Greatly exaggerated

Pete asked about death penalties the other day, which is another one of those MMO-design subjects I tend to be ambivalent about. As the name of this blog implies, I’ve had my share of deaths in games over the years — haven’t we all? — and while I’m resigned to leaving corpses, I like to make sure they’re at least good-looking corpses. Style matters, you know.

Back in the days of walking uphill both ways without shoes in the snow, death penalties were a given. My own cherry-popping game was Asheron’s Call and not Everquest or UO (not counting MUDs/MUSHes, just graphical), but I played both of those enough to know they had them too. For those unfamiliar with the concept of a corpse run other than to prevent some wear and tear on your equipment (as in WoW), heavier death penalties involved a varying combination of experience and possessions penalties. In Asheron’s Call, you “left” a bunch of items on your corpse, usually selected from the most “valuable” stuff you were carrying (more on this later), and you also gained what was called a vitae penalty. This wasn’t an xp hit, it was a stats hit that made it harder to do anything and got heftier both as you levelled up and as you died more. As we used to say, “It’s not vit unless it’s at 35%” which back then was the maximum vitae penalty you could get. It would wear off as you got experience, so essentially it was a sideways penalty — not the direct removal of experience points as other games had it, but more akin to the experience debt CoX used to (still does?) have.

ac-corpseOh, and corpses would decay. They’d stick around longer as you levelled up, but if you didn’t get to them within a certain number of hours they would eventually go *poof*, along with whatever phat gear had dropped when you died. Nothing like a deadline to get the blood moving.

Some of my most vivid gaming memories involve corpse runs, and not necessarily my own. Depending on where you died and how many times you’d died (and back in those days most of us didn’t keep 18 sets of spare gear lying around), recovering those corpses and your belongings could take quite some time and involve a sizeable group. Waaaay back in prehistoric times AC didn’t even tell you where your corpses were, which could mean a fair bit of running around in the general area where you thought you should be — I died quite often to disconnections back in the dial-up 9.6k cross-Atlantic days, and figuring out how far you’d run before the server logged you out could be… entertaining. (They changed that quite soon — nothing like blind man’s corpse-buff when you have 5 or 6 of them littering the landscape.) As an aside, it used to be common to send people tells when you came across their corpse, especially if it was in some out-of-the-way place. “Hey, KillarDrillar of Doom, I just found your corpse. Coords XXXX, YYYY. Need help recovering?” Later on they added corpse location tracking and corpse-recovery (i.e. looting) permissions, which made death a little easier, provided you could trust whoever was recovering for you.

Note that I didn’t say “best” gaming memories — I said “vivid.” There’s a big, big difference. For one thing, 6 hour corpse runs through hellish dungeons are one of the things that soured me on dungeon-environments right from the start. It’s all very well doing a recovery run when you’ve got help, but a hell of a lot less fun at 11pm when everyone’s bogged off for the night and you can’t depend on the random kindness of strangers. Especially not with that decay timer going tick-tick-tick in the back of your mind. And for another, once people figured out how the “loot dropping” was calculated for players, we all started carrying “Death Items” around — stuff that was extremely valuable to a merchant (which was pretty much how the drop was worked out, with flanges for making sure you dropped at least some armour and at least one weapon-type thing) but not all that useful to a player. A common example would be wands and scepters that casters used, some of which could be insanely valuable while not having any stats a decent caster would actually want; and better yet, they were light.

Oh yeah, this was the day of encumbrance and weight allowances; hell, I remember when money had weight! So, if you got lucky, you might drop nothing but death items and thus recovering your corpse was purely a matter of convenience, of getting back items you could then drop again on the next death. Sure, that stuff took up pack space, but that was another thing we weren’t really short of back in those days. (We had some inventory management issues, but nothing nearly as anally retentive as they are these days. Sometimes I wonder why MMOs go backwards instead of forwards — we’ll get rid of encumbrance, but we’ll limit how many items you can carry instead! (And don’t give me that DB storage stuff — where there’s a will in MMO design there’s a way, and where there isn’t a way they’ll invent one.))

