MMO Death Penalties Revisted

The last time I wrote about MMO death penalties was in 2008.  I know the topic is not a new one, but I always like to revisit subjects like this and strike up new discussions.  Two years is like an eternity in MMO time and it’s expected that opinions and thoughts on a topic will change.  New games release and new death penalties

What is a death penalty?  I like the word penalty for a few reasons.  It implies a negative.  Just by the definition alone, a penalty is a punishment, a required payment, a painful consequence, a disadvantage, or a handicap.  That about sums up what we know about every penalty in MMO’s, right?  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.  As I’ve always said, no one should want to die.  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.   Without a penalty like this, death would be meaningless and it would trivialize everything in the game that has to do with death.  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.  Obviously losing your gear permanently in a game like World of Warcraft is inappropriately harsh.  Likewise, having to run back to your body in Darkfall would be equally inappropriate.  When does it cross the line?  In Allods Online, a game currently in closed beta at the time of this entry, the death penalty was changed to be harsher.  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.  To leave purgatory early they could bribe their way out by spending a reagent called myrrh which they could purchase from a vendor.  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).  To remove the debuff, players can spend additional myrrh.  When all is said and done, a max level player will lose ~3.5g and be sent back to a respawn point.  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?  As someone who plays the game at max level, I hate dying now.  I don’t like losing my money and I don’t like having to pay a lot or get a debuff.  I don’t like being sent back to a respawn point.  I do not want to die and I want to avoid it at all costs.  Yet, I acknowledge that death can be overcome and does not stop the forward motion of my character’s progression.  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.  The perfect solution is somewhere between those two extremes.  Here are some of the death penalties that I think work well.  Feel free to comment with yours.

Exp Loss – Works well in a game like DAOC.  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.  It doesn’t work well in a strictly quest-to-level game unless there is an enormous excess of quests.  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.  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.  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.  My ideal MMO is a psuedo-sandbox and has a skill system masking experience gain.  To explain it as simple as possible, you basically gain experience for what you use and then allocate that into corresponding trees.  If I use a sword I gain sword experience.  There is also another form of exp called pvp experience which can be allocated to gain points in the PvP tree.  When you die in PvE combat you take on a hefty exp debt that must be worked off.  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.   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.

  • Should the fear of death make you stop doing an activity? I can definitely see this conversation happening with my friends:

    (scene is big PvP battle and go…)

    P1: “Dude, I gotta bail out of this, I’m losing money way too fast.”
    P2: “But this is a blast!”
    P1: “Yeah, it’s definitely fun. But I’m LOSING MONEY WAY TOO FAST!”

    You could swap that situation out for a PvE encounter. You and some friends might be trying out some creative strategies to take down the instance but each failure is costing the group a nice chunk.

    The concept of death ruining the fun of game doesn’t sit well with me.

  • NOTE: I’m not advocating for zero penalty. The death system in Star Trek, for example, is ridiculous. Die in a space battle, respawn a few seconds away and jump right back into the fight. Where’s the tension?

  • I think the best death penalty is losing your stuff. Exp penalities worked in EQ and DAOC because it took so bloody long to gain exp but it just doesn’t work in modern games because leveling is so fast.

    It’s all about risk vs reward and I gained renewed perspective on it all when I played EVE Online for the first time last year and died, losing my prized ship. Boy, did that sting and it really gave me something to fear. That fear, however, also gave me a deeper connection to the game and made me more emotionally invested.

    However, it’s also about suiting the death penalty to the product. Casual games, like WoW, just shouldn’t bother with one (and they don’t really). Having to spend a couple of minutes running back to your previous location is penalty enough. However, I think sandbox games should have harsh penalties.

    A few months ago I wrote up my ideas for a Zombie MMORPG – essentially a sandbox game in rundown American in which everyone was just trying to survive. The catch? It had permadeath. When you die, your completely died and you have to start a new character. That would cause a lot of fear and I’d love to see how a game like that played out 🙂

  • Varies per game type. With casual games a time penalty is enough. More hardcore needs gear damage, exp loss, stat penalty, etc.

    WAR had a soft penalty because it didn’t want people to fear PvP due to it.

    I fear the death penalty in Allods really has nothing to do with defining it as casual or hardcore but as a money making mechanism.

  • This has been a topic on the Cryptic forums lately, as both CO and STO have basically no death penalty at all. The bottom line is, death really does mean nothing. It makes the game easy to play without paying 100% attention, but at the same time, it really does mean that the tension is never TRULY ramped up.

