The Sting Of Death
I died in EVE Online for the first time last night and I felt something I haven’t felt in a MMORPG for many years: the sting of death. I wasn’t pounding my fist on the desk or screaming at the top of my lungs but it hurt, oh boy, did it hurt. I was shocked, pissed, and completely regretting the moment when I decided to charge full speed into a swarm of tough rats (NPC pirates). Alas, after a few moments, I recovered and felt OK about it all and then, a little while later, I thought to myself “hey, this death mechanic is actually pretty good…”.
For those of you aren’t familiar with EVE Online, when you die you lose your ship and all the equipment on it. Your cargo remains in your ship’s wreck to be collected later (hopefully by yourself) and you eject into an escape pod to use to get your ass to the nearest space station and equip another ship. Sometimes other players will maliciously destroy your escape pod too (known as podding), in which case you end up back at a cloning facility. Of course, there are ways to alleviate the sting of death by making sure your ship is insured and your clone is up to date. As I discovered, good insurance is very important as, for about 1/4 the price of your ship, you can get almost your full investment back when it’s destroyed. The weapons and items you’ve attached to your ship, however, are lost into the aether.
My net loss (after my insurance payout), due to my death, was about 1.4 million ISK. To give you an indication of timescales, I could probably earn that much in about an hour or two. I was flying a Cormorant destroyer, fully insured fortunately, so it wasn’t hard to replace, however I’d had just bought a new tractor beam that very day which cost me a cool 1 mill ISK and now it was destroyed. Ouch indeed.
So you may be wondering why I actually quite like this death mechanic. Now I’m not a masochist or anything like that but I feel that a fear of death is healthy and the only way to induce a healthy fear is through a nasty sting. Being scared to die makes me sweat when I’m in tough battles and think twice about what I want to do and how I want to do it. It adds consequences to the game world and provides a balance to our actions. Without the sting of death, the point of it is meaningless and there becomes no need to challenge ourselves as players.
Death in EVE also has the very cunning side effect of controlling the virtual economy and the trade market. Money is very important in EVE, moreso than many other MMORPGs I’ve played, and to give value to currency you need to make sure that the market never becomes saturated. Most MMOs do this through souldbound mechanics whilst EVE does it through item and propety destruction, ensuring there is a continual and constant demand for ships, weapons and equipment. Clever, very clever.
Anyone that knows me will tell you that I’m a casual MMO player but I make the distinction of being casual in time, not in challenge. I don’t have any problems with the death mechanics in EVE, in fact, I applaud it. It brings depth to the game world, gives consequences to our actions and, above all else, it teaches us some very valuable lessons.