I’m not the gambling kind, but I’d lay money on the fact that anyone who played one of those old-style penalty games has a story about a “quick” corpse run that turned into an hours-long nightmare, usually through a request that came in right before you were about to log. “Hey El (names have been changed to protect the innocent), I died in HellishOutOfTheWay place, can you come help me recover real quick?” First of all, there is absolutely no such thing as “real quick” in an MMO (you have to find other people and then ask them; you have to gather in one location; you have to get where you’re going — that in itself can take hours, and our silly gaming brains always seem to forget that part when we calculate task times). Telling your boss you didn’t get to sleep till 2am because you couldn’t bring yourself not to help a gaming buddy didn’t fly so well back then — remember, back then, your boss wasn’t likely to be playing online games. Now, of course, he’s probably your raid leader. And secondly, it’s one of the Laws of MMOs that if something should be quick, it will be as long and drawn-out as water torture. (Law #1, by the way, is “If you need a spawn, it won’t be there. Corollary: when you don’t need a spawn, it’ll be everywhere.”)

So, yeah… ambivalent about death penalties. They certainly make the gaming experience more immediate, but that can be a bastinado-kind of immediate and in the last half-decade of game design, if there’s one thing (large, mainstream) MMOs now avoid like the plague it’s the merest hint of a breath of “not-fun.” Well, apart from the mould-like proliferation of time-sinks, but we won’t go there.

Ultimately, it comes down to consequences for failure, as Pete and others mentioned. Nobody questions that there should be consequences other than the failure itself, which is interesting, actually. Not managing to do something is never thought to be penalty enough. Why not? But anyway, if consequences for failure are accepted as a given, what these consequences are seems to vary. Nowadays the consequences are so light, for the most part, as to be little more than an annoyance. The pendulum has swung to the other extreme.

Carrots and sticks, sticks and carrots. In games where experience points are the primary mechanic (hello, Gary Gygax!), losing those points or gaining them more slowly or whatever variant is used tends to be the primary penalty mechanic, logically. Getting more of them, or getting them faster, is the primary incentive. Many of us claim to have moved beyond such simple dichotomies but it’s entirely possible we’re hardwired to think in such terms — black-white, male-female, north-south, carrot-stick. I also notice that while many of us *cough* older gamers claim to want to move beyond the usual risk/reward mechanics, we often fall back into exactly that way of thinking when we ponder “new” options.

Is the risk/reward, carrot/stick mechanic essential to our fun in an MMO? Or are we just too accustomed to thinking inside the box? Would we really hate a game that didn’t have any penalty for failure other than saying “Oops, you screwed up, better luck next time!”? I’ve caught myself saying that I didn’t mind trying something because there really wasn’t much of a cost for failing — but if you think about it, that’s just as good as it is bad. I might not try certain things if I knew it would cost me some of my precious game time to recover from failure. Then again, maybe my game time has become so precious not only because I’ve got more RL demands, but also because game design has become so much about the time sink that progress is measured almost entirely in terms of time available / time spent. That thumping sound you hear is me banging my head against the cardboard sides of the box.

* * *

As an only marginally-related aside, if any of you reading this have artistic skill (yes, I know several of you do!), I’m looking for a better banner. I’d like to keep the basic elements (corpse, rez timer), but what I’ve got there now was only intended to be a placeholder, and instead it’s been there for almost 6 months. Help! It’ll only take a minute! πŸ˜‰

35 thoughts on “Greatly exaggerated

  1. As for a real comment, I’ll begin by saying Plane of Fear and Plane of Hate corpse runs. Those who know … will understand.

    As for death penalties themselves, I’m torn. Age of Conan had literally no death penalties and graveyards strewn throughout their world and as such, people actually USED dying as a travel method. I’m sure such a mechanic was not intended, but due to the leniency (read: almost absence) of the death penalty, this was encouraged. If games had no death penalty, you’d need to make sure things like that didn’t happen.

    WAR does ok with this sometimes because when you die, you go back to a camp (and I’m not sure it’s always the camp you’re closest to). But WAR also has the little battle fatigue mechanic which costs you money should you decide to heal it (or you can wait 15 minutes). So you’re either charged time or money, or you can head out and try to make it beat up.

    I didn’t dislike EQs system at all. Yes it made corpse runs hellish sometimes, but that’s where community comes in. Of course, sometimes you’d have to try to solo run it or just leave it knowing you’d come back later (and how about those times you’d loot everything but a single item so you could get a 96% rez!), but eventually EQ made a graveyard zone where your body went after it poofed in the world. Losing stuff on your body before then was NOT an option. You HAD to go back if you had nice gear.

    I think exploration should be encouraged and stiff death penalties certainly don’t encourage that. Maybe we should do away with dying all together like CoX has. You don’t really die, you pass out and you’re resuscitated in a hospital close by.

