Permadeath in World of Darkness Online?

At The Grand Masquerade a panel was held post-announcement to give the attendees a chance to tell CCP what they’d like to see in World of Darkness Online. CCP staffer Justin Achilli’s notes on those desires can be found HERE.

There’s some interesting ideas in there along with generic items like “not a WoW clone.” But something buried in the list is creating a bit of hubbub in certain quarters – the mention of permadeath.

Now, remember that this is a list of stuff random people would like to see and not stuff CCP is thinking of including. Permadeath in particular is something that a scattering of potential players of every in-development game say they want included. I say they’re deluded, and I’ll get to why.

First, though, I should point out that every MMO or which I’m aware already has a mechanism for permadeath: if you get killed, delete the character. There are folks who play like this in every game, and I’m even aware of at least one guild that has a mandatory policy to this effect. I have nothing against the idea personally – I think it’s a fair way to play, if that’s what you like – and although I’m not sure I’d want to, I wouldn’t absolutely rule out the idea either.

The vast, vast majority of MMO players would hate playing that way, though – and they’d stay away from an MMO that featured mandatory permadeath in droves. CCP, like every other MMO development studio, would like players to actually play their game. So I can state with total confidence that although nobody has specifically denied that permadeath will be a feature in WoDO, the game will not in fact include it in any way other than that which already exists in every other MMO. It’s simply impossible to take the idea seriously.

Now this is a feature that a vanishingly small but vocal minority say they want. Just like people say they want something different from WoW, and then when something comes along that is, they make excuses for staying away from it because it doesn’t conform to their WoW-influenced expectations of what an MMO is supposed to be. There are also people who say they want free-for-all PvP, but then make excuses for staying away from games that support it. This is the same kind of thing – there are people that say they want permadeath, but would hate it if it were actually forced on them.

There’s a difference between having a permadeath option (that is, again, already there by default,) and having it be mandatory. Certainly, most people who dabble with the idea also have characters that they don’t delete when they get killed. Forcing permadeath on everybody will disincentivize people from actually doing anything that would put an established character at risk. This isn’t something you want in a type of game that rewards ongoing player involvement, and makes its living from ongoing monthly fees.

While it’s far to say that one wants permadeath in a game (there are some folks who prefer to play that way,) it would be monumentally stupid for a development studio to include it in an MMO. The overwhelming majority of people would hate it, and would flee from such a game like they’re on fire. I am absolutely certain that CCP isn’t stupid enough to put this in their game in any form other than the default option.

The actual line from Justin’s blog reads “Permadeath. Server type preference?” That makes me think that the attendee who mentioned it is familiar with WoW/EQ-style MMOs but not with CCP’s established offering, EVE Online. I expect WoDO to be shardless in a generally similar way to EVE, and thus the idea of separate permadeath servers (something else that gets brought up whenever this ridiculous notion is floated,) is impractical. Even if it were, and WoDO turns out to be a multiple-shard game, I suspect that the number of people who would actually play with permadeath, especially after their first loss of an established character, is so small that such a server would be doomed to an eternally ultra-low population.

32 responses to “Permadeath in World of Darkness Online?

  1. Permadeath has a major problem in a MMO in that traditionally people expect customer service.

    If you have both permadeath and customer service then you would get an endless and unmanageable stream of complaints when people die. (please restore – I lagged etc).

    Successful PD games like Diablo 2 weren’t MMOs and weren’t even in the culture that MMOs have created of whining at devs.

  2. “Permadeath” is a code word for “me and a half dozen of my friends want to run together in a group and see how many people we can force to quit the game”.

  3. An excellent analysis, sir. Permadeath is certainly a valid option for some games, but (as Tipa says) it is way too open for griefing. I can understand implimenting in a Rogue-like, but it would be next to impossible for an MMO community to flourish in such an environment.

  4. Great post. One of my peeves about the MMO community is that everyone and their granny says they want something old school, hardcore, and definitely not at all like WoW. Yet when something like that does come out, almost no-one plays it. How many players does Darkfall have? What about Fallen Earth? Shadowbane anyone? Heck, what about the permadeath server in MANGBAND? I think I saw two players there once . . .

