Death Penalties are stupid

Snipehunter's picture

I've been playing some Age of Conan this weekend, as I'm sure many of you can imagine. You know, despite not having a machine that can play the game at any sort of frame-rate a normal human being would call playable, I've been enjoying it... Enjoying it, that is, until now.

The problem is, as it often is in MMOs, death penalties...

Have you ever stopped to wonder what the point of a death penalty actually is? I do, often. You see, I worked on Auto Assault, a MMO with one of the lightest death penalties I've ever seen. We were often criticized for this lack of a "serious death penalty," but you know what? I don't think we made a mistake. I think the true mistake in this industry is the idea that death penalties are necessary, at all.

Dying is the penalty.

What happened when you died in Auto Assault? INC flew in, picked up your wreck and whisked you away to the nearest INC station, where your car was restored and you were free to go off and try again. To a lot of people, this was wrong, for some reason. It wasn't "hardcore" enough for some players. For others, it was perfect. The most common complaint we heard was that it made death meaningless -- because you just throw yourself at a monster over and over again with no consequence until you ground it down and killed it.

You know, they're right about that - where my opinion differs is that I think that was a a good thing and here's why: It alleviates frustration.

When Everquest 2 shipped, it had a death mechanic very similar to Age of Conan's. When you died, you had to go back to the place of your death to retrieve your soul shard. If you did not, you had to endure a long duration debuff. The only difference between that and AoC's death penalty is the icon you had to click on the ground (a glowing crystal in EQ2 vs. a tombstone in AoC) to get your debuff removed. It's telling to me, that this was removed from EQ2 relatively early in its life. I just wish the folks over at Funcom had got the memo.

You see, the problem with the "corpse run" mechanic is bleedingly obvious to anyone who has to do it: If you couldn't beat the monster that killed you the first time, why the hell would you be able to beat it the second time, when you're suffering under a debuff?

I've actually just been told that AoC compounds the problem, with stacking death penalties. Didn't make it the first time eh? Well, that's cool because when you try again and fail, you'll leave another tombstone behind and suffer two debuffs! Isn't that fun? Apparently, it stacks up to 5 times, total.

That's what I don't get and have never gotten, to be honest; who is that fun to? Frustration is the bane of gaming, when a game crosses the threshold from challenging into frustrating, we've lost our player and our game has failed to provide the promised entertainment, so why do we insist on adding features to the game that do nothing but cause player frustration?

To it put it another way: Penalizing failure doesn't add a new challenge to overcome, it makes the challenge that the player failed to overcome even more difficult. That's a huge difference, don't you think?

So, going back to the number one complaint about death penalties in AA, that it makes death meaningless, I say, "So what?" Dying is a penalty. The drive back to where you were, the wait to repair your car, all of that made death a pain in the ass -- but not such a huge pain in the ass that you consider quitting your game over it. How is that bad? How is what AoC, EQ2 and even WoW does, any better?

Worse, in some ways, is the way AoC hides it death penalty so that you're unaware you have to deal with it until you hit level 10 (I should probably point out that I haven't actually had to deal with it yet - I've just spoken to people that have). They basically teach you that when you die, you resurrect, lose all your current buffs and have to trek back to your last combat to try again... then they surprise you 10 levels later with the idea that now you have to do that same fight you just died in, but with one hand tied behind your back.

OK, that's a little hyperbolic - I'm told the death penalty debuff is actually pretty light, but the point remains the same. Why hold that back from players? The answer is sort of obvious, and again - very telling. You hold it back so that new players don't get discouraged by it and quit before they've had a chance to grow connected to their characters, right? To put it a more realistic way: You do it because you know you could lose subscribers over it, so you wait until their hooked then spring it on them, so they're more likely to remain subscribers than quit.

Now, stop. Ask yourself this question: If you know the feature is annoying to players - so annoying that you need to hide it from them so that they'll start paying you before they see it - isn't that a "feature" you should cut?

Death penalties are ridiculous. They're a holdover from games like EQ1 - a bad holdover that makes the entire MMO genre suffer. Seriously. It's time to get over them, toss them in the rubbish and get back to what we're paid for: Helping our players have fun.

- Snipehunter

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You have ruined mmos for me.

I pretty much always play MMOs on pvp servers... and I must say the death penalties in AoC are not nearly what they should and need to be, at least on the pvp servers. Especially when another player kills you. Right now the pvp ranking system isn't in(not that a system like that means a damned thing unless the best gear comes from there and you actually lose it if you suck enough) and really the only way to kick people out of a zone is to graveyard camp them for an hour. So far when this happens it is pretty hilarious as even levels camping each other to kick each other from a zone is not something the gms will do anything about, which is really great to see. There is nothing to discourage them from zerging you from the respoint as it stands and they need to have some kind of penalty for getting a big fist rammed up their poopchute. Right now the only way to accomplish that is to camp every res in the zone for an hour and infuriate them. At the very least a res timer would be great.