    There is also a fine line between cockblock and appropriate penalty. In the end though, I just want the penalty to make sense within the context of the game. For example both Co and STO have basically the same penalty, which amounts to very little. However, in CO its very much more forgivable in my opinion. Why?

    In CO, you are “defeated” and you respawn at the nearest respawn point, usually next to some friendly NPCs. This, at least, makes some sense in the contact of super hero comic books where villains and heroes are rarely truly killed, but are often forced to retreat/withdraw.

    On the other hand, in STO, your ship blows up, but you don’t lose it, you just respawn with the same ship. Mechanically, its identical to CO, but the the in game representation of it is that your ship is destroyed, only to magically reappear. If they just visualized it differently, like you warp out to the nearest starbase/respawn point at the last moment, it would be far more forgivable in my opinion.

    Whether or not you have a harsh penalty isn’t really of too much consequence to me in principle, and is mainly going to be determined by your target audience. However, whatever a developer chooses, I like it to make sense within their world.

    More examples:

    Lotro – good. You “retreat,” when you run out of “morale.” Health Points are non existant and you instead have the visualization of it being will/ability to continue fighting. This works with the IP, as there is no real way to come back from death.

    WoW – Bad. You can magically corpse run to return to life, yet there are earth shattering moments when main characters die. Yet, the precedent is that it is trivially easy to return to life.

    Of course, people will say, oh its just a game mechanic. However, I dislike when any game mechanic is that transparent in an RPG, and death penalty should be no exception. Just a simple change in how it is visualized can go a long way for me.

  • Death in Lotro is two-fold and similar to Allods in a way. It was a HP/MP debuff for 10 minutes And Item Repair hit. So it became costly in both time and money for a player to die multiple times in raiding and such.

    For Allods, I think they should employ a similar approach and limit the debuff to 10 minutes with the opportunity to pay to have it removed (along with the perfume mechanic). The fact that it scales at the moment does hurt especially at the higher levels (with 30+ minute timers).

  • I agree with Mahlah. The death penalty has to fit the game, and the players of the game.

    The conceit of death and resurrection in MMOs is pretty hard to sustain. I’d rather go with a magic spell or super-scientific device that whipped you out of harm’s way at the crucial moment and translocated or teleported you to a place of safety.

    I realise it’s a cosmetic difference, but being saved at the last second is somehow easier to accept than dying and being resurrected. The Cloning in Fallen Earth is a nice variation.

    As for deliberately inculcating fear or even apprehension into your players, no thanks. I don’t consume entertainment of ANY kind to stir up negative emotions in myself and if I find any game doing that then its day is over.

    Oh, and it’s been quite a while since you had to do Corpse Runs in EQ1. You respawn with all your stuff. In theory you could go back to your body for a rez, but no-one does. Either your cleric Mercenary rezzes you on the spot or you pay a fee to an NPC in the Guild Lobby to summon your corpse there and someone will rez you, usually for 96% of your “lost” xp. EQ doesn’t really have a death penalty any more other than a few minutes of lost time and a trivial amount of gold.

  • Death means nothing in shooters either (other than perhaps very little downtime) yet noone wants to die either.

    So the tension is not about loss of items, exp or debuffs… it’s about pride. The best death penalty would be to hurt people’s pride. Let others know how good, or bad, you are. If you’re good, and people can somehow see that, then you’re rewarded for not dying (and killing a lot). If you’re on the other hand die a lot – and others can see it – then in most cases your pride is hurt (unless you find pride in having the worst death statistic >< )

    I know you can't really compare shooters and MMO, but I do believe that a dent in your pride stings like a bitch far more than any other death penalty. Especially on those who are competitive by nature (either pvp or pve players).

    All the others are just unnecessary inconveniences that makes gameplay feel more like work.

    Any thoughts?

  • Currently I think the only game that has it right is Vanguard. Sadly I haven’t resubbed since SoE added on the player exchange to VG, but I thought the Tombstone run or the option to summon your “Tomb” for an exp hit was the perfect sting for dying.

    Unfortunately my game of choice at the moment has a joke of a death penalty. AoC has the -1% to dmg/mitigation etc and a max of 3% if you don’t get your Tombs back. I really wish they’d make it at least 10% per death so I at least notice a penalty. I often try 6-8 pulls with my Tempest of Set simply because I have nothing to lose.

