What’s in a Death Penalty?

I find it very interesting that WoW’s death penalty is much harsher than the death penalty in EQ2, which goes against our preconceived notions of these two games. Let’s look at the facts:

World of Warcraft Death Penalty:

  • Death causes damage to your equipment.
  • You are expected to run a long way to your corpse and then reappear in a dangerous area, taking time and risking a second death.
  • Your other option is to resurrect at a graveyard, whereupon your equipment suffers serious damage (likely requiring you to trek back to a repair NPC immediately), and you are unable to fight for ten minutes.

Everquest 2 Death Penalty:

  • Death causes damage to your equipment.
  • You accrue a very small penalty to future earned XP.
  • You respawn at a safe spot.

WoW’s “travel back to your corpse or sit for ten minutes” mechanism, combined with the danger of dying again when you reach your corpse, makes it more of a nuisance than EQ2’s penalty. But here’s the real kicker, the reason that puts WoW’s penalty high above EQ2’s: WoW’s graveyard spots are not particularly safe. I remember my first trip to Scarlet Monastery: I got very lost and ended up in extremely dangerous territory, and died. And then I died again and again. Finally I respawned at the graveyard, only to discover to my horror that horrible monsters found me in the graveyard, too! I was instantly killed AGAIN. In WoW, when you’re in an area that’s much too high-level for you, monsters will come for you from miles around, and they are nearly impossible to escape.

In fact, I would have been stuck at that graveyard forever, except for a glitch in WoW that they’ve never bothered to fix: if you log out and log back in, your ghost can then travel to a different graveyard spot and respawn there instead. But you have to log out and log back in first, and you have to know about this trick. This is well-known among a certain part of WoW’s audience, but is certainly not known to everybody playing WoW. And when a game’s death penalty can result in effective perma-death of your character (unless you know how to exploit a bug), it’s hard to call your death penalty “casual”.

Compare it to EQ2, where death is a mild nuisance and then you get on with your evening. It’s much more casual friendly. You don’t have to run out into the same horribly dangerous spot and risk your life a second time. On the other hand, I’ve heard people complain that death in EQ2 is so tame that many people become careless, which gets groups killed.

Just to be clear: I’m not complaining about this. I don’t mind that WoW is more aggressive in punishing death than EQ2 is. (Neither of them are anywhere near as tough as, say, EQ1’s death penalty, which was so punitive that it regularly made people quit the game forever.) But it does go against our stereotyped assumption that EQ2 is more “hardcore” than WoW.

The Purpose of Death Penalties

But what should the death penalty be? What’s the point of a death penalty?

Some games don’t have much of any death penalty at all, such as Dungeon Runners. These games are aimed at players who are looking for a game that engages and entertains them, but doesn’t particularly challenge them.

Most MMO’s, however, have relatively punitive death penalties because they are designed for players that want to be challenged, not just engaged. The theory goes that if a game doesn’t punish you for playing poorly, then your rewards for playing well will be hollow and without much significance. That’s true to an extent … but of course, that’s only true if “playing well” is your motivation for playing the game.

But the death penalty has other side-effects, too. If the penalty is lenient, players find themselves experimenting with more tactics, exploring the landscape more, and poking into nooks and crannies of the game. If the penalty is harsh, they tend to stick with the strategies they know. Good survival strategies become more valuable, and in many games, players find that grouping together makes for a better survival strategy. So we often find that strong death penalties correlate with more grouping.

Correlating Death Penalty to Other Gameplay Behaviors
Correlation of death penalty to other aspects of MMO gameplay.

The exact death penalty should be based on the target audience you want to reach. This is a gross simplification, of course, but it helps point out some of the ramifications of a particular death penalty. There are many other correlations, too, such as Time Expenditure, Opportunities to Zerg, and Rewarding In-Game Knowledge. None of these are hard and fast rules, and will vary depending on the exact details of the death penalty, but I think they hold up pretty well for a large number of penalties and games.

I think both WoW and EQ2 are towards the “lenient” end of the spectrum. But is WoW’s death penalty too harsh or too mild? Well, the current death penalty is obviously not a deal-breaker for 9 million people — then again, we don’t know how many more people they would have if it was harsher or more lenient! If I were making a new game, I’d make it more lenient. EQ2’s more-lenient death penalty was more enjoyable to me than WoW’s, and I’m not exactly casual, so I think going lenient is the safer bet for modern MMO audiences.

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45 Responses to What’s in a Death Penalty?

  1. Babs says:

    Gemstone used to have one of the harshest penalties I’ve seen in a game, back in its Iron Crown days. If you died, you lost your items (that uber sword, your best shield, that backpack full of loot). You suffered tremendous damage by going ghost. Your only hope was a kindly cleric and healer who would brave the wilds to a) heal your corpse, b) rezz your arse, and c) gather up your stuff before the janitor took it away. If you didn’t have a healer, you’d be rezzed and die again from bleeding. It could take a half-hour to rezz someone, so that’s a hunting party (to kill the baddies around you), a corpse, a healer (or at the very least, someone trained in first aid), and a rezzer all spending time dealing with a singular event. Sure, clerics had Sanctuary which calmed the room you were in, but that didn’t help much once you left that room to head back to town. And dragging the corpse if it was alone? Forget about it unless you were a high-level someone. Most folks weighed too much to drag through dangerous territory. Oh, and if you didn’t have enough deeds to cover your death, once you rotted away you were permadead. No more of this character for you!

    Eventually they instituted spells that clerics and healers could use to poof directly to the corpse and poof it directly back to town. They also quelled the item loss because of the uproar over losing legendary items and when it became apparent that corpse looting was The New Big Thing (thanks, AOL).

    However…as a healer I attended a ton of dead players, often dying on the way to rezz someone else. Some of my fondest memories and bestest friends were made in those rezzing sessions. I no longer know the folks I poof out to retrieve when they die. To them I’m just a healer who poofed them back to town. There’s little bonding going on, and pitifully few opportunities for roleplay.

