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A problem I've encountered in some MMO games, is that players congregate around the endgame content, meaning that when a new player joins they are basically playing a solo game until they reach a high enough level to join the other players.

To combat that, I'm considering giving the player characters a finite lifespan. For example making it so that after X hours of gameplay, or once they reach level X, they start losing power instead of gaining it. Then they are encouraged to reincarnate, starting again from level 1 and only carrying over some small subset of their abilities.

My hope is that this will make the early game content (probably randomly generated, to keep it interesting) more useful, and more busy.

My questions is:

How could I implement this to make it appealing to the players?

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    \$\begingroup\$ There's actually plenty of examples of that. A lot of games do reincarnation to make you experience the same areas, but being more powerful (so giving you a motive). Lineage 2 did that ages ago, you were able to make a sub-class and start again from low level, although it wasn't a requirement. \$\endgroup\$ – TomTsagk Jun 27 '18 at 15:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to Game Development! I've slightly modified your question to bring it on topic: asking for games that do this is off-topic here, and asking whether it's "wise" favor "yes/no" answers, which is not exactly what we're looking for here. I hope this current formulation will help you find ways you could achieve this in a way that would be fun for the players. \$\endgroup\$ – Vaillancourt Jun 27 '18 at 16:22
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I am a big proponent of some form of character permadeath in MMOs so I have some ideas.

MMO's are about progression, reaching ever greater heights but that does not necessarily have to do with your character being an immortal.

World permanence and group progression.

In most MMOs the world is static while your character is permanent but if you had the real ability to change the world effectively and leave your mark on the world you wouldn't be as dependent on character permanence. Thinks along the lines of Minecraft or EQ: Landmark shaping the world through blocks as well as complex social structures and political factions ala EVE.

Furthermore I propose players to be relegated as citizens of a town/city and be tied as part of that local community. Instead of individual character progress you can have a shared group progress by developing that town like in a RTS game with base construction. Crafting and gear can be tied to the level of development of that town and the facilities present where everyone in the group can pinch in resources to construct new buildings.

Develop a Cathedral and players in that community can unlock more advanced classes like Cardinals and Bishops with powerful abilities.

Ashes of Creation has a similar idea with nodes that develop a region but I don't know how that will turn out.

All players should have an allegiance to one of those towns even if you can migrate there should be limits with some encouragement given to developing new towns in uncharted lands. You would also have a form of reputation and status with that city that would be gone if you migrate.

This is to create a sense of community and belonging.

Your reputation and status hower is not affect by your character's death. Characters are expendable and could be thinked of as units in a RTS. Your are meant to represent multiple lives and generations.

More nefarious players would have bandit or pirate groups with their camps but the same sense of being part of a group.

To me the spirit of community and development of it is much more real permanece in the world then an immortal character the same as the rest of the other immortal characters.


Class Unlocks

I mentioned things like unlocking advanced classes through building things in the city. But class unlocks have potential even beyond that.

Class unlocks can be permanent progress on your account and when you die you can start as that class.

In Warframe crafting a new weapon or warframe can be a whole journey that takes you from place to place.

Unlocking classes can be similarly be a journey that can make you experience many things the game has to offer through it's requirements and achievements as well as having plenty of secrets left to explore.

Reincarnating and advancing as a new class can be a hard reset so that we could get players acclimated that something like death is a normal part of the game.

To advance to a higher potential you need to rest your progress.


Permadeath with lives

Permadeath in a MMO can be tricky, we don't need the purity of Roguelikes where you only have one chance. We can implement a lives system like in the old Mario games.

Every class has a limited number of lives that cannot increase in any way and once they are gone that character permadies.

What is interesting about this is different classes can have different amount of lives with base classes having more than advanced classes. This could have interesting consequences with some class unlocks requirements needing to achieve its goals with one character so it could be a tradeoff between the power and abilities of an advanced class versus the safety net the lives represent for a base class.

Furthermore this system solves the networking and DC issues that a permadeath system represents. One monthly renewed character life can be given for networking issues and other problems that can be contested with a GM and reinstated if the GM finds the issue legitimate through the logs.


Soft Permadeath

This comes from Mordheim:City of the Damned. In that game when a character is knocked out they will get a number of permanent wounds until that character becomes so wondend he becomes useless.

A similar idea could be implemented. On death characters will get a wound that might or might not be healed. Healing could require special resources or other ways of taking care of it. Like having a cyborg arm that has to be crafted.

Ultimately that character will eventually be too expensive or useless to maintain so you roll a new character.

