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News & Features Discussion  » General: Who Fears Perma-Death?

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Associate Editor - News Manager

Joined: 6/28/10
Posts: 16273

OP  1/04/12 2:08:24 PM#1

In today's No Elves Allowed column, we take a look at the ever-controversial idea of permadeath. Death in MMOs is not very, well, death-like and it appears to be getting less and less inconvenient by the game. But what about permadeath or at least a painful death? Would you do it? Read what we think and then let the discussion begin in the comments.

I used to fear pod death. No, scratch that. I wasn't afraid of pod death. I was outright terrified of it. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, 'pod death' is what happens when a pilot in Eve Online 'dies'. According to game lore, a 'capsuleer' faced with imminent hull breach is pumped full of lethal neutrotoxins even as a 'transneural burning scanner' transmits a snapshot of their brain matter to their closest available clone. Mechanically speaking, this was nothing but a nifty way of explaining how the game works.

Read more of Cassandra Khaw's No Elves Allowed: Who Fears Perma-Death?

Associate Editor:
Follow me on Twitter: @MMORPGMom


Advanced Member

Joined: 10/20/09
Posts: 546

1/05/12 8:10:26 AM#2

way back when,  I started my MMO'ing  by playing a game called  The Magic realm, It was  a text based pay by the hour BBS run  full loot  pvp MUD,  it was very immersive for the time, and of course you became attached to your character.


It had a perma death of sorts,  You toon was given 5 lives per level, ince you levelled up they were restored, If you died all of your deaths, you were "rerolled"  and a percentage ( 70% i think ) of you experience could be used to roll a new character.


It was fun, made you consider the consequences, and made people smarter IMHO

"All expectation leads to suffering" Buhhda


Novice Member

Joined: 10/07/06
Posts: 203

1/05/12 8:15:37 AM#3

While the CONCEPT of permadeath is great, and it adds danger and excitement, there are three big reasons I would prefer not to have it in a game I am playing.

1) Don't want to lose my charcater if I have a power failure, or lose internet connectivity, emergency bathroom break, etc...

2) Players will be forced somewhat to play as 'cowards' that take no real risks.

3) I can't handle the sense of lost time and effort even in single player rpg's that allow saving :)


Novice Member

Joined: 7/10/05
Posts: 10

1/05/12 8:18:08 AM#4

I worry about perma-death in real life enough.  Why worry about it in a game I pay a monthy fee for?  To me, this isn't the reason I MMO.  I MMO because I want to ESCAPE real life for a while, not to live a different version of it.




Advanced Member

Joined: 7/23/08
Posts: 1213

1/05/12 8:25:26 AM#5

IMO, having a high risk of death is so wrong like not having a risk at all.

Death in a game should have some consequences, but never to hard or we only see ppl running away from pvp, not random grouping for pve, not exploring, etc.

If we dont have some risk in death, players just play in "dumb way".


I will not play a game with perma death and/or full loot pvp, dont make sense to me but im a so called "casual player" (around 20, 25h a week).


Novice Member

Joined: 11/28/05
Posts: 220

Education is what survives when what has been learnt has been forgotten. B.F. Skinner

1/05/12 8:26:47 AM#6

I loved the death aspect of Asherons Call. It would make you weaker until you retrieved your corpse. Also some of your kit would get left behind on your corpse. So getting killed in a dangerous to return to area made life rather difficult and yet very fun. Even though 10 years have gone by I still remember the time a friend asked me for help in retrieving the 6 corpses he had. The repeated deaths trying to get his corpse(s) had made him so weak that he didn't stand any chance of getting his corpses anymore and hence he was naked as all his gear was now on those corpses. It was so funny :)

Perma death. No thanks. At least not until there is no chance of being disconnected whilst in combat.


Novice Member

Joined: 5/25/04
Posts: 105

1/05/12 8:27:18 AM#7

yes, like shadowbane were a 70th lvl assassin would wight at the town gates for a lvl 20 just leaving the traning area and then murder him. +1 sword vs. a +12 hackmaster....real fun for all.