    Except for SWG’s horrid death system during beta, there hasn’t been anything as complicated or as fun as Gemstone’s death system. Games these days rely on potions and food and all that trickery to mitigate death. WoW has made a big point of showing that corpse runs are not a kiss of death (remember running for your corpse in EQ2, when everyone HATED it? Why don’t they hate it in WoW?). EQ2’s current system is perfect for solo players but lacks any roleplaying opportunity during the actual rezzing process because there’s no way for the corpse to communicate in any fashion.

    So I tend to disagree that lenient is better, which only means I’m a different sort of player. I think I enjoyed gaming better when we were just MOs, not MMOs, and could take the time to die and be rezzed with good folk around us.

  2. Ben says:

    I’m in Babs’ court on this one. Gemstone did have a great and engaging death system that didn’t just encourage, but essentially required socialization. Certainly Eric is right that it encouraged more cautious gameplay, but was that a bad thing? It lengthened the playability of the game. Of course being a text-based game it attracted a completely different dynamic to begin with.

    In sum, I also think that lenient does not equal better. People in WoW and other newer MMOs treat death too casually. I know plenty of people in WoW who actually deathhop around to get through high level areas. I for one would like to see an MMO more along the lines of Gemstone, so if anyone knows of one please shoot me an e-mail (bdiliberto@gmail.com).

  3. Chroyst says:

    Reading this article, and having never played EQ2, I’m a bit shocked that it’s possible to have less of a death penalty than WoW. It’s an interesting article, but it lacks any sense of perspective since Eric later called both systems “lenient.”

    As such, I offer the most severe (and yet not unreasonable) death penalty system I know: that of Eve Online.

    Compared to other games, I suppose you can die twice in one “death,” since you can both lose your ship (likely the most costly) and subsequently your escape pod (highest risk of long-term penalty). Sure, losing your ship hurts in any game, but in Eve, you never get it back. Anything that explodes is gone forever. Should you lose your pod and become a frozen corpse floating through the void, you’ll be resurrected in a clone, but if you skimped on getting the higher quality clones, you can permanently lose skills. Clones become more costly as your character gains skillpoints (there’s no level 20 sorceror kinda thing), and ships range in cost from nearly free to months of hard work, lost forever. Add in the potential cost of cyberimplants that decrease training time, and suprise death can become a real nightmare.

    Having played Eve for around four years, and trying WoW out, I couldn’t take it seriously since there just wasn’t any challenge that couldn’t be overcome after enough resurrecting, at very little personal cost. Watching entire fleets made of hundreds of members put everything they’ve got on the line for a cause seems far more epic than a dungeon raid, because there’s something to be lost.

  4. Jake says:

    i don’t know if anyone remembers anymore, but when the first phantasy star online came out, the death penalty ended up being pretty harsh, with all of your equipment and money falling on the spot you died. it caused a lot of interesting decisions, mostly that if you were playing with people you didn’t particularly know, you wouldn’t use your best gear, for fear of someone stealing your shit when you died. if you died in a boss battle and no one else around (or if they were all dead too) then your shit would be gone. for good. rezzing wasn’t too bad though, as higher level characters could pretty much all rez, except the ‘bots, but again, you had to hope they didn’t steal all your shit and then rez you. much later, in phantasy start online blue burst (the pc compilation version of PSO ep.1 ep.2 and newly added ep.4) changed the penalty to a much more easily beared 10% (i think) exp loss. i felt that the major difference between the two penalties was that, as you said, people played a lot more solo games. also people WOULD use their best stuff, making the game that much more interesting. to make sure it wasn’t too bad, ep. 4 was really freaking hard, with monsters that were as tough as the bosses in ep 1 just roaming around.

  5. John says:

    This article reminds me of my EQ1 days and one of the main reasons I was never able to get into EQ2 or any of the new age fantasy MMOs. In EQ1, for those that don’t recall, the death penalty was simply a large experience loss, which was different based on whatever level you were (it might have been a percentage, I don’t recall… I just know it sucked). When I moved to EQ2, even at the beginning the death penalty seemed too simple. Busted items? A penalty for future experience, which can be offset by simply logging off and waiting, is no penalty at all. I have never been a fan of “bonus XP” or death penalties that don’t feel like penalties. I understand the industry is trying to pull in the more casual gamer, but it really does alienate players like me who miss the challenge of, for example, doing large raids knowing that if you die you might even level down. I miss the old days

  6. John says:

    Also, all of this discussion of MMOs where your item and money drop reminds me of the death system in Diablo and Diablo 2. Whenever you died you lost XP, all your equipped items went into your inventory unless it was full or else they fell on the ground, and you definitely dropped a bunch of money (and it cost you a bunch when you died). Making it “easier to solo” doesn’t necessarily make it fun to solo… just my thoughts.

    Also, I’ve been playing LotRO recently, which as far as I can tell only penalizes you by damaging your items

  7. Ben says:

    Im a WoW player personally.In the pre 70 lvles I never found dying an iusse. But now as i fly around in one of my paladins sets of epic gear, dying worries me because of the coast of repiaring gear has increased soo much. a 35-45 gold after raid repair bill is around 1 hours worth of grinding. If I die in the wilde, in a place i can not reach by running back to my corpse, ( happens all the time now) I Always try to get someone to rezz me. otherwise ALL the gear u are carrying in packs takes damage. I get a bill of around 60 gold to repair than much gear, which is all the gold from my daily quests. the penalty is not over harsh, but it is hard for a pala ( im a tank atm EU bloodfeather hammersmith) as the costs can realy mount up. The EQ1 plenaty was soo harsh I left the game ages ago.

