The Crime of Punishment

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The Crime of Punishment

The Old Republic doesn't need to have a punishing death system in order to offer challenge.

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Nice to see this article back. I really enjoyed it, especially being one of those gamers who don't have the twitch reflexes that some of my friends have so fine tuned. Personally, I haven't played a MMO since Ultima Online and that game had a very similar death system. You had to walk your ghost to a healer, they resurrected you, and then you had to run back to your body to collect anything you wanted or that may be left depending on how far away you were. I hope Bioware follows a similar model, it's also kind of in the universe already. We see Jedi come back as ghosts many times over, but we'll see how this is implemented.

Also, if you're willing, when will Stolen Pixels be making a return?

Agreed. It pisses me off that people see "challenge" as having to beat the same area over and over again.

Thats not challenge, thats boring busywork thats a pain in the ass to do. I can already beat it, why do I have to do it over and over again?

Shamus:
(Welcome to my world. Do you know hard it is being a fan of good, coherent storytelling these days?)

Hey now, there are some companies(or company) doing that. And they're doing it with no DRM! Its like it was made for you. That game is The Witche-

Oh... right.

I agree with you about the importance of the story. I was pissed when I played through Darkest of Days, a rather average game where the real fun is in the final level, only to find out that the story revolves around [SPOILER-ISH] a group trying to force the ancestors of scientists into fatal encounters, as opposed to just killing the scientist responsible for the whole mess before he does anything. [END SPOILERS]. It took all meaning away from the game...

Hmmm I think the image should not so much be the hurdle being so far away people won't go to it, as the hurdle covered in barb wire.

I remember my first death in Ultima Online: In those days, new characters were pretty much immune to death for 20 hours to learn the mechanics of the game. My 20 hours expired right after I was logged out. You have to be at an inn or a camp for an immediate log out or you stay in the world for about a minute.

So the next time I logged in and boom I was a ghost, I was attacked in that minute after I logged out and my noob timer expired. I had no body because of world decay, so all my items were gone.

That is a horrible system.

I don't like any system that if you die, you lose items. I know it may not be logical, but it is an online game. There are so many things beyond your control that may have caused you to die. Lag, phone calls, emergencies, power outages... just to name a few things that have caused me to die.

Should you be penalized for die, of course. Debuffs, monetary loss, and/or running to a corpse/graveyard/Healer are perfectly acceptable. Don't make them trivial, like World of Warcraft, make them steep, but not gamestopping steep.

Hmmmm

Punishing games being no fun?

image

But yeah, I do understand that punishment can kill off returns, and that it doesn't have to be challenging, but look at Bio-Shock.

Challenging? Oh hell yeah. To a point.
Punishment? ...there is any?

Frustration level: Enough for me not to want to play it anymore.

See, the reason some of us want to beat something is that we WANT to sweat blood and tears over something. We WANT to kick in the door with 1 health, circle-strafe a Tank while fighting off the fliers and finally wrestle the Princess away from the bad-guy.

But that's not gonna happen anymore, is it?

See, when you lose punishment, you lose challenge as well. Both are things that will push potential revenue away.

DCUO is frighteningly easy to get thru the challenge (1-30), and punishment is non-severe, so within a week you have people on the end game.

Eve, Everquest have sick hard challenges, sick hard punishments and... still hold out against the Behemoth WoW.

WoW lets you sprint past the early levels now, and then stick into the HUGE, IMMENSE CHALLENGES, with pithy punishments.

That's a time-sink. And it draws revenues like a honey-trap.

I know that's why BioWare went for that model. It doesn't mean I have to like it, because in the end, it just makes games more safe, comfortable, and un-immersible. (That's the word I'll use 'til I find what the real one is.)

See, if death doesn't really mean much, you can use deaths. Hell, in City of Heroes we'd often use up a Death at level 50 just to get back to base; because it couldn't really harm us.

But if there's a punishment there, Death MEANS something. Death MEANS you fucked up. That's a player-learning experience along with red flashing lights for danger.

I'm not talking about having Challenge AND Punishment, because EVE puts me off due to that, and you're right - Challenge is Hard (Look how many people accuse Civ or Meat Boy of cheating), but that means we should be looking to death to punish us.

BUT...make those deaths avoidable.

