On Deadly Consequences

I've been thinking about death penalties and their implications on gameplay. I've found that players will normally take the easiest path when trying to tackle content whether it be by soloing (because dealing with party members slows you down), by overgearing for encounters (more stats compensates for lack of awareness, mistakes when pressing buttons, "server lag", etc.), just by wading into combat and then spamming abilities until it gets done, or whatever works best. Tactics which normally shouldn't work such as running right into melee range of the guy with a sword the size of a building do work because of the game mechanics allowing you to dodge the sword easily and automatically or to just shrug off the hits.

I've considered the possibility that death penalties could be a completely unnecessary artifact of a bygone era now, but it implies something that I'm not exceptionally fond of: Namely that people don't play video games to be challenged anymore.

I know that there are people who don't like challenge in video games and like nothing more than to blow things up, play with puppies, or whatever the latest shiny new concept is. I meant that people who play video games no longer get enjoyment from the idea of bettering their gaming skills. New first person shooter games will come out and people will continue to play them as they play Halo, running into the bunker blindly to get taken out by rockets or sniper fire. This sort of behavior is mainly what death penalties are designed to prevent. Without them, people continue to run blindly into the bunker. They get shot over and over again, and the few times they don't for long enough to get behind cover, where they can then take people out with impunity with their double shotguns or whatever, is just enough to reinforce the idea that it works.

With the death penalties, each death makes you easier to kill. After three or four times, you realize that "Running into the Bunker Blindly Doesn't Fucking Work, Dumbshit" ™. You can then adapt your strategy to "Find an alternate entrance," "Take out the sniper in the next building," "Find one of those bullet-proof Riot shields to cover yourself with temporarily," etc.

Let's assume that the game wants people to play their characters well. This is the reason that there is a death penalty in the first place. If you penalize death, then logically players will try to get better with their characters in order to not die and avoid the penalty. There are two major questions that must be asked from this approach.

1. There is a point where players will ignore the penalty because it is too low and not worth worrying about. There is also the point where the penalty is too severe and players will simply give up and quit player entirely. Theoretically, the area in between these two points is where you want your penalties to lie. The question is "Where are those two points?"

2. How many players will, instead of attempting to improve their skills, simply quit playing merely because there is a penalty and, because of games nowadays, they expect none to be present?

You have to be aware that in MMOs, there are two different kinds of death penalties. They are the loss penalties where you lose stats, experience, or whatever. There are also the travel time penalties, also known as "How long and painful is the corpse run?". The previous two questions must be answered for both of these to get an accurate overall answer.

It's an answer that I'm going to be thinking about for a while now, as I am a firm believer in there being some kind of penalties to maintain at least a minimum level of video game skill.

Posted by Glyph, the Architect | at 12/06/2009 04:06:00 PM


Garumoo said...

Yikes, mentioning death penalties is usually, umm .. death.

There's another possibility which is slowly being explored now by WoW: rewards for not dieing, in the form of certain hard modes. The problem so far is that those achievements are typically attempted only once everyone has done the content to death and massively outgear it, and the rewards are usually inconsequential in a gear-centric game.

It would be more interesting though if additional loot was to drop on boss kills where no-one dies, in the same way that additional loot is made available for attempting a boss kill with some adds not yet taken out (eg. Sarth 3 drakes). Further, if this was a consistent pattern for all bosses and not just a gimmick on one boss then there could arise a sea change of attitude that skill counts (and also: less tolerance for "carrying" someone, especially if they're prone to standing in stuff).

Glyph, the Architect said...

The idea for rewards for not dieing is a step in the right direction in my own opinion, but I don't think it goes far enough. If a system like that is the way to go for endgame content, I think it would be fair to have graduated rewards for deaths. No deaths, you get several extra rewards. One death, one of them is taken away. Two deaths, two of them are taken away. This keeps going until eventually you get nothing, good game, try again next reset period. A system where it wasn't a gradual reduction would have people say "Ok, xXArrowShooterx, you cost us our extra loot. You aren't welcome to come back with us next week. Since we can't lose anything else and we're already locked anyway, we might as well try it again for the regular loot."

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