By Fire or Ice

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Once again it’s time for a Blog Azeroth Shared Topic!

The Consequences of Death in an MMO (June 13-19) is one of the few shared topics so far that has a direct impact on my microcosm of the hobby: I die a lot while dual-boxing (or at least I used to) so death is very much at the forefront of my gameplay.

How do you think dying in an MMO should affect the characters? In WoW we have a relatively insignificant repair cost from durability for a PVE death and no consequence for dying to another player. Do you think this is enough, too much, or needing improvement? Tie-ins to related MMO’s or multiplayer games and what sort of repercussion there is for failure there can be a good way to explain your thoughts. – from Sharden at 15 Minutes of WoW

The Death Tax

While I’d like to make a blanket statement that all RPGs follow the tradition of punishing you for dying, I’m not sure it’s true. But I’ve played my fair share of RPGs (computer and tabletop) where the cost of death was much higher than in WoW.

One bad roll of the dice, or the random number generator, and you lost experience as well as gear– sometimes entire levels. Play PvP instead of PvE and you could be certain your corpse would be picked clean by the time you ran back.

It was frustrating at the lower levels and it was throw-the-controller-across-the-room-cussing-a-blue-streak at higher levels. Thus for me, WoW has a good balance of punishment vs. frustration.

High Taxes = Paranoia

As Aliera mentioned in their take on the topic, having too high of a death tax will quickly turn gameplay into nerve-wracking slog.

The one time I played Diablo II as a hardcore (one life, no resurrection) I was terrified of every encounter. I’d level up on easy kills before taking on larger critters, but that turned the game into nothing but easy kills. I started taking on more risk and eventually died… it was one of the most frustrating things I’ve had happen while ‘having fun’.

I haven’t tried it again since.

On the one hand, I liked the higher penalty because it really kicked the adrenaline up a notch, but the other hand if the cost is too high it’s not worth the risk.

Low Taxes = High Risk Behavior


In general, the less of a punishment for dying the more players are likely to charge into situations where they can’t win. But they are also more apt to try out new techniques, new classes, and be more forgiving about other folk’s mistakes (at least in general).

WoW’s low death tax is one of the reasons I enjoyed the learning curve (both in solo and dual-boxing play). It allowed me to test my skill boundaries against various combat environments without worrying about additional penalties other than lost time.

Most of my learning curve has been along the lines of ‘well that doesn’t work’ and I probably would have given up if the costs hadn’t been so low.

There are downsides to the low cost, however: Sharden draws an interesting parallel between the behavior of players in online poker games where chips are free and in games with a low death tax. While WoW is slightly harder to ruin for other players than poker, many a random dungeon party has faced a player who could care less if they die (and/or take their partners with them).

Older Gamers vs. New Gamers

The Legend of Kage
The Legend of Kage$!@#!@#!!!!!

A comment by Elkagorasa from Elkagorasa the Casual got me thinking about the generation gap between players. Elkagorasa mentioned that they started gaming in the 90’s and that death meant starting over from a save point.

Save points? You had save points?? HA. I had a pile of quarters and the Konami Code.

And then we had a NES and things got slightly better… (But The Legend of Kage was still very very frustrating.)

I think those of us who grew up on unforgiving games may be less adverse to a high death tax. We accepted the universal gaming law that dying too many times meant you had to start over from scratch (some games it only took once). Now gamers are used to replaying portions of the game from save points, but rarely are forced back to the very beginning.

The Brick Wall of Mortality

Can you imagine WoW if there was a ‘real’ death (beyond account banning)? Or if there was a chance to lose all your gear?

I for one wouldn’t be willing to play. I’m not going to sink my time and effort into things that can be taken away by something I can’t control. The fun is in attempting the impossible, not in making sure every fight I walk into is an easy victory.

Give me liberty and give me death! … Just don’t make my vested efforts pointless.

Other posts in the same shared topic

Martha Bechtel

My name is Martha Bechtel and I write fantasy and science fiction stories, paint small model horses silly colors, cast resin and plaster magnets, code random code (and Wordpress plugins)... Come on in and join in the fun!

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Blayze

    While the low risk does enable players to grief others–especially in groups where they’re meant to be co-operating–I would argue that said low risk counteracts the griefing itself, since there’s going to be griefing of some sort anyway and the majority of players might as well be protected against any after-effects more irritating than an easily afforded repair bill and a (Hopefully) short corpserun.

    1. Martha Bechtel

      That’s an interesting point– I wonder if a high death tax would also /increase/ griefing in PvP since that’s epitome of an unfair fight.

      On the flip side, griefing’s main point in removing another players ability to play the game. A low death tax might make it less costly in terms of gold, but it doesn’t really alleviate the actual problem (ie being unable to play).

      Still… The low death tax in BGs is the only reason I was ever brave enough to try playing in them. I died a LOT while learning the difference between PvE and PvP. ^_~;;

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