In City of Heroes, if I fire a fireball into +1 ranged critters, I'm dead unless my healer is on the ball.
In DCUO, I still have a chance to get away, no matter how badly I'm in the shit.

On that point, DCUO wins.

So, it's not Nintendo Hard that we're after, just that we don't leap into a room, die, and then spy from the corpse over exactly what to do next time we go in.

Immersion in MMOs (Especially Star Wars) should be paramount. Deaths should mean something, or that little immersion bubble is replaced by statistics.

Words of wisdom have been spoken.

Another terrific Experience Points article!

Shamus Young:
An interesting discussion is to find out what challenge hunters are really looking for in a game. Is more punishment really what they want, or are they looking for a game that actually demands a higher level of skill. Or are they looking for a deeper game?

i think what "they" are looking for is a way to keep all the n00bs out. they want to keep EVERYONE who is not at their skill level from enjoying games as much as possible because they want the gaming world all to themselves. these elitists are too busy with their heads up their own asses in the "good old days" of Battletoads and The Silver Surfer game on the NES that they fail to see that, back in those days games had naught but an excuse for a story just to get the game rolling.

hell, even Crackdown 2 has a deeper and more involving story than Super Mario Land!

but all they see is their beloved gaming world being polluted by "Casual" gamers and wii owners and all they want to do is shoot them all and go back to being underground and unnoticed by the mainstream.

When I'm looking for challenge, I prefer there to be as little punishment as possible. When I fail at something, hopefully I've learned from that failure, and I want to apply that learning right away. So when a boss absolutely wrecks me but I'm returned to just before the fight to try again, I'm happy.

This is distinct from the sort of game where you make tense risk/reward calculations, but individual encounters in that sort of game really can't be as hard as a non-punishing game allows. If taking on Arthas-H permanently wrecked all your gear, you wouldn't do it. In some ways a lack of punishment frees the developer up to be really brutal.

Azaraxzealot:

i think what "they" are looking for is a way to keep all the n00bs out. they want to keep EVERYONE who is not at their skill level from enjoying games as much as possible because they want the gaming world all to themselves.

I hate to be inflammatory, but that does seem to be the case with the majourity of people I encounter who proclaim "make it harder!" in MMOs.

Shamus said it all very well, as usual. Punishment does not make a game harder, it makes it harder to enjoy. Great for those who are fine with that, but I'll leave my punishments to the BDSM chamber.

Speaking as an elitist douche myself, I can confirm that we elitist skill-fiends do not want punishment for failure, we want more skill-driven gameplay. Things that don't overly punish you for failing, but that are hard to succeed at in the first place. I play a lot of WoW. I die a lot in progression raids in WoW. If I had to deal with experience, monetary or item loss when I died, I simply wouldn't do those things. It isn't fun to lose progress because of mistakes.

Punishment for failure is fine, as long as it isn't severe. You should be encouraged to try new things, not trained to avoid risk at all costs.

Good article, I love a good challenge in a game, but it should be the thing you're attempting to do that is actually challenging, not just making you stand around for 10 minutes waiting for res sickness or losing levels so you have to waste time getting back up to level 27 from 26, something you've already done once, just to attempt the content again. Death should be a penalty and a deterrant, but it shouldnt cause you to stand around asininely repeating shit, or just standing around for the sake of it. Make the encounter harder, not the punishment.

Jumwa:

Azaraxzealot:

i think what "they" are looking for is a way to keep all the n00bs out. they want to keep EVERYONE who is not at their skill level from enjoying games as much as possible because they want the gaming world all to themselves.

I hate to be inflammatory, but that does seem to be the case with the majourity of people I encounter who proclaim "make it harder!" in MMOs.

Shamus said it all very well, as usual. Punishment does not make a game harder, it makes it harder to enjoy. Great for those who are fine with that, but I'll leave my punishments to the BDSM chamber.

yup totally agree.

i have a a few friends who are this way, they look at a game and if it doesn't have the "go all be all" attempt of destroying you for your mistakes, then they refuse to play the games.

challenge =/= harsher punishments upon death, that's stupid, and a waste of time.

