The death penalty of various MMORPGs is a topic of interest to many people - I've seen a number of thought provoking posts, and what more cheerful topic than death of your virtual avatar right before the holidays? Elder Game has a look at the death penalties of WoW and EQ2 and the ramifications of the death penalties, which often spin off to unexpected territory (like the way people play the game):
Most MMO's, however, have relatively punitive death penalties because they are designed for players that want to be challenged, not just engaged. The theory goes that if a game doesn't punish you for playing poorly, then your rewards for playing well will be hollow and without much significance. That's true to an extent ... but of course, that's only true if "playing well" is your motivation for playing the game.
But the death penalty has other side-effects, too. If the penalty is lenient, players find themselves experimenting with more tactics, exploring the landscape more, and poking into nooks and crannies of the game. If the penalty is harsh, they tend to stick with the strategies they know. Good survival strategies become more valuable, and in many games, players find that grouping together makes for a better survival strategy. So we often find that strong death penalties correlate with more grouping.
It's an interesting little piece on the ramifications of one bit of game design. I always like seeing pieces like these - especially when the discussion spins off to different territory entirely.