Apprentice Member

Joined: 10/28/04
Posts: 167

1/05/12 8:27:55 AM#8

I can't think of any game that blocks you from permadeath if you want to play that way.


If you really want permadeath, simply delete your character  when you die and re-roll.


Advanced Member

Joined: 3/11/08
Posts: 707

1/05/12 8:30:26 AM#9

I wouldn't play a game with perma-death IF the risk of perma-death were just as easy to come by as dieing is in today's MMORPGs.


I've been playing MMOs for well over 10 years now and while I've died countless times due to bone-headed decisions (that I later learned from), there have been MANY cases where death knocked on my door due to glitchy game mechanics, server lag, internet going down, or even blind sighted by griefers manipulating legal in game mechanics to put me in a situation that I had no reasonable chance of surviving (a.k.a. Training or Hearding)


I'll agree with the OP in that the trend in lowering death penalties in MMOs has changed the way the collective MMO audience games.  Just log into WOW and queue up for any Battleground to see people literally throw themselves at a full group of enemies with wreckless abandon.  I think there needs to be more "stick" and less "carrot" in order to really shape player behavior to critically think about how they could have handled that encounter better.  But I think something like perma-death goes a bit too far in the other direction.  The answer is probably somewhere in between perminately losing your avatar you spent the equivalent of a part time jobs worth of time in, and a 2 min corpse walk and a slap on the wrist.


The only way I see perma-death working is if you make a player's character expendable.  Just as full loot worked in Ultima Online, due to items and gear being cheap and expendable.  The only way perma-death works is if a player has easy & cheap access to another avatar that can perform on par with the recently deceased to not loose TOO much time & effort.


However, the downside of this (as the OP alluded to) that it breaks one of the primary drivers that keep people logged in and suscribing to these kind of games.....the tangible thing that is representative to all the time, pain, sweat, and tears that you've invested into this "marriage".  If the avatar becomes as expendable as a Exceptionally crafted Ringmail Tunic in UO....then don't be supprised when your players leave your game for the next sexy thing to roll off the MMO assembly line.


Hard Core Member

Joined: 8/30/04
Posts: 1282

1/05/12 8:32:15 AM#10

Permadeath in a MMO is unacceptable bcs of the occasions when you lose the connection.

Maybe a number of lives like in the old games that replenishes over a weeks time work.

Say you have 5 lives and died 4 times you can go on and die permanently or wait and replenish you lives. That would make players also play carefully, give choices and shivers.

Btw would that be a chance for cash shop sales.

Give the player a fixed amount of lives weekly and make them buy more after they have lost them.

But that would have to be tested in a real mmo environment.

"Torquemada... do not implore him for compassion. Torquemada... do not beg him for forgiveness. Torquemada... do not ask him for mercy. Let's face it, you can't Torquemada anything!"

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  User Deleted
1/05/12 8:36:41 AM#11

Originally posted by dodsfall

I can't think of any game that blocks you from permadeath if you want to play that way.


If you really want permadeath, simply delete your character  when you die and re-roll.




Novice Member

Joined: 10/14/05
Posts: 2811

1/05/12 8:39:12 AM#12

Most MMO's (the majority) already have perma death.


Its what happens when a customer cancels and never goes back to that game.   All those characters are permanently dead.


I would imagine most of the readers here have played multiple MMO's and have quite a few they are done with for good.   Having perma death in an online environment would be a quick path to bankruptcy for a company.   The issue isn't perma death in and of its self but seriously...


Server lags... you die and have to start over.


Mob is z-axis bugged and kicking the crap out of you and you can't fight back... start over.


Its a pvp game and other players are using an exploit.. whether they get banned or not... you're starting over.


I don't mind dying in a video game.. because I do a lot of odd things for amusement and like to explore.   Its mostly that when I die I want it to be because of what I did... and the fact I actually lost the fight.  (not due to a bug, exploit.. lag etc).   When you have perma death the reason you died doesn't matter and there is no going back.   That's the problem.   If the technology was there to make sure none of those things happened it might be viable.   Yet even then the idea of an MMO is to retain subscribers long term and who is really going to give up months or years of an investment and keep happily playing.


