The penalty for death is a highly divisive topic in the MMO community.
If WoW is your first online game, you most likely have a different take than vets that graduated from the universities of Ultima Online or Everquest, where other players could loot your corpse, potentially setting you back months of playing.
As Keen notes, recent releases [SWTOR, GW2, TERA] have seen a movement away from heavily punishing MMO players for failure and he questions whether this trend is having a negative impact on the playerbase.
I would argue that in the pre-MMO era, death has historically only punished gamers by forcing them to ‘do-over’ small amounts of content. For Pacman and Mario, that meant starting again at the beginning of the most recent level. In the case of arcade games, that meant having to pay out more money – an imbalanced punishment which hardly impacted on the wealthy kids, who would just shovel in coins until they completed the content.
Yes, I still live in seething resentment of guy I watched plow through Cadillacs and Dinosaurs in an afternoon.
The difference between these arcade games of old and the MMOs of today is the strong emphasis on rewards that persist between play sessions, such as gear and experience. These have proven to be powerful incentives to get players to return time and time again, and can be used to direct certain behaviours such as collaborative play, and staying up into the wee hours of the morning, waiting for respawns.
It is my view that too much emphasis is placed on these ‘carrots’. We human beings are weak in the face of such rewards and so earning them and retaining them becomes more important than actually enjoying the game. Risk aversion leads to the bizarre situation where you have people running around naked in Darkfall, lest they be killed and lose everything.
If developers want to take away such rewards in order to make death more punishing, they need to diminish the importance of these shinies, or we will tend to go where our precious is safe…