# Ideas about re-designing a game

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Hi guys,

I'm co-designer of an online RPG game that in which character progression takes very long time and character looses a lot of xp via dying.

Due to the nature of the game (it's core lays in paper-RPG focus - impersonating an character), this system was working ok for very long time, forcing players to respect death and since character development is not limited - allowing them do develop freely. It has however some cons:

- players fear death, this is good as long as it's not extreme. We had some event long long time ago, in which some of the players stopped playing, because of fear of dying.

- death has tremendous impact on a player (it means loosing months of grind fe) and can be so hard to deal with, that there are cases of players stopping playing because of this

- since players are overly cautious, they do not die and become stronger and stronger - it's a balance issue

However, changing this approach can lead to players loosing a feel of progression in the game. I'm wondering about your ideas how to properly solve this problem.

Cheers

Edited by Ravy

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- players fear death, this is good as long as it's not extreme. We had some event long long time ago, in which some of the players stopped playing, because of fear of dying.

- death has tremendous impact on a player (it means loosing months of grind fe) and can be so hard to deal with, that there are cases of players stopping playing because of this

This isn't bad. These players may not be your target audience. As I understand it, your game is designed for very hardcore gamers. If you change things to cater to more casual gamers, you might break the very core of your design.

If you want a better understanding of why people stopped playing, I recommend this article on loss aversion.

- since players are overly cautious, they do not die and become stronger and stronger - it's a balance issue

You can solve this by applying natural level and skill caps.

For example, a Warrior's natural Strength cap might be 400. Once the cap is reached, any further increments can only come from gear. This encourages doing content to get better gear to do harder content, or beat content more easily.

The best designs do not have purely vertical progression (e.g., wooden sword -> iron sword -> dragon sword -------> infinity +1 sword) that increases stats, but horizontal progression that allows for different playstyles.

For example, in Ninja Gaiden for Xbox and Ninja Gaiden II for Xbox 360, the various weapons one acquires throughout the game open up very different fighting styles (strong but slow, fast but weak, short reach but fast and strong, long reach and strong but slow, etc.).

If your game offers content that demands high defense from a Warrior, then that gear that drops from a boss that boosts their defense becomes pretty attractive. If it also offers content that demands high attack strength, then that new shiny sword that drops from another boss becomes pretty attractive as well. Then, for that one boss I want to use a shield and sword, but for that other boss a two-handed sword would be pretty awesome, and so on...

And at the end, I want to pass on this very important principle to you that is very often forgotten:

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- players fear death, this is good as long as it's not extreme. We had some event long long time ago, in which some of the players stopped playing, because of fear of dying.

- death has tremendous impact on a player (it means loosing months of grind fe) and can be so hard to deal with, that there are cases of players stopping playing because of this

They didn't fear the death of the character, but loosing the investment they made. This is a problem you can't solve, because the thrill about the risk loosing your investment is really individually. If you remove the risk, some player will leave, if you increase the risk, some player will leave.

In your game the thrill of loosing the investment will increase over time, because the investment increases, therefor players who can't bear the risk any longer will quit. It was funny at first (nothing too loose), but got to risky to continue (one mistake and you loose hours of investment).

If you want to take away the fear, you should introduce a larger return of investment. You could introduce some kind of inssurance. Eg. at a certain level you could introduce a relative (a young nephew or a daughter), which you can invest some time and xp to train him and give him some money and equipment. Once your character die, the nephew or daughter inherit all your stuff and starts as a more skilled/trained character. This way the player has the option to put some of his rewards into investing into the future and against his fear of loosing too much.

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If you want to take away the fear, you should introduce a larger return of investment. You could introduce some kind of inssurance. Eg. at a certain level you could introduce a relative (a young nephew or a daughter), which you can invest some time and xp to train him and give him some money and equipment. Once your character die, the nephew or daughter inherit all your stuff and starts as a more skilled/trained character. This way the player has the option to put some of his rewards into investing into the future and against his fear of loosing too much.

As I read this, I realized that gear can actually be a form of insurance policy. Death is a hard hit on your experience points, but you do not lose your gear.

The more a character's stats depend on his level, the higher the cost of death. The more a character's stats depend on gear, the lower the cost of death.

Final Fantasy XI adds other elements to increase the cost of death.

(1) Equipment requires a minimum level to wear it. If you are Lv.75, die, and drop to Lv.74; you will no longer be able to wear any of your Lv.75 gear until you regain a level.

(2) The level difference between attacker and defender is a factor in damage equations. If you die and lose a level, you not only become weaker and take more damage because your stats are lower, but by that Lv.75 becoming Lv.74 alone.

(3) When you die, a timer runs. You have 60 minutes to be resurrected by a fellow player (or your own Reraise spell if you have used one before). At the end of the 60 minutes, or at any time during the 60 minutes when you select Return to Home Point, you will be teleported back to your home point location.