  8. Dylan says:

    I’m not the most experienced MMOer around (I’ve probably played WoW and LOTRO for a month combined) but just that small amount made me think a lot about death in these games. As someone who comes mostly from the console side of gaming, I definitely agree with the article that death penalties should be rather lenient. Comparing LOTRO to WoW (where pretty much the only difference is the death penalty), I had more fun with LOTRO because I spent more time in the action. However much ya’ll think people take death too casually in these games, I’m spending money to play a game, not wait around. I’ve never heard of Gemstone, but waiting around for half an hour every time I die is enough to make me quit instantly.

    I don’t want things on the line when I play a game. If I loose, I loose: that’s the penalty. We really don’t need anything more than that.

  9. Mike says:

    I remember when EQ2 first came out, if you didn’t feel like waiting for a priest to come by and resurrect you then you’d have to respawn in a safe spot and run back to the place you died to retrieve your soul (which seemed to contain a lot of your stats). I also remember dying in a moat under a group of fish which completely blocked my ability to select the soul, so I had to spend several minutes desperately trying to fish the things away from my body as local bears grew closer and closer. Eventually they made it a lot easier to get the soul back (I think you just had to be somewhat near it and it would automatically come back), and before long they just got rid of it.

  10. JohnG says:

    How many people would have gotten through the WoW end game 5 mans if there was xp loss at death? As it is right now, it takes about an hour per player to pay for the 3-5 wipes that might happen when learning encounters. If you had to redo level 69 everytime you died, the number of attempts would go way down and world progression would probably be somewhere around Curator in Karazhan. Would WoW be a better, harder, more fun game if every time your group wiped you had to spend an hour recovering your gear and then a week recovering your lost levels? Much more likely, Blizz would have to remove scripted events all together because no one is going to be learning encounters when failure costs so much.

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  12. Aaron says:

    I’m relatively new to the MMO scene (never had the money to play most subscription MMOs, and I’ve only got maybe 2-3 months worth of experience with Guild Wars), but I’m a Diablo 2 veteran, so character death is nothing new to me. I guess I’m sitting on the lenient side of the debate, though I don’t want things to be too lenient.

    Diablo 2’s death system struck the right balance for me; there was no permanent loss for death, but on the harder difficulty levels where death was much, much more commonplace, the consequences were enough to make me avoid it like the plague it was; loss of experience, loss of cash (and a monstrous amount of it, too), and perhaps most important, if your corpse was unreachable, it meant you lost all the progress you had made on whatever quest or dungeon you were attempting.

    Guild Wars is in some ways more lenient and some ways harsher than D2’s system in that there’s no real loss; you keep all your cash, all your exp, all your items, everything. But you do take a percentage loss to your life and mana that increases with each death and needs to be worked off through earning exp. That would be fine if not for the fact that, at any point in the game, any point at all, trying to go it alone without a specific build meant you needed to take areas incredibly slowly or die from a mere handful of monsters. This in itself, the required party, irritates me and presents what I think is the real issue here; making it impossible to go solo.

    Now, I’m not an anti-social guy; I like adventuring with friends and developing especially powerful combinations with my teammates. But this is the nature of the online experience, and I’m sure everyone can attest to this; sometimes you just can’t find anyone you can get along with. Maybe your friends aren’t on or you can’t find a good guild to help you out or maybe people are just being idiots, but there are times when it’s a choice of going it alone or doing nothing. Even in my short time as a member of an MMO I have experienced several instances where I was trying to find a party to do a quest with and coming up empty-handed. I could even be standing around for half an hour trying to use the party request system to find someone to team up with and getting nothing. And half the times I did find a cooperative party, most of them ended up being idiots who spent more time getting themselves killed than actually contributing. As stated, Guild Wars forces you to find a party or suffer a quick death. They try to ease the pain by providing AI companions you can add, but most of them are useless and are even more death-prone than the human idiots. Even beyond not finding anyone to play with, there are still times when I just want to go out into the game world and explore or farm for items and cash without having a specific quest to follow, or just run around and fight some battles. Trying to do this by myself is suicide, and how many people do you think I’ll be able to find that are in a similarly laid-back mood?

    With Diablo 2, while it’s still advisable to travel with a party, you can support each other and if you die they can protect your corpse and provide you with a shortcut back to the fight, it’s not required. If you want to fly solo, it’s entirely possible.

    This I think is the real issue here; the importance of being able to go it alone, in all but the high-level areas at the very least. Properly penalizing death is important, but not as important as providing the tools to prevent it in the first place. I dunno about you guys, but I don’t play games, any game, looking forward to a sudden and inescapable death.

  13. Aaron says:

    Just realized I used the word “idiot” a bit too much. Feel free to replace the second or third usage with “moron” or something even more colorful.

  14. Stamatis says:

    I’m not an MMO expert, but it sounds sensible to me to link the death penalty with the character’s level. New starters shouldn’t get frustrated by the game’s difficulty and should be encouraged to experiment. On the other hand, as the players gain levels, they should be more challenged, think more and put to good use the tricks they’ve learned over time.

  15. Al says:

    Thanks for the great post Eric, this is one of those hidden issues in MMOs that players don’t think too much about, yet is integral to the core design. There are some things I’d like to bring up regarding your post and I’d love hear your response. Ok, here goes:

    Death Penalty Punishment
    I actually don’t think WoW’s death penalty is actually much less punishing. The main point of running back to your corpse is to be able to circumvent the dangers en route to the point where your character perished. With a game like EQ2, yes, you start off in a safe zone, but the pain of having to travel back without the benefit of invincibility is more of a time waster in and of itself.

    Blizzard did think about this and added in two more things:

    -Well defined (as in level and difficulty) zones so that players wouldn’t be wandering around in places that they shouldn’t unless they were exploring. If that danger occurs, then the graveyard system works around that.

    -Players are able to spawn in a fairly large area from where they actually died. This is done in case there is still a very real and present danger there, the player can find somewhere to hide and heal before another attempt, or to run away as soon as they spawn.

