Although permanent death (or permadeath, how it’s sometimes called) was made famous by Diablo II with it’s infamous “hardcore mode”, it has a history which goes way back in the stone-age of online games, MUD’s… Even though it used to be quite familiar back then, with time, due mostly to marketing decisions and most player’s reluctance, is now an endangered species…

Issues

There are some important issues that come along with permanent death in online games. One of them is the moral one. Since the character’s birth as a level 1 n00b till reaching the level cap, people invest both time and feelings in their avatar in the game. Some people get mad by only suffering a temporary death during quests or PvP-ing… Imagine what would happen is one such person would find out that his character is dead for good, all his hard work and wake nights lost forever. Not a pleasant sight, I assure you.

Not all players are ready to assume such a risk and thus we reach our second issue: marketing. The only thing that matters in marketing is sheer numbers. It may sound stupid to you to have pink balloons as pets in a game, but if it’s appealing to the majority of the public, your opinion doesn’t matter anymore, you are just one of the few that don’t match the mainstream. I know it might sound sad but it’s true. Ever wondered why there aren’t so many adventure games lately ? Considering few players are ready to risk losing everything in a moment of hesitation, it’s no wonder that permanent death is avoided by most game developers.

PvP is a thing that no serious MMO can hope to have any sign of success without. But in combination with PvP things can get explosive. Of course, there is a great feeling of accomplishment when pawning your biggest enemy for good, but is this worth the risk? Not so few might say it’s not. On the other hand, this might determine you to think twice before making a powerful enemy or accepting a duel from someone you’ve never met before. But responsibility is one of the things we run from in real life and hope to never meet in computer games. So PvP is a two sides issue concerning permadeath.

Advantages and solutions

As mentioned before, the risk of completely losing your character makes you more responsible and cautious. It will make you think twice before entering an unknown zone and attacking another player you know nothing about. Planning and tactics are a crucial part of surviving and every decisions really matters. There is no revive button or body to find…

Just the risk involved works in favor of permanent death. The adrenaline really starts pumping when you know that huge dragon in front of you might be the one to put an end to your adventures and that if you are to survive the challenge, you will become a true hero, and not to forget the loot.


Although it is sometimes viewed with skepticism, permanent death found its use in some online games due to some compromises and alternatives offered to players. For example, Dofus Online, an anime themed MMORPG with an orientation towards tactics, has implemented a server that features permanent death along with it’s classic temporary death servers. When a character kills another he gets to keep all his belongings, on the other hand, the losing player has his tombstone reserved in the Cemetery of Heroes for everyone to remember him. It proved to be a total success!

Some less radical measures can be taken, to give the players another chance in case they do a mistake. Such a case in Shaya, where the ultimate mode characters might suffer a permanent death, but, with the help of a special stone or a character that can resurrect you within 3 minutes, you might have a chance to live on. This disadvantage is worth having considering that this way you are considerably more powerful than normal characters. Another example is Wurm Online where priests may chose to become champions of their gods. Again, they become very powerful but risk suffering a permanent death.

A system that has been talked about but not yet implemented is some sort of “inheritance” system. In such a case, when the playing character dies, you don’t lose everything, but in return get the chance to be resurrected as an heir of your now defunct hero and you get your belongings such as money, items, houses, pets, etc. The bad thing here is that you have to start again at level 1. The advantage of this is that rather than hitting you right in the face, death gives you a kick in the back, offering the chance to start all over, having at least the advantage of owning the fortune you managed to gather with the former character. It’s just like the average guy who inherits a huge fortune from a distant uncle.

Other things that might work with permadeath are the use of skill system rather than the level 1, ignoring the death in PvP or the use of credits (or lives like in Mario). A skill based game-play offers new players a chance to defend themselves against experienced players and prevents them from suffering an early death whereas when levels are involved, you almost always know the result of a battle just by looking at the duelists’ level. PvP is an important aspect of MMOs, mixing it with permanent death might keep players away from the former, so ignoring death during duels or fights in arena, and rather considering them rather knock-outs might succeed combining the fun of PvP with the adrenaline dose offered by permanent death.

Last but not the least is the implementation of life tokens. The number of tokens determines the chances you get. For example if you have 3 tokens, you get to die 3 times before suffering total annihilation. Everyone makes mistakes, and this might help you learn from them in an easier way.

Conclusions

Permadeath nowadays is still a debated topic. Even if is it is not as popular as it used to be in the past, it tries to strive in the wild world of online games, sometimes with noticeable success. You might look at it with reluctance at first but, with a proper implementation it might just give the necessary touch of originality for an online game to pop out of the crowd.


Written by Sicaru Adrian for MMORPG Gate