(4) During the 60 minutes the timer is running, chat is restricted to /tell (whisper), /party (team chat), and /linkshell (clan/guild chat).

Also in Final Fantasy XI, when a player returns to his/her home point after death, s/he will take the full hit of EXP loss. When a player is resurrected by Raise or Reraise, however, a smill bit of EXP is restored. The higher the level of the Re-/Raise spell, the more EXP is restored.

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For some background - a player that had most xp ingame died recently. He lost approximatly about 1000h of gameplay grinding.

If we scale down the death penalty as some of you suggested, in 2-3 years it'll be the same - he'll have just more xp and loose sick amount on death again. If we cap the death penalty, the characters will just progress limitelessly, which is a balance issue. If we also cap the level, there will be a 'sense of progression issue' after reaching cap limit. Whatever you do ingame, it'll take you much less time than your character progession took you thus far (we have characters that were created 15 years ago).

Sure, it's worked so far - but a devote player that just lost 1000h of gameplay WILL probably leave the game, at least for some time. Why would I want that.

So the only way I can see about that is introducing an alternative progression system along with capping xp / death penalty. The problem is, how to make that system meaningfull and so that players will still fear death but won't be risking loosing massive amout of investment.

Also, the game is builded that the to get the best equipment will take you few hours of coordinated gameplay between players at most, so there is not much progression there (although this equipment detoriates, so you have to repetively get it, if you want your character strong). I don't feel we could modify the game in that way, so the gear progession would be meaningful enough to replace current xp system. The maxed out character will struggle with what to do in the game (the game is about interactions, but there has to be something to interact about).

Edited by Ravy

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If we cap the death penalty, the characters will just progress limitelessly, which is a balance issue.

Characters progress infinitely because they can. The death penalty is completely irrelevant to this.

If we also cap the level, there will be a 'sense of progression issue' after reaching cap limit. Whatever you do ingame, it'll take you much less time than your character progession took you thus far (we have characters that were created 15 years ago).

Content that is designed for players at level cap is called End Game. MMORPG's thrive on End Game content. How much content there is at End Game, and how much time investment it requires depends entirely on your designs. It will only “take you much less time” if you design it to take much less time.

As I see it, leveling infinitely is a core feature of your game, not a bug. If you take that feature away, you just might be hitting the self-destruct button. If you fight this feature, you fight your game; so rather than fighting it, find means to fully embrace it. If you look at Final Fantasy X International, rather than putting stops on the player's ability to exploit the leveling system, the developers added optional bosses that required fully exploiting the system.

So the only way I can see about that is introducing an alternative progression system along with capping xp / death penalty. The problem is, how to make that system meaningfull and so that players will still fear death but won't be risking loosing massive amout of investment.

If the EXP penalty upon death is a serious issue, lower the EXP penalty. By adding other death penalties (I gave a few examples), you can keep the initially perceived cost high while players don't lose 1,000 hours of progress.

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Perhaps some mechanism that 'cripples' the player for some duration before being restored to where they were (char level)?

Say a week (you judge how long to match your game mechanics/playing patterns) - the player  cant return to doing that super quest for that long a time, but it is short enough that their 'return'  will have them wait it out and not quit.

They can still do other game content  -- say cripple them to half their level  in the interim, and possible make them 'walk off' their injuries/death  (have to do X game playing and not just stop playing while the timer runs).

That could have them revisiting older previously played through content and maybe still have fun there while their interim 'criplled'  period  runs through.

-

Separate Issue might be  --  if 'gear' is a major part of level ability enablement, and their whole outfit/equipment is ALOT (item count) of stuff , then if they get a major level loss (and none of their high powered gear is useable), then where will they get the equivalent for their 'half' level usage?     Bank storage of lots of old stuff may not be good (if you game has the typical 'stuffed to the rafters' accumulations many MMORPGs have) as it means yet more has to be held onto.

Edited by wodinoneeye

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Would it be possible to turn a player's death into some kind of game content? Something such that after having lost a character, the player could come back with a new character and sees the impact of his own death. It could be something minor like a grave marker to a large statue placed in tribute. Maybe whatever area the player might've been protecting is now up for grabs and PCs, NPCs, or critters of some kind are attempting to move in. Or maybe it could be that the dead character rises up from the dead and is now a force to be feared. The higher the level of the character upon death, the greater the threat to the rest of the world he could now be.

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I'm curious, is data on dead characters still available, or is it gone? Any sort of content referencing those dead characters would be a great way to re-engage lost players. Create some event, email/whatever them to draw them back in. Bonus points if you could include the in-game picture of their dead character in the email.

