The Daily Grind: How could death be more meaningful in MMOs without being annoying?

The Daily Grind: How could death be more meaningful in MMOs without being annoying?

Personally, I don’t think MMO developers should ever become complacent about game systems and copying them from other titles because that’s the way they’ve always been done. It’s healthy to reexamine why games do what they do and to be looking for better ways to do them.

So in that spirit, death systems. In most MMOs these days, the standard death penalty is a mild corpse run, a repair fee, or both. It’s not even something that I think about unless it sets me back in my advancement through a tricky area.

But is there a better and more meaningful way that character death could be handled in MMOs without being annoying? One interesting idea I had a while ago was that of a daily permadeath system: Every game day, each of your characters could only die once, and you’d have to wait until the next day to access them again. Yet players could continue in that game session by accessing other alts, encouraging a more diverse play between characters.

If you had to brainstorm up more meaningful death systems, what would you create?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!

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I’m a fan of Realm of the Mad God, which the developer describes as a “Rogue-like” MMORPG. The game’s headline feature is permadeath: when you die, you must make a new character at level one, and all your equipment is destroyed. Dying gives you a small amount of “fame,” a currency which carries between characters that you can use to buy items, but those items are destroyed when you die. In-game achievements can allow you to unlock classes for future characters (but the only way to change classes is to die and make a new character).

Part of what I like about it is that, because the game is designed around permanent death, RotMG doesn’t require a lot of grinding. It is completely possible to get from level 1 to the level cap in one day (it’s also possible to get overconfident in your ability to handle an enemy and die before reaching the level cap). Once you are at max level, getting the best equipment in the game is more a matter of skill than grinding.

I admit, though, that this style of game is not for everyone. I don’t think permadeath would work with a game with a rich story like FFXI or XIV.


Have the mob who defeated you loot you – they literally stoop down, search your corpse and take a random item


Given modern MMO players seem to have the attention span of a goldfish with Alzheimer’s, plus an incessant need for instant gratification – I’m not even sure the corpse runs or repair costs we have now would be classed as anything but annoying by a significant majority.

But you’re looking for something current MMO’s don’t have?

The first thing that comes to mind would be some sort of persistence amongst the NPCs. You die to a band of kobolds, their clan leader mocks you when you respawn. You move to another zone, the same clan leader is at the back of the camp spurring on their comrades with tales of your past failures. Have that NPC as a phased NPC only you can see, sometimes killable, sometimes not. Maybe they jump on a mount and depart when you get close. A variation on the Nemesis system in Shadow of Mordor. Maybe the game AI can detect which abilities you do badly against and have that nemesis NPC use those abilities at 110%.

A variation on that theme. Have a LOT of voice acted mockery recorded by the current “big bad” of the current zone. Play one of those randomly while you’re doing your corpse run. Better still, only play one 25% of the time (5% for raids) – so that anticipation of the mockery becomes the fun part.

But most of all. Balance the zone NPC encounters so that death is a real possibility for your character at any given point if YOU do badly. I’m so bored these days of NPCs, especially whilst levelling, being tuned so that only the most inattentive and useless players risk death. If there is not risk, there is no sense of reward.

Finally, maybe allow the player to pick their level of difficulty somehow. Higher rewards, but higher risk of death. A choice of path. A bonus of killing a certain number of mobs within a specific amount of time. An XP/Loot buff that resets to a specific time (15secs maybe?) each time you kill a mob – encouraging the player to chain pull. Maybe just as simple as a difficulty toggle that means they fight silver mobs where others see standard ones, gold where others see silver.


The only thing I can tolerate is a little bit of enforced downtime.

Personally, I want the playerbase to be encouraged to take risks and try out new things. I want players to keep pushing the boundaries, trying to take on more mobs than advisable, or trying to solo a group boss, or trying new tactics in raids, or making a brave stand in pvp. My playstyle relies on exactly this concept. I’m constantly pushing myself, trying to be the best player I can be and find my limits. That’s only possible due to low or no death penalties.