    WoW is well designed so that “hardcore” features such as dungeons and raids, which require groups, sometimes of an exceedingly large numbers have a similarly more “hardcore” death penalty. This time, when the party wipes, they have to start from the beginning of the instance they were in. Factor in a time pressure where monsters may have already respawned and the hardcore factor just jumped up. This is not to say there is no time pressure for random spawns on the normal world map. However, the player has a limited choice on where to spawn and multiple choices on direction and action (Fight or Flee?). In an instance, there is really only one option, a straight line back.

    I’m not sure it’s the death penalty that forces people to group up “for safety” in an MMO, but how the game is designed for the player to gain experience points and level up. With an MMO like WoW, the game is designed for solo play, yes, players will group up, but the end goal of that is to earn:

    Experience Points and Better Items

    that the player couldn’t do by themselves. The same is for a game like Final Fantasy XI, where the death penalty is amazingly hardcore, yes, players group up for safety while earning experience points. However, I can guarantee you that if there was a way to level in Final Fantasy XI solo, but with the same harsh death penalty, the majority of players would choose to do so. Similarly, raids in WoW are for safety, but also because that players are after better gear and the only way to get that is to group up. If there was a way to do a dungeon with a smaller group or no group with the same death penalty, it would be done.

    Similarly, In a game with a “hardcore” defined death penalty like Ragnarok Online, players still play solo to earn exp and are then “forced” to group up when they hit a plateau where they need other players for exp and items. A prime example of this is the Clock Tower area in Al De Baran. The only players that are looking group up are Priests/Acolytes because they cannot solo the area on their own for exp. Long range classes like the mage/wizard and the hunter/archer are sought after by them so that they are able to level, and in the case of these two classes, level faster. Otherwise, after spending significant time in this game, and looking at this zone particularly as an anomaly, I’d say 95% of the people there are soloing because they can.

    While parts of this argument are true, particularly concerning play that involves loss of resources of more than one player, whether funds, experience points, and most importantly, time. Which in essence is the most important currency of any game. However, I think that activities that involve personal currency is actually more rewarding and sought after in games with a “harsher” death penalty, exploration for instance. Part of the lure of exploring unknown places and discovering new places is the penchant for danger and the players own feel of self-satisfaction and prowess for overcoming these challenges. In a game like WoW where death is less punished, especially for explorers out poking in the nook and crannies of Azeroth, discovering a new place is exciting, but the feeling of danger, of being an explorer, of accomplishment is dampened by the ease of access. This being compared to a game like Final Fantasy XI where being able to explore and poke around certain areas is as much a feat as defeating a boss or completing a mission.

    Overall though, I can agree with the core argument you are making here, thanks for bringing this topic to light.

    Asian Power Hour

  16. David says:

    No comments about Diablo II Hardcore yet?

    If you die… Make that WHEN you die, you lose everything. Your gear. Your money. YOUR CHARACTER. Go back to ground zero and start a new… You want to talk about making people quit the game.

  17. Marc says:

    I’ve never played this Gemstone but I seem to remember Everquest having something similar. I’d be running around, die and lose everything I had with me. Of course I was lost whenever I died so I lost everything I had multiple times. A discouraging experience. Then when those xp penalties started stacking up, I just quit altogether. Games are games, they shouldn’t feel like work having to grind for six hours just to surmount the penalty, never mind “ding.”

  18. Eric says:

    I’ve wondered about D2 hardcore. It seems to me to be an interesting aberration in that it doesn’t really make you change the way you play too much. Correct me if I’m wrong — I haven’t actually played D2 hardcore. Normally permadeath makes you want to group up for safety, but in D2, the monsters just get harder when you group, so that probably wouldn’t help much (especially in hardcore). And you might play a little more cautiously — carrying spare potions, etc. — but I don’t think it would dramatically affect your playstyle. If you want to experiment, you would just go do that on a non-hardcore player and then bring back what you’ve learned.

    So the D2 hardcore mode just ups the stakes without a lot of the other repercussions. Does that seem like a fair assessment?

  19. Eric says:

    Al — some interesting thoughts there. The notion that letting you run back to your corpse in safety is a boon, rather than a punishment, is a fair one in some cases. However, personally I tend to find that if I’ve died somewhere, it’s because I was in over my head, or I ran out of supplies — in either case I don’t want to reappear right at the spot I died, so that unwanted run back to the corpse feels like a punishment.

    WoW mixes things up, like a good game should — Shamans can just insta-rez, so they don’t have to deal with the corpse run nearly as often. And Night Elves are extra-fast when dead, which is nice. But overall I personally find it more of a punishment than a boon.

    I also play a heavily-armored class in EQ2, so if I do want to run back to where I died, it’s pretty safe to do so. But I can see your point about WoW’s death system sometimes being a benefit. It really depends on lots of specifics, though.

    Good comments there and some food for thought.

  20. Jess says:

    I played D2 hardcore back in the day, some Final Fantasy 11 (which I honestly consider to be roughly equivalent to the original Everquest), and WoW to 70. Currently, I’m not really playing anything, though I miss a lot of elements of WoW, particularly the social elements.

    Anyway, as far as the D2 hardcore death penalty, it completely changed how I played my characters. I only ran with other people that I trusted – with the Amazon Basin, way back. I worked to make my character durable, and to support tanks. I left corpse looting on so that if the worst happened, someone else could at least recover my stuff. Sure, I soloed a little there, but mostly, it was a very careful cooperative experience. I’ll never forget the rush of trying to recover a fellow player’s corpse from Nightmare Nihlithak, back when his corpse explosion scaled with players, and could take you out in one hit if you weren’t careful…

    But that’s that type of game. Sure, I lost a lot of level 20 characters, but that’s a few hours here, few hours there, and it was the thrill of the risk that kept me going. I don’t know if I’d do it again – Hellgate’s hardcore feature sounds tempting, but at this point, I figure I might as well go play Nethack, because I know my friends won’t go for a game with such a harsh death penalty. They don’t like it. I enjoyed it, but I also played very cautiously.