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I reeeally like kseh's idea of a large statue placed in tribute, especially if the player's name, level, and time of death are inscribed on it. Death feels harsh, but it feels really great to leave a legacy behind for everyone to see (and maybe even inspire some). You could perhaps even allow for players to add their own inscription to the name, level, and time of death (which I do think are rather important); allowing a player to hide name and level on the inscription would also be important for players who want these things to be anonymous.

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The death is not final - it's just huge drawback of the character

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For some background - a player that had most xp ingame died recently. He lost approximatly about 1000h of gameplay grinding.

I know, this might be an oldfashioned view on thing like this, and many players today see it different, but this player didn't loose the most important thing he go out of you game (hopefully): 1000h of having fun playing a game, even if it is grinding toward a goal he will not reach in the end. Given your game doesn't suck (and seeing how somebody could spend 1000h on it, it probably doesn't), those 1000h were most probably spent having fun and leaving fond memories...

Now I know, especially with RPGs, and some RPG players mentality, playing the game often becomes an afterthought... playing WoW for example for many seems to be an afterthought to getting the newest gear and better stats to play newer content to get even better gear.... Instead of enjoying the hours they put in, they only do it for an end goal, which is the exact opposite to "playing"... it is called "work".

The fact that your game, because of the limitless progression, has no REAL goals appart from fleeting ones like "beeing the stongest char on the server for the next X days" or "trying to stay the strongest char on the server by grinding harder than anyone", doesn't really help here. If anything, it will only make the grind worse for people that do not enjoy the game as such.

On the other hand, the fact that the death penalty is this harsh, people fear death, and might actually show SOME signs of grieving over a lost relative or friend when their character dies (leaving the game, if temporarily, could be put down to nerd rage over lost lifetime... or to the player having to digest loosing something that actually had VALUE thanks to its cost and time limit (no player will be able to avoid death ingame forever I guess))...

What you have here is an incredibly interesting game concept that is both alluring (all the cries for hardcore modes might stem from a sense of increasing the e-peen by the higher risk sometimes... but for many other players, it might just increase the VALUE of their time spent ingame, and increase immersion as an important part of being human is fear of death). and repulsive (spending many hours grinding characters, just to loose most of that time in a single mistake is kinda harsh for most players).

I think your problem here is more about if players spend their time ingame "playing the game" or "working hard towards a goal"...

in the first case, while players might still leave after their characters death, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Players leave games all the time, its a normal thing that has to happen at some point. Maybe your players actually stay MUCH LONGER than they would under normal circumstances? Maybe the fact they can losse those many hours of grinding in a single mistake makes this time they spent even more valuable than in games without the harsh death penalty? Isn't the fact your game has been around for 15 years a testament to that? Seems you have enough players that put up with the risk, and keep playing.

In the second case, I think your game has a problem that is very common in RPGs nowadays... where people want to play "End-game-content" until the end of time, even though no quality content even an AAA company can produce can keep interest for much longer than 100 hours or so...

With all the procedural content and character progression and item collection that can keep players playing for many years past the end of the real ingame content, until we develop machines that can come up with content that is as inspired as human developed content, that "end-game-content" will always be second rate content that might amuse die hards, but would bore most players to tears quickly. And even with the best procedural content out there, everything will become stale and boring at some point because players have seen it all at some time.

In the end, players spending 1000h at a game comes down to getting hooked to a vicious cycle of grinding for better stats and items. As far as I have seen and read about it, that addiction-like behaviour is really resembling the behaviour that gambling addicts show. Should you spend 1000h of trying to improve a digital character? Is it sane if you risk loosing it all in case of ingame death? Is it sane at all, even if there is no death penalty? What happens if the servers go down in 2 years? A ladder reset becomes necessary?

I guess the fact you identified this as a problem after 15 years means that player churn has accelerated lately. I also guess you looked into the problem and narrowed it down to the harsh death penalty as the culprit, and not some other, maybe even external factor (maybe players are just growing tired of the old graphics? Maybe the younger generation making up newbies has different tastes? 15 years are a LOOOONG time).

If you really have, I would tackle the psychological and philosophical parts of the problem first before making any decision about changing the game design:

Find out what makes your players invest 1000 of hours that they know they can loose in an instant. find out what they think about the 1000 of hours they invested. Did they enjoy every hour? Did they just enjoy seeing the level ups and finding new gear? What made them enjoy what they enjoyed?

At some point, your psychological inquieries will cross the boundaries to the underliying philosophical question: What do people think about the death penalty? Would they also play the game if the death penalty was less harsh or gone? Would they enjoy the game more, or less? Is it actually the deatch penalty that makes them stay with the game?

You might find out that players, or at least your core audience, doesn't want to treat ingame death as the "you died... continue?" trivial matter it has been in gaming since the days of pacman. They might actually just play your game because it gives them this thrill they cannot get with any other game. They might still want or need some "help" with getting back into the game after their character died.