Now imagine the game without the checkpoints, so that if you die you have to start the entire chapter over from the very beginning. The combat and gameplay mechanics are otherwise identical, it just sets you back more when you fail. If you think about it, this doesn't make the game any more difficult to beat. It takes the same level of skill to reach the end of the game.

Um

In the example you're offering, having no checkpoints would force you to pay more attention and generally be on your toes - it'd take a bit of practice to go through a level without dying. So it's definitely not the same level of skill. In a way, if there were no checkpoints you'd be better at the game - because it would force you to. Unless the game's super easy anyway, but Force Unleashed had some dick move moments.

Punishment DOES add challenge to a game, it's just not the same thing as challenge. But they're intertwined.

I just have to say that while I do agree to a very large extent, there are most definitely exceptions.

I played WoW since release. This means I was doing 5 man blackrock runs. Lower Blackrock Spire, specifically, could be very brutal. It's a huge dungeon, it's bigger than a lot of the newer RAID dungeons I played. I remember quite well trying to make my way through it. It took a lot of time and usually you wouldn't even kill all the bosses.

And you'd die a lot.

And you know what? Almost always people stayed until they absolutely had to go. The game was just like that back then. Scholomance? Stratholme? These were HARD for 5 people who are just trying to get some blues but mostly the groups stuck it out unless it really wasn't happening. This was before those group stones oustide of dungeons. Before heroics. Before everyone has full epics. Blues were the epics. Epics were... really epic!

But otherwise I do agree, make an MMO too punishing and people won't really care to play it. And the more casual, the greater the mass appeal and the more money you make so I mean it all makes sense, of course.

poiumty:

Now imagine the game without the checkpoints, so that if you die you have to start the entire chapter over from the very beginning. The combat and gameplay mechanics are otherwise identical, it just sets you back more when you fail. If you think about it, this doesn't make the game any more difficult to beat. It takes the same level of skill to reach the end of the game.

Um

In the example you're offering, having no checkpoints would force you to pay more attention and generally be on your toes - it'd take a bit of practice to go through a level without dying. So it's definitely not the same level of skill. In a way, if there were no checkpoints you'd be better at the game - because it would force you to. Unless the game's super easy anyway, but Force Unleashed had some dick move moments.

Punishment DOES add challenge to a game, it's just not the same thing as challenge. But they're intertwined.

In fact, Demon's Souls uses this system. When you die, you have to start the chapter over, and repeated deaths are punished even more heavily. Would the game have been better with checkpoints? Possibly, but the overall difficulty is so high (like in Mario games) that forcing the player to redo large stretches of content will noticeably raise their skill level, so the time isn't wasted.

For a game like Prince of Persia where the difficulty level is very low, forcing the player to backtrack is just wasting her time.

The_root_of_all_evil:
I know that's why BioWare went for that model. It doesn't mean I have to like it, because in the end, it just makes games more safe, comfortable, and un-immersible. (That's the word I'll use 'til I find what the real one is.)

Disinterring for a verb, non-immersion when a noun is needed.

MetallicaRulez0:
Speaking as an elitist douche myself, I can confirm that we elitist skill-fiends do not want punishment for failure, we want more skill-driven gameplay. Things that don't overly punish you for failing, but that are hard to succeed at in the first place. I play a lot of WoW. I die a lot in progression raids in WoW. If I had to deal with experience, monetary or item loss when I died, I simply wouldn't do those things. It isn't fun to lose progress because of mistakes.

Punishment for failure is fine, as long as it isn't severe. You should be encouraged to try new things, not trained to avoid risk at all costs.

I disagree. Not with you, or your ethos, persay, but with your statement that you want "skill driven gameplay".

Most MMO- Elitist Douches do not want skill driven gameplay. They want people in the top tiers of available gear, (over what the instance requires, if possible) they want people who have previously overcome the instance multiple times, and they want flawless, uninterrupted progress.

Which is basically like playing that old electronic "Simon" game. When the light lights, you push the proper button.

Thats not skill. Thats repetition. That is boring.

"Skill" based gameplay would revolve around a few very scary points, in the modern MMO experience.

1. It would require not overgearing yourself for the challenge. It would be your skills, not your NUMBERS that were beating the boss.