    Final Fantasy? Ugh. The death penalty sucked, sure, but mostly because a lot of deaths were caused by bad groups. The forced grouping to accomplish anything past level 10 in that game was just a major turnoff – socialization is all well and good, but making players dependent on others for everything severely limits the target audience – I’m thankful to be out of that. Nothing is more frustrating than losing a night’s worth of grinding to a single bad group, or a train, or something else. The death penalty wasn’t the game’s biggest problem, but it aggravated the others.

    WoW’s death penalty actually felt about right, though perhaps a bit lenient to me. But then, realizing that lenience allowed for exactly what this article mentions – I tried to push my play to the next level, and while I would end up getting nothing accomplished if I tried to handle impossible things, I could take part in crazy things, like doing a dungeon 5 levels before it should have been done. The lack of penalty let me be a risk taker, to create thrill.

    Now, to be honest, the other reason I’m glad there wasn’t a major death penalty in WoW is the PvP factor. PvP servers would usually feature plenty of the opposing faction of similar, or often higher levels crossing your path – which created a great social dynamic to team up when it worked right, but it could result in camped death after death if things went wrong. Sure, the game claims there’s no penalty for PvP deaths, but there are still ways to make PvP deaths have the NPC death penalty, so I’m glad it’s not too harsh.

  21. Ulol says:

    This brings back EQ memories…I died on a trek across the world to meet a friend, it was somewhere in Kithicor Forest.

    It was Thanks Giving weekend and had to get my body back because it would have vanished with all my gear if I didn’t. My wife (GF) at the time was so pissed that I was taking so long that “everyone was waiting for me” (I was the driver for the road trip) that it nearly was a break up issue. It sure made my weekend interesting, trying to make it up to her.

  22. Scorch says:

    uh this makes wow’s death penalty sound way harsher than it is… if you dont die in an area full of mobs then it should be relatively easy to rez in a safe spot… if you are surrounded… rez at a distance and run… not that hard…

    when wow had just come out, a lot of people said that the death penalty was too lenient… so since that had just added durability as a money sink… they decided to make it include the durability penalty to the normal rez and the spirit healer rez…

  23. Shinryoma says:

    I think WoW balanced it pretty well. It gives you all of the benefits of, in your example, a lenient death penalty while having elements in the game that are aimed at people who want to group and the “hardcore” players with penalties that are far from lenient.

    The death penalty in FFXI was a real pain. Unless you were lucky enough to have a static party, you’re basically screwed. Forced grouping with strangers meant possibly losing a whole nights effort because of the death penalty. If your character class happened to be one of the many redundant character classes you might of waited for weeks to find an invite. This “hardcore” mentality discouraged any kind of experimentation. Either the game punished you or no one wanted if your class wasn’t cookie cutter. Which defeated the whole purpose of dual classes IMO. Had the game used a lenient death penalty things would be any different? I think so. Maybe now it wouldn’t be the only game I regret playing. And I played it for almost a year. >.>

  24. Daryl says:

    I have only played WoW and am interested in other peoples stories on other games death mechanics.

    I think WoW’s death penalty is fairly lenient where time and a small amount of money is lost. My characters have always been casters so they can only wear cloth which is relatively cheap to repair. When you have epic items, each death costs about 1.5g. I think the game is imbalanced in that melee fighters with heavier armour have to pay more for damage.

    Some people make too much out of having to make a corpse run and rez in a dangerous area. In my experience, this is a rare occurrence. You can rez in a fairly wide area away from mobs. Only a couple of times did I have to rez again and again as I rez further away from mobs. You can usually rez before mobs respawn.

    In my experience, wiping in groups too often cause people to get angry and leave the group. Presumably they are impatient or frustrated by grouping with noobs or perhaps concerned about repair costs. I would like to see damage repairs for heavy armour balance out the same as clothies. I suppose, logically it doesn’t make sense as plate/mail is dearer than cloth although you can get expensive cloth too. A 3-4 hour instance run with a few deaths would cost me about 5-7g.

    I’m also in a pve realm so my corpse is not camped but i have levelled one character in a pvp server so I know what it’s like and I hated it so I moved the character to a pve server.


  25. Sean says:

    EQ1 had a very hard death penalty. A huge lost amount of experience, and having to run back to your corpse from wherever your bind point was to loot your items off your corpse before it rotted. Even though you had days to go get your stuff if you were at a high level, realistically you had to go get your items right away, because your stats would be greatly compromised even if you threw on some second-rate emergency gear (which few did anyway). As a result, people were SCARED of some areas. It got really intense sometimes, because dying was so sucky.

    EQ2 has swung in the complete opposite direction. Before you had to recover your temporary stat loss by running back to your corpse to get your spirit shard. Now all you have is a tiny amount of experience debt to pay off, a small repair build, and you spawn someplace safe. I have mixed feelings about this… on the one hand, I enjoy not being raked over the coals and the reduced frustration level. On the other hand, the sheer intensity and feeling of danger is virtually gone. I still don’t like dying, but its more of a minor nuisance than the panic you felt in the old days. Ask anyone who loves scary movies or roller coasters… fear can be fun!

    FFXI had the same huge experience loss as EQ but without the corpse run. Like EQ1, at higher levels it could take hours to get it back. And you pretty much had to group up for any significant experience gain unless you were the one soloing class (Beastmaster). Group wipes tested a party’s cohesiveness, as you would all have to work your way back to your camping spots, which could be an ardurous task sometimes.

