Penalties for dying in PvP

DAoC RvR death penalty
Here’s a random picture of dead people in Dark Age of Camelot.

The subject of consequences isn’t foreign to this blog.  We talk all the time about wanting games with more meaningful decisions. Over the past few days, Mark Jacobs has been publishing a lot of what he calls “Foundational Principles” wherein he discusses his thoughts on this very subject.  While reading his thoughts, and contemplating my own current feelings, I came to a conclusion about certain PvP penalties/consequences.

I’ve circled the MMO block a few times.  I started PvPing consistently in DAoC where there was no direct penalty.  I’ve played games like PotBS, Darkfall, UO, etc., where you can lose everything.  Personally, I prefer not losing my stuff.  I don’t see a need for losing gear, experience, or stats for a PvP death.  To borrow a phrase from Mark Jacobs, those are more often than not “quitting points.”  Different methods can produce very similar results.

Take DAoC for example.  Death meant being out of the fight.  You missed out on the action, missed out on the points, and had to run all the way back.   If you’re thinking to yourself that running back isn’t a big deal then you clearly never played DAoC where the run could be 20+ minutes.   In reality, it could take even longer waiting for a portal to teleport you back, and even longer if the action moved.

In my opinion, DAoC’s penalty for dying in RvR handles the issue with much more finesse.  By comparison, simply losing all your stuff feels like a cop-out, and unsupported by the rest of the game.  Weak penalties, like the one found in games like WAR, where death is nothing and neither side truly loses anything — ever — are just as bad… maybe worse.

Balance is needed between just enough to be meaningful, and not enough to make you want to quit.  I prefer when the penalty can be incorporated with more of mechanics and features of the world, rather than simply going the full-loot route.

Since I mentioned MJ’s foundational principles in the beginning, I’ll close by mentioning that Camelot Unchained will not have full-loot in PvP.  When I spoke with Mark at length about penalizing players for dying, he agreed with me that DAoC’s penalties (as I mentioned earlier) were adequate  and alluded to taking Camelot Unchained down a similar path.

  • This is such a difficult one. There were quite few things that led me to stop playing DAOC in less than a year when my highest character was only 44th (out of 50 possible levels) but I’d have to say that the very long periods out of action trying to get to where something as happening was high on the list.

    Compare that with Everquest, where, in a pure PvE environment, I lost all my gear three times on unrecoverable corpses and dropped a level more times than I can remember from xp loss on death, yet I played heavily for many years and still on occasions play now. I think in the end it has more to do with what you still feel you have left to achieve than it has to do with what you stand to lose, but you should never discount the irritation factor.

    I think an MMO in which the chance of you losing all your gear or all your progress was high enough to be in your mind all the time while you played would be fun for only a very small number of people. Makes no difference that loss is from PvP or PvE. That the possibility of such a loss exists, but is very, very unlikely, could be spice that gives the experience flavor. Everyone likes to bet on themselves as being able to beat odds like that.

    I’m glad I don’t have to be the one to decide. No matter what the risk vs reward structure is, more people will be unhappy with it than applaud it. That’s something you *can* bet on.

  • Its an interesting thought comparing how it feels to lose gear in PvP vs losing it to a mob in PvE (the corpse run). I can tolerate it more in PvE as its usually just me biting off more then I can chew. But in PvP, more often then not, its because someone 20 levels higher ganked me while I was engaged in a mob. Really then, full loot PvP just encourages the wrong kind of player (see DF and EvE forums for examples).

    I never thought of the run back in DAOC being the penalty, but yes it really was. But it worked hand in hand with a really well thought out reward system for PvP success (ranks and realm abilities).

  • In DAOC the death penalty was sufficient because there was also a built-in reward system. Full loot PVP death penatly systems use the full loot part for two purposes, namely, “punishing” the player who died (to keep things more exciting, to tell them to be careful, etc.) and to reward the player who killed the player with the potential of phat loot. DAOC did the same thing – it punished the losing player with a long wait and run back into action and it rewarded the winning player with precious RPs. This is a powerful combination.