    The only “hardcore” MMO to do particularly well is EVE. And it proves the rule, since it’s essentially a post Trammel UO design. By all accounts, the majority of players never leave safe space.

  5. Permadeath is best done the same way it is now: completely optional and totally manual. It was a feature in the old-school tabletop RPGs to invoke the “fear of death” that so-called hardcore MMO players think they want but it could be side-stepped by fudging die rolls or the GM outright discounting the death. In addition it was simple to create a new character then auto-level it to fit back into the group so the game could pick up where it left off; not something MMOs let us do.

    @Yeebo: You’re starting to notice the hypocrisy of MMO players! 🙂 It’s easy to be “hardcore” on a forum or blog, but the reality is most kids who claim they’re hardcore are not when push comes to shove. They’re just kids trying to be show off.

    @Ardwulf: Why on earth would you expect V:tM to be shardless? How many times does CCP have to explain why EVE can get away with it (3 dimensions of nearly empty space versus having actual limited landmass for those players to fill) before people start understanding why MMOs have multiple servers?

  6. I agree as well. On Yeebo’s point I say people need to stop crying about innovation too. We’ve had some innovative games in the past 3 years and all of them closed after stumbling around with low subscriptions.

    I don’t know what players in general want anymore. They don’t want WOW but if a game isn’t WOW-enough, they don’t want that either. Very perplexing and glad I’m not a game developer.

  7. So CCP announces that there might be optional permadeath, maybe. Your reaction is to write a soapbox column that mandatory permadeath is stupid.

    That’s not even analysis, that’s just pointless ranting about something we already all know. How about you concentrate on what’s actually going on vs going for the easy topics that have no relation to what’s actually going on?

    TL;DR: you’re a bad person and this is a bad post.

  8. So CCP announces that there might be optional permadeath, maybe.

    Go back and re-read the post. Compare with the linked blog post if you like.

    TL;DR: you’re a bad person and this is a bad post.

    So says the guy who provides somebody else’s e-mail address.

    EDIT: To answer this comment less flippantly, I share your outrage that an entire blog post had to be spent debunking this. Folks seeing Justin’s list saw ‘permadeath” and went bananas, without understanding the context..

  9. I like they way Eve Online handles free-for-all pvp.
    You got safe (high sec) zones and risky (low sec) zones and let the player choose where to go.
    Maybe it’s possible to make some PD-zones as well. You could pitch it lorewise as zones which are too far out to accommodate cloning (like in BSG).
    For vampires, you might sell it as dying on holy ground or something like that.

    A full free-for-all permadeath MMO or server is a bad idea, you will need some kind of safe zone. Otherwise it’s going to be a wasteland.

  10. If they do implement permadeath, I think it might be very similar to EVE’s way. Elysium areas will be the new high-sec, and the streets and wilderness will be low-sec. However, there is a little thing called “the masquerade” or, in other words, the concord of V:TM. vampires cant go around killing vampires with impunity. EVE doesnt have true permadeath though, it is a unique game with its own unique mechanics allows by the theme of the game, so who knows whats going to happen.

  11. Hi, I’m known as Ian and Bjann and ZZ and Dael and a couple of other names and Im a member of the Mortal Voyage Permadeath guild in Argo in DDO.

    Yes, the best way to run PD is voluntary. I’ve been killed by lag doing PD and it sucks for everyone. I’ve also done guild politics for killed by bugs, and that sucks too (Screens or it didnt happen ! And thats the position after we forced certain people kicking and screaming into the sensible position of ‘Being forced to re-roll after stepping off a two-foot ledge is dumb’).

    PD with PvP simply wont work, for obvious reasons (*waves hi to White Noise*).

    PD with just PvE also doesnt work, because players will grind the easiest content, and pretend they are hardcore.

    PD with PvE and a tough ruleset does work, but as players get more skilled and developers nerf content, you need to get the ruleset tougher and tougher (and still need to do guild politics, because my neat tactic is your abusing a bug or borked AI).

