Making Permadeath More Appealing

What a way to go

This topic has been brought up before, but it’s something I personally have been thinking about for quite some time, so I wanted to jot down some thoughts. In the majority of MMOs I have played, permadeath (ie: once you die that is it, your character ceases to exist) is not a factor for pretty obvious reasons. Number one, no one wants to lose everything they own as well as the hours they spent dedicating themselves to a character. Number two how do you keep players entranced with your content if they’re constantly required to level up through it again with a new character. I thought about the things that make permadeath unattractive to me personally, and also came up with some solutions to change this. I’d LOVE to see at least one ‘mainstream’ MMO work it into their game some how. I’m going to be relating most of my ideas to EQ2 as that’s the game I have the most experience in, but it could certainly be adjusted for any game out there.

1. Allow Permadeath to be optional. A tag that players can add to their characters, or perhaps a flag that works on a PvP server in specific. Players love choices. Allow them to control whether or not their character will be facing the void forever themselves, and they may warm up to the idea some what.

2. Institute some sort of ancestry tab so that players can track their family trees. I am always fascinated by history, and lore. Perhaps that’s just me but I doubt I am the only one. I know that LotRO has a family tree type tab, but lets take that and evolve it to the next step. Where you can track your entire family, any great feats they have accomplished, how they died, and how they were related to you. Expand on that history for each character, and let them feel as though their characters – be they reincarnated or first generation or 10th generation are a PART of something BIGGER. People want to feel important, as though they have made a difference in the world – even in an MMO world where that is virtually impossible.

3. Add level restrictions. No one wants to level up from 1-90 every week. Have permadeath kick in after a particular level (if toggled on at character creation) like level 60+ so that your game is not absolutely swamped with new level1’s wandering around bored. Much like the Deathkights start at level 55 in WoW after you’ve leveled your own character to that level, your “reincarnated” self would also start at the designated level.

4. Keep zones FRESH and New. For this option I go back to EverQuest. For those who are not aware, every few months EverQuest takes one (or more) of their zones and revamps it for a different level then it’s been intended for. They update the loot table, and while the zone itself does not physically change the technicalities of the zone do. This ensures that people are NOT doing the exact same content all of the time. Who wouldn’t want to run through a level 80 version of Blackburrow for a short time, or any other long forgotten zone for that matter. It’s so important to keep your players moving through different zones that you’ve created, and not have them stagnant in one location for months on end.

5. Make each death matter. There are various ways to do this, and I’ve thought of a few ideas to make it work. In EverQuest II in specific, you can mentor down to a lower level, and your gear will mentor with you. Why not change that technology slightly so that it’s not the character that mentors down but the gear on its own. That way your ancestors can leave you gear in their will, and pass down heirloom items that their descendants could use. Why not add a special title or skill or some other trinket that players will obtain for being a 10th generation (or any other number really) survivor. A skill perhaps that you’ve researched and can pass down to your family. Little things that make it so that the previous character death was not for nothing.

I’ve got a few other ideas bouncing around but these were some of the more simple ones that came to mind. Really, I understand why permadeath doesn’t work in MMOs, and I can only imagine the amount of whining complaints that would go on when player A died and lost all of their gear, not to mention how unstable that becomes for things like raids (perhaps have the feature turned off in instances and left on only in real world combat). I just think it’s an avenue that’s incredibly unique and has so much potential, were it not for things like time and money playing larger factors in why MMO companies simply haven’t explored it.

Thoughts? Let me know in comments!

About Stargrace

Just another female gamer with too much time on her hands.

Posted on May 12, 2010, in General. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Lee Tauntaun

    Permadeath is tough, but I do like the idea of reverting back to a certain level upon death. You could also drop a level (or set number of levels) upon death, or drop to certain levels like the next level divisible by 3,5 or 10.

    I had ideas for rampable XP gain that are somewhat similar. At the base level you have a WoW type death penalty. For a bonus you change a setting and say, your gear stays on your corpse when you die. For another bonus you take an XP penalty at death. And so on. You could do the same with PvP settings.

    Ideally these would be changeable any time one is not in combat…or for team-based PvP, maybe you have to be in a home zone and not in combat.

    Ok, I’m just rambling now. You have some good ideas and the makers of MMO’s could use some.

  2. Permadeath is undesirable because people have the “game starts at max level” mentality. And this is true for the many raid heavy MMOs of today.

