Tobold's Blog
Friday, April 06, 2012
Thought experiment on real consequences

Imagine World of Warcraft goes Free2Play with a twist: There is no monthly fee, no item shop, but instead you need to pay $1 for each time you die (comparable to what Allods Online did). Wouldn't those real consequences completely kill the game?

Since the endgame is designed so that you die a lot, then yes raiding and all sorts of instanced pvp would be inaccessible.

If you're trying to make a connection with the previous posts, I don't see it.
No. Griefers would kill the game who would massacre people for "lulz".
Would be interesting for about a week, when everyone piles into the starter zones for fear of dying. Any area with cliffs or falls would be abandonded. No instances would be run, unless they were very much out geared or out levelled.

Then ofc the Griefers would crawl out of the woodwork. Guilds power levelling characters and alts to do suicide gank runs on towns, rogues camping near farm spots to gank ay player they could. Whole guilds mass rushing areas with the solo purpose of ruining other players games.

Minus the cost thing, what I'm typing is all rather starting to sound like EVE...
Not at all. People would just change their behavior so that they average fewer than 15 deaths a month, to profit seek.

This would most likely cause some activities to be such horrible entertainment-value per dollar that very few people would choose to do them, like hard mode raiding and pvp. Since many people would suddenly be getting less value for money, some would certainly quit. But the game would certainly survive.

I'd bet there's already 10-20% of the population out there who only die 15 times a month or fewer. If wow loses everybody else, it would still be profitable, if not as much as it would be otherwise.

But yeah, I have to say this is a silly thought experiment. Buying a book for $10 and reading it for a couple hours, or spending $20 for an hour at a slot machine, either way you lose money, either way you gain enjoyment and have fun. All that matters is hours-of-entertainment*quality-of-entertainment/cost, compared to what you'd be doing otherwise.
Would the game as a whole die? No, I don't think so. But such a change (without other changes to game design) would make the subscriber numbers go down by a lot. I would put the number at 1.5 mil once the dust would settle.

The WoW player base, by design, isn't used to paying a penalty for death. The allure of a potentially free month of play would keep the majority around for a while, but over time people who play with less care to their quality of play (what Gevlon might call the M&S) would rather quit than improve to limit their monthly cost. End game raiding would become more exclusive. PVP servers would become ultra-low population for many reasons, not the least of which would be "I don't want another player to directly affect what I pay per month."

I am curious: what's the point of this thought experiment? I am not sure what to conclude from my thoughts on the question.
Michael, I don't think the game would survive at all.

Charging per death, even if it ended up with less of a bill than the subscription would be very bad psychologically. People are loss averse, so they will get more upset by 'losing' 10 bucks a month than they would spending 15 on a subscription.

A lot of players have other people to answer financially. The thought of having a bad day and having to explain to your wife why you spend $30 bucks on a 'free game'... it's just not going to go well. Aside from the really insane prices Allods was charging the last time anyone mentioned the game, the fact that they had set up the game to make spending money feel like a punishment might have a lot to do with why it's been two years since anyone talked about the game.

BTW, Allods apparently stopped doing the death punishment a year ago, so I guess they came to similar conclusions.
A death cost that high would kill raiding unless it was nerfed to the point of total triviality. There could be no instant-kill mechanics. Healers would be subject to either endless hatred for failure or endless sucking up because of the power they'd hold.

If the death cost was much lower, such as one cent, then I think there would be little effect on the game. People aren't good at adding up lots of tiny amounts and the marginal cost of each death would be tiny indeed. Even a full raid wipe would only be a quarter.

@Michael: People would not [for long] compare their costs to the subscription. That wouldn't even make sense since the sub with free deaths would no longer be an option.
I would love this change! It would add a bit of challenge to general questing and a lot to instances and raids. Performance would actually mean something. Roleplaying would get a boost in popularity. A downside is that there would still be bad players who didn't care how much they spent, but nobody would be forced to group with them anyway.

I do think subscriptions would drop massively, so it would kill the game in that sense.

But bring it on, Blizzard, and you'll have one returning customer at least!
If that's the only change then yes, it would die.