    Basicaly, PD rocks. But dont try and code it.

  12. Yeebo,

    And for the record, EvE isnt particularily hardcore.

    95% of 0.0 is completely and utterly safe – it’s either completely empty for three systems around, scouted by alts or under the guns of friendly fleets, POS and so on.

    If that fails, Learn2Use intel channels and the galactic map, sorted by pilots in system.

    Briefly, combat happens by consent in EvE, unless you are really really dumb (*waves to the ex-head of IRC who decided to run the alliance BPO collection out by himself with no scouts*).

  13. Saylah: Low subscriptions only matter when you expect WoW numbers from a game that isn’t WoW.

    There will never be another WoW.

    Accept this, and adjust accordingly. There’s still TONS of space for other games out there, provided you aren’t trying to emulate WoW.

    People DO want a lot of polish on their new MMO, and people as a rule complain a ton when a game coming out the gate has launch issues. Of course, everyone forgot how broken and buggy WoW was when it was first released…

  14. People don’t want broken and buggy when it costs them the character they spent months on. God, especially in an open world PvP game: I think people who have a jones for permadeath must have never done it except in PvE settings.

    Its no wonder Ian permadeaths in DDO, its a pure PvE grind. He couldn’t even do so in an open world PvP game, he’s be killed so many times learning the ropes he’d get disgusted and quit.

  15. Dblde,

    One of the problems with broken and buggy is you never actually know if it was your stuff up or buggy behaviour that causes a death … get ganked by something you didnt see – was it you being dumb or roken and buggy bugs or haxors ?

    I’d say most upset players will pick options 2 and 3, and most people get upset right after getting ganked.

    So I think any permadeath game will rapidly get a reputation of broken and buggy, even if it isnt.

  16. White Wolf Games are all permadeath last I played them back in the old World of Darkness days. I think all table top and LARP games have permadeath. A mmo that is largely based off of one should be permadeath aswell. WODO is just gonna be non stop pvp without it.

  17. Thank you. Now try to explain that to all the Internet Tough Guys at Massively.

    BTW, I would add “Perma-Death works in PnP games because you have a GM babysitting you”. That level of customer-support is not possible in a MMO.

  18. I’m actually not completely opposed to a permadeath option as long as it’s “Done right”. Permadeath should not be easily achieved, or perhaps simply have a system of some kind that has a “low chance” of permadeath upon death by aggravated damage or simply “X number of deaths before permadeath”.

    When they say “Permadeath” peoples’ imagination immediately goes to Stranglethorn Vale in WoW and how insanely easy it is to bite the dust in that game. If permadeath were introduced into WoDO you’d have had to mess up pretty damn badly to suffer final death.

    As well, if permadeath were optional, there should be some perks to playing with it on. Bonus points at character creation, a higher generation(Tabletop the highest you could get is 8th generation vampire), a higher chance for successful rolls, or simply a bonus to experience gain with some sort of additional bonus at max level to make it so it’s worth it(Getting to max level slightly faster than everyone else wouldn’t really be worth the possibility of losing that character forever).

    I’m extremely interested in how CCP toys with the idea. Permadeath sucks, but you need to realize this game isn’t for 13 yearolds, it’s going to be a heavy roleplay game, so I don’t think as many people will mind have permadeath on as we might think. I for one LOVE making new character concepts, losing a character I invested a decent amount of time into will fluster me a bit, but I’d cool off in a few hours, realize the mistake I made to reach permadeath is on my head, and just roll a new character with a different bloodline.

    Also, permadeath would be an interesting punishment tool. People going around griefing players? Whatever political system is in the game could have to option of dispensing the final death on those griefers. It’d also fit the lore quite well, as long as the person in charge doesn’t abuse that ability I’m sure it would be an improvement over most MMO systems of “Gank him back, but he’ll be back in a few hours to grief whoever’s on at the time”.