    However that doesn’t really serve the purposes of games about war and killing … like WAR πŸ˜› I mean, we take it all with a grain of salt anyway since we get resurrected, but still…

  2. I still think, only tongue partly in cheek, that MMOs are effectively Valhalla for gamers. We don’t really die, NPCs respawn in minutes, and our reason for existence is to kill everything in sight.

    Where is the Highlander/Valhalla game that has no death penalty, other than ten seconds or so of incapacitation as your mojo does its thing?

    These games are supposed to be fun. To me, corpse runs and death penalties are time sinks, nothing more. I hate time sinks in games. Never waste my time, especially if I’m paying for it in a sub model game.

    (That said, I sorta like how Wizard 101 handles death; you just get sent back to the hub for that “world” with 1 HP, and play minigames to refill, or drink a bottle that refills health and mana. It’s fairly painless, but running back to where you were is still a time sink.)

  3. Oh, and if you have some fun screenies you’d like to use as inspiration, I’d be happy to take a stab at a new banner. πŸ™‚

  4. I’m pleased with the state of death penalty in WAR. There isn’t much of one, and I am able to use it as a means of travel when necessary like in AoC. That was probably one of the few things I actually liked about AoC. When I’m out on a quest run, saving the furthest quest for last, and then have to turn them all in to the same camp, it’s pretty damn convenient that I can just off myself and spawn back at the camp with little to no penalties. The wounds debuff is so negligible that they may as well have left it out. It’s so effortless to remove, unless you forget or are in a rush, that its existence seems pretty pointless.

    I feel your pain on the banner situation. I’m not artistically inclined at all, so I had to depend on Boyfriend to make my banner for me. It’s pretty simple for what he can do, but I didn’t want to ask much more of him. I like yours because it goes with the simplicity of the blog layout. Once you get a fancy banner, then you have to have a fancy theme to match.

  5. Angela says she’d be happy to do up a banner for you. (http://eq2.lunaclick.net/) . Drop me an email if you like and I’ll put you in touch with each other.

    * * *

    Now, death penalties. I’m truly conflicted. In UO, when you died, you left a corpse that anyone could pick clean. If you didn’t have friends nearby to grab your stuff, there was a good chance that you’d have noting by the time you got back. Luckily you kept your resurrection shroud so as to avoid a bunch of naked avatars running around.

    I hated death in UO.

    EQ, you’ll recall, penalized you experience points as well as the whole corpse run thing. You could (and often did) lose levels. I think I hit level 13 about 6 times before I quit EQ the first time!

    I hated death in EQ

    But these days, I dunno, it feels like we’ve gone too far in the other direction. Like Jennifer, I use death as a means of transportation in War, which is both convenient and (brace yourself) totally immersion-breaking!! So I’ll do it, but then be really disappointed in myself.

    My favorite corpse runs were in Diablo I & II. You’d die and drop everything that you had equipped (if I recall correctly) but since it wasn’t a MOG there was a good chance you could get it back, and stuff didn’t respawn so if you were persistent enough you could recover everything. Some really fun adventures emerged from corpse runs in those games.

    What got me thinking about death originally was reading about some upcoming game (DC Online maybe?) where the penalty for death is a 10 second cool down timer, after which you stand up right where you dropped, at full health.

    I guess my question is, at what point is the death penalty *so* light that they might as well just not let you die. I’m at 0 HP but I just keep on fighting until I win. If I drop, wait 10 seconds and then come back at full health…then why bother healing me? Why would I worry about trying to stay alive? As long as someone else in my group remains standing for 10 seconds, the battle will keep going.

    I’m hoping that 10 second death thing was a misunderstanding, or a typo or something.

    Oh, here’s something fun. Google LOTRO Death Penalty and click around. You’ll find that the wisdom of the internets says that LOTRO has one of the lightest and harshest death penalties around. πŸ™‚ Once again…all about perception.

  6. Actually, Pete, that’s a good way to get rid of the healer archetype (because really, how many superheroes are healers?). Change things to damage mitigation, dodge and such, and just let people kill stuff nonstop.

  7. Yeah, but why do I need damage mitigation? Or dodge? I hit zero, wait 10 seconds and have full health again. Hmm, well, I guess if no dodge or damage mitigation means I go from full health to zero in 1.5 seconds, then it starts to make sense… maybe in the context of the game, 10 seconds is a LONG time…

    Maybe I should, y’know, actually PLAY the game before I start turning my nose up at these ideas. πŸ™‚

  8. *shrug*
    Aye, you never know. I’m mostly just happy to see devs trying something different. The DIKU Tank/Healer/DPS holy triangle is overrepresented in the present MMO landscape. That’s part of why we don’t see people leaving WoW en masse; there aren’t compelling reasons to do so.

