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?
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.
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.