  19. Perma Death can implemented into any vampire game easy without frustrating players. Simple give the players control over a small bloodline of vampires. Players gain the ability to create new vampires which share most of the skills of their creators, but differ for example in attributes and of course look.
    Problem solved. Killing a character permanently may be a serve hit and lose of weeks of work, but will not be a lose of anything the player has achieved in the game. And it would be even cool 😉

  20. The issue of possible permadeath in WoDO is just that: possible. It’s not happened yet, and as Ardwulf said, it’s an awfully long stretch as the WoDO project is at such an early stage of development that it’s a non-issue at the moment.

    Please keep in mind that once the game is finished there’s the intensive testing it will most likely go through before it even gets to the Beta. Yes CCP games so far have been permadeath enabled, but this isn’t EVE; it’s World of Darkness. Something completely different.

    It’s been mentioned before on Justin’s blog in his post reguarding the things people said they wanted to see; but a great way to handle permadeath, if enabled; is to make it a penalty for repeated Masquerade violations, complete loss of humanity, or if somehow a Blood Hunt gets called… And I’d even say at that point not to make it a permadeath, but a semi-ban.

    I’d suggest that a pratically unstoppable situation happens to stop bad vampire behavior (AI controlled hunter or perhaps a sheriff). A temporary ban begins from the time of your death untill a specified period. Say for loss of humanity, your character goes into a forced torpor for 48 hours, while masquerade violations send you to the hill for 24 hours. No one loses a character, you get some legit alt playing time, and it provides for a bit of a compromise on both sides.

    tl;dr: permadeath isn’t here yet, no sense fussing in it. a good solutions is temporary character unavailability after you’re the target of a hunter or blood hunt – after masquerade violations, too much loss of humanity, or other similiar circumstances

  21. This discussion reminds me a little of how someone once told me Diablo 3 would suck without healing potions, because that meant the fights couldn’t be long and tactical. The fallacy in the thinking here is in judging a new paradigm based on existing assumptions and conventions. Yes, Diablo 2 wouldn’t work without potions, because Diablo 2 was built on the assumption that players would use potions. A game that’s built without this assumption would pursue other ways to create interesting fights. (E.g. “health orbs” dropping from enemies, player characters that are more resilient, etc. etc. etc.)

    It’s asinine to apply existing MMO conventions, add permadeath, and conclude that permadeath could never work for MMOs, ever. Obviously, permadeath doesn’t work for existing MMOs, because they weren’t designed with permadeath in mind, and their entire model is premised on the assumption that players will make substantial, lasting investments in their character. Permadeath would be stupid in this paradigm, of course. But we shouldn’t fall into the fallacy of judging a gameplay feature by placing it in a context that it is wholly unsuitable for.

    Now, permadeath would obviously be a design choice with huge implications, and I don’t think it would even be possible to do a game that only had permadeath optional servers, because permadeath-no permadeath options would pull design in opposite directions. What would a MMO designed from the ground up to incorporate permadeath look like? I’m not sure, but it would be damn interesting. And it might even resemble something like CCP’s other game, EVE, which takes away far more from the player upon death than other MMOs would contemplate, your entire ship… but in the context of EVE, losing your ship is seen as not (that) big of a deal, because the game is designed with the assumption that players _will_ lose ships.

  22. Ok I have a few things to say. I would normally be totally against permadeath in any mmo. I have played since the days when MMO’s were called MUDs and it just does not work in in any combat based game.

    That being said WoD needs permadeath and it will work for a simple reason. WoD is NOT a combat game. Throughout it’s history in both the new and the origional it was a social game that had the possibility of combat.

    The problem with most MMO’s and permadeath is that they are combat games with the possibility of socalization (and as a player who soloed to 80 in WoW I can tell you that socalization is not necessary in most games). WoD and in particular V:TM could not work correctly without it. A HUGE part of the game is the fear of death and the fact that no one feels that more keenly than a semi-immortal. Without that fear there is no need for the masquerade and no need or desire for the different organizations. Everyone who became a vampire would be able to just run around anywere and do anything. One of the reasons that vampires huddle in cities is there are dangers for them in the wild. They have Elysiums to they can discuss things in relative safety, at least from bodiely harm.

