Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Ooops, we deleted your characters!

A reader alerted me to the news that the Japanese MMORPG M2 shut down because the game data were accidentally deleted during a botched maintenance, and there was no backup. Doh!

But apart from the /facepalm moment, there is an interesting aspect to the story: It ties in with my recent post on playing for fun versus playing for advancement. If the main motivation of a game is advancement, losing this advancement is a game killer. But if you are playing for fun, you could have as much fun after a restart! Just think of games like Civilization, which you would also restart after having won (or lost) the previous campaign. You keep playing in spite of losing all your previous advancement, because playing the game is fun.

Apart from the fact that I don't currently play World of Warcraft (except occasionally on a free trial account), I would consider advancement not my main motivation for having played WoW. That is, if Blizzard would write me tomorrow that sorry, they lost everybody's character data and we all have to start from level 1 again, that wouldn't make me want to play WoW any less or more (although the opportunity to level up with friends might be fun for a while, not that such an activity is well supported by WoW). That could be because I'm not much of an Achiever player type. Or it could be that my WoW achievements are in my head, where a deletion of data on Blizzard's servers can't erase them. I made friends, I've seen the world of Azeroth, I faced Nefarian in Black Wing Lair back in vanilla, and nobody can take that away from me.

But I don't think there are any MMORPGs other than A Tale in the Desert which would survive a character data reset. And that isn't limited to MMORPGs based on levels. I doubt many players of EVE would return after all skills and ISK would reset to zero. And the speculations about a partial reset in Darkfall weren't exactly welcomed by the players either. World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, City of Heroes/Villains, Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, all of these would lose the majority of their players if all characters got deleted by accident or design and everybody would have to start over. Character advancement is the major motivator for MMORPGs, and taking that away is lethal for the game.

The event of complete character loss is actually one that I asked and answered myself a long time ago. It was sometime in the middle of classic when I was raiding in one of the best guilds on my server, so my char was "worth" quite a lot.

I decided that I wouldn't be aggravated by the loss, I realized that the possessions of the char was not the fun in the game. Having fun while playing counts and not any pixel stuff I might earn with it.

This answer provided me peace of mind, and also protection from loot drama.
How can you compare a game where there is a clearly defined beginning and end to each campaign played to an ongoing MMO in which you may devote time to just a single character for however many days, months, years you play?

The fun and sense of accomplishment are handled differently by both kinds of games. Someone in the middle of a Civ match would probably be upset if it were wiped in the middle, a scenario which I feel is much more analogous to the issue we're talking about.
I think you need to distinguish between advancement and development. Even if there was no power progression at all - even if there was not customization actually! - players would still become attached to their chars.
I don't mean to start any conspiracy theories, since I've never heard of this game before reading this post.

However, it occurs to me that intentionally doing this (lying to players) would be a cost-effective way to shut down a game that is losing money. However many months between announcement and shutdown are just dragging out those losses, and would be made even worse for a microtransaction heavy game like this. Very few people would still pay real money for items in a game about to shut down.
Many moons ago, developers talked about how persistant worlds were the next step forward because that is what people wanted. It sounds as though they are right and persistant games sell on being persistant.

The above itsn't true though. If a game world remains unchanged when a player isn't online, is the world truely persistant?
@Samus: More likely that game was already in "life support" mode, and once error was made they pulled the plug.

Not because it wasn't profitable to run it, but because it wasn't profitable enough to bother restarting it from scratch and dealing with all restoration issues for... hundreds? thousands? of customers. Plus the only person who could actually do it is most likely the one who did that mistake in the first place - after all, no backups pretty much equals no separate admin.
I 'm pretty sure I'd stop playing if my WoW characters were deleted.

As it's been noted many times, there are many games in an MMO.
Raiding is what I have the most fun with in WoW. If I had to start over I couldn't go back to what I like doing without having to go through a lot of boring content.

I've been raiding for 6 years, and I guess losing my characters would just be an opportunity to break from WoW and check some other games I've missed.
A reset of WoW would mean seven years of progress lost on three different server for me. Still.. as indicated by the _three_ servers I actually don't mind starting anew. And then all the poeple who like owning something more than aquiring it would be gone too..

Where do I have to sign?
Would you stop playing world of tanks?
I dropped WoW about a year ago.

Ironically enough a total reset might make me come back for awhile.

But probably not. I'd been playing since day 1 and just got tired of it. Probably not a single thing the Bliz devs could have done to keep me at that point.
Would you stop playing world of tanks?

No. Especially since the tanks I like to play most are the light tanks, which would be easy enough to achieve again if all my progress was deleted.

However, World of Tanks is a Free2Play game in which you spend money on gold, and then use that gold to advance faster. It could thus be argued that in a case of a reset the company should at least refund all the the gold I ever bought, if not the actual money. That would not be an easy situation for the company, because if they don't refund the players lose trust in the perennity of the gold they purchase, but if they refund nobody needs to buy new gold for quite a while.
There is also the question of replayability which is entirely separate from fun of playing at end game. It's possible that you had fun leveling up and that you are having a lot of fun playing at end game but that leveling up again would be dead boring and not worth the trouble. There are plenty of single player RPGs I liked, and I played a lot of them more than once. But easily probably played FFT for in excess of 1,000 hours while I didn't even get through Dungeon Siege 3 a second time with a different character.

Games like Civilization are designed to be started over, MMORPGs may do a lot to accomodate "altoholics" (I can't get enough altohol) and they may be lots of fun to start over, but I think they are (TotD aside) not really designed to be started over.
The only thing I'd dislike losing in WoW is my Druid's flight form. All the "advancement" stuff I presently have is just a means to an end; to see the world and the dungeons in it.
"If the main motivation of a game is advancement, losing this advancement is a game killer. But if you are playing for fun, you could have as much fun after a restart!"

1. Not if the company decides not to switch the server back on, as has happened in this case.

2. You are confusing character advancement with character. Characters are individuals. They cannot be replicated or replaced. When your dog dies you don't "have as much fun" by buying a new puppy.
Unlike a dog, my "characters" in MMORPGs don't have a character. They are just pixels. It is me, the player, who provides the character to the avatar.
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