MMO Death Mechanics

Let’s discuss everyone’s favorite topic: MMO Death Penalties and Mechanics.  I have my personal and passionate opinion.  I know that deep down I want the penalty to be bad enough that death is horrifying.  Death should be a penalty — yes, a PENALTY.  I’m not talking a slap on the wrist or a chance to show off the world in greyscale.  Now, let’s talk about what kind of penalty.

I watched the EverQuest Next Round Table video this morning.  Omeed Dariani and Michael Mann discuss SOE’s very, very vague idea of how the death penalty mechanics should be approached without actually saying anything specific.  Don’t be fooled, though.  They might have said more than you think.  Let’s look very closely at their comments.

  • Death is risk vs. reward, enforcing rules, and caution
  • Death should not weaken you
  • People shouldn’t get frustrated
  • EQ Next needs a viable solo option
  • Grouping should be encouraged
  • People can help you out if you die

Read on for my philosophies and ideas in response to what the EQ Next dev team has said thus far. 

Risk vs. Reward | Caution | Rules of the World

The risk should match the reward.  If the reward of success is a ton of experience, amazing items, and glory, but death simply means running 30 feet from a graveyard to get your body, then the risk and reward are not balanced.  Death in most modern MMOs is viewed as nothing more than a slap on the wrist or a “try again!” mechanic.  Whatever the penalty, it has to feel like the entire game supports the idea.

 Avoiding the Negative Feedback Cycle – AKA Death shouldn’t weaken you

I agree.  I think in a sandbox game it’s easy to avoid weakening people upon death.  EXP loss isn’t an issue when there isn’t EXP to gain, so toss out ‘levels’ and you don’t have to worry there.  Losing gear sucks, so let’s toss that one out.  Distance penalties are okay, but your world must be massive and require people to bind far away.  In EverQuest 1 if I was a human bound in Freeport, exping in Crushbone, the penalty of getting back to Crushbone was far worse than the experience penalty.

This might be tough to code, but what about penalizing the reward side?  If I fight a monster that might given me 100 experience, if he kills me and I go back to kill him I only get 75 experience.

Utilizing the world might be the best option.  Restrict where people can bind.  Make the world feel large, and the character itself will never be impacted.

People shouldn’t get frustrated

The word ‘frustrated’ is horrifying for a marketer.  The second a customer is ‘frustrated’ red lights start flashing and people rush around like they’re in a submarine filling with water.  Take a deep breath.  A little frustration can be good for the player.  There needs to be that “UGH! I Died!” feeling because without there won’t be that “EEK I don’t want to die!” mindset.  Whatever the penalty, people should want to rule out even trying a fight if the probability of death is too high.

EQ Next needs a viable solo option

Get out’a here.

Grouping should be encouraged

Grouping in a death penalty discussion is interesting.  In the original EverQuest before I joined any group I always considered whether or not the people present would pose a threat to my survival.  In many cases, I would see who I’m grouping with and suddenly have to “AFK” for a bit so that I could politely excuse myself from the impending fiasco.

EQ Next is being pushed as this super-social grouping game.  Maybe reduce penalties in groups?  Going back to the distance penalty, grouping with people increases the probability of being resurrected, receiving a teleport, having someone bind you closer, etc.  Whatever the case, I completely agree that grouping should reduce my fear of death, not increase it.

People can help you out if you die

This is one of the best points because it implies there can be a penalty to overcome with the help of others.  In the old EverQuest people could resurrect your body to restore experience.  Others could drag your corpse from the depths of a dungeon to the front.  You could receive a teleport from a kind Druid.  These social aspects were crucial and an integral part of the social game.

  • I think you should also consider group multiplier of death penalties. Team fortress feels like a much bigger battle than Counter strike because of the non round based death penalty. Sure this turns into two zergs running at each other, but its really fun and really makes a battle feel larger than it is.

  • Although I 100% agree with your thoughts on soloing Keen, it unfortunately is just unrealistic in todays MMO mass appeal mentality.

    I would love nothing more than to see EQ next go towards the idea of group grinding ala FFXI and EQ1. But lets be honest, its just not going to happen. The new mindset/metathought about MMOs is casual lvling/xp with emphasis on soloing, and group content for endgame.

    A trend I would love nothing more than to see burn.