    The problem with a WoD MMO that I have always seen is that they can have permadeath and limit the playerbase somewhat, or they can do away with it and the game will fail. As for the comment about Boss battles there shouldn’t really be any in WoD, it just does not work with the lore (and I own over 80 of the Old World of Darkness books so I have a good clue of the lore even though I know there are far more books than that available).

    If you want combat and risk of death/come right back from the dead then stick to the D&D based games such as WoW, the superhero games such as city of hero’s or the space combat based games such as EVE. In WoD combat was always the last resort and tended to have devestating consaquences, though sometimes those took place after the combat when the police arrested you and put you in a nice sunny cell or you killed those police and the Prince left you tied to a roof to great the sunrise.

    Well I’ve said my peace and like I said if it were any other game than WoD permadeath shouldn’t even be considered. With WoD there is no other choice.

  23. Oh and a quick addition. Old WoD and V:TM where the number one selling pen and paper RPG of their time outpaceing even D&D. Even if only the fans of the game would play they would have almost as large a starting playerbase as World of Warcraft did at it’s start. CCP has to be really carful not to tick off those players otherwise WoD online will tank like the other WoD video games did. White-Wolf has traditionally had trouble with video games of their flagship game and the primary reason is comprimises the video game companies made to make it more appealing to the masses. Those compromises made those games effectivly unplayable, they alienated the fans, and didn’t do anything to attract new players. Making death resemble the standard WoW (combat with a chance of socalization) MMO clone would create the same stuation and CCP would lose their entire investment.

    Ardwulf please take into account that this MMO is not about combat but about interaction. It is a Socialiazion with a chance of combat MMO. As such the problems of death are not going to be the issue that you make them out to be. The optional method you describe would actually destroy the game and turn it into at best a overpowered gank fest. If that were to happen I doubt the game would even last one year.

  24. In the thread I linked in the original post, there’s a very interesting idea just posted. What if WoDO allowed multiple character slots, in much the same way as EVE currently does, but only one of those slots was a vampire slot, the others being for mortals, to whom permadeath would apply? That I find very interesting, although it implies a mortal dimension to the game at launch, which I’m not sure we’ll see.

    @Joe: I do agree that WoDO will likely have less emphasis on PvP combat than EVE has, although I think it’s alost neccessary for there to be social/political PvP in the game in some form, with more mechanical support than those get in EVE. However, I also find it inconceivable that combat PvP won’t feature at all.

    @dtjw: You are right. But the dimensions that would have to be subtracted for permadeath to work (character development and player investment in the character) would remove the RPG element, which I think is antithetical to the whole philosophy behind Vampire and Storyteller games in general. And if you keep those things but also include permadeath, wouldn’t permadeath have to be implemented in such a way as to not be an insurmountable setback?

    This could be done, for example by tying progression to the account rather than the character, but again, this undermines player investment in the character, which I think is at odds with the design philosopy of the Storyteller tabletop games. This I do not think CCP will do.

  25. @ Ardwulf

    The social/political PvP in WoD has always been brutal, and yes there will be times (and with as many players playing as I expect lots of them) where actual combat PvP will take place. The very social/political PvP rules will make fights to final death rare by comparison. Combat in WoD only serves to push a deeper agenda and as such it quite often if far better to humiliate your oppoent than to kill him. Most killing would occur in ganking a player’s herd or having the police captain he bribed killed and having your man move in place.

    In addition combat to final death in any form is forbiden without the express permission of the prince or sabat elders. They hold total control and while you can oust them generally through social/political means no one will support you if you are killing everyone and the player who seeks out killing other players would soon face final death himself.

    I’ve been a player and storyteller in WoD almost since it came out and I just want to see the game done right. There are many mechanics built into the game that allow combat and suffer loss without final death. But that threat of final death is a huge part of what gives the game it’s atmosphere and it’s social/political pvp style that is very brutal. It also drives character development and investment in character (remember that the older a vampire gets in this game, the more powerful he gets, and the less likely it is that he will engage in activities that will endanger his imortality). Belive me in the one and only case of WoD permadeath will actually push player investment and character development. It will force it to move away from open combat for the most part and into that extremely brutal social/political/economic pvp that WoD and storyteller games are famous for.