    Death penalties have their place, but more often than not, at the end of the day, they are time sinks. If I’m paying for time, I don’t want to waste it.

    …maybe have a running death count that affects loot drops, but death itself only keeps you down for 10 seconds or so? That way, if you’re just totally incompetent, you can still actually “finish” the content, but don’t get much more than a pat on the back? If you finish a raid without dying at all, the loot is better? (And everything in between, of course.)

  9. Coming back full circle to AC, I recall not only the pain of the corpse run, but the pain of the trail of corpses left behind as you died again trying to get the first one, then again to the second, etc, etc, etc. Each death left you further in debt to the vitae penalty system as described above by Ysh. However, for all of that, I still have a fondness for the system. Yes it was a sod, yes you had to cart around a bucket of death items but it made for a good reason to run back each time.

    I can never quite understand running around in WoW and seeing a corpse where someone has quite obviously decided “soddit I died, well, I’m logging off now!” If I’m playing a class with a rez, I’ll always mouseover a corpse to see if I can help and it’s really odd too try whispering someone only to find they are no longer online. I guess that’s part of the “death-lite” penalty that WoW has.

  10. Y’know what I miss? Tombstones. Some game…was it DAoC? I forget… but some game put a Tombstone (that would deteriorate after some set amount of time) where you died.

    I liked it because it was always kind of a thrill to be in some unknown place and come upon a cluster of tombstones and immediately get really nervous. It was clear a lot of people die in this spot, but not exactly why. You’d start nervously casting glances over your shoulder…

    @Tesh, One theme that is pretty constant in your posts is a desire to remove all time sinks from an MMO. I think there’s a downside to that (and I’m not saying “We need more time sinks!!! heaven forbid). But if you manage to scrub out *all* the time sinks, then I think you’re going to adversely affect the community aspect of these games. People chat during the time sinks, or take a minute to check their friends list to see if someone else came online while they’ve been fighting.

    Auto Assault was a game with little downtime (since you had to actively drive everywhere) and one of the big problems with it was the lack of an in-game community. No one had time to type-chat because everyone was busy steering (exception being in the cities where you were on foot). Because of that, it was really hard to get a group or meet the other players on your server.

    I think a limited number of time sinks is a good thing, and I think after a death is a good time for a time sink. Gives everyone a moment to pause, think about why they died, and come up with a new gameplan, without some members of the group being frustrated and running off to start the fight again before everyone else is ready, leading to more deaths.

    At the same time, I think this circles back to subscription models. A person paying $10 for 40 hours (one of the hypothetical subscription models that is being kicked around by my and many others) is going to be a lot more bothered by a death time sink (“Come on!!! This standing around is costing me money!!!”) then an ‘all-you-can-eat’ model of $15/month. Which makes pay-for-access an even more attractive model.

  11. But if we need time sinks to get ourselves to chat with others in what should be at least a potentially social setting… that just somehow strikes me as back-assward thinking. (Not on your part, Pete, on the way design has evolved.)

    I’d START with trying to get people talking, not start with trying to make sure everything happens as slowly as possible so that I can keep squeezing their monthly sub out of them, and feel pleased if my wheel-running rats end up chatting as a result.

  12. @Ysh – “But if we need time sinks to get ourselves to chat with others”

    Not to *get* ourselves to chat, but to *allow* ourselves to chat.

    How many times have you ‘heard’ someone say “Sorry, what was that? I missed it…I was fighting.”

    When we get to this ideal place with no time sinks: instant travel and no death penalties, then games are just pure combat with no pauses in the action to talk. Waiting for a mob to spawn is a time sink, so let’s just have a button you hit to summon the mob you need to kill. Waiting to heal is a time sink, so let’s spring back to full health as soon as the mob dies. We’ve already removed the death time sink, so as soon as HP hits 0 it refills to 100%. Traveling to town to sell is a time sink, so lets just be able to access the vendor from anywhere for buying and selling. Actually, why even have “fast travel”…instead, just hit that spawn button and have the mob you need summoned at your feet, wherever you are.

    I dunno, this “any and every time sink is bad” mentality is a little unsettling to me. I don’t want to play this frantic “100% gameplay, no pause in the action” game that you guys seem to want.