  26. Spencer says:

    I played EQ mainly as a cleric, got fairly high level and ended up working a night shift, so when I came home from work I was one of the only high level clerics on. I think the higher level ressurection spells gave back more experience lost from death. As I was the only high level cleric on, or “willing” to travel anywhere to res players I made quite a bit of in game cash 1,000 platinum I think for one res as no one else would res this guy. Im telling you no zone was too dangerous it was hilarious, I would run all over the place.
    Also in EQ we had a guildmate that fell asleep or something at her keyboard and she kept getting killed over and over in the same spot, before we caught on and tried to help her she had lost 6 levels at least. We notified a Game Master, but I cant remember if they restored her levels. That was horrible. =(
    As far as World of Warcraft goes theres a lot of “o crap” safety skills built into different classes, hunters can feign death, warlocks can soul stone themselves, paladins have 2 unvulnerabilities and Lay Hands, and shamans can ressurect themselves on the spot, rogues can vanish and sprint.

  27. Justin says:

    CHroyst you wondered how you could have a more leneit death penalty well i got one for you. Guild Wars. When you die you can either be rezed by a party member or at a resurection shrine in the area. and the only penalty is that your health and magic are reduced by 15% each time you die with a max of 60% that can be taken. Then you can either work that off by killing monsters or by entering a town or outpost. you lose no items or XP.

  28. Marco says:

    I used to play tibia, a 2d free mmo. When you got killed in tibia, by either a mob or a player you would loose 10% of your TOTAL exp. Even at a low level, when u die you have lost so much exp that u need to play multiple hours again to get to the same level. Higher levels need to play multiple days – weeks to get on the same level again. They can however buy blessings for an big amount of cash ingame which recudes the ammount lost and/or buy a “premium” account for real life cash which also reduces the amount of EXP lost. But even with all the blessings available a high level char can easily loose 2 full days of playing.

    And beside loosing so much experience you loose all your bags with valuable loot and items and have a 10% chance to loose an item he/she is currently wearing for each item he/she is wearing. Some items can only be obtained once in the game.
    You can walk back to your corpse and get those items and bags back, but other players can pick up that loot aswell.

    This death penalty makes experimenting, lag or pvp a pain. All mobs will still give EXP in tibia which means that players will have to kill weaker mobs while soloing which in return annoys lower level chars.

    I really liked the game, but the death penalty made me quit the game and play wow instead. The death penalty in wow compared to tibia is nothing. And at a higher level you dont loose that much anymore in wow. U cant venture into unknown places anymore and the equipment damage can repaired with money from 3-5 killed mobs.

  29. Tarhorn, Tauren Shaman (Velen Server) says:

    Here is the lowest level Rezz spell from Dungeons and Dragons (not DDO, the table top game).
    Raise Dead
    Conjuration (Healing)
    Level: Clr 5
    Components: V, S, M, DF
    Casting Time: 1 minute
    Range: Touch
    Target: Dead creature touched
    Duration: Instantaneous
    Saving Throw: None; see text
    Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless)

    You restore life to a deceased creature. You can raise a creature that has been dead for no longer than one day per caster level. In addition, the subject’s soul must be free and willing to return. If the subject’s soul is not willing to return, the spell does not work; therefore, a subject that wants to return receives no saving throw.

    Coming back from the dead is an ordeal. The subject of the spell loses one level (or 1 Hit Die) when it is raised, just as if it had lost a level or a Hit Die to an energy-draining creature. If the subject is 1st level, it loses 2 points of Constitution instead (if this would reduce its Con to 0 or less, it can’t be raised). This level/HD loss or Constitution loss cannot be repaired by any means. A character who died with spells prepared has a 50% chance of losing any given spell upon being raised, in addition to losing spells for losing a level. A spellcasting creature that doesn’t prepare spells (such as a sorcerer) has a 50% chance of losing any given unused spell slot as if it had been used to cast a spell, in addition to losing spell slots for losing a level.

    A raised creature has a number of hit points equal to its current Hit Dice. Any ability scores damaged to 0 are raised to 1. Normal poison and normal disease are cured in the process of raising the subject, but magical diseases and curses are not undone. While the spell closes mortal wounds and repairs lethal damage of most kinds, the body of the creature to be raised must be whole. Otherwise, missing parts are still missing when the creature is brought back to life. None of the dead creature’s equipment or possessions are affected in any way by this spell.

    A creature who has been turned into an undead creature or killed by a death effect can’t be raised by this spell. Constructs, elementals, outsiders, and undead creatures can’t be raised. The spell cannot bring back a creature that has died of old age.

    Material Component
    Diamonds worth a total of least 5,000 gp.

    The lowest level character that can cast this spell is a Level 10 Cleric (which, depending on your groups style of play, can take about 20 hours of play time, about 10 sesions. I play once a month so thats almost a year of playing to get up to 10th level. Then the spell costs 5,000gp to cast. If your friends can’t cast the spell (because they’re too low level or not a cleric) then they have to find an NPC cleric willing to cast the spell and pay whatever he wants to charge you, and thats only if the Dungeon Master allows you to find an NPC cleric.

    Compared to that, I’ll gladly trek back to my corpse and then run like hell.

  30. Quixadhal says:

    Actually, the older second edition D&D spell was more harsh. It had the same penalties for the victim of the spell, but the caster also lost a point of constitution, permenantly.

    The old text mud I used to play on penalized you for 50% of your accumulated experience on death. It was not uncommon to lose a level in the process, and if you multi-classed, you could lose more than one level. You also left a fully lootable corpse with all your stuff and gold on it.

    Still, I find WoW’s death penalty annoying. Even though EQ2 isn’t that different, the fact that I can choose to just not continue what I was doing instead of being forced to waste time running back to my corpse or sucking up a durability hit and get to sit around fishing for ten minutes, makes death less aggrivating.

    I’ve always been a big fan of meaningful game mechanics. If death is supposed to be a bad thing, it should be something devastating and you should want to avoid it at all costs. EVE-Online has such a harsh system, and people go way out of their way to use disposable shuttles and jump clones with no implants to cross hostile regions of space. That’s good, since your death means someone else profits. In WoW, death only costs time, and time is something you can never get back. Personally, I’d rather lose all my gear and be able to keep playing, rather than wasting hours of my life running around as a ghost.

