hand, and it’s an enormous hand… think Unicron’s hand from the old Transformers movie, there are a number of cons with the idea of perma death. Let’s, for the sake of brevity, look past the multitude of potential Customer Service issues and complaints that would be generated from issues like lag, greifing, hacks, cheats and the like. Let’s instead take a look at some of the other problems that permanent character death could cause.
First, there’s the fact that the roots of the main MMO genres don’t actually support it. Let’s see: There’s the Fantasy genre, where character resurrection is a recognized convention. Then there’s sci-fi where death is actually more or less considered to be a temporary condition at best (seriously, how many times did we have to watch Harry Kim die in Star Trek Voyager). Surely though the emerging popularity of the superhero / comic book genre in MMOs will provide a good launching pad for perma death… except for the fact that it’s the only genre that treats death with less respect than sci-fi does. Let’s face it. At least where these genres are concerned, audiences simply don’t want characters to stay dead. They develop attachments for the characters and don’t want to see them gone forever. Killed off? Sure, it makes great drama. Forever? No way.
Then there’s the idea of attachment. The whole idea of MMOs is that players develop an attachment to their characters. This makes the idea of permanent death inconceivable as it would be difficult for players to risk characters they are attached to in the day to day activities of MMO content and it would be almost as difficult to actually obtain that attachment in the first place as the character in question would have to survive long enough.
Don’t like those reasons? How about the fact that having to constantly re-roll characters and start from the beginning would actually create a stronger feeling of grind than currently exists in these games. How likely then is it that I would want to continue paying $15 a month in order to repeat the same content over and over again only to have to start all over again after making a single mistake.
Does everyone out there remember the handheld game Simon? For those who don’t, it’s a memory game based on repetition where you had to repeat a sequence of colors that got progressively longer every time you got it right. For those who do remember that torturous gadget, how many times did you have to fail and start again before you wanted to pitch the thing at a wall? That, my friends, is what the reality of perma death could look like.
I’m not saying that with enough thought and a careful design that perma death couldn’t be an interesting feature. I am, however, saying that for these reasons and other, it will never be a prominent MMO feature.