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Debate: MMORPG Death Penalties

Frank Mignone Posted:
Editorials 0

Two writers debate the merits of strong vs. weak death penalties

Editor's Note Every Saturday, two of our staff writers will participate in a debate of this type here on MMORPG.com. They will debate their sides of the issue and then ask you - the community - to chime in your responses.

Frank Mignone: It used to be, back in the days when your choice was either Ultima Online or Everquest, that there was one constant between them. They were hard! One of the key factors that made it so was their death penalty. The death penalty made the games exciting! Everything was not a cakewalk; you really had to consider your actions. You could lose all of the stuff that you had in your possession with one false move. This added a lot of tension and a bit of white-knuckle-mousing to the experience. How many of you back in the day found yourself, at some point, running for your life shouting 'REDS!' with your heart pounding? It was good times.

Now, it seems most games are about coddling the weak. The penalty in WoW is a joke. If I die, my only penalty is walking back to my body, which no one can loot. When I spring back to life, I still have all of my XP. Even SOE has seriously softened the penalty for dying with EverQuest. Where is the challenge? What am I risking by walking up to players 20 levels higher than me and just running my mouth like a five-year-old? I have absolutely nothing to lose, and therefore nothing to gain by playing. Reward has no value without risk.

Garrett Fuller: With all the hours of hard work players put into these games, why penalize them? Building your character takes time and effort. Games should allow players the chance to continue that fight with little to no penalty for getting killed. There was nothing worse than getting ganked in Ultima by a player while at the bank. This led players to quit that game.

In WarCraft, you suffer enough humiliation just getting killed and being forced to go resurrect. There is no reason to make the player lose money or items they have worked hard to get. Allowing players to loot corpses would turn the world into a total mess. You’d have huge zergs running around farming random players who are just trying to complete quests. WarCraft holds up with the danger factor that they have established. Players are still fearful. I say forget the harsh death penalty and let players compete on an equal field.

Frank Mignone: The stricter death penalty not only applies to those poor players getting killed while they are simply trying to quest, it also applies to those zergs. Zerging is a tactic that is a lot easier to partake in when you have no real penalty for it. Arguments about the morality of the tactic aside, it is unpopular. There is nothing to fear by earning a reputation as a zerger, ganker or whatever, because no one can do anything about it. Even if I were to avenge the activity and kill you, what’s the point? What’s more, fear of this tactic in an environment where the death penalty was unforgiving, encouraged community. People needed guilds in UO, and reached out to others for support. Playing solo in UO was a sure-fire way to get yourself killed… a lot.

MMORPGs are trying to attract more and more single-player gamers into their medium. These games are used to the security of a save game button and are not used to real consequences, except perhaps the occasional death where you must load the game from five minutes before. When these gamers enter the realm of MMORPGs and see that there is no reset button, they freak out and run away. As such, we are getting more and more MMORPGs with limited death penalties, if any at all, to accommodate this style of risk-nothing gamer. The more this happens, the more the MMORPGs are moving away from the first three letters in their acronym.

Garrett Fuller: I couldn’t disagree more. Frank, what is wrong with drawing in the single player element to MMORPGs? Many of the games have solo quest lines that encourage this type of play. Having to go back and start a quest over because you are killed and looted just creates more issues for players. Killing other characters or lower level characters is called "griefing" for a reason. It causes grief! We do pay to play these games. No one wants to pay money, spend hours working on something only to have some PKer come along and ruin their fun. Game companies are trying to discourage this type of play to get more people involved.

WarCraft has enough annoying elements in it to have to worry about player looting and deaths. Faction grinding is annoying. Whoever came up with that idea should be fired! The death system in WarCraft helps players accomplish long and difficult goals that the developers have set before them. The best part about MMORPGs is the ability to log on at 4:00 in the morning and get something done. There were times when I have done this on purpose in order to avoid the penalties involved with griefing by other players. Should there be a harsh death penalty in MMORPGs? Heck no! Developers have made it enough of pain in the neck for players to develop their characters without having the community add to that pain. I say keep the death penalties light and the competition open.

Frank Mignone: There is nothing wrong with single-player gamers coming to MMORPGs. However, they should expect a different type of gameplay. The MM means ‘massively multiplayer.’ They would change it to MAORPG, Massively Anti-Social Online Role-Playing Games. The acronym used to me that the sole purpose in this genre is cooperation and interdependency. Doesn’t making the game solo-player intensive defeat the purpose?

Besides, even those solo missions are just turning a crank with no death penalty. I can die a thousand times and all I need is the stubbornness to keep running at that brick wall. Death penalties make you think, "Okay, I don't want to die again, maybe I should get some help," and the MMO aspect of the game are then reinforced. Griefing is still present in WoW, with its limited death penalties; I think it is even worse. There are no consequences to obnoxious behavior. If all you can do is kill me, and that has no real penalty, I can just run back in three minutes and resume being a gerbil.

Ok, I am asking the general community to get in on this, what do you think? Are death penalties a real means of adding tension and a sense of accomplishment, not to mention a set of consequences that make players think? Or do you agree with Garrett, that it’s just a way to anger players and that light death penalties are the best direction MMORPGs can take? We are opening this for debate and hope you will join us. Do not just say whose name you agree with, speak your mind.

What do you think? We want to hear your thoughts on this topic in this comment thread.


Frank Mignone