Saturday, January 23, 2010

Making death more significant without increasing the grind

One of my favourite ever posts to this blog is called "Running the Gauntlet" based on my experience of of being ambushed by pirates in a gate camp. I can still remember the adrenaline rush when I realised that I stood to lose almost everything I owned in game if I was killed. Death in EVE is harsj but that very harshness greatly increases the emotional involvement in the game. Therefore when Tobold asked for ways to make mmos harder I immediately thought of harsher death penalties but I pulled back from fully recommending it because in reality a harsher death penalty where you lose items or lose experience or suffer some debuff ultimately boils down to a time-sink where you must spend more time to get back to where you were. Green Armadillo explains this well in his blog. The last thing mmos need is yet another timesink.

Is there a way to make death significant without it being a timesink? I have been trying to think of ways.

One thought is to use a title or award for not being killed. Many games already have such a title (like "Survivor" or "Undefeated")  but once you lose it it is gone forever so it becomes meaningless for most players after their first newbie death. How about instead a resetting title that indicates the number of days since your last defeat? A lot of folks like having a nice title so the risk of losing a few ranks could make people more wary of death even if it doesn't reduce your game strength in any way.

Another slightly more wayward thought is to have actual permadeath where you character dies and is not resurrected but but you can immediately create a successor (son or daughter) who inherits all their stuff and skills. The only thing you would lose is the original character's name and appearance. People get attached to names, I think this could work. Some thought would need to be put into the impact on gameplay though. Can people still be rezzed for example?

Another thought - remove the in game penalty and replace it with a real world financial hit. You have to pay real cash to resurrect your character. As bizarre as it sounds most free to play games already have a version of this - there is usually something you can buy in the item shop which removes the in game death penalty. I am not really supporting this though because there are way too many difficulties - the unfairness, the moral hazard of game developers making games harder to increase revenues, the lack of any in game significance and so on.


Tesh said...

I'm all for completely obliterating levels, making player skill important, and just letting players self-select difficulty by choosing where they go. If they want something hard because they think that's fun, they can go find a dragon to kill. If they want some zen-like fighting (as odd as that sounds), they can find somewhere that their personal skills let them cruise on through.

Of course, people don't like finding out that they lack skills. That's why they overlevel content.

As such, any discussion of "difficulty" has to remember that it's highly subjective, and not very marketable.

And, as has been aptly noted, it's always easier to make a game like WoW harder on yourself, if you really want difficulty. I can only think that many players don't really want true difficulty since we don't see many naked raiders.

Oh, and timesinks are the coin of the realm. That's why they are monetized. A game based on player skill, catering to true difficulty, might not work well as a subscription game. Sub games are all about maximizing time sinks to keep players addicted. Make player skill important again, and suddenly the leveling pace and other assorted fine tuned grinds get thrown all out of whack.

mbp said...

Hi Tesh

You make several good points. With regard to the difficulty issue I do think players should be free to select their own difficulty level but I have come to realise that the real problem in mmorpgs is that there is usually no reward for voluntarily choosing a harder difficulty level.

It is very clear to me now that we humans are almost entirely reward driven.Despite the extra challenge and excitement of soloing elites or naked raiding, or playing WoW without add-ons very few will do so unless there is some extra reward.

The reward doesn't even have to be gear. Some people do such things even now merely for bragging rights on the forums. I think many more could be incentivised to try them if there were a shiny titles at stake.

With regard to the subscription model being the original cause of the time sink disease - I agree. Sadly though the move towards alternative revenue models has not necessarily signalled the death of the grind. If anything Free2Play games need more grind to push players towards the item shop.

Tesh said...

Aye, the item shop doesn't really solve it, either. The Guild Wars model really is the only one I see working to combat grind from that side of the equation.

You're right on titles, too. Pretty shinies to brag about do tend to incentivize activities. I'm one that plays because it's fun, I don't need that external reward... but I know full well that I'm weird.