  31. mightyg says:

    my experience has been with WoW and Final Fantasy XI.

    since WoW has been touched upon i’ll discuss ffxi. Upon death in FFXI, you lose a relatively large portion of experience points. roughly 2000 exp at the highest level, which is about 1/20th of your level, and takes about 10-20 minutes to recover when leveling up your character. this can actually be pretty harsh, especially if you end up dying repeatedly. the penalty can be reduced by 50% buy the “raise” spell and 75%-90% on the white mage exclusive “raise II” and “raise III” spells. this certainly influences people to party together, and makes boss fights extremely challenging. there is a certain level of frustration it can cause though, especially to newcomers. while it also doesn’t reward experimentation, it does keep people serious. also unlike WoW, many big boss fights are do or die, by this i mean, you can’t simply retry the boss after a loss, which is very common in WoW. This is both good and bad in that it sucks to lose, but at least you don’t have to repeat the same fight for hours and hours until you win. i found raiding in WoW extremely tiresome because of that fact. it certainly makes the two games and the behavior of their players distinctly different.

  32. Yoink says:

    Oh, lord, Gemstone… I remember dying in the Town Square at the hands of a GM-controlled monster (and during an invasion event, so there were hoards of mobs everywhere) — the Big Bad grabbed my corpse and dragged it from room to room, laughing while he killed all my rescuers. What had turned out to be a 5-minute “I’m gonna login to check if something is in my bank” session turned into a multi-hour affair, since I was in real jeopardy of losing my character for good.

    While the Gemstone death mechanic was engaging, it was also harshly unforgiving. God forbid you have any real-life need to log during the epic struggle to reunite you with your rapidly decaying corpse and um, lootable loot.

    WoW’s death penalty? It’s just a little time-out with some mellow graphics and music.

  33. David Whitney says:

    If I recall, the durability / gold sink in WoW was designed as a mechanic to avoid “mudflation”.

  34. StealthCoder says:

    Great article but I think EQ2’s death penalty was way more harsh then WoW. I hate XP debt. Granted, I played EQ2 at launch. EQ2 might have gotten wattered down since i played.

    I think City of Heroes had a more harsh penalty too

  35. Andreas says:

    I remember the old days in Anarchy Online.

    A death resulted in the loss of all accumulated XP,
    since the last time your clone had been *insured*.

    Insurance Terminals were close to respawn points,
    all around the more popular mission areas.

    Since team mission were usually run on a very high difficulty setting,
    the failure of a team member to performe well,
    could lead to the loss of up to two hours of game time accomplishments.

    One class even got a skill to instantly evac the whole party to a safepoint,
    if things got fubar,
    which of course required a long run back into the mission…

    The result of this system,
    was that player who were not able to play their class,
    rarely advanced beyond a certain level barrier and
    quickly got a bad name,
    that kept them out of the *guilds*/corporations,
    which was pretty much a death sentence to character development.

    In a more general attempt to make the game more accessible,
    the harsh loss of all unsaved XP penalty was later one removed.

    As a result the game got more subscribers,
    but lost more and more veterans,
    since the gameplay became less exciting and
    even high level raids and groups were filled with people ignorant of their own classes.

    In the end this wowization probably economically saved the game,
    but ironically destroyed much of the style and gameplay it was loved for.

  36. Nachshon says:

    EVE’s death penalty is different. When your ship explodes, you lose the ship. Unless you have friends who can defeat your killers, you also lose all equipment on said ship. This sounds harsh, but most players will not buy a ship they cannot afford to replace, and they will rarely have the majority of their possessions on one ship.

    You can get insurance for your ship that gives you the base price of the ship when it is destroyed. You have to pay some money for insurance, and tech 2 ships (advanced versions of base ships) normally sell for far more than base price. However, for a standard ship, insurance will turn a massive loss into a small one.

    Now, when your ship is destroyed, you are still alive. Your “pod” – basically an escape pod that contains you – will survive the ship being destroyed. NPCs will not harm your pod. However, other players will usually try to destroy your pod. If your pod is destroyed, your clone is activated, and you need to get a new one. There are different grades of clones. Higher level ones can store more skill points (the measure of how many skills a player has), and are more expensive. If you have more skill points than your clone can handle, when you are podded, you lose some skills. Most players have their clone at a station with a medical bay, so they can get a new clone before they reenter space.

    Really, losing a ship is the big penalty, not actually dying. I am notorious for using cheap ships to scout and not caring when I get killed.

  37. I started MMOs with WoW, so that may have colored my experience somewhat. The WoW death penalty became the “baseline” along which I judged other MMOs. When I started GW, for example, I was annoyed at the performance/morale penalty it applied, but appreciated that I could keep forging on ahead if I needed to, or I could otherwise restart the instance to return to normal. The downside of GW’s penalty is that you can basically zerg the hell out of the instance if you like; if you keep throwing yourself back in to the fight, you will eventually win through stubborness instead of tractics.

    In EQ2, I didn’t notice much difference from WoW, except for the small fact that having to run back to where you died to return to the action was a bit of a pain. The experience penalty was small, and somewhat less annoying than I might otherwise have thought, largely because the experience gains in game were already very large, and you could also accumulate rest-state experence (or something similar, I forget now).

    The “nicest” death penalty yet seems to be in LOTRO, where you get some little temporary wound effect and a bit of equipment damage. Like EQ2, you need to run back if you want, but it definitely seems more subdued than all the other MMOs I’ve tried.

