Daily Thoughts: MMO Death & Consequences

Posted: June 6, 2011 in Daily
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’ve always found there to be something wrong with a lack of consequences for any given action. In the real world there are plenty of repercussions for bad decisions and failure. If you gamble and lose, you lose money and possibly go into debt or face other personal problems. You wouldn’t likely run in the middle of a gang shootout or busy intersection without good cause. In traditional video games, dying usually means reverting to the last saved location, but in multiplayer online games, there are varying and often insignificant consequences. Game developers have a tough job of balancing the feeling of risk with keeping the game fun.

There was a poker application on myspace that I played for a little while. There was “chips” that you could bet and collect but had no real dollar value attached. Most players played in a similar fashion to how a realistic game would go. You don’t bet big unless you have a good hand or really think you can bluff your way through. Ocassionally though, a player would join a table that would simply max bet every hand. Complete disregard for the normal consequences of betting all your money. Unless they were challenged and lost quickly, it would pretty much ruin any table. Other players would fold, leave, or sometimes call the bet and be taken out completely in one fell swoop. Of course, there is a chance someone feels ballsy and goes all-in, but not every hand or that commonly. The realism and fun of the game was hurt because losing the chips meant nothing, a player could log back in or re-install the app and be good to go yet again. In other types of multiplayer games, specifically WoW, the lack of penalties for dying or losing sometimes can hinder the behavior and strategy of some of the players.

In a raiding environment, having a raid wipe means nothing more than a couple gold repair bill. Even on a progression night with several wipes my guild can often pull a profit in gold with the coin that drops from the trash – not to mention vendor grays or epics. It is a fairly common occurence for us to give a basic explanation of an encounter to new players and pull unprepared because sometimes it’s quicker to let people see a fight and die to it than explain every ability in-depth. A group of adventurers wouldn’t likely run face first into a giant dragon without making sure everyone knew as much as possible or without a solid plan. Sometimes I feel like a stronger consequence might add a little more risk and suspense to new or difficult encounters. When I first started WoW, I was terrified when my gear was low on durability because I assumed that broken gear meant gear lost. Until I found out otherwise (died too many times), I would often carry an extra weapon with me to switch if my main one got too damaged. The extra risk was a little more exciting and figuring out ways to beat it was fun.


Oh PVP. The best example of the problem with no fear of death. A player could die a hundred times in an Arathi Basin and it would mean absolutely nothing, except that they are really, really bad. There are a couple of reinforcement based battle grounds like Alterac Valley that punish a team for too many deaths, but usually the objectives are what wins the match, not running out of players because the enemy killed you too many times. I know I’ve been guilty occasionally, particularly on my frost DK, of running into large group and smashing buttons to do as much damage as possible and maybe kill one or two people, knowing full well I’m going to die as well. Most individuals and societies wouldn’t accept suicide bombers as a strategy, but in a WoW BG, why not? Most of the time being dead means nothing more than a few seconds of not helping out, something the people who aren’t caring about winning or a good strategy don’t mind anyway. I’ve always felt that winning needs to be rewarded and loses needs to have a repercussion aside from the just the loss.

Enough QQ! What Should Be Done?

As I said at the beginning of this post, developers have a tough job balancing risk and fun. Past games (Everquest I believe), actually had an experience penalty that could cause a character to lose a level if they died. Do I want something that serious? Maybe. For PVP, I’d love to see a small return of the durability loss for a death via another player. This probably shouldn’t be nearly as high as a PVE death, because a 100g repair bill from a bad AV loss would get old really fast. A 1% durability loss (vs 10%? from PVE) would help. I feel that it would also encourage players to use PVP gear with resilience. In combat the goal shouldn’t be just to kill the opponent but also to survive. For PVE, I think broken gear should stay broken. This wouldn’t really change that wipes against a raid boss only cost gold, but it would at least make players a little nervous about dying repeatedly without paying attention. I’m sure Blizzard has reasons for the way their death system works, but maybe there are some tweaks that could be made to make staying alive a little more important.