If I was getting punished for dying I imagine I’d be bored a lot. I’d either be playing it safe, which is boring, or dealing with the penalties for dying, which is also boring.

A little bit of downtime is fine though. Whether that comes from a long walk back, or a debuff, or some other mechanism I don’t mind. Somewhere in the 2-5 minute range seems right. That little bit of a break gives you time to collect your thoughts and be social, or pop to the loo or have a smoke. Too much downtime is bad though, for example, when I was playing SWG it used to take a long time to travel, get doc buffs, get dancer buffs, then travel back. A death could mean a 20minute delay to gameplay and that was long enough to put me off PvPing regularly.

Jeffery Witman

Maybe it’s time to introduce save points again? You die, you go back to the last save and lose whatever wasn’t saved.


One way would be when you die some of your stats slightly go down, but some slightly go up, depending on the encounter

Loyal Patron

A few friends and I were talking about this the other night. One of the solutions we came up with was to have an xp or stat penalty on death (not in raids), so that every time you die you get a stacking penalty to either xp or your player stats depending on if the game uses XP at all etc.

The caveat of the system would be to have a “bubble” over your xp that absorbs a death or two before you start to become penalized. This “bubble” will slowly refill over time without further deaths. This way if you die a few times it’s not a huge deal, but dying over and over again will become more and more painful.

Along with this system there would need to be a way to choose different spawn points, so that you have choice on where you respawn into the game world, in case one spawn point is covered with players/mobs/what have you.

We were all in agreement that games in general are not any fun without some type of a challenge built in, and when there are negative consequences to things, the positive sides to those games are just all that much sweeter. Take, for example, the Mage tower in WoW. It gives unique transmog skins for your weapon. Is quite challenging, and can be very frustrating. But when you finally unlock that skin in feels soooo good.

Sally Bowls

I assume the obvious answer is not what you were going for?


Answer: by making death desirable

Say the longer your toon goes without dieing, you age and get ever so slightly weaker & slower. Rebirth resets your stats.

Is Death more meaningful? Yes, it makes you stronger.
Is Death annoying? No, it makes you stronger.


Cosmos King

How about character death at a random respawn point? In WoW it’s usually the closest respawn spot, but what if it was anywhere in the zone or even on the gameworld? You don’t wander around as a ghost, you just wake up right away, possibly quite far from the action. (Would solve the camping issue on PvP servers.)

Currently on WoW, a level 110 might spend 45 gold per repair, which might as well be 45 copper considering how gold flows there now. What if it was 450 gold per repair instead? People used to complain about the cost of repairs in WoW once upon a time.


(Would solve the camping issue on PvP servers.)

Funny you mentioning that, given WoW won’t have PvP servers anymore as soon as the pre-expansion patch hits.

What if it was 450 gold per repair instead?

And how do you propose making it so players attempting harder content, content that players are expected to wipe at a few (or a few dozen) times before progressing through, aren’t hit too hard?

I suppose the game could waive gear degradation (and, thus, repair fees) for deaths inside an instance or to a world boss, like it does with PvP (if someone kills you there is no repair bill), but at that point players would start campaigning to extend it to all PvE activities instead.

Kickstarter Donor
Rees Racer

Most of the time, the annoyance from death penalties in a game is something I need to own….MMO’s, especially. Unless I’m in a particularly difficult dungeon raid, where the specific mechanics can be maddening (e.g. the Opera Event in Karazhan back in the day), then I died fighting mobs in the open world or zone because I was careless, or tried to take on too much at once.

Stupid Death.jpg

or tried to take on too much at once.

That is my modus operandi; not doing it that way would usually be boring enough for me to make the game not worth playing.

Because, sincerely, doing stupid, inadvisable things is fun, and succeeding when I wasn’t supposed to is the best experience I could ever have in a game.