Death in an MMO has  never really meant anything if you were prepared.   What is the difference in playing a game where I spend 10 minutes running back and have a small repair bill... or playing Ultima Online where I took 10 minutes to run to the bank grab another bag of gear that cost about the same relative amount as the repair bill?


Even in EQ after you could get a 98% ress from your friendly cleric.. what did you lose?   Now dying in the wrong place took some doing to get your corpse sometimes but really...


Devs right now are so far away from what I find interesting... death.. perma death should be at the bottom of any topic list when it comes to MMO's.   The core mechanics are so bad.. who cares about what form of death or death penalty there is.

Moderator's on this site allow certain posters to create endless troll threads. Yet "warn" people for giving recommendations... account *pending* deletion because.. why bother.


Advanced Member

Joined: 3/11/08
Posts: 707

1/05/12 8:39:42 AM#13

Few more thoughts...

It's important to put enough "bite" in failing at something in these games to make players critically evaluate what they did wrong, and how they could have done it better.  These "teachable moments" help raise the playerbases collective gaming IQ. 


You have to reasonably allow a player to learn from their mistakes.  If you wipe out months of game time due to a mis-calculation...the player will more than likely just quit.  In this scenario, they weren't reasonably given the opprotunity to make good on their last mistake.


A more tempered response to something like death would be losing a small amount of XP or dropping all their loot on their corpse...IF the loot is expendable.  Dieing in a MMO shouldn't set you back more than 20-30 minutes of game time....whether that be time farming gold to re-purchase all the gear you lost....or to recoup the XP you just lost.


Hard Core Member

Joined: 6/21/06
Posts: 419

1/05/12 8:41:08 AM#14


don't make progression about character.

make progression about soul.

create account.

create soul. pick some abilities.

create character. choose from available abilities.

play character. soul gains new abilties.

character dies. permanently. soul remains.

make new character...

  User Deleted
1/05/12 8:47:01 AM#15

I would say... absolutely no.

Why anyone would want to risk permanently losing their character in a game where getting to max level can take weeks is beyond me. It takes games that people call "time-wasters" and adds the risk of actually wasting your time. What a brilliant idea!

I'm sure permadeath sounds like a great idea when you're high on nostalgia, though. 


Apprentice Member

Joined: 6/11/08
Posts: 10959

I think with my heart and move with my head.-Kongos

1/05/12 8:56:20 AM#16

I have always been motivated by the death of my characters in any game because death = failure. I don't need to have a perma-death mechanic to goad me into trying to not die. I just don't want to do it. Of course, I've seen players who have the opposite mentality too...death as a quick travel mechanic for instance.

I've never been able to get past the idea of character death as nothing more than a way to pinch more quarters out of the players' pockets. This probably comes from playing games in the arcade. If you didn't play a game you were naturally good at, you wasted a lot of quarters. You'd waste a lot of quarters anyway, finding all the different ways your avatar could bite the dust.

Fast forward to present day and I still get that impression with MMORPG. A death penalty is just a way for the game companies to waste the players' time and get some more quarters. However, if the character's death made sense in the context of the game and the death penalty (even perma-death) made sense in the context of the overall game, there's no reason it shouldn't be in there.

I can not remember winning or losing a single debate on the internet.


Novice Member

Joined: 7/10/05
Posts: 795

1/05/12 8:58:32 AM#17

I think death in atleast single player games are done right these days.

In Fallout 3 for example, I save often, so death means perhaps only a few minutes of incovenience. But still I don't want to die, it feels like failing, I will gobble up all my saved expensive health potions to prevent it.

And then reload a previous save game.


Novice Member

Joined: 5/27/11
Posts: 463

1/05/12 9:06:18 AM#18

For permadeath to work, the game needs to accomodate it.