    The one game which irritates me the most (that I enjoy playing) is DDO: In D&D Online you get penalized three ways: first, you die and if your party wipes or your solo, you can not rez at a waypoint in the dungeon, so you are teleported out to a tavern where you need to spend a couple minutes in recovery (time penalty). Then you suffer experience loss, which really, really annoys me because loss of experience means a bigger time penalty: you lose the time spent earning that experience, then you lose more time spent recovering that experience. Finally, #3: You re-enter the dungeon and the overall value of the adventure drops by 10% per re-entry. Which means your precious time spent in the dungeon just got de-valued. So, as a casual player who solos at least 60% of the time, it means that I feel like I’m treading water in DDO, which is terrible because I love this game’s play and structure more than any other MMO right now.

    Interestingly, I noticed in the notes on the upcoming January 30th expansion that they are “eliminating the death penalty for experience.” Probably not the re-entry penalty, I bet, but I can live with that, since the re-entry penalty is to control players exiting the dungeon to reload, as it were. But this little change they are implementing has saved my subscription; I’ve started and cancelled my DDO subscription 4 times since the game was released, and each time was due to increasing frustration at the treadmill the death penalty placed me on. Now, at last, I think they’ll be keeping me if they follow through with the new update.

    As an old-school paper and pencil gamer (I started with D&D in 1980) the idea of perma-death seems natural….to tabletop gaming. Partly because an organic GM can make decisions about events that a PC game can not, and partly because things move more slowly in person-to-person games, and the overall experience is far different from CRPGS and MMOs. If the purpose of a death penalty is punishment, then it needs to be seriously re-evaluated. If the purpose of the death penalty is to provide challenge (another way of saying “encourage you to stay alive to avoid punishment”) then maybe games could make sliding-scale death penalties, or servers designed with specific death penalties an option for players who want them. As I see it, the only really viable function of the death penalty in a game should be to limit the usefulness of the specific character in the situation which caused death; put another way, it’s a very mild way of simulating the fact that the PC should be out of commission in the battle at hand, unless a legitimate means (like rezzing) is ued to bring him back. This creates a mild penalty, one in which the character’s usefulness to that situation is at an end, forcing the rest of the party to carry on until the dead guy can hike on back for a later encounter.

    In tabletop gaming, death doesn’t happen all that often, but it’s usually permanent, except at high levels of play (when it’s nice to have your character brought back after all the time spent playing it). The penalty for death is making a new character and waiting for your GM to re-introduce you. But in a typical tabletop D&D game, for example, you might have 2-4 fights over the course of an evening’s play. Now, in four hours of online play, you might have 20-40 fights, easily, with twice as many opponents. Mathematically, you are going to die….a lot more often. If a game wants to simulate “death” more accurately with strong penalties or perma-death, I think it would work better if the rest of the game also simulated reality a little more accurately, with a game system that did not have level-base disparities in play like WoW or EQ2 (or almost all other games on the market) where just wandering over the wrong hill or through the wrong portal could mean instant and inescapable death from unkillable baddies.

    Just some thoughts….great article, btw!

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  39. amuseum says:

    One, I don’t like corpse runs at all. It’s too time-consuming, plus the fact most MMOs are already slow and boring. Two, in WoW you could not choose your graveyard.

    One, AC2 did not have corpse runs. You returned to the last bound lifestone and lost vitae, which was recoverable by XP only, not time. However, there were classes who could undo the vitae loss. Two, you could choose which lifestone to bind to. Though if you didn’t choose wisely, you could get camped in PVP. Third, you can teleport back to the last portal you ran through, provided you or a buddy have put points into portal recall or portal summon. But the point is, you have many choices to where you want to start again.

    In GW, it was hard to beat an instance at 60%, esp. solo. Usually it was easier to start over and call a few friends or hire more NPCs and play smarter the next time.

    Dying already makes one feel bad because nobody likes losing. But to add salt to the wounds, devs would impose harsh and tedious death penalties. There is a DS game called Zendoku, which is like Sudoku, but with pictures. You play against the AI. When one completes a box or row or whatever, the other player is punished by entering a minigame until they beat it. This takes time away from solving the Sudoku and messes with one’s concentration. There is one minigame that is sometimes unbeatable by the human player, requiring very quick reflexes, such that one would never complete the Sudoku because he is stuck in the minigame.

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  42. I liked the dealth peniltys in the old games where you had a chance to drop one gold or an item when you were killed.

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  44. Jeremy says:

    This article really had me thinking about my old Asheron’s Call days. I’m a big time WoW player, but I have always found it’s death penalty to be extremely lenient compared to AC1, where death cost you money, items, and a cumulative penalty to your stats that had to be worked off. Some of the scariest, and most interesting, times in my AC career were doing corpse runs for myself or others, because, if you died more than once in at a time in a dangerous area, you could run the risk of permanently losing hard earned items, that could never be regained (as a side note to those unfamiliar, items in AC1 were completely random, with drops having their stats determined on drop. This made items with the proper high end stats, with lower quality to be properly tinkered, extremely rare, and, in a way, irreplaceable, unlike items in WoW, which could easily be regained in the usual raid dungeon the next week). With the “vitae” penalty, which deducted 5% of all your stats each time you died, and was burned off by earning experience, you could find yourself in very serious situations from dying, as you not only lost several of your items, possibly your weapons or armor, or both, you also became a weaker character at the base level, making it harder and harder to get your things back from your corpse each time you died. Thus, you *had* to rely on other players in your monarchy, or kind players in town, to help you get your things back if the situation got bad. This made death a very important part of the game, and not an extremely minor setback as we see in WoW.

  45. Vince says:

    “In fact, I would have been stuck at that graveyard forever, except for a glitch in WoW that they’ve never bothered to fix: if you log out and log back in, your ghost can then travel to a different graveyard spot and respawn there instead. But you have to log out and log back in first, and you have to know about this trick. This is well-known among a certain part of WoW’s audience, but is certainly not known to everybody playing WoW. And when a game’s death penalty can result in effective perma-death of your character (unless you know how to exploit a bug), it’s hard to call your death penalty “casual””

    Wow, I didn’t know that. I wish I would have learned that a couple of years ago…would have saved me many, many, many headaches!