But that "help" might be completly different than helping "revive" their character to its former glory. Maybe what they want is some kind of "digital tombstone", like a memorial page on your game homepage or ingame, that will show all players of your game "this character lived from X to Y, and was the strongest character on the server for Z days. R.I.P."... The 1000h the player spent on making his character the strongest on the server wouldn't go to waste totally, the memory of it would still be there. And as long as your game lives on, the memory might live on. Maybe there will never be such a strong character again in the game? Maybe the player secured his topspot on this memorial "highscore list" until the game dies 15 years in the future with his 1000h spent?

Isn't that why most players playing addictive grind games like that invest more time into playing than any sane person would think healthy? To be the best amongst all the other grinders on the server? To forge some kind of legacy, something that will be rembered by future generations (even though in case of games, this legacy will most probably die with the game after some years)?

EDIT: Oh, 2 important things:

1) Make sure you don't listen to individual players. That might be obvious, but many people still think this is a cynical corporate monkey view when in reality, you are dealing with less than rational beings, or beings so caught up in their own rationality that most people will have trouble understanding them (see my rants and ravings about the insanity of spending 1000h on grinding virtual goods that will disapear with the simple flip of a switch at some point in the future).

All players are highly irrational and superstitious when it comes to a game they are passionate about. This stems both from their involvement with it, and the thin layer on the surface they can see (all the cries about "unfair matchmaking" and such... who can blame them? Nobody knows what the matchmaker is doing until the code becomes opensource).

That does that mean? That means if 1000 players say, there is a problem with map X, but only 100 are happy with it, there most probably is a problem.

If a single player leaves because he spent 1000h grinding the most xp on the server and his character died... you might not have a problem. At all.

2) Make sure you give players what they need, and not what they want. Players will think having accesss to the strongest gear with little grind is a good idea... until they have that gear they didn't had to work for. Suddenly the "sword of ultimate IMBAness" is not so cool anymore, because the "foreplay" to owning it is missing.

The fact every dork on the server has the same or better is not helping here.....

Slightly offtopic, but if you are interested in Manga/Animes or Books, and the philosophical question about permadeath games interests you, have a look into "Sword Art online": its a japanese book series that got turned into a quite well made Anime, and not so good Manga.

It is about a Virtual MMO that transports ingame permadeaths to the real world by frying the players brain in case of their ingame death and then traps the players in the game until they clear it.

While it has some obvious plot holes, the story itself is quite well made, clearly written by someone with a love for both MMOs and RPGs, and while the setting is different, some of the philosophical questions are the same as with your problem described in the OP.

Edited by Gian-Reto

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Very interesting analysis, I have to think it through. :))

Thanx!

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as stated above, you're applying draconian perma-death penalties in an apparent attempt to counter-balance unlimited leveling.

try losing or reducing the perma-death penalty, and try using exponential exp required for bonuses (bonus is a function of exp squared or perhaps even cubed), along with "getting rusty" (skills / exp goes down over time).

in classic D&D they had an artifact called a "deck of many things".  in my campaign, i also had blessed and cursed versions of the deck of many things. the cursed version was all good stuff, except the ace card, which was "never play again". IE the equivalent of being barred from the servers for life. talk about harsh!  and sure enough, a player got a cursed deck, and sure enough, they pulled the ace, and sure enough, ALL the players stopped playing in protest as the penalty was considered too great and unfair. Needless to say, as referee, i had to make a ruling that the deck effects would not be applied.

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It sounds like the issue is the scaling of the penalty.

A player has at least two relevant personality traits: We weight the pleasure of success and the pain of failure differently, and we enjoy different degrees of risk in our games. I'm fairly failure tolerant, but I also prefer to play on the edge of losing rather than carefully executing safe strategies. Your game probably isn't the right one for me, I'd feel forced into too safe a style; but that's fine, we all gravitate towards the games that resonate with us.

If the top player lost thousands of hours of grinding, it sounds like the loss increases as you play more. This suggests that over time, risk is increasing, so what started in a players sweet spot gradually pushes them towards more extremely safe play. When risk is high enough, not playing at all to preserve current achievement becomes rational in its way. If the hours lost to death is constantly cranking up, everybody is eventually going to end up in an uncomfortable range.

You often want to be gentle on newbies, and there's value to giving a greater challenge to those who strive to master the game versus those who enjoy it casually, but after a certain point you probably want to level off the penalty. Something like 40 hours sounds pretty hefty to me, maybe 200 is the sweetspot for your particular players, but whatever the number of hours lost is, that should probably be a cap.

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It sounds like the issue is the scaling of the penalty.

