Accidental Death in MMOs

I was a big fan of The Lord of the Rings Online and played for about a year and a half from ’97 to 99′ or so. As in many MMOs, there’s a certain amount of regard for players who can survive many levels without dying. On the other hand many players consider those players “care bears”, a derogatory term for someone who avoids danger to stay alive. One thing that has always bugged in me LOTRO is “real-life-happens accidental death”.

I was a big fan of The Lord of the Rings Online and played for about a year and a half from 2009 to 2010. As in many MMOs, there’s a certain amount of regard for players who can survive many levels without dying. On the other hand many players consider those players “care bears“, a derogatory term for someone who avoids danger to stay alive. Regardless, one thing that has always bugged in me LOTRO is “real-life-happens accidental death”.

“Real-life-happens accidental death” occurs when someone interrupts you, while in game, and you leave the game without thinking if your character is safe – you come back to find your character has died.

Seeing as I ended my LOTRO time in Spring 2009 or so, it might seem strange I’m talking about this now, but here’s what happened: I keep having urges to try it out again. LOTRO is a game with beautiful visuals and relatively engaging characters and gameplay. But there was always the endless grind that kept me from re-activating my account. So, as it happens, Turbine recently announced they were going free-to-play in Fall 2010, and I suddenly had an urge to try the game out again.

I booted up the game, selected my character, was somewhat annoyed my usual name had already been taken, played through the intro, leveled up my character to max before I left the intro instance, thirteen levels or so, and proceeded to die because I left my computer for  a “real-life-happens” moment – somewhat knocked at the door – and I was dead.

This was all in the span of four hours of intense, focused gameplay but, having stayed away from the game for a year because I couldn’t stand the grind, there was no way I was going to put myself through even the intro again witth the chance of repeating that same kind of accidental death. I canceled my subscription on the same day I had renewed it.

So, it all got me thinking. Dying is frustrating when it’s not by your choice. So much so that people lose a lot of their passion for the game the first time they die. They might come back but that drive is no longer as intense as it was. Eventually they fade away along with their subscription fees. Shouldn’t the game companies think of at least some safe guards on accidental deaths?

An MMO is a game. A game is not real life no matter how much we want it to be. So some features to accommodate a real life while playing the MMO would go a long way to retaining long term players.

How about this: What if, when first attacked, if I am non-responsive and proceed to be non-responsive, a feature kicks in which assumes I’m idle and causes enemies to ignore me? Or maybe it teleports me to the nearest safe spot. Or something.

How about something more creative: What if suddenly some key NPCs come to my rescue (running from over the next hill or teleporting in) and prevent me from dying. Then they run back off into the distance and disappear.

Anything is better than enduring a “real-life-happens accidental death.” You have to accommodate your players who live in real life. It’s costing these companies real money.

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