2. It would (or should) require new strategies, and much more theorycrafting. It would NOT, and should NOT require studying of the strategies that the MMO Developer drip fed to you, or the Dev's subsidized guild.
Oh. And min/maxing? Shouldnt be a requirement for skill based play.

3. Skill based gameplay also requires that when someone errs, or the group fails, that hissyfits, blame-lobbing, ragequitting, forum flaming, and all the other generally accepted recourses for something as terrible as a failure, be stamped out entirely. After all. How can you build skills, without making mistakes along the way? Innocense to Experience, baby. Its not a smooth path.

So, long story short, I believe that the elitist douchers make claims to wanting "skill", because it swells up epeens more than saying that you want quick rewards and minimal personal fuss.

Cause thatd just make you sound like an asshat.

Whiskey Echo!!
Mythgraven

poiumty:

Now imagine the game without the checkpoints, so that if you die you have to start the entire chapter over from the very beginning. The combat and gameplay mechanics are otherwise identical, it just sets you back more when you fail. If you think about it, this doesn't make the game any more difficult to beat. It takes the same level of skill to reach the end of the game.

Um

In the example you're offering, having no checkpoints would force you to pay more attention and generally be on your toes - it'd take a bit of practice to go through a level without dying. So it's definitely not the same level of skill. In a way, if there were no checkpoints you'd be better at the game - because it would force you to. Unless the game's super easy anyway, but Force Unleashed had some dick move moments.

Punishment DOES add challenge to a game, it's just not the same thing as challenge. But they're intertwined.

But what's required to get past the level is not actual skill at this point, it's patience and memorization. In an arcade game where the goal is to set a high score through mastery by repetition, this model works fine, but in a skill based game such as a tactical RPGs or puzzle solvers, it fails.

It doesn't make you better at the mechanics of the game, it makes you better at the metagame, by informing you of what will happen and in what sequence. The same skill is still required to overcome each challenge, whether it be a room full of enemies or a platforming puzzle.

Robyrt:
In fact, Demon's Souls uses this system. When you die, you have to start the chapter over, and repeated deaths are punished even more heavily. Would the game have been better with checkpoints? Possibly, but the overall difficulty is so high (like in Mario games) that forcing the player to redo large stretches of content will noticeably raise their skill level, so the time isn't wasted.

No. The punishment of restarting the game does not make you more skilled. The repeated fighting of enemies improves your skill, but this can be done by having more enemies and slowly ramping up the challenge rather than backbreaking punishments. Also, preparation goes a long way. When you know what's in the next room and where it's hiding, you have already put weight on the balance in your favor, and you now need less skill than someone going in blind to beat the enemies. (I'm not saying it reduces skill, but it certainly isn't as "pure" an experience as some make it out to be.)

The confusion between challenge and punishment is pervasive, and it causes a lot of problems throughout the industry. I've written about it here: Test Skills, Not Patience: Challenge, Punishment, and Learning. In this thread, Mengtzu brought up the connection to learning - that's huge, and I talk about it in the essay: punishment actively inhibits learning.

The essay also happens to quote Shamus a couple of times. :)

Azaraxzealot brought up the elitism side of things - I wrote about that too: Status and Signals: Why Hardcore Gamers Are Afraid Of Easy Mode. On some level I can understand a community wanting to keep out the "riff-raff", but it's dangerous to try to keep something niche - if the fandom doesn't have an influx of new people, it can die out.

(Welcome to my world. Do you know how hard it is to be a fan of unique, interesting gameplay these days?)

I love MMOs but I'm in the group wishing the would be a little harder, that they wouldn't just be the menial grind, and that bad play and bad players would be punished just a little more than they are, and also that I would have more motive to stay alive and play well, and not be careless. But then I read your second to last paragraph about grouping, and blaming others when the party fails, especially if there were a serious death penalty (I mean even armor repair bills could raise ire in our guild; I was good with the auction house so those expenses were always trivial to me, but it was surprising how many level cap players never used it except to buy things). Anyway, just wanted to say, you're right again.

Also, people mistakenly say WoW is easy. That's not true. A lot of WoW is easy, but it's content spans a wide range of difficulty levels, if you go looking for the harder stuff. At least original WoW was that way, and early Burning Crusade. Blizzard did not sit down and say: "are we going to make this for casual or hardcore players?" but rather designed a game that would appeal to a broad range of abilities. The easy content is the first foot it puts forward, but not the last.