In online games, I've only seen it really work in MUDs - and even then, there are always problems with the system.  Usually, permadeath is implemented with some kind of metagame reward so you are at least given something for your time.  In one MUD I played, if your character died, your account would be given points based on how long your character lived and how many levels they had.   When you create a new character, you could use those points to:


Use races that either had distinct stat advantages or otherwise were rare in the game's setting

'Buy' class levels (multiclass game where stats determined your max level in all fields) so that you could take some pain away from releveling another character


Permadeath slightly stagnated the PVP scene, but it helped that even if you died, you could come back with a new character that was slightly more powerful at start than your last with enough account points.  Of course, you would have to go through getting your own gear all over again.


What stopped people from just killing people for their gear? Well, the game was RP enforced.  If you didn't have a roleplay reason to kill someone, the killed player could submit a restore request that player volunteers could investigate.  If you start to get pretty familiar with the volunteers, chances are the real staff caught wind of you and shut you down.


A permadeath game needs to have features that work with the system.  There needs to be a way to reward players on an account basis so that benefits can persist between characters (Realm of the Mad God does this too!).  There needs to be some system in place to deter serial killers, unless that is the kind of hardcore environment you are going for.


Apprentice Member

Joined: 11/09/06
Posts: 1

1/05/12 9:16:44 AM#19

I think the last time i feared death was back in Everquest. That world was just massive and traveling was a bitch. There were several times where i was 10 zones away from my bind point and died, having to run all the way back there to get my corpse. Which sometimes took about an hour or more. Not to mention the XP loss and possible De-Leveling. But, i dont remember dieing nearly as much in other games... like WoW...

Also, while i was playing Shadowbane i encountered a small amount of fear in death in certain circumstances. Of course, these circumstances only occured when i was out with my guild farming for gold to maintain our massive city. For those of you who havent played the game, SB was an amazing sandbox MMO with 100% PvP. Upon death, not only would your character lose xp, but your gear would take damage AND your entire inventory and gold was lootable upon death. So, after a couple of hours of farming, your backpacks full of loot, your gold pouches bulging you start to question the party leader about doing a bank run.

Of course, the party leader is on his minotaur warrior and has ENORMOUS amounts of strength and can carry 4 times the amount that you can so he wants to stay for one more pull. So, you pull the whole camp, like normal because we're bad asses, and out of the blue we get steam rolled by another party skipping through the forest. we all die. run back to our corpses and find that everything has been taken. except for the minotaur... who can carry all that stuff anyways!? All the gold gone though, for sure.

So, after your death and the run back, you're pissed. you put up a call in /guild or /nation. rally like 5 groups of players (50 players) and go attack the city that just steam rolled your group. Walah! a game with no quests providing it's own reason to do stuff. you get killed, you know who killed you, and you go kill them in their town and 5 hours later you have a full fleged war on. =)

In Closing. I havent had any fear of death, other than minor anoyance, in a while. but when i did have fear of death, it either made me play harder, or it provided me with a reason for retaliation!

Long Live the Sandbox!


(totally willing to try out perma death by the way)

Originally posted by drowelf

yes, like shadowbane were a 70th lvl assassin would wight at the town gates for a lvl 20 just leaving the traning area and then murder him. +1 sword vs. a +12 hackmaster....real fun for all.


So what? God forbid you are actually afraid to walk out into a game world... The game was about guild vs guild. so, you could have joined a guild and they would have came and got your back.

  User Deleted
1/05/12 9:23:45 AM#20

  I've never minded death 'penalties' - as long as there was a way to somewhat mitigate them.


  Perma-deatrh though?  Definately not - at least not in any game I currently enjoy (or have in the past)


  I play these games as a form of entertainment.  Having to start over because I live in the boonies with a sometimes unreliable internet connection is definately not entertainment in my book.


  I should add that at one point I did play a game with perma-death - Gemstone III - however it really WAS your own fault if you ever DID go demonic - since it was so easily avoidable.  Even there - it's been dumbed down so that it's no longer possible (I guess to accomodate the legion of stupids :D)

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