    Granted, I could choose to just find an out-of-the-way place to stop and chat, but most MMO gamers are so focused on getting to the next level that it isn’t going to occur to most people to stop and smell the roses, unless the game forces them to, every once in a while.

    I *want* some time sinks in my games. All things in moderation. I do *not* want to return to the days of having to meditate while staring at a spell book for 5 minutes (EQ at launch), but I don’t feel like these games have to speed up infinitely.

    /rant off… *blush*

  13. You’re generalising, certainly about my stance on time sinks, which I haven’t actually articulated and I *certainly* never said they’re all bad all the time.

    What bothers me is that it’s now a core design concept. What also bothers me is that what used to be considered time-*consuming* (which is fine, so are most hobbies) has now become a time-*sink*, which is not fine, because the basic premise of a time sink is just to use up time for the sake of using up time.

    You should know me better than to say that I want frenetic action all the time. Really. Hrmph.

    Yeah, I’m grumpy today. Sue me.

  14. OK I am WAAAAY grumpy. Sorry Pete. Turn that response of mine down a cranky notch or 12 and you’ll have a much more reasonable response.

    I’m going to putter about in Metaplace, now I have the time!

  15. I do know you better than that. I was ranting. You ranting back is perfectly acceptable. πŸ™‚

    What’s the phrase for when you extend a trend or argument to absurd lengths?? I was doing that.

    But I’d love to read a post about the difference between a time sink and time consumption. I think that could be an interesting discussion.

  16. Hyperbole! One of my favourite words. Well, that may not be the one you thought of, but it mostly applies.

    And yeah, I was thinking the same. We (you, me, Tesh, mainly) have been skirting the time-sink concept issue thing for a while now. First thing that comes to mind though is whether people are going to confuse time-sink with grind — and should they?

    Eh, I’ll save it for a post. Gotta dole out that content (oh MMO metaphor — see what I did there? πŸ˜€ )

  17. I read this yesterday and asked myself which MMORPGs I played that had tough death penalties. The answer kind of shocked, Bzzzz [gratuitous sound effect], me.

    Ultima Online
    Eve Online
    DAoC
    Star Wars Galaxies [at release]

    The list turned out to be quite a surprise, as the top three games are my favorite MMOs to date. Do I like harsh death penalties? Mmmm… not really, but I didn’t die as much back then. I always thought before attacking anything because I knew the consequences for failure were brutal. I was far more selective back then. What I liked was people would stop and ask if you needed help if they saw you fighting something. Everyone knew that death was painful so they went out of their way to help you. Well for the most part, sometimes they would just kill you. Even though people would attack me it didn’t happen that often, it just feels like it did. Unlike todays MMOs people will watch you engage, and if you are going to die they sit on their hands. While having a chuckle at your expense, while thinking he’s only going to die it’s no big deal.

    Anyway, as for UO and Eve, I never carried more then I needed or could afford to lose, I learned that early on in the game. In UO I would carry Pants, sword, and 10 of each regent. While in Eve I would outfit my ship with what was ever needed to complete a mission, nothing more. I actually credit these games helping me keep my inventory empty. Anyway, DAoC was a bit different, you only lost XP. Only XP!? Depending on how much time you had to play determine the harshness of the death penalty. Time was the most valuable thing in a MMO back then. Nothing like grinding all day, only to die before going to bed and losing all that play time. I’m sure most of you have felt the sting of XP loss. I think people who quit because of the Death Penalty either carried way to much stuff any/or didn’t have a lot of time to play back then. The death penalty help weed out players with a short attention span, say that of a monkey in heat.

    So, I asked myself again, what did I like about those games. My answer, the people. Yeah, there were a few jerks/griefers but their lives got tough, and they ended up quiting in the long run. If there was someone killing newer players, we would form up a mob and repeatedly kill said newbie killer. Eventually we would chase him off. It was the same for eve too, just in a different format. DAoC was a bit different since you couldn’t attack realm mates, but I would never ever let a realm mate die, if I could prevent it. And the favor was returned by my realm mates many times.

    So all in all somewhat harsh death penalties worked out okay for me. XP lose was tough, but I recovered. The gear i lost was cheap, mostly. It’s a tough thing to balance, it’s either not enough or too much and after reading this, I might take a look at too much. Darkfall is coming out soon, and i’ll be taking a serious look at it. It has all the elements of previous games I liked, while not a fan of losing all my stuff and XP loss, I think the other players will more then make up for it, I hope.

