Aggro Me: Death
I remember going to coin-op arcades after school. You put your quarter in and, in most games, you got a certain number of "lives." Three seemed to be a common number. Well, let me tell you, those lives were precious. You might feel a little wild and carefree when you had all three lives but when you were down to your last life you were fighting the inevitable freight train of death with all the skill at your command.
Things have changed and the concept of death in gaming has changed as well. Take a game like Nintendogs. There is no death in Nintedogs (until someone unlocks the super-secret Hot Cappucino mod which unleashes vicious dog fights) and the game is still popular. To take an example from the other extreme, we have the roguelike games such as Nethack. In these dungeon crawls a single death means game over, and believe me death is hard to avoid. Yet these games have a rabid fan base.
But onto the MMORPG arena. At the heart of most MMORPG's is combat and with combat comes death. So how do you handle the concept of death? Well, there is a wide spectrum you can choose from. At one end, you could let a player who dies immediately recover with the only penalty being a one second pause. At the other, you could have any death be the permanent death of that character. I believe there was an Everquest server called "The Fallen" that used the permanent death ruleset at one time. Maybe someone can set me straight on that.
Most MMORPG's fall somewhere in the middle of those extremes, creating a death penalty that hurts the player but not to the point of frustration. It really comes down to an individual preference and MMORPG's have to be accessible to a large portion of people. In most new MMORPG's the death penalty seems a bit tamer. You rarely see a new game come out in which you can lose your items due to death.
Let's take Everquest II. There are actually three separate parts of the death penalty. One is monetary: gear repair. Two is progress related: xp debt. Three is time/annoyance: recovering your shard.
I've never found the death penalty in EQII to be too severe. Sure I've felt the sting at times. At times I've wanted to go to sleep but we had to fight back through a long dungeon to recover our shards. When I don't have my shard I feel weak. Also, after some rough times, I've logged on and looked at the xp debt with dread.
But, I want death to mean something or the game would be a much different one. And there are methods for softening the penalty. If you take a break for a day or two, your xp debt will not only go down, your vitality will go up, making it easier to work that debt down. And many shards can be retrieved now by right-clicking on a zone door. Quick side note: there are places in the game where shards are inaccessible (i.e. falling into a chasm in PF) - this seems to me like a waste of GM and player time which should be addressed.
Okay, back on topic. I've played WoW and found the death penalty to be pretty weak, weaker than EQII. If I had my way, the death penalty in EQII would even be a little stronger. I suppose I personally prefer penalties which are more on the money/xp side than the annoyance side. I'd rather pay a penalty in gold than go on an extended corpse run.
Let me address the group xp debt issue for a minute. I thought this idea was absolutely brilliant. It just feels right. When you're fighting as a group everyone's actions are key to victory and survival. The reward is shared in the form of loot and the risk should be shared as well. Sure, at times you're going to pay for the mistakes of a poor player but that's part of what makes the game fun, in my opinion. It encourages good groups and good play.
But all this is only my opinion, which is truly meaningless in this respect because I have no idea what the majority of the player base actually feels. I don't expect SOE to make a game for my personal benefit. They should make a game that the majority of people enjoy playing.
And now SOE is softening and changing the death penalty.
There are two parts to this change. One, xp debt is capped at fifty percent of a level. I find it hard to get that worked up about this. Are there really that many players walking around with more than fifty percent of xp debt? Sure, it happens on occasion, but it's not a common thing. I'd rather not see this change be made but I also don't think it is a major one.
Second is an end to group xp debt. As I just said, I love the concept of group xp debt. There is one time and one time only when group xp debt annoys me and that is when a player you invited to group gets killed on the way there. But that could easily be addressed by utilizing a smaller radius for group xp debt so that it only counts when you are in the general vicinity.
There are some who say this change will punish tanks the most, because they are the ones at the forefront of the fight and taking the damage. I'm not sold on this argument until I see some statistics on who dies the most in a normal six person group.
So, yeah, I think changing group xp debt is a bad idea because I felt it was a great concept that worked very well and even helped build the sense of community that Scott was referring to in the post I linked to yesterday. So why is SOE making this change? I read on the forums once (I think) that the number one reason people give when they cancel their accounts is group xp debt. Unfortunately, I couldn't find this post so if anyone can verify it I would greatly appreciate it.
I find it shocking and almost absurd that people would cancel EQII over the issue of group xp debt. But I can only give my point of view. I don't know how other players feel.
So, we'll see how things go. Maybe the majority of people will enjoy the game more, but I think I will enjoy it a little less. Of course, I insert my usual disclaimer here that these changes are only on test and may never go live.