    I have a feeling that this reward/punishment mechanism is like a push-pull mechanism. Let’s say if I were to kill someone in PVP/RVR and I get a huge reward but I know that the other player will virtually lose nothing – that is good enough. On the other hand, if I get nothing for a kill but I know the other player is really screwed (perma death, loses a level, etc.) that may also be satisfying enough. of course, these extremes have other issues even though they may be ok for motivating people. However, a more reasonable mechanism is the one used in DAOC – a reaosnable amount of negative for the loser and a reasonable amount of positive for the winner.

    I dont think that every person approaches this in this manner. However, on the grand scale, I do believe that people expect a certain negative effect for their opponent and a certain positive effect for themselves. (One reason why it is unsatisfying to kill a thief in UO – you get your stuff back…but since thieves are running around bare bones – they lose very little)

  • If I had to choose between the DAOC way and the UO way you described, I have to go with the way UO did it.

    The DAOC way sounds to boring to me.. why would I want to wait 20 minutes before the action happens in some dull marathon to the fight?

    In UO its not just about the negative side of losing your stuff. (all are replaceable, unlike modern mmo) No its more like a wager system.. you decide what to bring into pvp. Cheap gear.. modest gear or mister badass expensive gear.

    Mister badass might be killing left and right, but if he takes to much risk, finds himself outnumbered or loses to someone even stronger he lost his wager. (his gear is for grabs)
    Classic example of risk vs rewards. What I noticed in UO when I played was that tribal spears where very popular. Certain mobs dropped them and they had x2 damage vs humans. Affordable and effective.

  • I also have a feeling we are comparing apples to oranges to monkeys.
    UO: open world combat.
    DAOC: RvR.
    WAR: failed RvR so was all about battlegrounds like WoW.

  • As bhagpuss points out, it’s a no-win situation for the developer. No matter what you do, man, oh man, will people never agree. I certainly don’t mind making decisions but I’ve never liked making this one whether it was for Aradath (my first MUD) or for CU.

    However, I do believe that death has to have a bit of a sting in CU. As Keen points out, I don’t want a full loot system and I do prefer making the recently departed pay a penalty in time. While it is a bit inconvenient, it does have the benefit of not having to worry about guys quickly running back into the action and making the RvR battle go on and on and on (sort of like the way I write). 🙂

    I think Argorius is dead-on when he describes many player’s psyche (we were actually discussing the same point in the office today) in terms of EO. Some of my guys played that game a lot and they loved the fact that they could cause other players to spend ridiculous and disproportionate amounts of capitol to kill them and that made them feel really good. Players certainly love the big win of finding a great piece of loot but many are quite content knowing they caused a certain amount of pain to “those guys” again and again.

    We’ll probably have a combination of some pain when a player dies and some gain for the victor but hopefully not too much pain for it to be a “quit point” for most players because, well, that’s just bad design.

  • For a game like DAOC with Realm Points and such, I always liked the idea of a RP gain buff for kill streaks and a debuff for dying. You get rid of the debuff from killing other players until it balances out. That way, you get rewarded for winning battles and not dying and those that get penalized would want to jump back in to get rid of their debuff, rather than get discouraged, but wouldn’t mindlessly and endlessly throw themselves into the server a la WAR.

  • “I always liked the idea of a RP gain buff for kill streaks and a debuff for dying. You get rid of the debuff from killing other players until it balances out.”
    Thats a truely horrible idea, nobody will play support classes and everyone will play the top dps class since everything revolves around killing and get a good K/D score.

    Ask any FPS game dev if K/D score is a good thing and most of them will say that its a fun stat, but it can potentially ruin your game since everyone then only cares about that stat.

  • I never cared for a full loot system and would never play a game that had such a system. Getting beat one on one and then looted is one thing. Getting killed by a zerg and having my corpse looted is another.

    I would love to see CU have a “dread / damage system” on armor, weapons jewelry etc…. Each time you die a little bit of “dread / damage” is applied to your equipment.