  18. sorry, about my grammar, the flow and length. one of my twins ripped off a poop filled diaper and was winging it around the playpen while I was in the middle of writing this. So it lost it’s direction as I had to intervene with said diaper, baby, and poop.

  19. There is a difference between downtime and a time sink. Downtime is a time between fights/quests/adventures, there are still things to be done and usually a lot of recuperating to do. Time Sinks are just things that make something artificially longer or more time consuming, for instance giving all your mobs and players huge amounts of hp so that most fights move at a glacial pace, or making players run the same dungeon multiple times. The two can overlap, but they don’t always overlap. You can use light busy work to make downtime stand on it’s own as activity without having to artificially induce it.

    Instant travel can actually work with Raph’s concept of loops. You just need to give people a reason to stop back in at the city and take some time. For instance placing all of the shops in the main city, and the only shops you can sell at, would require adventurers to return to the main hubs after every adventure. Additionally, you could recover health faster in a city, for instance, which would also bring an additional element of choice and downtime, as players who don’t want to waste potions, bandages, healing spells etc… would probably insta travel back to the city and therefore the community.

  20. @ Sara — the example that always comes to mind for me most vividly is the NPC-city cantinas in SWG-as-was. I had Entertainer hermit-chars, so to speak, on several secondary servers and I’d log in just for some laughs and socialisation when I’d had enough of the rest of the game. I frequently stayed up WAY later than I intended just because the company was so much fun. (Also, I sheepishly admit, I actually liked most of the basic tunes that were played there as people got ent xp. πŸ˜‰ )
    Ironically, NPC-city cantinas and the melting-pot atmosphere were killed by player cities, and much though I love the idea of player cities I certainly never felt that the player-city cantinas came anywhere near to mingling as many different people as the NPC ones did. Shame, really.

  21. Ouch, Teki. πŸ™ Good luck with the twins.

    Nice article from Raph. Notice that he doesn’t mention corpse runs as times to socialize, and gives a fairly extensive list of “downtime” periods. I’m certainly not against *offering the potential* for downtime, just against forcing it on people in an effort to make them play longer.

    That’s the differentiation in my mind; downtime (time consumption) is optional, time sinks are forced, and usually repetitive.

    Some people actually *do* want to just pop in and frenetically kill stuff, completely ignoring other people. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s a game, not a job. Besides, if people want to socialize, they will. I can’t stress that enough. People chat mid-combat when they feel like it, especially with the AFK autoattack combat. We can’t wallpaper over timesinks (forced time consumption) by rationalizing their secondary use in a social framework, any more than we can rationalize forced socializing for those who just want to play the game solo. Game design should not be about obligations, it should be about options.

    Combat is just one minigame in the suite of interactions we call an MMO. Making that minigame even more of a time sink, whether it’s a corpse run or lost XP/loot, is appalling to me, because you’re not actually *playing*, you’re doing chores so that you *can* play. Corpse runs don’t foster exploration, they force you to cover ground you’ve seen already. (Except for those weird occasions where your ghost winds up in a graveyard you’ve never seen, but was closer than a familiar one.) They don’t foster achievement, since you’re just recovering lost ground.

    The only reason they foster social interaction is because *you’re not playing the game any more*, you’re forcibly set adrift in the world.

    I can see making the player respawn a few paces back in a “safe spot” of sorts, but if it takes more than 30 seconds or so to get back in the action, it’s too long.

    That said, this is all based on the assumption that player time is important. If you (as a dev) don’t care to respect the player’s time (your customer), by all means, make more hoops to jump through. Make more faction grinds and gear/level checks.

    Put another way, it’s not a designer’s job to *consume* a player’s time, it’s their job to give players something to do with their time. There’s a huge difference there. It’s the difference between “take” and “give”, and when I’m forced into a grind or a corpse run, I feel like my time has been taken from me. I feel the same in single player games when I’m forced by death to reload a save state and sit through a five minute cinematic, or grind through a few floors of dungeon to get back to where I was. This isn’t just something MMO devs do.

    That said, under a sub model, the *business* goal is to keep people playing, by hook and by crook. That’s why I’m so vehemently against subs, and believe they are detrimental to good game design. It warps the design ethos and player expectations; we start to think that grind is good, and necessary for progress.

