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Perma-Death Becomes Her

By Laura Genender on February 16, 2007 | Editorials | Comments

Perma-Death Becomes Her

Community Spotlight: Perma-Death Becomes Her
By: Laura Genender

Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Community Manager Laura Genender. Each week, Genender takes to our message boards and examines a specific topic raised by our community. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.

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This week on the forums, Pangaea brought up the subject of perma-death in MMOs. The concept of permanent character death is both an exciting one and a scary one – for players, this would mean losing all their hard work, and for Devs, this would mean losing the players’ attachment to the world.

Pangaea admits that the current MMO structure doesn’t work with the concept of perma-death. "As of now, MMOs are a competition up a ladder where you strive to be the best, and it is that level climb that players find frustrating to repeat... and frustrating to lose ground on." He suggests that MMOs would have to do away with the leveling component of gaming. "If you had fun playing a character through a deadly [situation] and he died, you could always start over and try again as a different character… because the goal isn’t to get to level 70, it’s to have fun."

The problem with this, as I see it, is that many developers have tried to make this the goal of their game. Players are naturally inclined toward competition; very few games actually force players to be the best, but we insist on it. Even if there was not a leveling feature, there would have to be some sort of progression or it would just be an arena style game with very little replay value. And players would become attached to this.

There is also the option of character progression bridging between multiple characters, but then, what’s the difference between perma-death and our current death penalty system?

Even with Pangaea’s ideas working as intended, poster Retrospectic is iffy about the idea of a level-less MMO. "One of the reasons [that I play MMOs] is that I feel accomplished when I work toward a goal. I have fun building my character by levels and becoming mightier than those who spend less time refining their gameplay."

Retrospectic also points out that, without leveling, you would need some sort of attribute advancement. And while this does allow for more freedom, players tend to find the "ulimate build" and just copy each other over and over.

"If you do away with levels and gear dependency," agrees Umbrood. "You remove the RP from the MMORPG."

The biggest worry for poster Kaibigan34 is griefers. "Every game has them. In a permadeath game they would be even worse since they can cost ingame lives."

-Rodriguez- steps in and offers a midline solution – "Permadeath doesn’t have to mean ‘die once and you’re gone’. It can also mean you can die 10 to 100 times depending on the game world." And a dead character could leave his assets to an heir – one of the players’ future characters. This would solve monetary issues, if not skill and level issues.

Amarsir also offers some creative ideas of permadeath. He suggests including a resurrection quest. "After X deaths, you can’t just pop back up at a graveyard/hospital/shrine/whatever. However another character, be it a guildmate, hired, or a stranger, or your self on an alt, can perform some action to bring you back and imbue you with X new deaths."

Amarsir also suggests a completely new take on MMOs, where your character lasts only as long as you are logged in. "The goal is to be the highest on an infinitely reaching ladder. But, whenever you die, you start over. Also, whenever you log off, you die. With this approach, you’re starting over constantly…6 months lost [would suck], sure, but who’s going to complain over the loss of an hour?"

The problem I see with a session game is that there is no retention of a player base, and it would be a support nightmare if the servers ever had to come down or if people got disconnected. Players would also, ultimately, try to leave their characters AFK in town overnight, so that no one really played the game as it was intended.

Amarsir makes one more suggestion, as an addition to a normal death game instead of a new game plan entirely. He has an idea for what he calls, a Bragging Rights Quest. "Simply put, you enter an instance designed to be incredibly challenging, and any deaths in there are permanent. You don’t get a great new power or item, which would make people think they "need it". All you get is a title, or a special decoration, or your name on the wall somewhere – bragging rights only."

I again see a problem with this final model: most players would likely refuse such a quest, and the content would be wasted time on the part of the developers. The most use would be from players intending to quit, but why would a game company implement an easy way for players to delete their progress, when progress is the only thing that can lure players back?

Another good suggestion comes from Alij777: instead of adding permadeath, what if you rewarded a player for staying alive longer? "For example: Adding +5 strength for every 100 pve kills. Even adding rewards for the amount of PvP kills you have prior to death. If you die, you’d lose these buffs."

It’s an interesting question, to be sure, and not one that’s going to get solved today. Still, it’s fun to talk about.