Zapping people in a reward-based environment is of course bad for getting money out of them, but don't apply this to the entire genre, please. You speak about it as it were absolute and consistent throughout online games, when you have games specifically designed around harsh death, where death is not merely a setback but a gameplay trigger (get ganked in Mortal Online, lose your stuff... sounds bad, but you get the opportunity to revenge yourself, invite your clan mates to the fun, declare war ... you get the point).

Im not saying that either way is the preferred one to me, it all depends on the game really, but things needn't be the same everywhere just because more people can be tricked into thinking they enjoy an environment where there is no punishment.

Let me propose something about "status" in an MMO.

There are some who want material status. They want to feel like they've "Made it," like they're special, and they want to do so by having something physical that sets them apart from other people. Kinda like billionaires who buy diamond-coated doorknobs, only in this case it's fancy armor and weapons. For example: World of Warcraft endgame content.

Then there are some who want prowess. They want to be able to train, learn, and gain an intrinsic mastery over the game that sets them apart from others. This is equivalent to a martial arts black belt. For example: EvE Online.

Both concepts can be "metagamed," through activities such as gold farming/ingame purchases for physical wealth; or through cross-game skill.

These two status types are not available to equivalent degrees across the board, and tend to be somewhat directly opposed. The skilled player doesn't want to be beaten by someone who just bought his way into power or rolled well on the loot drops; the rich player doesn't want to be beaten by some upstart with lower-level armor and a dinky sword. It is, I believe, nearly impossible to truly balance the two approaches.

Of these two, the skilled player might be most for harsh penalties; they do not impact him in the same way that they impact the wealthy player.

Neither of these approaches is particularly friendly to the outsider, the casual gamer - he will be beaten by the skilled and outclassed by the wealthy, with little recourse in either direction. The only way to give him parity is by removing the skilled and the wealthy's advantages, and then you lose both of them.

...

I remember a game called MAngband - a multiplayer roguelike. It had some very, very stiff penalties - permadeath, item loss, etc. - as well as calling for very skill-focused gameplay. But it also had status symbols - in particular player housing. Anyone with even a small residence on the outskirts of town had something of a unique status symbol, and the most wealthy players could buy mansions with moats and exterior walls. So the wealth-based approach is at least somewhat appreciated by both kinds of gamers.

Jumwa:

Azaraxzealot:

i think what "they" are looking for is a way to keep all the n00bs out. they want to keep EVERYONE who is not at their skill level from enjoying games as much as possible because they want the gaming world all to themselves.

I hate to be inflammatory, but that does seem to be the case with the majourity of people I encounter who proclaim "make it harder!" in MMOs.

Shamus said it all very well, as usual. Punishment does not make a game harder, it makes it harder to enjoy. Great for those who are fine with that, but I'll leave my punishments to the BDSM chamber.

that wasn't inflammatory, that was pretty much what i was trying to say. or were you saying that it may be inflammatory to agree with me?

Azaraxzealot:

that wasn't inflammatory, that was pretty much what i was trying to say. or were you saying that it may be inflammatory to agree with me?

I just didn't want to come off as insulting anyone who prefers more difficulty. I am sure there are some out there who don't wish greater difficulty for the reason we've stated, but all I seem to see are people seething with loathing for "newbs" and "idiots" who just aren't as good at the game as they are, for whatever reason(s).

It's pretty much impossible for me to engage in a discussion about the issue of difficulty in WoW, for instance, without someone making a searing comment about how if someone can't handle it they don't deserve to get anything from the game, or to play, or ____.

Jumwa:

Azaraxzealot:

that wasn't inflammatory, that was pretty much what i was trying to say. or were you saying that it may be inflammatory to agree with me?

I just didn't want to come off as insulting anyone who prefers more difficulty. I am sure there are some out there who don't wish greater difficulty for the reason we've stated, but all I seem to see are people seething with loathing for "newbs" and "idiots" who just aren't as good at the game as they are, for whatever reason(s).

It's pretty much impossible for me to engage in a discussion about the issue of difficulty in WoW, for instance, without someone making a searing comment about how if someone can't handle it they don't deserve to get anything from the game, or to play, or ____.

totally agree with you there. that's all i can ever see as well.