  • to contrast several others here, i want that negative emotion, that fear of death, friends saying “i’m too much of a pussy, i’m losing too much gold/items/time because we keep dying” i like the idea of darkfall’s system, though i’ve not personally had a chance to try the game. so far the only games i’ve played that i actually liked the system were eve and neocron. neocron by far has been my favorite. in neocron you get hit by a debuff that gradually wears off and if you die while the debuff is active gets worse, and you drop a belt with (for the average player) a single item. you then have the option of running back to get your belt and retrieve your item, but it’s also possible for other players to take your item if they have a sufficiently high hacking tradeskill and properly use the tradeskill quick enough to get into your belt (it required you to play a mini game to get a successful hack). by default you get one slot where you place an item that will not ever drop in your belt, and the chance to drop anything from your inventory is equal. then in an effort to make pvp less brutal, if you died in a pvp zone you would not drop a belt, though pvp was allowed anywhere so it was not as if you were ever entirely safe, just in the specific conflict zones. then you also had some item degradation that could be repaired, but every repair lowered the maximum health of the item and eventually items would break if you died a lot. add to this your karma also had an effect, if you were really good your belt was impossible to hack, if you were really evil you dropped more items, your belt required no hacking, and you had no safe slot, and in my opinion you had a fantastic system.

    little much to take in, i can imagine, hope i explained it sufficiently. it was basically a system where you stood to lose something, chances were it would not be important, your most valuable items were safe, and others had a chance to steal the items, but normally not just anybody could do it. as a result death was rarely extremely painful, but there was a small chance that it could be extremely painful. it was the best balancing of a death penalty i have played and it was a large part of what kept me playing the game for such a long time. as it is i’m playing fallen earth and the death penalty is laughable, so much so that i don’t even care enough to pay a ton of attention in the middle of a fight. neocron if i were tabbed out of the game for some reason in a fight i’d panic, fallen earth i just shrug and deal with whatever took me out of the game. when it can take 20 minutes to get back to where i was and the debuff is only 5 minutes, who cares?

    i’m really hoping their item degradation system in the upcoming fallen earth patches will make death mean a little bit more. otherwise it’s going to be close to my biggest complaint and i’ll eventually jump shit for something else. to me the death penalty is the big balancer in the risk / reward scenario and what i have to come to realise, about myself, is that if there is not a large enough risk, i don’t really care too much about the reward and will get rather bored of it rather quickly. bring on the difficult, or harshness as you will, i say, it’s what makes the game fun. without a real risk for death everything else is for naught.

  • XP penalties worked well at DAOC PvE, but in PvP you did not take an XP penalty, instead you had to holler your behind through the frontier alone or wait for another group or wait for your group to pick you up at either your main gate or at your portal keep, if you weren’t able to be rezzed (since I played healer classes many times I wasn’t able to be rezzed even if half the group actually lived through the pvp encounter). That could be a HUGE amount of time, comparable even to the FoD debuff you get in Allods. Respawn, go to your portal keep, wait for your portal, regroup to continue fighting – that could easily take around 30 mins if you happened to miss a port or if you forgot to bind yourself near your portal keep.

    Second, I admit that the FoD debuff is too harsh right now, and I am firmly convienced that they will tone it down a bit for the western market. In fact, the european producer who has been a lot more talkative to their community than the NA ones already posted something quite interesting that is worth the read:
    Dear Sarnautians,

    As you may know we aim to localise Allods Online for the pleasure of European players and European communities at This not only means text in-game but also game play to better suit habits and manners.

    For example, last week you learned via a Guild Portal exclusive from [GM]Linalthin, that the ability to ‘talk’ within a whole zone will remain free (though we may have an item to change its colour as an ‘add-on’). We realise this is a key feature for socialising and community building.

    Recently there has been a debate around the ‘Fear of Death’ mechanic. To be honest, it will most likely go live to the European servers in next week’s patch (N.B: Scheduled for released on Wednesday…hopefully). This does not mean that the ‘Fear of Death’ is definitive in its current form. Remember after all, we are still in Closed Beta Testing 🙂

    The Fear of Death is a part of the game balance. The purpose of the Closed Beta Test is to test this balance. That is exactly why we need your feedback and the more structured you are with responses on this matter, the better it is for all of us.

    This is valid for any of your concerns.

    We do listen, we do discuss your feedback in-house, and just like you, we do play during week-ends and evenings.

