Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Do You Really Want to Lose 50% of the Time?

I’ve posted about failure before and about how Sid Meier stated that players want to feel that they are winning. I agree with him, but apparently Tobold doesn’t, calling for a 50:50 win/loss ratio not only in PvP but in PvE as well. What does losing really mean though?

As I pointed out in the post linked above, failure in single-player games often means the death of your character and having to reload or re-play a chunk of the game to get back to where you were. I think there can be no doubt that implementing a 50% chance of dying into every fight with a traditional death system makes for awful gameplay. A loading screen or corpse run after every second enemy is simply annoying and can quickly lead to frustration.

A similar loss in a multiplayer game is not as bad, due to the fact that those games have a completely different focus. There, the fights are the game. Starcraft II multiplayer, for example, is a succession of (more or less fair) fights – and that is all it is. Whether you win or lose a fight, the whole point of the fight was the fight itself. Compare that to a story-driven game like Dragon Age 2. There, fights are only parts of the game and losing one both keeps you from experiencing the story and breaks immersion.

So is Tobold totally wrong? I don’t think so. (Shocking, I know.) As pointed out in that previous post of mine, the trick is to integrate failure (losing) into the game in such a way that players accept it. This isn’t easy with quick save and quick load being integral features of many modern single player games. The comments on this post of mine also show that there is a subset of people who don’t like accepting bad results of their decisions and will load a save game when things don’t turn out the way they liked. I am one of them and have to force myself not to do so in story driven games.

There is no saving and loading in MMOs of course, but those have replacement mechanics for resetting your progress. Have you ever died deep in a cave in World of Warcraft then done a corpse run only to find that the monsters have respawned and the only option available to you is to clear the whole thing from the beginning again? Now imagine having to do that after every second monster in the cave. Yeah. The following quote by Alan Kay may be a recipe for success, but it is not really one for fun.

“If you don’t fail at least 90 percent of the time, you’re not aiming high enough.” – Alan Kay (Chris Crawford On Game Design, pp 440)

Games would need a massive redesign to accommodate for a 50:50 win/loss ratio in PvE and even then we would be disregarding Sid’s wisdom. I’d love for failure to be acceptable, but that is quite a bit of work ahead of us.


  • The problem is that games, especially RPGs, tend to simulate a high-risk activity, like exploring a cave full of undead.

    It is hard to imagine a way of failing in this setting that doesn’t result in death or another harsh penalthy. In fact, the activity was simulated (chosen as a setting) exactly because it was high-risk.

    Of course, you can ignore the simulation and focus on gameplay. For example, the player could just be ‘defeated’ if he fails and revive some 10 seconds later with full health. But really, why did you chose a high-risk setting in that case?

    Games are a bit schizophrenic here.
    Nils´s last blog post ..Creative Gameplay

  • They are. In a way, one of the main draws of the fantasy world of a game (as in “imagined” not “Tolkien”) is that you get to experience situations which would be far too risky to experience in real life and to be able to master them (unlike real life.)