They would have to balance that risk with reward to make it work. For instance gaining levels or killing strong MOBs would refund some money. Farming and providing crafting to other players would also return money. Even grouping or serving as a mentor or event organizer could be rewarded.

That might go a long ways to motivate players to be both skilled and helpful to the community.
Well, Allods is still running and it's always very busy when I play.

Of course it never had the penalty you assign to it.
Bhagpuss, they only changed that cash for death penalty last year.
In addition to Gevlon's obvious griefing, I think economics would dictate different behavior than this would make the player base HTFU.

It would make the average game easier. You raise the cost of death, fewer people die. So now instead of questing through red content where you might die 20% of the time or orange content where you might die 5% of the time, more people would go for the easier content - probably the very easiest. So the difficulty the average player saw would go down.

On sales: customers prefer "all you can eat plans." $9/month movie plans are referable to $2/movie transactions even for people who rent less than 5 times a month. The incremental cost of the next movie is 0 for AYCE versus $2 for the cheaper plan.

For those of us who see games as entertainment not an epeen measuring stick, there is the "phone, fridge & kidney" factor. Except for the "raiding is srs bsns" times, I don't want to have to plan my breaks or have a few interminable load screens and confirmation dialogs pop up just so I can answer phone or nature's calls.
Allod's death penalty was a death debuff that lasted up to a couple hours depending on your level, with a cash item available to remove the debuff. Googling around, it seems like it cost around $13.50 for 20 items.

So, some slight differences, in that I suppose you could just wait out the debuff by going to sleep and playing the next day, but it still ruins endgame PVE in that you'd need to invest lots of money to play.

Speaking to the topic as a whole, in general it'd just be a huge downer to play a game like that. You'd be stuck in a mindset where a minor mistake would either ruin the rest of your night or pay more to play some more.

Of course, cognitive dissonance just struck, as I realize that I've spent way more than $15 in a night at an arcade, plopping down money every time I died or lost a game of Street Fighter.
Some people would probably come up with clever ways to kill unflagged players more than now.

Raiding would be even more limited to the top 1337 players and the gear score needed to enter those raids would probably increase even more.
It would insta-kill raiding, HM in particular. $20/evening just would not cut it.

Even in the completely impossible world some people imagine where some special class HM raiders would survive ($400 x 25 for a Ragnaros HM down, HAHAHA!), they would be completely unable to recruit any lost player, since LEARNING to raid would require an enormous investment.

Trust me, it'll never happen.
If you're going to have this thought experiment mean anything, you need to consider existing versus future content.

If this was implemented, then the focus would not be only on how much it cost, but rather what changes the playerbase saw in the design and difficulty of future content.

Just like microtransactions(and the cries of foul with item stats/implementation), the focus would shift from how many times a player might die, to what mechanics the developer might choose to employ in quests/raids/encounters in an effort to affect their bottom line.

I'm not one of those gamers who would trust in the developers philosophical goodness if this were to be implemented. I can already do a majority of the current content without dying, so new content would have to be guaged on the learning curve of new mechanics. With the sub model, we're relegated to the "time sink" mentality of content creation. I loathe to think of what the developers would come up with to support this "death tax" model of revenue generation.
I like how you make sure real-world consequences gets defined purely in some sort of negative only result.

I know, I'll define a real-world consequence: You get an item and your real life friends congrats you and are maybe envious.

"Oh heck, that's not a real-world consequence!"

Yes it is. It's just you use 'real-world consequence' when you want to refer to something you don't like.
BTW for the sake of statistics: I stared WoW at the beginning of Wrath. According to my statistics (this is main character only), I died 9284 times. The exact calculation of the amount of extra money I would have spent is left as an exercise for the reader :)
Wouldn't those real consequences completely kill the game?

Kill as in absolutely everyone leaves to the point that Blizzard has no income with which to support the game?

Or "Kill" as in the subs drop to the level of games such as LotRO?

If you mean "kill" as in my second example, then I'd say it is highly likely. But the remaining players may see the benefit of guilds and questing with others - if they hadn't before. WoW would become an MMO again. Some people who left the game may actually return.
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