    Thank you for your continued feedback,


    Based on such comment I am speculating that both the NA and the EU versions will still have FoD, but toned down in some form (even if only to get rid of the negative press). I believe the meaningless PvP crowd will not be pleased with that, but I honestly think that that playstyle isn’t really compatible with a MMORPG.

  • Harsher death penalties also need to be balanced with improved capabilities for gathering information – it’s no fun if the only way to find out if bag-of-loot#17 is immune to fire attacks (etc) is by, well, dieing.

    That said, boss or mob encounters which can be “reset” by simply running away should also have some kind of penalty. At the least, the boss or mob should be more alert and better prepared, meaning a prompt return visit will actually be harder. The same effect would apply if players die – the mob loads on the buffs, digs out their good armour, closes the side door, and asks a mate to standby on guard.

  • I’ve recently changed my mind on certain annoying forms of death penalties. This was when i played some Star Wars Galaxies (i’m new there) and got that 75% HP/Power debuff and wondered how to wait it out. Then i wandered around in the cantina and listened to some of the entertainers [that’s a class on its own] and my debuff suddenly started losing time 30 seconds and it was off.

    The end result? I’m going to do it for sure everytime, i’m going to go to the cantina and find an entertainer to get the debuff off.

    The real point? It makes the game social, people come together and you get that “massive” feeling. Players have the option to reduce the death penalty via other PLAYERS.

    So what i’m getting at is, the penalty can be harsh as long as there is an ALTERNATIVE , and the alternative being PLAYER BASED. If players want to charge money, so be it, chances are they’ll be cheaper than the NPC.

    As for Allods, i think that harsher DP is a bit too much if there’s no alternative. And no, “waiting it out” is not an alternative to “paying up”. I’m talking alternatives to “pay less” or “reduce the time” .

    Hell if it needs to be a little quest, or card game or a “roll some dice with death, if you win you’re out, if you lose you die again” . Things like that…

  • EDIT: Anyone remember a MMO where you’d die, and wander around as a ghost and the only way you’d come back to life is if a player resurrected you? You could of course risk standing at an NPC until he/she randomly resurrects you [can be a 20+ minute wait] OR you could wander into hotspots and hope a player healer see you ??

    Is that harsh compared to spending constant amounts of money to repair/remove debuffs? Suddenly it doesn’t sound quite that bad…

  • Grant, I have left a game where the lack of a death penalty made the point of the game unenjoyable to some extent – Warhammer online zerg vs zerg

  • Death penalties, like any other mmorpg mechanic, are completely subjective. Some people, like Bhagpuss above, don’t want them at all and it just impedes their enjoyment of the game. Others, like myself, won’t touch a game w/out a fairly serious death penalty because w/out one the game holds no danger or tension and therefore becomes somewhat meaningless without those emotions to deal with. For myself, I got hooked on fantasy when I read the Sword of Shannara probably 30 years ago, and the many fantasy books to follow. In all of those books a key element to my enjoyment was the danger of death, the tension in the story lines etc. if the “heroes” were to fail in their mission…and in turn that’s something that I expect and need to have to get any enjoyment out of my MMORPGs.

    Designers just need to figure out the main target audience and adjust the mechanic accordingly.

  • I agree with the first post by Buddydude.

    However, there’s got to be some kind of hit on your character when you die. There should exist that feeling of treading lightly and being careful because you want to avoid dying, whether dying means your wallet takes a hit or your gear does – death penalty imho is a necessity.

    I consider myself to be a hardcore player, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy perma-death, or losing equipment when I die.

    WoW’s death penalty is great. In PvE you lose durability when you die, in addition to the time it takes to run back and resurrect. When doing world PvP (yea like that exists in WoW anymore) you lose more time running back because it’s usually a longer run back, and it effectively stops zerg rushes because if you die more than 2-3 times you have to wait X seconds – X minutes until you can respawn.

    FFXI also had a good take on the death penalty with the exp loss. You die – you’re gonna feel it. You die again you’ll sharpen up and be careful. You die even more you will eventually level down. This easily fixes the problem where that one healer went awol in the middle of combat and wiped the party, because he’d feel the sting of dying too. Not sure how that would apply to PvP though.

  • Nice post.

    I’m not sure if you played eq2 in its early days but I liked its system the most. Basically it started with the eq1 with the whole gravestone/items but that got removed. Along with the items it had a debuff that would go away once you got to the stone. What I really liked however was the fact every member of the team had to suffer with the exp debt. I believe the party members all got 75% of the player that died death. Before you got your corpse/stone I think it was 10% of your exp so that means each person got a 7.5% debt as well. What was great about that was even if the player was new/sucked the team actually cared about that player. They wouldn’t just let them die, they would talk or show them a better way of play. This death penalty also I think improved the community, sure it spawned the elitist 6 man groups which I am guilty of but still. I have yet to get as “close” to any player then when I did when I played eq2 with my 6 man team.

