Death in MMOs
There was a post today over at Keen and Graev’s Gaming Blog, which raised the subject of “corpse runs” in old school MMOS such as Ultima Online. In-game death came with penalties back then and there was the prospect of XP loss or that your corpse could be looted, and you could potentially lose rare gear. It got me thinking because I’ve never played an MMO that has had, to my mind, such harsh sanctions. In fact game mechanics such as permadeath, corpse runs, and the loss of equipment will put me off playing any such game that has them. I suspect that unless you’re a player who is particularly motivated by achievement, competitiveness and challenge, then such systems are seen mainly as an inconvenience and impediment.
Death in MMOs and the function it is supposed to serve, is just another aspect of the genre that has changed over time. The genre is not the same time sink it used to be and an ageing player base has meant that many core mechanics have had to become more flexible and accommodating to shorter periods of gameplay. Many players who played MMOs because of the raiding, competitive PVP and the culture of league tables and results have moved on to other games that still focus on such systems. For me, MMOs are about the narrative, levelling and occasional social gameplay. Death is mainly an inconvenience and not something I wish to have any greater impact than it does already. Gaming is for me a primarily a leisure activity.
In STO, death means just respawning and mainly serves as a warning to change your strategy or to consider revising your build. If you play the TFOs at a higher level, then your ship will get damaged if destroyed, but the cost of repair is hardly prohibitive. In LOTRO defeat is again not a major setback. If you’re playing in a group, then your team mates can revive you and the only cost incurred is your armour repairs. However, reviving yourself is limited to once per 2 hours, which means that if you cannot do so, you must retreat to a Rally Circle. This is a nuisance in the more recent zones as SSG doesn’t seem to be so generous with the quantity of rally circles in the game. Also being kicked from an instance can mean a major journey back to the entrance. ESO has a similar mechanic with either self-resurrection via Soul Gems or retreating to a Wayshrine. However, I found that stockpiling Soul Gems is an easy undertaking, therefore easily mitigating death.
I’ve mention in the past that as games have become more mainstream and more monetised, players have subsequently revised their own perspective on death mechanics. If you aren’t interested in the challenge of planning a carefully considered strategy to avoid death, its presence just becomes a source of annoyance. Especially if you see video games more as a leisure service, rather than means of testing yourself. Being inconvenienced by a mechanic in a game that you are paying for is a difficult line to tread. An incentive that shapes your gameplay is one thing. A penalty that wastes your time is something entirely different. Hence, I think it is something we will continue to see diminished in mainstream MMOs, yet I suspect it will linger as a key component of more challenging games.