    /grump

    *sigh*

    I’m not against socializing, grouping or even taking a small time-out as a death penalty. I just hate it when devs waste my time, or try to force me to socialize when all I want is to play the game. Sometimes I do socialize, sometimes I do grind for Zen fun, but I loathe bring *forced* to do so by game mechanics. If I were a teenager again, with time to spare and no real life, I probably wouldn’t care so much.

    Playing a game at all is a bit of a time waster in the first place, so I’m perhaps oversensitive to when the devs either consciously or ineptly burn up my time with time sinks. I’m taking time and paying money to play with their products; if I don’t get sufficient value out of it, I’m not coming back. I like the *option* of spending time on side quests or silly stuff, but making me grind through repetitive mechanics or cover the same ground to get to the “meat” of the game just doesn’t sit well with me.

    …all that said, if a corpse run somehow affected the gameplay, such that I could make unique contributions to a group fight or accomplish something *only* when I’m “dead”, that may well alleviate the frustration. That’s providing real content for the downtime during death, not just a chore to do before you can get back in the game. It could even be a social stimulus in a raid situation; ghosts could provide valuable intel because they can go somewhere “live” players can’t go, and communicating that to other players might give them some sort of buff or something, in addition to tactical knowhow. (Imagine a raid where it’s actually *beneficial* to let someone die, so they can “ghostwalk” into the control tower or something, providing real-time feedback on a baddie’s ever-shifting elemental shield or something.)

  22. Ha, I get to play the UO card again. As a ghost, you could gather intel, but a living person needed a skill to converse with you. Otherwise people would just hear “Ooooooooo…” when you spoke, so they’d know a ghost was there, but not who (they couldn’t see you, as I recall). Which led to trying to communicate via “One Ooooo for yes, two Oooooos for no” style. πŸ™‚

    @Tesh, it’s always interesting to discuss with you because our views on games are so often 180 degrees apart.

    “Game design should not be about obligations, it should be about options.”

    I disagree, of course. Games need to have rules (ie, obligations) or else they stop being games and start being toys. Now, I love toys!!! There’s nothing wrong with toys. But toys aren’t games.

    And at some point, there have to be obligations that make gameplay meaningful.

    Death with no consequences (to get back to the original post) is meaningless. With no risk, the rewards are not very sweet. It’s like playing poker for play money… people just don’t play the same as they do when they have something at risk.

    Now about “grind.”

    I hear “grind” thrown around a lot. So what’s a grind? Having to kill 500 orcs to finish a quest? Probably. Having to kill 100? That still sounds grindie to me. 50? Yup. 20? Yup. How about having to kill 10 orcs, is that a grind? Mmm, to me, it depends on how easy they are to find. 5? Probably not… that’s not a grind.

    But these are *my* values and they may not be yours.

    Let’s look at crafting… let’s get rid of the grind. Instead of 100 swords, now you need to make 3 swords of a given tier to advance. Yay, no grind! And by the end of a day of playing, you’ve maxed out your tradeskills. Now what? Yes, its artificially extending the game. Why are you in such a hurry to blow through it all?

    Time Sink, like everything else related to MMOs, is in the eye of the beholder.

    @Sara says:

    “Downtime is a time between fights/quests/adventures, there are still things to be done and usually a lot of recuperating to do. Time Sinks are just things that make something artificially longer or more time consuming”

    How is “recuperating” not a time sink, but running back from the graveyard is? I’ve seen cases where a person can die, run back from the graveyard, and be ready *before* the people who survived and are ‘recuperating’.

    I’m doing my devil’s advocate routine, but my point is, your downtime is my time sink. I *hated* meditating for power (ie, recuperating from mana drain) in launch EQ… that was way way WAY WAY WAY!!!!! more tedious than any corpse run ever has been. (For those who didn’t play, you’d have to open your spell book, which was full screen, and sit in one place to recover your mana… it could take 5 minutes after each battle. You couldn’t see anything but the spell book.)

    To me, recuperating is more of a time sink, in the sense that time sink = bad, than a corpse run is.

    I disagree on Fast Travel and loops, too. I’m in the field, I fast travel to town, sell, fast travel back to the field. I don’t even notice other players in town.

  23. “Why are you in such a hurry to blow through it all?”

    That’s not the real issue that I have. I want to play the game and experience content, especially in these fantastic settings that MMOs offer. If all the game has to offer is a series of grinds, there’s just not much there to make it interesting to me. The bulk of WoW, especially the endgame, is “kill stuff, sell droppings”. There’s just not much meat on that bone, and gnawing on it forever isn’t very filling. It might be find for the bloke who loves to chew on a toothpick all day, but I’m hungry for more than just an idle pasttime.