    In contrast when wrath launched for wow and I was on my paladin if the player was retarded I just plain let them die, all the time, well unless it was the tank ofc. WTB non-tauntable mobs again lol. Oh noes they lost not even half a daily quest worth of gold… cry me a river.

    But I personally like the idea some one above was hinting at. Give the player the choice in a risk/reward style. Take the vanguard system, its a perfect example. If you want your equipment back you need to run to the tombstone. I can’t remember if you were naked or not but still that presents a challenge since what ever did kill you would still be around. That’s the risk, the reward is no penalty unless you count the possible fun of doing a naked run a penalty. If you chose not to do that then you go to the person in town and have them summon it to you for exp cost. No risk so no reward. Just make the penalty harsh enough and not a slap on the wrist.

  • As it has been said there needs to be balance between risk and accessibility; these two factors put “hardcore” gamers at odds with casual gamers, and this can be distilled down to a question of profitability. Once again I’ll bring up the MMORPG article “PvP Fail: How PvP Can Break Your Game” (, which highlights that many game devs are likely hardcore, but in the end they have to address the reality that it doesn’t matter if you have the best products on the market if you can’t market it (ask the crew of “Arrested Development” that one…).
    Most people on gaming blogs are not representative of the general public, the latter which will most likely determine if your game is financially a success. EVE is an anomaly in this respect, but it fits in that in a setting that is meant to mirror futuristic real life, things break, sometime irrevocably; but in this context still there is artistic license, since permadeath is not in effect.
    I am not a big fan of death penalties that have negative effects on items, exp, attributes, or cost resources to ameliorate, as dying to someone else’s hand is traumatic enough. Psychology is important and I think positive incentives are almost by definition a more fun way to get a desired effect from your your audience, at least in a situation where someone is paying for the fun experience as opposed to being punished for their undesirable deeds. So although I do not like item degradation in PvP battles, I do advocate limited life spans on powerful items to maintain game balance. Although both might end up with an unusable item in the end, the difference is that I feel punished if my gear is seriously degrades upon my death and that makes me less likely to enter a situation unless I feel I can win, as opposed to knowing a powerful item has a week shelf life left, which makes me want to use more before I use it. Either way my item is going to hell, but in the latter case I am having more fun. So perhaps there are less punitive ways of getting people to take PvP seriously?
    Perhaps instead there should be a colored dot to the side of one’s head that defines your success in PvP; I know that my own sense of PvP pride would drive me to keep my street cred high. Although some people may leave a game because of a limited death penalty, I have no doubt that the majority of the subs in most MMORPG’s are not hardcore and the profitability would run inversely to the degree of harshness of the death penalty. Implementing idealistic hardcore rule sets could be the kiss of death for a game.
    Perhaps the cash shop in Allods will be the self-perceived hardcore gamer’s salvation? I actually don’t mind spend real money in a cash shop, so long as it is kept in check; so long as I am paying less than the typical $15/month sub rate for an enjoyable and immersive online game, I will think of iy as a bargain…
    @ We Fly: That sounds like fun, but I wouldn’t see the need for leveling in that context. If you are going to try to mirror real life in a zombie apocalypse then your character should be as good as you are on the keyboard and mouse, with gear adjustments; in essence your virtual toon improves as you mentally level in real life. Of course I think we already have a good representation of that in Left for Dead…

  • Also I wonder what would happen to the player base of EVE if the insurance rates for a full ship replacement were made cheaper; would there be more or less subs after a few years passed?

  • #22- just one comment: Cash shops really go against the whole hardcore philosophy for the most part, so no that isn’t going to work in terms of the cash shop being the hardcore’s salvation. It’s more like the bane…going forward it looks like cash shops are going to be targeted to the casual audience, and i thank god for that 😉

    Also, while I agree that triple-A titles will probably want to stay away from the hardcore audience because they won’t make the mega-millions they need to justify the dev costs and marketing…but the smaller shops can most assuredly make some coin targeting that audience and in fact it may even make sense for them to do so. Who would you want your competition to be: WoW, or something like Mortal Online or Darkfall? (although Darkfall is actually shaping up to be a pretty good game for its target audience, i think we all know the answer to this question)

  • @gankatron: What if, for a positive incentive, you gave a bonus that increases the longer you go without dying? It would be similar to rest XP but would grow only while playing (and not dying). It could also be something more lasting like getting gear tokens for passing through a level without death.