A player has at least two relevant personality traits: We weight the pleasure of success and the pain of failure differently, and we enjoy different degrees of risk in our games. I'm fairly failure tolerant, but I also prefer to play on the edge of losing rather than carefully executing safe strategies. Your game probably isn't the right one for me, I'd feel forced into too safe a style; but that's fine, we all gravitate towards the games that resonate with us.

If the top player lost thousands of hours of grinding, it sounds like the loss increases as you play more. This suggests that over time, risk is increasing, so what started in a players sweet spot gradually pushes them towards more extremely safe play. When risk is high enough, not playing at all to preserve current achievement becomes rational in its way. If the hours lost to death is constantly cranking up, everybody is eventually going to end up in an uncomfortable range.

You often want to be gentle on newbies, and there's value to giving a greater challenge to those who strive to master the game versus those who enjoy it casually, but after a certain point you probably want to level off the penalty. Something like 40 hours sounds pretty hefty to me, maybe 200 is the sweetspot for your particular players, but whatever the number of hours lost is, that should probably be a cap.

Haven't thought about the fact that yes, the longer you level up, the more you get drawn to not playing any longer. That is an important point, because the "sane" decision when you can loose 1000 of hours of grinding with a single mistake is to just leave your character be... you might not be able to enjoy the game any longer, but you do not break anything all the while.

Now, that is the same stalemate as when people buy something new but never unwrap it to prevent that thing from loosing value or getting scratches all over. Now to most people that sounds "insane" for something that only costs 10-50$... even keeping a normal car in your garage just to prevent your old, 10k$ car from getting any scratches on it is going to earn you many startled looks from the people around you...