    Even a setback of some 5-10 levels and possible gear loss would be annoying to gamers in such a setting.

    I think MMOs must be designed from the very beginning to have an inheritance and permadeath system, patching it on the usual level-based DIKU would not really work – they are just not made for that.

  3. Permadeath is something I’ve pondered a lot because I think the fear of dying could create a really wonderful sense of emotion when playing a MMO.

    The trick of balancing it would really be to punish the character and not the player’s time. Somehow there would need to be a way of carrying forward abilities or levels or something to stop the player getting utterly frustrated…

    • We’ve all heard tales of people going off the deep end and doing somethint REALLY stupid IRL just because they didn’t win a roll for an item they wanted, or went linkdead just before a kill and didn’t get an update they needed or jilted by a friend or boyfriend/girlfriend . . . Can you imagine what would happen if they died at level 90 . . . permanently? Even if some of their items were “willed” to their next character (which started at level 60) I can see some people losing it completely.

      And heaven help us all if it happened in a group . . . the finger pointing, name calling and bashing that would happen would be of EPIC proportion. Especially if it WAS done out of stupidity . . . and ESPECIALLY if the person being stupid actually lived? Dear god . . . I can see people hunting down IP address to exact vengeance . . . /shudder

      I DO understand the appeal of “perma-death” but I think the idea sounds better on paper than in practice. I think it is more of a niche in any game, a small subset of players that might want to play this way (I look at Hellgate: London as an example. I saw FAR FEWER people flagged for perma-death than not). Even when death penalties were harsher (like in early EQ1 when there was a REAL possibility of you losing your corpse and everything on it) games moved away from that for a reason: too few people wanted it; and in the end it’s all about getting people to play so companies can make a profit. Besides, if I wanted to TRULY experience perma-death, I’d turn off the computer, go outside, and live a little.

  4. @Charn – that’s why I’m implying permadeath should #1. be something the PLAYERS opt in on or not (ie: those who do not want it, do not select it), and #2. Only be out in the world and NOT instances or raids. Then it’s basically “your own fault” if you cause yourself to die.

    Some how I don’t think indicating that people should go experience permadeath in real life situations is such a good or smart idea and I certainly don’t suggest anyone do that what so ever.

  5. Here’s what happens in Eve:
    – Loss of Ship and all its fittings (equal to loosing all mounts and gear)
    –> If you insure your ship, you’ll get part of the value back to re-buy

    – Potential Loss of Skill Points
    –> Unless you buy an up to date clone

    – Loss of all Implants (equal to loosing all buffs)
    –> Have to re-buy and re-implant (no safety net here)

    In the end, you can end up with a frustrating experience in Eve due to these systems in place.

    I do, for “level based MMO’s” like the idea of when a character dies, you loose a few levels (2-5) and then are able to create a new character at that level. Give the new born character some in game money to buy some basic “near that level” gear, and send them on their way. 🙂 The option to create new distinctly different characters near your current level by sacrificing your current character really appeals to me.

    • By the way, I am saying that EVE basically has an opt-in/out way of dealing with “permadeath” of a sorts and it seems to work okay.

  6. 1. Why would a person choose to turn it on? Usually with difficulty sliders there needs to be some added reward rather than just making it harder. What would be an added reward enough to entice people to turn it on?

    2. It would be nice but over time the number of deaths would make it meaningless. Once you hit 100 or 200 deaths there’d be little you could do to maintain the illusion that it matters, and 200 deaths is a small amount.

    3. Mm, its a good idea but that means if you die at 75 and go to 60 you need to start grinding from a midlevel where there’s a sizable amount of xp needed till next level. What would happen is 60 would end up being the defacto level cap for permadeathers, and 60-75 would be more or less meaningless in terms of what they could do except for the very good.

    4. I see your point, but on the other hand think like this. Lets say I permadeath in PvP and get nailed back to level 20. I sigh. get my gear, and go to my usual spot to grind my levels. When I get there I see its completely changed: new mobs, and new spawn patterns.

    So i need to now go and relearn the zone, possibly dying a few times in the process and delaying my slow grind back up. It’s double edged: being stagnant also means being safe to advance in.

    5. Most of them will have to be for nothing or you will create titans, and people will just speedkill their characters till they get to a power level where permadeath matters a lot less.

    The idea of permadeath is just too flawed to really work.

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