  • @Grant: It’s an interesting idea, but I would be worried about people then becoming too intent on not dying and being overly cautious. It’s a real balancing act. You want people to be afraid of dying, but you do not want people to avoid doing anything because they’re rewarded for sitting in town all day or fighting lowbie mobs.

  • @Keen and Grant

    CO/STO already does this (though it is a pitifully small upgrade in damage, like 5% at maximum). People generally don’t care about it much, and people frequently do stuff like die to get a free ride back to respawn point if they are in a hurry.

    The concept could go interesting places, but I think it has to be borderline overpowered before people are going to care, and at that point, you run into the same problem as death penalties have now.

    I think Death Penalty severity is mainly just a matter of personal preference though. I tend to like death penalties that are considered harsh by most standards. This is mainly because I am a big “economy” guy in MMOs, and item loss leads too better in game economies. My general post about this up the page a bit holds true for me though no matter what the severity is – Make sure the death penalty (or Death effect if you want) fits within your world without too obviously being a game mechanic.

  • One of the best games I ever played in relation to death penalty was DragonRealms, a text-based MUD. Players would go on minor quests to receive favor (in the form of an orb) from their god. It was these orbs that would allow them to be resurrected by a healer at a later time. People would have to drag dead characters’ bodies back to the temples for resurrection, during which time the dead characters were able to roam as a ghost (though every time they talked, it came out as just a moan). If a player wanted to be an atheist, he/she could, and they accepted the risk with it.
    Having said all that, I would personally love to play a permadeath game. If such servers existed (just for kicks) on current MMO’s, I would play them. Glutton for punishment? Probably. But seeing a high-level character would take on a whole new meaning (even if they did get there by killing 4,000,000,000,000 orcs).
    A game built with a permadeath system would admittedly be a niche game, however.

  • Gankatron:

    We have that now actually, insurance + cost in EVE on some T1 ships is so cheap that people buy a battleship, self-destruct it, and make money. They also are willing to suicide gank and lose ships because if done cheaply they can make profit. A lot of people want insurance in EVE done away with entirely.

    As for death penalties, eh. You get used to them. Keen is wrong on that. It wont add the spice forever, because you die so much in most games that you either make peace with it and get little enjoyment from it, or you quit.

  • @Dblade: Very interesting, people will always find the loopholes in the system. So then why is EVE talked about as being such a harsh death penalty game when you can make money through destruction of your ship and call rez with clones?

  • The problem with newer games is the death penalty has no immersion associated with it. Sure it might sting, but usually it is just a bit of coin and time.

    The corpse runs in EQ added a whole other element to the game. Sometimes they really sucked, but they were very memorable. Unfortunately too many players want a very linear game to unfold, they don’t want to look at the meta-game as different aspects.

    I like the idea of having to do certain quests for your ‘god’ to build up a resovoir of re-incarnations.

    But then I want a hardcore deep and complicated game. I can’t wait for the WOW crowd to grow up, mature, and demand the same.

    There are going to be some great niche games in 10 years.


  • If this was created because of the FoD in Allods i just have to say that system is done basically to make players pay by the hour their play time in Allods.
    I don’t think it is a particularly well done system and it is too apparent that the objective of it is to get money from player since they already have a different death penalty system.

    So i have to ask: why don’t they increase the gold cost of myrrh and make it cheaper to get in the item shop by real money?

    The FoD is so severe that it will criple PvE and PvP and limit the players in the actions they will do.

  • @Pedro: How much do you really die in PVE? Unless I am in a group taking on a boss we have not seen before and we wipe, I very rarely ever die in PVE. So I disagree that the “FoD is so severe that it will criple (sp) PVE. . .”

  • To be honest, as someone who played EQ end game death penatly was a joke. It only effected people leveling up because they often had a hard time finding a cleric. Someone in an end game raiding guild never even considered death an issue, nor losing your corpse.

    WoW is no different. The death penalty, ie item durability, only effects those leveling who are short on money. These aren’t really harsh imo.

  • I think a Death Penalty has a cumulative effect on reducing PUGs. Downhill from there, reduced PUG=reduced socializing, reduced socializing=reduced sense of community..etc etc..