On the other hand, the guy that takes his bugatti veyron unto the dirt track or into a stockcar challenge, and risks completly demolishing his 2 million $car, is clearly insane... I think what you need to do first is to decide what your target audience is. You have a unique game there, and changing anything risks loosing this uniqueness. On the other hand, you clearly have limited mass appeal because of how the game is setup (which in my book is fine, rather have a strong grip on a small niche than getting lost in the sea of streamlined mainstream titles). - How hardcore should your player be? Do you care about casual gamers at all? - How harsh should newbies be treated... can you afford to loose a player in his first hour of play after he realizes what the games rule means 100 hours into the game? - How long do you want / do you need to keep your players? How long do you keep them now? Is that longer or shorter than RPG standarts? - Do you have another unique selling point apart of the "permadeath" mechanic and unlimited leveling? Can you afford to change that? - If you cannot loose those two mechanics, can you find a way to water it down without making them pointless? Can you achieve that without alienating your current playerbase (which most probably sticks with the game because of these mechanics, not in spite of it) To re iterate my point again, I would be careful with lessening the impact of your two USP mechanics you have there... Make sure you first ask YOUR player how they see things, probably they have a very different view than most RPG fans on this forum. Altough you might want to do something against that stalemate Polama mentioned above... that doesn't necessarily means making death any less harsh to high level characters, maybe just increase the incentive to keep playing even though the odds are increasing that the character will die AND the player will loose a massive amount of hours of grind. Or give them the chance to make death less harsh adopting a certain playstyle... It could be that you can let the player accumulate something that will survive this deatch penalty. Maybe by not playing often enough, a counter goes up that can be used after the death penalty to fast-level the character back to some of its origianl level. For example, lets say your top level player is playing every day, his counter goes up by one every day... if he misses a day, the counter will decrease again. If he faces the inevitable death, after the death penalty costs him 1000h of progress, he can restore some of the lost levels over some "powerleveling" thanks to the saved up "regularity counter" described above, to reduce that penalty somewhat... to maybe only 10 or 50 lost hours, if he played very regularly for the last few weeks. He will still need to invest an hour or so to drain the counter and get back thos 950 hours, but I guess he will gladly invest that. You could make this "regenerative counter" also take into account how the players play. If they play reckless and aggressively, the counter will go up more. If they play to defensive, it will stand still or decrease. That way, you can encourage players to take a more risky approach, because the additional risk of death is mitigated by a reduced cost of death. Of course, even that change means a big change in gameplay and "atmosphere" to the game. Some people might not like it, especially as it would make their current achievements (like playing for 1000h and having the stats to show without dying.... in the newer system, a player could play pretty stupid, die all the time and would still reach his level, maybe just needed 1500 or 2000h to do so)... if such a change should take place, make sure to somewhat "bribe" the current players with achievements for their current status when the change takes place (a "I have survived unter 1.0 rules and reached level 10000" kind of achievement) they can show off, and maybe make sure you include the amount of deaths and hours played per character in the visible players stats in the future so the old hardcore top players can still boast against the constantly dying newbies.... it wouldn't be purely level based anymore, but at least they could make fun of them because they seem to at least once per hour trip over their own feet and die ingame Edited by Gian-Reto #### Share this post ##### Link to post ##### Share on other sites I'm wondering about your ideas how to properly solve this problem. as stated above, you're applying draconian perma-death penalties in an apparent attempt to counter-balance unlimited leveling. try losing or reducing the perma-death penalty, and try using exponential exp required for bonuses (bonus is a function of exp squared or perhaps even cubed), along with "getting rusty" (skills / exp goes down over time). in classic D&D they had an artifact called a "deck of many things". in my campaign, i also had blessed and cursed versions of the deck of many things. the cursed version was all good stuff, except the ace card, which was "never play again". IE the equivalent of being barred from the servers for life. talk about harsh! and sure enough, a player got a cursed deck, and sure enough, they pulled the ace, and sure enough, ALL the players stopped playing in protest as the penalty was considered too great and unfair. Needless to say, as referee, i had to make a ruling that the deck effects would not be applied. Getting rusty is interesting idea, however I dont think it's clear design idea since players will feel punished by playing if playing = loosing skills. I think it needs something more to work, unless you want to punish players for something. For example, we have guild system that players do not have to be part of. However, since guild system puts some requirements on the way you play (you need to act like a member of the guild, you have some restrictions regarding what monsters you can kill etc.) if you leave guild and are guild-less, you loose some of your skills gradually. We just prefer players to group and play as a part. And you can't just 'make' a new guild too. Exponential exp is used currently - however it wont work because of how much time players spent in this game. You can make exp totally useless, but that's not where we're aiming at, are we? It sounds like the issue is the scaling of the penalty. A player has at least two relevant personality traits: We weight the pleasure of success and the pain of failure differently, and we enjoy different degrees of risk in our games. I'm fairly failure tolerant, but I also prefer to play on the edge of losing rather than carefully executing safe strategies. Your game probably isn't the right one for me, I'd feel forced into too safe a style; but that's fine, we all gravitate towards the games that resonate with us. If the top player lost thousands of hours of grinding, it sounds like the loss increases as you play more. This suggests that over time, risk is increasing, so what started in a players sweet spot gradually pushes them towards more extremely safe play. When risk is high enough, not playing at all to preserve current achievement becomes rational in its way. If the hours lost to death is constantly cranking up, everybody is eventually going to end up in an uncomfortable range. You often want to be gentle on newbies, and there's value to giving a greater challenge to those who strive to master the game versus those who enjoy it casually, but after a certain point you probably want to level off the penalty. Something like 40 hours sounds pretty hefty to me, maybe 200 is the sweetspot for your particular players, but whatever the number of hours lost is, that should probably be a cap. To be honest, we have both kind of players - the safe ones plays more PvE, the risky ones - more PvP (PvP is another problem we're facing, due to high death penalty, however we somehow managed to lay it down with other means). Since exp is exponential, you dont need 3000h of gameplay to reach decent level. 3000h player would be like 50%-100% stronger than let's say 100h or 300h player? Don't know exact statistics, but it works like that. Anyways, everyone is compeled to play a tad safer (i'd say - respect death) anyways, no matter if you're decent or strong, since loosing 30h of xp hurts as well I belive in keeping the part 'respect death' live is key to the game. The biggest problem I'm facing now is how to create meaningful way to grow character through exp and yet limit the power of the exp character to decent level. And you cant just limit death without limiting stats character development. It sounds like the issue is the scaling of the penalty. A player has at least two relevant personality traits: We weight the pleasure of success and the pain of failure differently, and we enjoy different degrees of risk in our games. I'm fairly failure tolerant, but I also prefer to play on the edge of losing rather than carefully executing safe strategies. Your game probably isn't the right one for me, I'd feel forced into too safe a style; but that's fine, we all gravitate towards the games that resonate with us. If the top player lost thousands of hours of grinding, it sounds like the loss increases as you play more. This suggests that over time, risk is increasing, so what started in a players sweet spot gradually pushes them towards more extremely safe play. When risk is high enough, not playing at all to preserve current achievement becomes rational in its way. If the hours lost to death is constantly cranking up, everybody is eventually going to end up in an uncomfortable range. You often want to be gentle on newbies, and there's value to giving a greater challenge to those who strive to master the game versus those who enjoy it casually, but after a certain point you probably want to level off the penalty. Something like 40 hours sounds pretty hefty to me, maybe 200 is the sweetspot for your particular players, but whatever the number of hours lost is, that should probably be a cap. Haven't thought about the fact that yes, the longer you level up, the more you get drawn to not playing any longer. That is an important point, because the "sane" decision when you can loose 1000 of hours of grinding with a single mistake is to just leave your character be... you might not be able to enjoy the game any longer, but you do not break anything all the while. Now, that is the same stalemate as when people buy something new but never unwrap it to prevent that thing from loosing value or getting scratches all over. Now to most people that sounds "insane" for something that only costs 10-50$... even keeping a normal car in your garage just to prevent your old, 10k$car from getting any scratches on it is going to earn you many startled looks from the people around you... On the other hand, the guy that takes his bugatti veyron unto the dirt track or into a stockcar challenge, and risks completly demolishing his 2 million$ car, is clearly insane...