But what's required to get past the level is not actual skill at this point, it's patience and memorization. In an arcade game where the goal is to set a high score through mastery by repetition, this model works fine, but in a skill based game such as a tactical RPGs or puzzle solvers, it fails.

Then how do you define skill? Because patience and memorization are integral major components of it, to me.

And i was just talking about the example offered with Force Unleashed, and similar games.

I, for one, am in favor of heavy punishment for failure.

Raising the skill requirement to pass a challenge forces the player to improve if he's going to win. But punishing more heavily motivates him to improve, lest he be punished. By analogy:

Raising the high-jump bar forces the athlete to jump higher. If he doesn't improve, he'll never succeed. Leaving it at its present height, but setting it on fire, motivates the athlete to jump higher. If he doesn't improve, he may or may not succeed - but the price to be paid for failure is unacceptable.

Personally, I prefer the second route. NetHack is my favorite game because I always feel motivated to succeed, not forced. I certainly CAN ascend by blundering around hoping for lucky breaks, and have done so (Digging for Victory, anyone?). But since one careless act can cost me my whole character, I feel motivated to improve my tactics and learn more about the game.

Welcome to my world. Do you know hard it is being a fan of good, coherent storytelling these days?

Oh LORDIE yes, I know it's hard.

Anyway, excellent article. Gets right to the point. 'Punishing' games are typically a result of lazy or misguided design. I think that the scarcity of checkpoints in Metroid Prime 2 is a point of contention? So, yes, while the Metroid Prime's are all challenging, when they became punishing, it's a bad thing. I wish more developers would learn that. Making a game frustrating doesn't make it better - it makes it frustrating.

Frustration can be a tool to motivate players to improve.

chaosfact:
I, for one, am in favor of heavy punishment for failure.

Raising the skill requirement to pass a challenge forces the player to improve if he's going to win. But punishing more heavily motivates him to improve, lest he be punished. By analogy:

Raising the high-jump bar forces the athlete to jump higher. If he doesn't improve, he'll never succeed. Leaving it at its present height, but setting it on fire, motivates the athlete to jump higher. If he doesn't improve, he may or may not succeed - but the price to be paid for failure is unacceptable.

Personally, I prefer the second route. NetHack is my favorite game because I always feel motivated to succeed, not forced. I certainly CAN ascend by blundering around hoping for lucky breaks, and have done so (Digging for Victory, anyone?). But since one careless act can cost me my whole character, I feel motivated to improve my tactics and learn more about the game.

Harsh punishment in a MMO (like losing gear or level) is more like breaking the athlete's leg if he doesn't jump high enough. He'll have to waste time recovering from his failure instead of improving his skills. You learn by failures, not by the fear of failures. If the punishment is too harsh, people will try to cheat or won't do it instead of trying harder.

lomylithruldor:
If the punishment is too harsh, people will try to cheat or won't do it instead of trying harder.

How is "people will cheat" an argument against anything? Cheaters are a problem, so ban them and the problem is solved.

I'm not trying to say every game needs to be enormously harsh with death penalties. Of course not - that would limit the market only to the super-hardcores. But it's a mistake to say "punishment is categorically inferior to difficulty as a means of inducing improvement". It has a place, just like Animal Crossing-style failure-free games have a place. Neither is going to be mainstream.

You said it very well in a mature manner.

I have to say... Good job :)

I believe in a MMO where death is more then your character falling down, then the game gently picks them up and whispers about how "it'll be okay" and "Your all right" like the player is a baby who has just tripped trying to walk and started crying.

I'd like a game where death was something a player could recover from, but didn't want to have happen to you over and over. Eve was too far, but AC as far as I've heard was just perfect.

Games that are too unforgiving are annoying. Games that forgive too much are easily forgotten about.

Also: THere hasn't been a game that allows PVPers to do more then kick someones shins to death, then gain some special PVP currency that allows everyone to know that you kicked a lot of shins when you use stuff you bought from it. Can't there be some actual drops from killing someone? I mean, I don't know about you, but If I were a wizard who just electrocuted a fighter who nearly killed me, I would see to looting him afterwards- if only to afford the healing to remove the damage he caused.

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