The last time I wrote about MMO death penalties was in 2008.Â I know the topic is not a new one, but I always like to revisit subjects like this and strike up new discussions.Â Two years is like an eternity in MMO time and it’s expected that opinions and thoughts on a topic will change.Â New games release and new death penalties
What is a death penalty?Â I like the word penalty for a few reasons.Â It implies a negative.Â Just by the definition alone, a penalty is a punishment, a required payment, a painful consequence, a disadvantage, or a handicap.Â That about sums up what we know about every penalty in MMO’s, right?Â LOTRO will give you dread, Darkfall you lose your stuff, EQ you lose experience and have to find your corpse if you want your stuff back, WoW you get sent back to a graveyard for a ghostly-corpse run and item damage, DAOC you lost exp but could mitigate it by returning to your gravestone, in Allods you’re debuffed and all your stats are lowered by 25% for a period of time, and so on.
Death penalties in MMO’s are needed because they add tension and they make the player think about what he is doing instead of rushing in.Â As I’ve always said, no one should want to die.Â Death should be feared, unwelcomed, inconvenient, and it should bring with it a sting that would make you not want to experience it again any time soon.Â Â Without a penalty like this, death would be meaningless and it would trivialize everything in the game that has to do with death.Â If you lost nothing, including time (which is the most valuable commodity that everything comes back to in a MMO), then facing a dragon would not scare you; exploring deep into unknown territory would not be as exciting; defying the odds would be less satisfying.
Finding the right penalty for each game is important.Â Obviously losing your gear permanently in a game like World of Warcraft is inappropriately harsh.Â Likewise, having to run back to your body in Darkfall would be equally inappropriate.Â When does it cross the line?Â In Allods Online, a game currently in closed beta at the time of this entry, the death penalty was changed to be harsher.Â The original death penalty took the player to a waiting area called purgatory where they could wait a period of time based on their level and frequency of death.Â To leave purgatory early they could bribe their way out by spending a reagent called myrrh which they could purchase from a vendor.Â The new death penalty keeps the purgatory system but adds onto it a debuff that lowers stats by 25% and can stack up to 4x based on the frequency of death and lasts longer based on the level of the player (~50 min at level 40).Â To remove the debuff, players can spend additional myrrh.Â When all is said and done, a max level player will lose ~3.5g and be sent back to a respawn point.Â To give you some sort of frame of reference to go by, I have an average of 200g on me right now at level 40, Astral Ships cost 1500 gold, and an average green item can vendor for 10-20g.
Have the developers in Allods Onlone gone too far, or is the death penalty now just right?Â As someone who plays the game at max level, I hate dying now.Â I don’t like losing my money and I don’t like having to pay a lot or get a debuff.Â I don’t like being sent back to a respawn point.Â I do not want to die and I want to avoid it at all costs.Â Yet, I acknowledge that death can be overcome and does not stop the forward motion of my character’s progression.Â As much as I hate it, I have to admit it accomplishes what a death penalty should.
Some people want no death penalty at all in every MMO they play and others want perma-death.Â The perfect solution is somewhere between those two extremes.Â Here are some of the death penalties that I think work well.Â Feel free to comment with yours.
Exp Loss – Works well in a game like DAOC.Â You lose exp but regain some when you get back to your gravestone (corpse) or get rez’d by a cleric.
Exp Debt – You go into debt and must work off the debt with half your experience before you start gaining exp again.Â It doesn’t work well in a strictly quest-to-level game unless there is an enormous excess of quests.Â Works very well in sandbox games and games with more kill-to-level systems.
Item Damage – This works hand in hand with many death penalties to boost the sting.Â Repairing gear costs money.
Debuffs – Whether you work it into the lore or not, a debuff can be a way of charging people coin or making them wait and both of those things hurt.Â These tend to be considered cheap death penalties if they do not cost coin or last a short period of time.
My absolute ideal death penalty works hand in hand with my skill system.Â My ideal MMO is a psuedo-sandbox and has a skill system masking experience gain.Â To explain it as simple as possible, you basically gain experience for what you use and then allocate that into corresponding trees.Â If I use a sword I gain sword experience.Â There is also another form of exp called pvp experience which can be allocated to gain points in the PvP tree.Â When you die in PvE combat you take on a hefty exp debt that must be worked off.Â If you die in PvP, you lose PvP experience which is allocated to unlock abilities useful in PvP but do not incur any exp debt.Â Â The higher up you are in the PvP tree (the more exp you have) the more you lose.
I’m very curious to hear other ideas on death penalties and how you would go about implementing them.