I think what you need to do first is to decide what your target audience is. You have a unique game there, and changing anything risks loosing this uniqueness. On the other hand, you clearly have limited mass appeal because of how the game is setup (which in my book is fine, rather have a strong grip on a small niche than getting lost in the sea of streamlined mainstream titles).

- How hardcore should your player be? Do you care about casual gamers at all?

- How harsh should newbies be treated... can you afford to loose a player in his first hour of play after he realizes what the games rule means 100 hours into the game?

- How long do you want / do you need to keep your players? How long do you keep them now? Is that longer or shorter than RPG standarts?

- Do you have another unique selling point apart of the "permadeath" mechanic and unlimited leveling? Can you afford to change that?

- If you cannot loose those two mechanics, can you find a way to water it down without making them pointless? Can you achieve that without alienating your current playerbase (which most probably sticks with the game because of these mechanics, not in spite of it)

To re iterate my point again, I would be careful with lessening the impact of your two USP mechanics you have there... Make sure you first ask YOUR player how they see things, probably they have a very different view than most RPG fans on this forum.

Altough you might want to do something against that stalemate Polama mentioned above... that doesn't necessarily means making death any less harsh to high level characters, maybe just increase the incentive to keep playing even though the odds are increasing that the character will die AND the player will loose a massive amount of hours of grind.

Or give them the chance to make death less harsh adopting a certain playstyle...

It could be that you can let the player accumulate something that will survive this deatch penalty. Maybe by not playing often enough, a counter goes up that can be used after the death penalty to fast-level the character back to some of its origianl level.

For example, lets say your top level player is playing every day, his counter goes up by one every day... if he misses a day, the counter will decrease again.

If he faces the inevitable death, after the death penalty costs him 1000h of progress, he can restore some of the lost levels over some "powerleveling" thanks to the saved up "regularity counter" described above, to reduce that penalty somewhat... to maybe only 10 or 50 lost hours, if he played very regularly for the last few weeks. He will still need to invest an hour or so to drain the counter and get back thos 950 hours, but I guess he will gladly invest that.

You could make this "regenerative counter" also take into account how the players play. If they play reckless and aggressively, the counter will go up more. If they play to defensive, it will stand still or decrease.

That way, you can encourage players to take a more risky approach, because the additional risk of death is mitigated by a reduced cost of death.

Of course, even that change means a big change in gameplay and "atmosphere" to the game. Some people might not like it, especially as it would make their current achievements (like playing for 1000h and having the stats to show without dying.... in the newer system, a player could play pretty stupid, die all the time and would still reach his level, maybe just needed 1500 or 2000h to do so)... if such a change should take place, make sure to somewhat "bribe" the current players with achievements for their current status when the change takes place (a "I have survived unter 1.0 rules and reached level 10000" kind of achievement) they can show off, and maybe make sure you include the amount of deaths and hours played per character in the visible players stats in the future so the old hardcore top players can still boast against the constantly dying newbies.... it wouldn't be purely level based anymore, but at least they could make fun of them because they seem to at least once per hour trip over their own feet and die ingame

The lucky part is that the death is not constantly hanging over you, so in totally majority of time you're completly safe (a player that knows the game can die only in few places, when his team makes a mistake OR when other players try to kill him), so fear of death is not making players stop playing (unless there is a war between guilds). But it's true that when we introduce something new in sense of content, high-xp players dont check it cause they fear to die from something unknown.

- We accept any player, and made some real progress for more casual players to also enjoy the game. But the game itself is a tad hardcore-ish in nature (meaning its hard to learn, takes a lot of time to invest)

- Most of newbies leave, and we cant do anything about that - its the nature of the game (15 years old...). I'd say that around 1% of new players stays a bit longer, and that's after the improvements we made. Our target audience is rather small too, since it's a game in local language, not english.

- Well, players stays really long time. The game has something addictive in itself so i'd say that people usually play it longer than any RPG you can imagine. And since we're older than WoW, well...

- The main selling point is the paper-RPG feeling of the game, with deep role-play. Its something unique and we're definietly not changing that. Other than that? Don't think so, the mechanics is pretty weak, the problems of XP are described here. But to be honest, they are all secondary, but that doesnt mean it shouldnt be improved.

- No idea here ;)

And actually, asking the players - as someone higher said - is probably not the smartest thing, because they are limited by their own interests. However, we do follow our forums and get general feeling about what is what.

Achievements are just not for this type of game. It's real RPG, where you role-play not something-with-RPG-mechanics like basicly any MMORPG.