    And this is coming from a career soloist. One of my favorite thing to do in old school FFXI/EQ1 type games is to push the envelope on soloing. These games were not meant to be solo, which IMO makes them all the more fun to try in solo in.

    I feel like devs just dont have the guts to do what a lot of people want, because it isnt what the current “reviewers” want thus earning bad reviews thus then bad sales.

  • I liked the death penalty in DAoC. You could wait to get ressurected or release. When you released you went back to your bind point and you lost XP, but you could get some of it back if you went back to your grave and prayed at it. It was similar enough to EQs corpse runs without being quite so harsh since you had all your gear still and the XP hit wasn’t quite as bad. You also had to cough up some coin to remove the res sickness. I did a lot of risk v. reward analysis while playing DAoC.

    I agree that any MMO that comes out these days needs to be relatively solo-friendly. However, I think you can do it in a way that still encourages grouping by having group activities that provide some advantages over soloing. You can do this by providing group XP bonuses, by facilitating questing with groupmates and providing content that provides better XP or loot opportunities for group content.

    I play most MMOs with my spouse and we often group up together for leveling/questing. Although it is still fun to group together of course, unfortunately the cons often enough outweigh the pros at least in terms of progression and we find ourselves “playing solo in the same room together” too often. The linear nature of the progression paths in many recent MMOs that frequently involves heavy storytelling also does not help facilitate grouping.

  • Dying always sucks in everything. It always sucks because you failed.

    Players should die repeatedly until they reach a standard of performance that will endear them to everybody they subsequently group up with. No need to weaken them and definitely no need to make them wait to try again, a 10 second re-spawn is fine. Make it cheap and fast then slaughter them with impunity until they get it right. It’s really no fun watching people learn to dodge bombs by getting blown up by them over and over and over again in end-game dungeons. We should accelerate learning not mitigate it.

    That said the idea of party members mitigating a brutal baseline penalty is genius. Genius that will never happen. Filthy casuals.

  • Everquest *always* had massive solo possibilities. The further away we get from anyone actually playing it, the less accurate the descriptions of what it was like become. I had been playing EQ mostly solo for the best part of two years, from 1999 to 2001, before I moved into a phase where I mostly grouped. Countless people soloed. Soloing druids and wizards quad-kiting were the bane of everyone’s lives.

    Guards were camped, particularly by necros, to the point where SOE had to make the virtually unkillable just so they could perform their intended function of giving newbies somewhere to run to in an emergency. Mrs Bhagpuss had a cleric who used to run errands for the soloists camping the Freeport guards, bringing them reagents so they didn’t lose their camp. They paid her by allowing her to loot Guard Helmets that she turned in for XP.

    When custom channels came in I was in an all-necromancer channel in which the general topics of conversation was who was soloing what where and how rewarding it was. The forums were stuffed with players playing all kinds of classes bragging about what they’d soloed.

    Yes, EQ was a group-centred MMO but right from the start it had a strong solo path. It required you to pick certain classes to excel at soloing, but the ability to do that was baked into the game from the beginning. If EQNext doesn’t have “a viable solo option” it won’t be worthy of the heritage to which it aspires.

  • The second a fantasy mmo caters to soloing it will have shallow gameplay. Its just a fact. I really think these dev’s EQNext has working on it ar not very good… they are just too soft and too focused on making it marketable instead of good.

  • Wow. “Death” that doesn’t weaken you or frustrate you? They aiming this game at a bunch of babies or something? Sure if you have training dungeons or areas that’s fine but if you go up against “blah, the terrifying boss” and all he can do is slap your wrist then… erm. Wish more games followed the Wizardry Online setup in this regard.

  • If there’s no viable solo option, then it’s not a sandbox. You’ve thrown away the worldliness in favour of gamification, to make it fit into your vision of how a game should play, rather than how a world should work.

    I’m not saying that a solo player should be able to build a city. But if a guild can build a city and a solo player can’t even build a hut, it’s no sandbox, in my mind.

  • Permanent decay of items on death eventually leading to breaking as well as do loss is the only way to go.

    Eves economy works so good because ships and such are destroyed daily. Sandbox games need loss

  • Distance is ok. Also get a weak debuff for 5-10 minutes is also a good penalty. Those 2 are enough for me to make me scared to die 🙂 Sometimes, even without a penalty, the game can give you that feeling…if the place you are is creepy and have dark atmosphere you can immersed too much so you are too afraid to die or even to fight!