    The damaged items can be repaired by the appropriate player operated vendor. The dread on the item is not repairable. Eventually the item will break due to the amount of dread on the item. Once the item is broken, the item could be salvaged for some components. Of course you would need to craft or buy another piece of gear or go without the gears benefit.

    If CU had such a system like I indicated above, the player that had the killing blow and the player that damaged me the most could loot me. If I had any broken items on my corpse, they could loot those broken items only. Those broken items could then be salvaged and used to craft other items.

    I believe this is a pretty fair system for everyone involved.

  • “Thats a truely horrible idea, nobody will play support classes and everyone will play the top dps class since everything revolves around killing and get a good K/D score.

    Ask any FPS game dev if K/D score is a good thing and most of them will say that its a fun stat, but it can potentially ruin your game since everyone then only cares about that stat.”

    Uh, did I mention kdr in there? I think you really misunderstood what I was saying. If you get CREDIT for a kill, you’d get a buff. Support classes still got Realm Points in Dark Age of Camelot. I’m not talking about killing blows here.

    But while we’re on the subject, I think everyone should get credit for a PvP kill, whether they end up going with Some sort of RR system or, since the game will have no PvE leveling, with just xp. Buffing, debuffing, healing, cc, mitigating damage for others, and dps.

  • The death penality has to fit the game. EvEs penality fits EvE because the game is about bringing the right tool to get the job done, but it would be terrible in DAoC, because the one with the more expensive equip would always win (not the case in EvE) and equip is hard to come by (not the case in EvE).

    DAoCs penality fits DAoC, because it helps breaking up the zerg (compare to WAR where you are back in the fight pretty much instantly), but would suck in EvE, because everything but the most expensive tool to get a job done would be subpar, the economy wouldn’t work at all and everyone would fly a titan all the time.

    Potbs is a good example of how not to do it. The EvE like economy/death penality/item system just didn’t fit the RvR at all and was one of the many problems that made the game fail.

    That said: I have some serious concerns about a lot of stuff writen in the Foundation Principles. A lot of it has been promised by pretty much every other MMo before and always left people disappointed.

    I’m mostly referring to this:

    I’ll just talk about examples he gives.

    Example #1 – Stat Allocation during character creation

    While the idea sounds good and I like the general idea, this is just stupid. New players shouldn’t be able to gimp their characters before even playing for a single second. Lets review DAoC here: the lastname of the first RR12 character was something along the lines of GiveStartstatRespecPlease. When Mythic realized their mistake startstats could be changed and recommendations on startstats where given to new players. (They are still terrible btw. +10dex is pretty fucking useless for zerkers.) Why repeat past mistakes for old times sake?

    Example #2 – Race/gender selections

    Again sounds like a nice idea, while infact being a terrible one. Races should be equally viable for the classes they can chose. Two examples of how shitty this is: 1. All alliance PvP chars should be human because they have the best racial. 2. All hib casters should be Lurikeens because they have the 2nd best caster stats in hib and are really hard to target due to their size.
    Creating a best in class race just kills variety.


  • @Kamuka: You are pointing out problems that you can envision while assuming that the game works in a specific way and that there is not another way to deal with it. For your 2nd example you say that it is a terrible decision to design a game where you create one ideal class/race/gender combination because eventually every caster will be a male lurikeen. You are assuming that there is no solution to this problem. However, one solution may be to make many possible best combinations and the players has to choose which one he wants (maybe one caster-race combination makes for good defense, good offensive, quick casting speed, lots of mana, etc.). That would be about choice (which fits their paradigm). Are they going to do it this way – I dont know – maybe they dont know yet.