What do you think?

  1. Mhorgrim says:

    Old SWG had an excellent penalyy as well, your stats decreased for any death and it took time to regain them to full capacity not to mention you needed specific entertainment R&R venues to heal them off. EQ was brutal in the beginning because all of your equipment stayed on your toon and you were naked save for any back ups in certain types of containers. It was pure hell in the beginning. EQ also made fights a lot tougher. It was meant to foster a team play mentality because even their weak mobs back in the day would be as tough as say 3-4 lv higher in WoW. Also, their mobs chased ya down, and back in those days finding your corpse could be a pretty brutal endeavor.

    Should it have more consequences in WoW? I think so. But that would honestly be bad business for Blizz. What most people don’t get is that Blizz made WoW to be super profitable and it is. To do so however, they made sure it was easy enough one could solo most baseline content and the penalties for dieing were mnimal at best. If they made it tougher, they would regain a certain niche group as subs, but they would loose vast numbers of easy mode players that just want the theme park. Understand that the hardcore mmo player is looking for extra challenge and a little more “realism” in their fantasy world. But it doesn’t pay the corporation bills and is by and large a very low end profit margin. Business wise, it would be a huge mistake. For the hardcore MMO player it would be a field day.

    • Sharden says:

      Yeah, it is a tough thing for a company to balance making the game more challenging and rewarding for those looking for that versus appealing for a mass of people willing to pony up $15/month.

  2. Edenvale says:

    As a non-hardcore raider I get the feeling that the “professional” raiders look down on us because we are not as good. That Blizzard makes things easy for us because we’re not as smart as the hardcore crowd but there are more of us. Like Lemmings, that would fall over dead of someone didn’t feed us. To say that because I’m not hardcore, I’m just looking for a theme park ride is way off base.

    The risk of death in WoW is less then some other games, yes. But honestly, I don’t like to die. I get a sense of accomplishment when I do a BG & I don’t die. Repair bill or not. I have great resilience but my repair bill is higher if I don’t die because I was smacked around so much and so long by other players.

    Have I ever run into a crowd suicide style? Yes. Was I hoping the opposing faction would beat on me for a few seconds letting the flag carrier get ahead to cap. Did I die, yes. Did we win, yes. It’s teamwork and I helped!

    Do I make stupid mistake and die shaking my head. Absolutely.

    This game is what you make it. Do you want more of a consequence for dying. How about dropping 10 gold into your guild bank every time you die. You’d get that sense of realism and you’d be helping out your mates.


  3. Nim says:

    I am also a casual player, and yet I agree with some elements of both sides of this debate.

    I agree that death should receive stronger penalties in most mmo’s and I do think this could be done in a way that would not scare away all the casual players. The majority of casual players like the satisfaction of surviving.

    The problem with a monitary based penalty is that this just feeds the gold farming environment. I like the idea of reduced stats as mentioned above that take time to recover, this would encourage those that play hardcore to care about wipes and would force casual players into a grind for repairs they don’t want to spend their often more limited game time on.

    Didn’t damaged gear originally have reduced stats in vanilla wow?

    An xp bar that goes down as well as up (even from max level) would be great IMO but suspect this would be a step too far for many lol

    Finally another idea that has come to mind is having a scaling timer (having to wait so many hours for a repair to complete) for each repair like having gear repaired in real time would have if you had to take it to a real shop.

    • Sharden says:

      @Nim, some of those are pretty cool ideas. I like the idea of the scaling timer for repairs. It wouldn’t cause an increase of gold farming necessary in order to play but would limit the amount you could die in a given set of hours. The downside, if your weapon breaks and the timer on repairs hasn’t finished yet, you could be out of luck for playing at all right then unless you have dual spec or alts, since you might not have more than one weapon or gear set.

  4. Nim says:

    *correction to above ‘this wouldn’t force casual players into a grind for gold’

  5. Nim says:

    Ah yes true, but then it would shake things up a bit!

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