  • I want to clarify my solo comments. Soloing should be viable, just like it was in the original EverQuest, but it should have absolutely no impact on the death penalty in a way that softens it. If anything, soloing should INCREASE the fear of death.

  • seriously, is that really a lost principle? by my count, more classes could progress solo in old EQ than couldn’t, but grouping was commonplace. That’s for a lot of reasons – it was fun, social, provided more direct access to specific goals, had the potential to be extremely efficient and, very importantly, it reduced the risk of an individual dying a miserable death that they can’t do anything about.

    No one liked dying in EQ. it was, literally, a huge waste of time and an incredible source of frustration. playing solo gave you the least possible buffer against that penalty. if you didn’t want to die, bringing friends was a good place to start.

    That seems like a pretty good relationship between death and grouping, to me.

  • Those bullet points literally describe GW2’s death “penalty” system.

    No thank you. Arcade MMOs are so glaringly boring to someone that grew up on MMOs with substance.

    I play Battlefield for my rinse and repeat pewpew deathmatch fragfests. I don’t need a damn MMO to try to mimic that.

  • i can tell from these devs tight rope walking to not upset anyone, they will end up having the easiest death penalty ever.

    Asheron’s call had the best death penalty imo ever…. tough but not brutally unfair

  • Wizards quad-kited because it was so hard to find groups. That much I do remember.

    I do also remember binding in Ocean of Tears and buying gold from cyclops/Gornit farmers for platinum. I also bought scythes from specter campers. I made a good bit of money doing that; It was awesome.

  • Perspective can go a long way for players to get a death penalty without it feeling like one. How about for every ten mobs you kill or every ten minutes you spend in a dangerous area, you gain a 1% xp boost. This can stack however high for balance (25%-30%ish?) and when your character dies, you start over. Might as well add other things to that to give dying more “oopmh.” Why not add a reduced rate of item decay, a gold bonus, and a bonus to looting more rare or valuable drops or crafting materials?

    This gives players an incentive to not only not die, but also to get back into the fight and earn their buffs back, and could work very well for pvp as well. One of Warhammer’s greatest weaknesses in my opinion was that players would endlessly throw themselves into an enemy zerg without fear because there was just no death penalty and thus no reason to stop and think of a new approach.

    What do you think?

  • @Jostle: Removing positive incentives instead of adding negative is worth exploring, but ideas I’ve come up with in the past end up being a massive headache to really balance. Then you have to consider that death is universal, but what people want as an incentive varies far more.

  • @Keen: Perhaps it can be a two-way road then. Maybe a certain player doesn’t want to accelerate his or her experience gain, but really wants to increase reputation gain. Every X kills can add a buff to rep gain, a death removes the buff and replaces it with a reputation gain debuff. Players get to choose the incentive, and thus, each player gets a risk vs. reward.

    This could be potentially exploitable, of course, which is why my first instinct would be to make it universal (in terms of things a player can gain, not his or her performance in combat, which I think is worth considering as well. Momentum could be a pretty cool combat mechanic). I can definitely agree with you that people want wildly different things for incentive.

    Personally, I would rather react more like “Crap! I died! Now I can’t benefit from that buff anymore. I had better get back to building it back up again, ASAP,” than “Crap! I died! Now all that XP I gained in the last hour is gone and I still have to go to work/go to school/go to sleep/rub my girlfriend’s feet before she kicks me out of the house.” I think I’ve revealed too much about my personal life, but that goes to show you the disparity in player attitudes. I have absolutely met other players that claim they simply cannot enjoy a game without full-looting fully-open pvp kill kill kill mode. All types exist.

  • I think, in general, it should be much harder to die in MMOs than it is now. Give players a reliable means of determining their odds against a particular opponent, give them a way to run from most fights should things start going south, and make deaths rare and meaningful events instead of the “Return to last checkpoint” they’ve become.

    As for the penalty on death? If it’s made rare and avoidable enough, permadeath is fine by me–with the only way out being your friend paying the local temple a fortune to have you resurrected.

  • @Jeff Clough: As long as failing to succeed carries with it a counterbalance to the reward for success, I think you could be on to something. That’s a hard one to balance, though.