    As for games having rules, certainly there need to be a framework to play in, if for no other reason than to gauge cheating. That’s not what I’m talking about when I speak of obligations. I’m speaking of things that make the game more of a chore; mundane, repetitive tasks that must be completed before the “fun” parts.

    I also think that a critical distinction is the meaning of “reward”. To me, the reward should be playing a game that’s fun to spend time actually playing. To others, the reward is super special loot. (Like a sweet Poker pot.) Since my reward is playing itself, forced downtime is a waste. To others, the loot may well be worth the grind, if it’s even considered at all. It’s a wholly different philosophy for why someone plays in the first place.

    …I suppose David Sirlin would call me a scrub, but then, I never do sympathize with that Type A “end-centric” viewpoint. I’m a solid Explorer, focusing more on the journey itself.

    Pete, on the fast travel, if you *wanted* to see the other players, you would. That you just breeze on by is more indicative of the way you want to play rather than something that game devs need to “fix”.

    Perhaps that’s the point; devs shouldn’t feel a need to “fix” a game by imposing a certain playstyle, by making it harder to solo, harder to group, harder to recover from death, or harder to travel, especially when it’s driven by a need to pad out play time. Give people the ability to play or socialize, and let them do their thing.

  24. @Tesh – “Pete, on the fast travel, if you *wanted* to see the other players, you would. That you just breeze on by is more indicative of the way you want to play rather than something that game devs need to “fix”.”

    I was challenging Sara’s statement: “Instant travel can actually work with Raph’s concept of loops.” If you read Raph’s article, he talks about devs needing to funnel people towards social intersections. If you disagree with Raph’s assertion then my reply becomes moot.

    Anyway…

    My point about the grind is… what’s a grind? So say WoW had 300 different kinds of mobs in it. So to completely eliminate the grind, we require the player to kill each type of mob once. Obviously I’m making a ludicrous example. But where’s the line drawn?

    People say they don’t want a grind, they don’t want a time sink… but those terms are very vague…

    I guess what I’m asking is… if devs don’t put in some systems to slow you down, won’t you explore all the content in a given world in a week? And if everyone is churning through the content in a week, then what’s the point of making the game multiplayer? That isn’t enough time to meet people.

    Or put another way… if you get a new single player game, wouldn’t the least grindie way to explore it be to put it into god mod, plow through all the enemies and see it all as fast as possible? But is that FUN?

    There have to be obstacles to overcome for me to have fun. That might not be true of everyone. I don’t need to have my ass kicked constantly… but I do need some level of challenge.

    But what I find a “grind” may just be a fun challenge for the next guy.

    I just don’t see how you make a game that’s going to be all things to all people…

  25. But that’s exactly what you need to do at some level; make everyone happy, or at least enough people to make your game profitable. That’s the whole point of an MMO; to get lots of people playing together, even if they are different. Single player games can have difficulty levels, but MMOs don’t have that luxury, so they have to scope the game to grab the big part of the bell curve. You’re right, there are different difficulty parameters per player; you’ve got to allow for that variance.

    As for seeing all the content vs. making it multiplayer, that’s why you make other players *be* the content. Otherwise, yes, just make it single player. WoW would work perfectly fine as a single player game with multiplayer raids. You could even tune the difficulty that way,and only join multiplayer raids set to your desired difficulty.

    Making other players *be* the content means giving them power to change the world, and that’s not something that the static DIKU games we have really want to do. It means meaningful PvP, not just gear/level checks and paper/rock/scissors. There’s too much griefing potential… but keeping that down turns into a bland, treadmill existence that requires mindnumbing grinds to keep people invested.

    The whole idea of funneling people into social interaction is a half hearted stab at letting players be the reason for playing. It’s still not really giving players power, just nudging them into economic or chat interaction.

    If the interaction between players was what drove the world’s content and progress, rather than trying to jam single player RPG treadmills into a multiplayer setting, many of these things would sort themselves out.

  26. So then…isn’t Second Life the perfect MMO? In it, the other players are the content?

    Anyway… this has been an awesome discussion, Tesh. Thank you. I think I’m *gasp!* all talked out now, though. πŸ™‚

    And as always, thanks to Ysh for kicking off the topic!

  27. Pete, I’m thinking more of a massive multiplayer Magic Carpet 2. With an ecosystem and economy. And foozles for those who just can’t do without some genocide.

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