    However, as a side note, I find it curious how quickly players are with shooting down ideas…this is a popular trend. Someone suggests an idea which sounds good on paper. If player A realizes that this sounds pretty good – the constructive way to approach this would be to say: I like this idea, how can we implement it the best way possible? What often happens though is that player A says: I see THIS problem – therefore it is stupid or wont work. There is always an assumption that THIS problem cannot be addressed or solved but often it can…often it can be solved relatively easy (obviously not always…and some cannot be solved)…before jumping the gun and dismissing ideas…it seems more valuable to say “I like this system (you said it sounds like a nice idea) but I see this problem that needs to be addressed…”

    For your first example – I agree with the problem that you are describing. Mark said they would release the info about classes pretty early and that you can research things but that alone is not a sufficient solution. If I read about abilities that I will have at level X – they may sound nice on paper but I have no idea how they really are…or how they even work sometimes…etc. However, as a min-maxer I would understand how this is frustrating…that you may have left 10 dex on the table because you didnt know…on the other hand, choices that matter at character creation are an old and cool feature worth exploring. If it is between A. having character creation be boring, meaningless, and just a visual selection of my character but at t he benefit that I cannot make a mistake or B. having character creation be meaningful and interesting but at the risk of being able to screw up my character (screw up meaning – as a min-maxer I may not end up 100% perfect) then I would prefer option B. It sounds like that is exactly what Mark is going for…put meaning into your selections, choices and into the game as a whole at the expense of removing the safety net of game play apathy.

  • DAoC’s death penalty worked well for an RvR game because it wasn’t just about punishing the player who lost a fight by sentencing him to 20 minutes of boredom. It was about taking an enemy out of the fight for a significant amount of time. That guy who had to release back to his border keep is one guy no longer trying to batter your keep door down.

    In this sort of game the death penalty bites (by wasting some of your gaming time) without actively discouraging people from coming back to the fight (which gear loss does, because if you lost a fight in your best gear you sure don’t want a rematch with the guy while using scrappy seconds). DAoC players tended to show just about the right level of death aversion – hesitant to make suicidal charges but still willing to come out to the frontiers. Compare this to WoW/WAR style battlegrounds, where players who are killed are back in the fight within 60 seconds of hitting the deck, and the tactics tend to generate into a sort of perpetual lemming collider – Rift’s Conquest matches were especially bad for that.

    It’s worth noting that GW2 has a milder version of the DAoC style penalty, maybe better suited for the more modern gamer. You can expect at least a few minutes’ run back which is nothing compared to the DAoC odyssey to get back to the action but enough of a slap on the wrist for the ADHD crowd, and enough time to take an objective before the recently deceased defenders can get back.

  • I’m all for full loot PvP so long as the game is built to take that into account. If the game however is meant to be a loot grind PvP looting is obviously not going to be popular. Personally I like the idea of progressing and building my character more than just looting better and better items.

    I also wish they’d just scrap the whole idea of character levels already. Every time a game implements levels it seems like they build in hard and arbitrary limits to force you into specific paths. For instance in WoW if a mob was orange to you as a caster you might as well not even try, Melee characters could still take them on because their hit rate scaled better but they weren’t worth the time by any stretch of the imagination. Go with skill based systems and skill/item restrictions, you want to cast a spell then put down the 2 handed weapon and ditch the restrictive armor.

    I also don’t mind the whole long time travel to get back into a fight, so long as the game doesn’t make it easy for a player to die very fast.

  • So to understand death penalties as a solid game mechanic better, one has to strip all the existing clutter (current mmo standards) like extensive leveling systems or reputation grinds from it.

    Permanent death is a crucial element of creating a social MMO though. I you can die and lose all of the resources you carry with you, the risk of exposing your character increases as your wealth increases, pushing you to _delegate_ low reward high risk tasks to people with less resources, and to be more social to get things done.

    This is one of the best game design methods to achieve player-driven story and player-generated quests, and it shouldn’t be shrugged off so easily.

    However, for permanent death to work properly, the game has to support that design perfectly. Character advancement has to be tied to “guild levels”, which is a mechanic we’ve seen already. Something in the lines of guild having to upkeep trainers for various skills that then players can access if they are members of that guild. And individual prowess should be tied to resources or gear that isn’t bound to that player in any way.

    If you create a game like this, the only real “levels” you have is the social status you have with real human beings and how quickly they can pick you up after you die.