I play on Deathwhisper with a lot of older pvp guilds and I think for the most part we want unrestricted ffa pvp and even item looting to some degree or at least gold looting(I know I want it in as well as almost everyone I play with) on our server. I mean EQ gave us one item loot server that is all I want. There needs to be something to discourage respawning and attacking someone over and over, and real death penalties are just the thing. Sadly I doubt item looting is ever coming back. Also I do think there should be a penalty for dying to mobs because when there isn't (like in AoC right now... it really doesn't do anything) that carries over into pvp. No one makes special rule set servers anymore =( There is something terribly wrong with an mmo when dying is nothing more than the fastest way to port around a zone.

Snipehunter's picture

Huh, that's interesting...

...Using death as a port mechanic is a downside to not having any death penalty beyond death itself. I have to agree with you there, but is that really so bad? Look at it from the gankee's side and ask yourself, "If all I want to do is play, how do I deal with the ganking bastards camping the graveyards?" If you're lucky, they're only camping one graveyard so you port to the other, otherwise switching instances (a feature most games lack) is your only real recourse isn't it? Is it really so bad that you can die to port?

To put it another way - why would "we have to camp the graveyard just to kick someone out of the zone" be a good thing? As a game designer, my goal is to create a game that can include as many players as possible, right? More players = more money which = more success, doesn't it? The scenarios you described run counter to that - no one likes to be on the receiving end of a gank the second they spawn in. Nor do they, for that matter, like to have their stuff taken from them, which is why we won't see many hardcore ffa pvp with item looting games around. We'll see some, because there are a few players who like it, but they will be rare because there's just no money in supporting them to the exclusion of your other players.

Interestingly enough, I do think we'll see more custom ruleset servers in the future, for exactly the reasons you touched upon. Not every player is satisfied by the mainstream tendency towards... hell, let's call it "easy play." If you can't provide a more hardcore experience, you'll lose those players, won't you? The only way to get them back - assuming your game can provide for it with little or no cost - is custom ruleset servers for the harder-core players. AoC does sort of do this, though they don't do it to the extreme that you'd prefer, in the form of their cultural PVP servers. The problem right now - the reason I think they're rare - is the cost of dedicated servers. Until the cost of hosting servers goes down (which it will, in time), ruleset servers are still going to have to cater to relatively large audiences, so it'll be hard to get the extremes supported and catered to, but that doesn't mean it won't happen.

Until then, If hardcore PvP is really what you're after - I'd suggest you check out Neocron and Jumpgate. Both offer some of the most hardcore PvP I've seen, including FFA w/ item looting (in Neocron's case). Unfortunately, the death penalties are, depending on your view, sort of hardcore, but ironically they still allow the "death as port" issue you're worried about... That has more to do with the way we handle respawn that it does the actual death penalty anyway, so I'm afraid you'll not really escape that issue. None-the-less you won't get better PVP than those games have.


- Snipehunter

Well in the camping someone

Well in the camping someone out of the zone example pretty much all the players involved were lvl 75 to 80 or trying to get twinked up by lvl 80s. If they want to attack us and try to take the leveling spots (there weren't enough people in the Kheshetta, the level 70-80 zone, to make multiple instances) so they can power level some lvl 35s I'm sorry but they deserve to be camped the hell out of the zone. Our server has been high load since a few minutes into early release because a whole bunch of guilds chose the server to roll on ahead of time in order to wave our e-peens at each other so perhaps our server is a bit strange. The guild in question knew exactly what they were signing up for when they picked the server, that is what they picked it for. They just thought that they wouldn't be the ones getting camped out of zones. But I mean later that night me and 1 other person(us being lvl 75 & 76 at the time) killed 4 of them(all level 80) and they graveyard zerged us to death because there is no penalty or delay to spawning and we were fighting a bit too close to the graveyard. Then they had the nerve to talk shit like they had dominated us and told us we needed 50 people to accomplish anything. It is really hard to tell how much is just people trying to anger others because they find it amusing and how much of that crap they really believe. But anyone who thinks that is something to be proud of in any way after picking the server they did, for the reasons they did, needs item looting in their game to remind them, hey you just got humiliated, but no... instant resses and at try number 2.5 its a success and everything bad is forgotten. Really I just need to start taking screen shots of everything and frapsing everything so that they can get publicly embarrassed except the SS button freezes your game for a few seconds which is no good in a battle. But at the same time screen shots or it didn't happen =(

From what I hear trying to gather crafting resources on the PvE servers is a nightmare and some lvl 20 miner can run up and start mining whatever you've been working on and there's not a damned thing you can do about it. Now that would really drive me insane.

Sir_Gareth's picture

Interesting...solo much?

Having read both of your posts, I have to ask: Besides the aspect of "pwning" someone, why do you play in a game with other players? Your posts show a mentality that is aggravated by the mere presence of any other player wanting to enjoy the game. For the you the game is all about making sure others cannot play, at least in the same zone with you. So, you would rather just have a zone all to yourself? Must get lonely in that single person rpg you want to play that has a MMO wrapper on it.