    Really, how often do you die solo in PvE, and in a group? So DP reduces the instinct to group.

  • @terroni: History contradicts this though. Where have MMO’s gone over the past decade? Towards a more solo friendly gameplay. Where have the death penalties gone? Less severe.

    Look at EverQuest and you’ll see a game where grouping was done almost the entire time by everyone. The death penalty there was so sever that you would actually de-level even from the max level. Dark Age was the same way. It seems the harsher the penalty the more people are inclined to group.

  • @terroni

    I guess that depends on how difficult it is to solo. Personally, I think the role of soloing in a mmorpg should be that it’s possible, but challenging and, with no one else to rely on, the possibility of death can be just a screw up or two away. You can promote grouping with a death penalty as well. Really it’s a discussion of which method of progression is more likely to get you killed when you *really* don’t want to die, so I guess it’s not a death penalty question at all.

  • Yeah I guess I would look for more support to take on a difficult scenario if I was really worried about the consequences of dying; there will be more healing, dps, and tactical robustness with a combined arms doctrine. So I guess I have to disagree with you Terroni on that point.

    On the other hand I wouldn’t ascribe causality of the declining harshness of the death penalty leading to a greater degree of solo friendly game mechanics; I think both have been fostered by devs to attract and keep a greater player base, which will be populated by more casual players, but one cannot assume cause and effect by simply showing an association between these two factors.

  • There are only TWO ways PvP is meaningful in an MMO:
    A. You know and care about who you are fighting. If you are just in a random WoW battleground mindlessly fighting people you don’t know or care about it gets very boring.

    B. Winning or losing MEANS something. In open world cases this usually means having some sort of death penalty. What is the point of killing somebody then they just respawn a minute or 2 away and lose absolutely nothing? it is so pointless.

    Lineage 2 had a good penalty system, die and lose 4% exp.

  • Perhaps it doesn’t have to be all or none. A dedicated “hardcore” server might be able to adopt harsher death penalties than the normal severs. Some types of death penalties would be more ammendable to this treatment than others. If that server doesn’t populate adequately then the group of self-perceived hardened players just have to deal with the fact that they are in the minority and the game needs to go forwards in a way that is profitable.

  • I agree Gankatron. I would like to see a MMO developer have more than just 2 types of servers… PvP and PvE. (I don’t consider Roleplaying servers different because the in game rules are still PvP or PvE)

    Have a sliding scale of PvP and PvE servers, see what flourishes. WAR would have been a great game to do this with but the developers loved their chicken idea so much it was impossible to convince them of anything else.

    It would also settle some debates. We would know what was more popular.

  • @Keen

    I don’t think you’re taking the argument to its full potential. It’s not *only* about making someone fear death. The suggestions you have listed only boil down to one simple thing: How to slow a player down.

    You could slow a player down by breaking/losing his gear: He would have to run for repairs, spend money that he might have to ‘farm’ back somehow.

    You could slow a player down by XP loss/debt (essentially the same): the player now has to grind that xp back, is a pure slow-down.

    Debuffs: Either the player sits out until they wear off, or he gains XP much much slower than at his peak.

    Corpse Run: The player spends X amount of time running to his ghost before he can get back in the groove.

    Permadeath: The ultimate slow-down. The player has to start over from scratch.

    See? all these implementations are nothing but cleverly disguised ways to slow down the game play. After the player invests X amount of play time, he’s back in the saddle again.

    My thought is that death penalties could (and probably should) have a POSITIVE impact on a game.

    You say “Item Damage … Repairing gear costs money.”:
    Why not take that to its logical extent. An item degrades, and finally breaks: The player now has to get a new item, and before then he has to get it patched up.

    Instead of having an NPC that you drop a few coins on, why not have a system where crafters are useful: Dying breaks equipment and feeds the crafting community. A third party all of a sudden got involved and affected because of your death, it doesn’t concern you alone (even though it has basically the same effect on *you*).


    A game with severe death penalties must be carefully implemented. Take a game like Mafia Matrix for instance. Permadeath. Anyone can come up and whack you at any time and your character that you poured hours and hours into is g.o.n.e. It’s interesting to note how the community altered to work with this premise: killing someone is a serious offense, and probably will get your character killed as well. Instead of being a romp-stomp LETSPEEVEEPEEE arena, the people that advanced in the game suddenly became aware of their own mortality, and started drafting (in game) rules about how killing was allowed or not allowed.