    Every WoD video game that has came out so far has tried to put the combat first and has been a flop. I truly hope that CCP takes the risk and does it right. If not they will lose the fanbase. If they lose the fanbase the game will be lost because they need that fanbase to get their initial numbers.

    On the other hand name me any other MMO on the market and I will tell you how Permadeath is a horrible idea for it.

  26. Something I forgot to bring up. If CCP really wants to up the anti then perma-death would actually be slightly less permanant. This would also be in keeping with WoD lore. Any character that suffers final death would have a oppertunity to be reborn as a wraith and then be in that world. I would imagine that any character reborn that way would not end up as a stygian slavers armchair or ashtray, but the shift would be interesting and totally in keeping with the lore. In wraith you would not have permadeath, just every time you die you go through a harrowing and your shadow could get stronger. Could be interesting.

  27. It is my strong opinion and belief that every person screaming for permadeath servers only want them for the ego-boosting powertrip they’ll get from ganking lowbies – or better yet some high-level character in an unguarded moment – and these exact same folks will whine and complain that those same permadeath mechanics are the worst idea ever, if the same thing ever happens to them.

  28. Huh…I actually want it to prevent that very thing. Like I said though a very interesting solution would be to impliment wraith rules. And if it would be too difficult to impliment the second world there are also wraith rules for Risen.

    The only race in WoD though that comes back like a MMO character are the mummies.

    I don’t want a gank fest (I actually suck at combat pvp) I just want to be able to play WoD and not WoW with WoD lore…kinda.

  29. I think we should start by defining PERMADEATH. that doesn’t mean that if you lose connection during a fight, you have to start over again from scratch.. it means screwing up royally, reaching 0 humanity or by pissing off the prince and having a blood hunt on you for breaking the masquerade would mean your character has officially died forever…

    besides, everyone can’t be an elder anyway

    and also, games tend to become very empty if only the last 10% of the game is actually usable

    if you want wow, go play wow, it’s not that hard to figure out

  30. It all depends on how the character develops in the setting. Lets take a closer look at what permadeath means actaully:
    After a combat, either PVE or PvP, your character loses. The attackers hae the option to either kill you or not. While PvE critters would probably not do it (see EVE Online) players would not have that type of restraint. So, after engaging players there would be a huge chance that after losing your character gets killed, and hence for purposes of gameplay – deleted.
    This means, that if you still have game time, you need to create a new char. This in fact means, that you will repeat the tutorial-ish part of the game, and I may guess that you would do that pretty often. Sot he first taks fo a developer is to put as mush diversity in the game beginnning as possible.
    But there is another, more important part of the event of your character deletion – the loss. Only, what exactly is lost when you die? First, the game provides ether experience or another way of increasing your character’s capabilities, and that is what you will lose. Another thing are the material objects – money and cash. But it gets even worse – if you were a part of an organisation of any type, you will no longer be that when coming back to the game. If you were a leader of one, it will probably dissolve beacause of your death.
    But all this is caused because people are accustomed to games that introduce a specific model of gameplay – where the character is a hero and has the ability to specialize and learn to the extent that in comparison to NPC characters seems ridiculous.
    In life people are moreso on the same level throughout their lives. And if tey differ, it’s caused moslty by the starting condition, not by the sandiboxiness of the world. People are born rich or poor, born strong or weak and there is only that little they can do to change it.
    So a model that would most likely represent that is – create a character and select his starting conditions. He may start powerful or start pretty low, that is for you to choose. Live this character’s afterlife to the point where he reaches Final Death, and then start a new character to play with. You can play safe or not, but you will still play. Create a vampire, an elder or a thinblood, and play him in WoD. What you gain for him did not cost you game time, so when he dies you lose nothing. As long as the advance you make does only so little in comparison to the power he has upon creation no advancement is as valueble to fear it’s loss. Surely you identify less with that character, but really – do you?

    In a game model similiar to this permadeath makes some sense. Otherwise it’s just punishing players for not being a ganking jerk.