I agree with our host here. Why would a game company make a game that would allow players to control the income of the game? Meaning, if enough people are prevented from playing, the game makes no money, which is bad, right? Harsh death penalties can lead to the same thing. The main point being frustration. If a game is frustrating, why the hell am I paying and playing? I want to have fun. At the base level thats what anyone wants from a game. Personal fun at the cost of another players fun seems to defeat the purpose of an MMO.

I don't solo at all actually...

I play with the same people I've played MMOs with since UO... To me WoW seems like a big circle jerk on a raid mobs face. Not my cup of tea, and if that is what you want stick with WoW. I'm willing to try neocron and jumpgate but I doubt I'll be able to generate enough interest in my guild to get them to jump to another game right now. WoW raiding is mind numbingly boring to me. 25(or previously 40 people) doing menial tasks that someone read out of a guide and 2 people who just couldn't get that short bus door open failing miserably at it and making you waste hours is not fun for me. If it were so easy to replace people and maintain a solid raid group for 50 hours a week or whatever crazy shit is required to really do the top raids maybe I wouldn't hate raiding so much. We were farming Illidan before jumping ship, and frankly I'm beyond bored with WoW to the point where I have given my account away and will not ever even try the upcoming expansion.

I don't grief specifically to make peoples lives hell (although I certainly did in UO but I was like 14), but the goal on our server is at the very least to keep and hold one of the 7 battlekeeps on the server. Now some forum warriors decided this server would be a good place for old school pvp guilds to gather and assert their dominance. So really the ideal scenario would be if your guild held the ONLY battlekeep and sacked all others constantly, this is not very realistic though and your guild would have to be absolutely massive to really have any hope of denying the entire server like that without any alliances(and they would almost certainly want a battlekeep too). PvP servers have political intrigue, and highs and lows the likes of which raiding can not touch. Everyserver in wow is a pve server, if that is what you want theres already a great product for you to play where is my game? Maybe EvE but that space ship thing isn't really my thing. Also their time sinks to get licenses system makes baby jesus cry.

I'm not sure how much of the system is really in the game yet but every minute I can waste of other guilds time (and 2 of us can waste quite a few peoples time) the further ahead my guild can get towards getting that first battlekeep, as it is first come first serve, the way it should be! Speaking of which raid instances shouldn't be private instances... the thought of everyone sitting inside their own private little instance when it is a large boss or something just plain upsets me. Now those are when people really fight tooth and nail, when they have to in order to save their towns or to preserve that window of opportunity to get that raid loot and all I really want is some really memorable battles. There is nothing quite like just completely destroying a full group of players with only 2 people, which I havn't really been able to do in a game since UO.

I feel that in a persistent world when you lose you should actually lose something, battlegrounds where the loser is really just a slightly slower winner of the same items is really really not for me. People should want to try, not just because they happen to feel like it now, but because if they don't they're going to lose something. If that is not for you what in gods name are you doing on a FFA pvp server? If you can not understand how a death penalty of some kind might be important to make people care whether or not they die and make for more fun pvp I'm sorry. Maybe you have never encountered the delusional and just plain enormous egos that come with the territory but, really the only way to put them in their place is to either fraps / ss them dying or dead and embarrass them on the forums they frequent or to just plain take their crap, money, items or exp whatever they all come down to taking their time and work. Forum trolling is such a hassle and I only even read forums because I get bored at work these days and I don't have the patience to take screenshots of every fight. I mean destroying a guilds town would kind of suffice, but for individual players I would love to be able to do more than cause them to instantly re-spawn 50 yards away only to return 20 seconds later. MMOs used to have pvp servers for us, but not anymore =( do not crush my hopes and dreams, you have plenty of games give me one...

Sigoya's picture

Snipey making waves again

Snipey making waves again Smiling

From my personal experience in Auto Assault, I think the removal or death penalty served its purposes well in that setting. When a player has a very limited margin of survival (read low HP counter) PvP and boss battles tend to be very short and disgruntling, especially when you are the one you keeps dieing. Thus, a penalty-free respawn (you only get charged some money for the transportation fees) somehow averted the short life span in AA. In addition to that, AA had a very easy, and cheap, transportation system which decreased waiting and travel time significantly.

Personally, I would've liked to see a better chance of survival coupled with a slightly harsher death penalty, that involves losing some clinks rather than debuffs.

There are many ways and tricks to fake a balanced penalty, we just have to find the right one for each game type.

Pax Bionicus

Sir_Gareth's picture

"Now, stop. Ask yourself this question:..."

So, from your reply:

"If you know the feature is annoying to players - so annoying that you need to hide it from them so that they'll start paying you before they see it - isn't that a "feature" you should cut?"

The reverse of this would be something that drives players from the game right? Something the prevents enjoyment of the title? PvP seems to be one of the hazy items that can fall into this area. It can make or break your game. Especially if the penalties of a pvp system become a burden that lead to players leaving, right?

I agree with you strive to find something meaningful in every aspect of your game. I am just not sold that harsh death penalties are good.