    Also: the more severe the death penalty, the more attracted the griefers will be. The prospect of permanently ending your character’s career is tempting for a griefer, and they will find every exploit, scam, trick, or cheat they can to do so. I think that the emergence of the pure grief player in games, has been a huge contributing factor in why mmos have become theme-parkified

  • as a last note:

    If your “death penalties” are nothing but a slowdown of game play it’s better to create a “longer” game with more content, and ease up on the death penalties.

    Let’s say you have super hard death penalties: Every time you die, you lose 10% of skill/xp to whatever the cap is. At the end, you still won’t see more skillful players at the end, you’ll see more patient players at the end.

    If you instead keep the death penalties low, but have a challenging gameplay, the people that reach the end are the ones that took the time to learn the game, not the ones that “put in the time”.

    Ultimately, we probably want a combination of both, a game that involves skill, and has penalties. But then you’ll only see the truly insane at the end.

  • @dblade / @gankatron – In EVE Online, the idea of self-destructing as insurance scam probably isn’t true. Someone had to make that ship, and that cost resources. They are never going to sell it on the market for less than insurance cost, or they may as well be trying to “scam” insurance themselves. Same as if you were going to manufacture that battleship yourself… you’d still have a much larger net loss than if you just sold the materials at average market cost.

    However, the idea of suiciding your ship in an effort to kill a target carrying more valuable goods is entirely different. This introduces the idea of sacrificing yourself despite the loss, because your own self-worth is relative to the loot at hand, and this requires cooperation–someone has to get that loot before someone else picks it up, and it’s ideal that they’re a friend of yours that will split the profits!

    EVE’s somewhat “hardcore” loss mechanism is brilliant in that it teaches people rather quickly that they should not risk what they cannot afford to lose. However, just as in financial investing, different people have different risk tolerences. You can decide to make the death penalty as serious or as light as you want, even if you ignore the insurance (which is generally not even worth considering when you start to outfit ships with optimal gear.) This subjective perception of how harsh the death penalty as well as the ability to choose how severe it is to you is part of the reason why it is so enjoyable.

    If you want to make deaths not hurt: you scale down your ambitions and minimize your risks (lower level missions, safer space with security, travel with friends, etc). If you don’t mind increased risk because you know you can get potentially huge rewards: you push your ship to its limit in missions, you fly in low security space, you hunt other players.

    I remember being gutted after losing my first hull upgrade purchase from frigate to cruiser; it was 1.2 million of the ingame currency (ISK); this took me a few days of casual playing to earn. I lost it within minutes of spending it, due to a long distance phone call! My ship was where I -thought- I was safe. I wasn’t, and it was a great learning experience.

    Two years later, I lost a ship that cost–together with the gear–around 300 million. Insurance paid back around 7 million; a sliver of the real cost. However, I easily shrugged off this loss and recovered quickly. I was well aware of the possibility of death, and I was conscious of my risk tolerance.

    Since the more long-term players tend to have much more income, or more diversified income sources, they then had to introduce a new death penalty in the form of experience loss. Losing money is a time sink when it comes down to it, but as you advance the amount of time it takes to recover is reduced. However, there is a relatively static time associated with leveling up skills in EVE, and dying while in one of the most advanced ship types has a random skill downgrade, which may either simply lower your effectiveness temporarily, or even prevent you from using another of the same ship or specific loadout until you redo that skill level.

    Death penalties generally boil down to a slowdown of game play as ‘office jerk’ stated; and the severity of it is based on how long it takes to recover, and how enjoyable that process is. If the game is nothing but a boring grind, death represents more boring grind. Even worse: it’s potentially self-inflicted, if it was your decision that lead to it!

    The one mark against EVE’s death penalty? It presents a fairly large time sink that can actually prevent players from playing the game with a different approach; thus dividing large segments of the population into hardcore PVPers and “pirates”, as well as pacifist “carebears”.

    Again, though, the way the game is designed, once you have realized that you have control over your risk exposure, this means you don’t have to risk 50% of your virtual assets with a death. You can still advance in the game by flying cheaper ships with cheaper gear, using skill to compensate for cost.

    I have yet to see a fantasy MMO using a similar model, but perhaps it is the whole concept of the avatar as being an extension of yourself versus an external shell (vehicle) that allows for a different “death” interpretation?

  • First of all I need to say that I loved dragonrealms as well.

    Second what about a variable death penalty. Some lore-explained protection from death for a cost ranging up to some sort of midling but constant bonus for risking permanent death.