Edited by Ravy

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- Well, players stays really long time. The game has something addictive in itself so i'd say that people usually play it longer than any RPG you can imagine. And since we're older than WoW, well...

Okay, now I am a little bit confused. Sounds like your game is doing fine when you can say that about it.

What exactly is your problem? At some point players leave in any game. Loosing one of your long time fans must hurt, but most probably you should rather be happy that you were able to keep him that long. Even the 1000 hours he lost most probably where grinded in the course of 5+ years, with the XP he kept he must have been playing for what, 10 years? 8 years? Congrats, you are up there with WoW when it comes to keeping players engaged with your game...

To put it another way: that player would have left at some point anyway. Loosing him "because" he lost 1000h of grind might make it look like he left just because of that, but maybe he was lossing touch with the game anyway? Maybe that was just the last straw that broke the camels back? Where you able to ask him and get a straight answer from this player?

If the game is not so much about achievements but more about role-playing, the harsh death penalty shouldn't be too much of a problem anyway...

Is the problem the rate at which newbies leave the game? Are you sure they are leaving because of the death penalty and not because they just are looking for a different expierience?

(after all, real "Roleplaying" is not that hot amongst todays RPG fans... even though RPGs and MMORPGs are a big genre, real roleplaying, like Pen and Paper or LARP is still quite niche, so I guess most people are into RPGs to be the hero, which is not going to work when a group of people Roleplay.... can't have a town full of heros, without townsfolk or bad guys.... or having 100 kings without subjects to rule over).

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Well, I'm just not content with the state of the game and belive we can make it even better.

While it's not disastrous, we're slowly but constantly loosing player base, rather than gaining it, so that's that also.

Newbies leaving the game is separate problem to this one. I don't think that death penalty is the reason which decides whether newbie stays or leaves. If he plays long enough to really suffer from death penalty, he's not newbie anymore - he's hooked. We do however sometimes loose old players cause of death penalty. And as someone wrote here, harsh death penalty promotes unhealthy and less-fun playstyle than it could possibly be.

For example, we can't really make meaningful ways the guild can fight with current death penalty, cause players will decide to not participate because of fear of death, rather than do participate as your guild status RPG-force you to. When the game was younger, wars were more often because players were not developed with years and years of accumulated exp, so they did not fear to fight so much.

Edited by Ravy

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Well, if the death penalty and unlimited leveling is no longer making the game attractive enough to your players, concentrate on other features that you think are unique or important.

You say your game is role-play heavy... why not take that as the main focus and see how you can change the whole death penalty and unlimited leveling thing to support that role-playing better?

Also, if the wars between guilds are the sole problem, why not find an excuse to lift or atleast ease the death penalty just for these events?

For example by making the "guild wars" not being fought with live weapons anymore. Say the fights between guilds are staged fights for supremacy, the weapons used are not sharp, and getting pummeled by an opponent during these events does not mean death for participants (though you could still have character knocked out during these events get a much smaller penalty to their levels... they got injured, and now need to heal back to full strength which might take some weeks).

Your players could still be swallowed whole by a rogue monster in the field and face a harsh penalty for that. Getting out into the field would mean players need to be VERY CAREFUL... the dangerous wilderness would feel just like that.

When facing off against another guild, players could go all out and get all the action ladden excitment off a staged combat, because they know they are not risking their characters lives (or 1000h of grind) doing that.

Personally I would lay out how you want your game to FEEL, how you want players to THINK and ACT, and only then try to come up with rules (or in this case, alterations to existing rules) that support that behaviours, mindset and feelings.

Don't try to tackle something emotional as an expierience as a game from the hard cold side of game mechanics and rules. You will stumble around in the dark that way. Turn it on its head, and see if you can find the right mechanics that way.

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Personally I would lay out how you want your game to FEEL, how you want players to THINK and ACT, and only then try to come up with rules (or in this case, alterations to existing rules) that support that behaviours, mindset and feelings.
I've been thinking the same. Ravy, do you have anything like a clear vision statement written? What you want is a holistic document that details your vision for the game, your dreams, aspirations, values, the core identity, etc. When your vision is clear, you'll see opportunities everywhere.

Since what you want is sustained desired change, I refer you to a couple articles on intentional change theory. To get free access, you have to register with SIPX, but that is free.

Intentional change theory at the organizational level: a case study

The ideal self as the driver of intentional change

Best of luck with your game!

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Just a quick idea, maybe something like Aegis of Immortal was in DOTA could help. Here it could be achieved for experience. There would be everlasting quest for stone of recovery to be activeted. After activation player would not raising experience but "fuelling" the stone. It would work also as an experience sink. And what is the difference against current state where the death is the sink? Feel of control, you have the stone you can risk and vice versa you can choose to risk more and grow faster. But maybe it would not fit into the setting and other problems I cannot predict now.

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