Since 1997 and Ultima Online the concept of perma-death in an MMO has always interested me. I think a large part of it has to do with a core appeal of MMOs themselves; the fact that everything ‘counts’ and you can’t save and reload at will like you can in most single-player games. Everything is always saved, everything is permanent and persistent, and what you do could have an impact on others. Those are very strong and unique characteristics of the MMO genre (or were, far too many games today minimize all of this to do their best job at creating online single player experiences), and so the ultimate permanence, perma-death, is never far from my mind.
Yesterday I talked a bit about fantasy IPs, in particular the Wheel of Time IP, and today I’d like to continue using that IP as a base to throw out “yet another perma-death idea”. My thinking goes like this: A strong PvE base is needed to make a successful mass-market MMO, so the WoT MMO would be PvE heavy while still being more of a world rather than a string of zones/tiers. All areas of the world would hold some interest to all players, new and old, and so where you adventure has more to do with what you are currently trying to accomplish rather than your current level. The main game for most players would be the familiar questing/items/rep game, just done up with all the lessons learn over the years. The goal is to attract a large audience, not to create a niche game here.
The only combat PvP would be against Darkfriends, and all Darkfriend characters play with perma-death. The system would basically work like a PvP flag, only it would be a permanent one-way switch. All characters would start out as ‘good’ characters, and only though a special series of quests would you be able to become a Darkfriend. Once you make the switch, options such as stealing from and attacking other players open up. The attacker would be able to earn some worthwhile evil-only reward, while the victim would suffer some penalties (but nothing like full loot or even losing a given item. Perhaps some gold or other penalty to ‘make it matter’, but not something to drive away PvE-focused players). Now the key to the whole setup would be the fact that Darkfriends don’t show up as ‘red’ to other players until they are identified. Unidentified Darkfriends could still enter towns, shop, train, etc. They would have the OPTION of stealing/murder, but otherwise they remain unchanged save for perma-death. For all you know, someone ‘blue’ in your party, or the guy next to you at the auction house, could be a Darkfriend.
The identification system would work much like the system in Oblivion, where if an NPC sees you committing a crime, you are reported and the guards notified. If the crime is minor (stealing), only the local guards are made aware, and you are only identified as a Darkfriend to everyone else in that area. If the crime is major (murder), a wide region is made aware. The more crimes you commit that are witnessed, the wider the knowledge that you are a Darkfriend gets, until ultimately you are so infamous that in all regions of the world you are known as a villain.
Good characters always have the option to attack a Darkfriend at will, and while a good character will be able to respawn with whatever penalty, remember that once a Darkfriend is killed, he is deleted. To take SOME of the edge off, and not making the death of a Darkfriend a major motivator to quit the game, an account-wide banking system (only accessible at say a few special locations in the entire world) would be in place, so that anything of major value could be stored away, and even should the Darkfriend die, the next character you roll could withdraw some nice gear or bonus items. After all, even good characters at times ‘come across’ evil but powerful artifacts, right?
The overall idea is to give everyone an OPTION to PvP, although it would be a difficult life with a major penalty always hanging over your head. History has shown that most won’t go for that option (EVE and the number of players in 0.0 space, Trammel), but it’s also my belief that having SOME threat of PvP creates a more interesting environment for everyone playing, and that some of the genres most creative, dedicated, and influential players are PvP-driven. By creating an environment where you combine the two in a somewhat ‘friendly’ manner, you would hopefully get the best of both worlds. A game where the devs are focused on updating the PvE aspects and keep everything going, while also having a small but influential population of PvP risk-takers to add some spice to the world is a game that, IMO of course, would really work. So who wants to give me a truckload of cash so I can make it happen? Anyone, anyone?