Clausewitz “On Gaming”
Effects of Victory, pt 2

Previously, we began our investigation of the impact of victory (and defeat) in gaming. When a player is victorious in battle, the positive benefits are practical and expected: greater wealth, experience, and reputation. This realism, however, does not extend to the faction that actually bestowed the quest. Any gains that the quest giver receives are transitory, if they occur at all.

But what happens when a player is killed? Obviously, the first issue is what to do with the body. This simple dilemma has led to widespread debate and a variety of solutions. In early games like AC, you were propelled back to a “Lifestone” with a 5% “vitae” skill penalty while a handful of your best items were left behind on the corpse. In PvP situations, that corpse was lootable by your killer. This dynamic led to the interesting phenomena of players carrying a large number of very expensive but very light and worthless items in their packs so those would drop instead of their prized armor and weapons. But even these “drop items” couldn’t always prevent the random loss of particular valuables. Furthermore, though the drop items aren’t intrinsically valuable, they do cost money and time to gather. Few players care to leave them needlessly behind. This led to the inevitable corpse recovery mission which, while often prone to occur at the most inopportune moments, nevertheless provided me with some of the most enjoyable challenges of the game. But alas, I do recall the loss of several suits of armor, such as one decomposed in the acid pits of the Halls of Metos.

Recognizing the problems with corpse recovery, especially in heavily guarded and more heavily lagged areas, later games like WoW streamlined their death systems. Instead of items dropping with your corpse, your “soul” (and curiously all of its equipment) separate from the body to reappear at the nearest graveyard. From there, the choice is either to be resurrected at the cost of severe item degradation or to trek back as a disembodied spirit to site of your ultimate demise and return to life at about half health. Though this is often an onerous run, you don’t lose all the work you put in fighting to get to where you died (assuming you aren’t swarmed as soon as you resuscitate).

More recently, LOTRO evolved this method still further by launching you (in the same old style) to their newest iteration of the lifestone, a stone circle. The only penalty suffered is a heavy dose of dread (temporary reduction in health) and the need to fight back to where you were (assuming you want to continue whatever adventure you were on). All in all, I can’t help but wonder if the concept of dying has been nerfed so far as to make it rather absurd. While it is easy to carry on from such a fatal disaster (and I’m a big proponent of not having my game time consumed by tedium), the repercussions are so fleeting as to make the occurrence laughable.

Regardless of the specific death penalties, games for the most part do adhere to the concept that it is the reverse of player victory. Instead of new equipment being gained, the old gear is either lost or degraded. The battleground is lost (remember Clausewitz’s second definition of triumph), either temporarily in the case of WoW or permanently in systems like AC and LOTRO. The only aspect not mimicked is the loss of experience which most gamers (myself included) would consider too severe. Of these examples, AC probably came the closest to employing experience “loss” successfully with their vitae penalties that could only be worked off through experience gain.

Tying back to the last article, however, it must be noted that there is no similar loss to prestige. We had talked about how the completion of various quests typically led to an increased reputation with the NCP faction that sponsored the mission. Shouldn’t it follow, however, that the failure to complete the quest would cause a decline in the faction’s standing? I’m not referring to an equivalent amount, but tell me this: if you hired a builder to come and replace the roof on your house, would you hold a roofer who had to return to patch up a mistake with the same regard you would hold for one who did it perfectly the first time? The end result is a well-done roof, but the prestige of a builder that didn’t have to fix his work would definitely be higher. There are two ways this concept could be instituted in a game. The harsher means would be to have reputation drop with each failure. A more moderate mechanism would be to have the reputation gain for completing the quest diminished if it required multiple attempts. Of course, this would only work in situations where it is clear you are working towards completing a quest.

Finally, let’s look at the faction as a whole. Last time, we reviewed the transitory effects that quest completion had on the faction that requested the player take the mission. If there is any discernable gain for the faction, it generally resets within a few minutes like nothing ever happened, leaving you to wonder if you’d actually done any good at all. On the flip side, what kind of damage would be done to a faction if you were to fail in a quest? According to Clausewitz (Book IV, Chapter X), the impact of an army’s defeat on itself and its society is felt more severely by the vanquished than by the victors.

In the world of MMOs, however, the situation is quite different. A failed quest rarely represents the loss of any great morale or assets on the part of the quest giving organization. Players are, in essence, independent contractors hired by NCPs to complete missions. The loss of such an independent contractor would have a negligible effect on the parent faction. They can simply hire someone else.

When we, as players, are defeated in an MMO, the effects felt by our character align for the most part with the factors discussed by Clausewitz. However, there is no impact on our own reputations with the faction that sponsored the quest. While it isn’t surprising that the faction doesn’t suffer at the loss of an “independent contractor,” the opinion they have of the failed contractor should be reduced.

Now we are ready to investigate the other side of battle. Next time, we will review what lasting impact victory and defeat have on those various monsters, villains, and denizens of the PvE world.

Citation for all quotes: Clausewitz, Carl. On War. London: Penguin Group, 1968.

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