I think this system has its own kind of charm and it would be funny to see pirate like characters with wooden legs, eyepatches and a hook for a hand.

And the demand for "alternative" gear would be interesting in a crafting economy.

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What to keep between incarnations

Keeping in mind that the person playing is the same, and we cannot make the real person playing forget how to beat the game... there is little motivation to erase what the character knows.

That is, something you can keep from an incarnation to another is knowledge. For example, learned spells, intrigue, etc. For instance, you may not have the level or energy to cast a spell but you may not have to learn it again, or you could skip the sub plot of figuring out what you need to do and just go do it, and dialog trees that depend on the character having done something already could stay open.


What to lose between incarnations

Evidently, level, iventory, etc... would be lost.

Interestingly, the world is the same. A way to keep stuff could be to have a vault in a bank that is tied to a password, with instructions to give to whoever knows the password, and with some limited space for storage. Using it you could give a few items to your next incarnation.

If the character after reincarnation is different. This means that NPCs does not have to recognize you. If your game have relationships, diplomacy, or similar mechanics, that could be wiped out.

What happens to the character from the old incarnation? You can have a hall of fame in game, a leader board of sorts.

Consider the mechanic of rewinding time in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.


Aging the characters

You need to be careful about how you affect the character. On one hand you risk it feeling unfair, and on the other some people may like the extra challenge for playing the handicaps of old age.

You see, it is natural that difficulty goes up. You do it too much, and it is unfair, you do it too little and the game is boring. You do it just right and it is engaging. So, do you really want to increase difficulty to motivate people to reincarnate?

If you do, plot wise, characters could have a disease (a curse?), that will give them an unusually short life span. An interesting variant is that this is an unholy dimension that corrupts the characters, or drains their sanity.


I did also consider something else... but it looks more on the engaging side: Going back to the idea of diplomacy and similar systems, you could implement something like the Nemesis System from Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Just like people remember you, enemies might be aware of you and be more aggresive or come better prepared... however that goes away when you reincarnate.


On progression systems

You also have the risk of the playing felling they are being held back in early content. You need to build a healthy progression system, one that does not require the player to waste time learning what they already know, and that does not rely on heavily on grind and random loot.

In fact, does your game need progression? To challenge the assumptions of the question, consider that a game would not suffer from heavy content abandonment if it didn't have a heavy progression system. Getting rid of the progression system would - probably - make people label your game as "casual"... but ther is nothing wrong with that, many "casual" games have high engagement from their players.

So, make the game fun first. If you will have a progression system, make it integral to the game, but not rely on psychological traps... because, the game should be fun first. Done correctly, and players should be able to enjoy staying in the early levels, even if they have already beated the whole game.

Addendum: There is also the issue of balance. If the higher level player leaves nothing to the lower player to do, that is bad. Avoiding the progression system would fix that. Reincarnation - if there is motivation to do it - could fix it too.

See also: My alswer to "Level playing field: Punish the better player or enhance the worse player?".


Motivationt to reincarnate

People can be willing to replay a game on their own, but often they do not what to lose what took them effort to get. Owning a virtual item feels like owning a real item... so, we need a bit of extra encouragement.

Aside from using random generation, and having score and ranking systems...

You could have titles that can only be acquired on the first try, and then use this to tweak the experience. For example NPCs could have different interactions if you have different titles. Futhermore, having some title could prevent you from getting another... now it can interesting to reincarnate to - try to - explore what happens when you get a different set of titles.

Ideas:

  • A title for being undefeated.
  • A title for finding a pacifist solution to a conflict.
  • A title for killing large quantities of enemies.

Alternatively, there could be some meta gaming. Perhaps between reincarnations you go to an afterlife/astral plane where you create your new avatar, and may have the chance to give you special quirks (perhaps some form of blessing or genetic manipulation, perhaps there are secrets/passwords that you can discover in the game and use here). With that, there are thing that you can only get by reincarnation.

Notes:

  • It does not have to be an afterlife. Perhaps, it is all in virtual reality, or you are remote controlling avatars, or you could be reliving the memories of an ancestor, or it is time travel... you get the idea.

  • If anybody can input these secrets/passwords, there would be no motivation to replay. However, I think the game is more interesting if you do not have to get them from the source, but another player can give them to you. One option could be to have a way to share them in game... another would be to have them change them randomly and periodically, so people have to rediscover them.

Consider the reincarnation mechanic of - if you know what it is - Cookie Clicker.

See also: My answer to "Should I worry about Youtube Let's Plays when I'm creating a story-heavy game?", as it has a similar concern: keeping the gameplay interesting even when people already know the plot of the game.


If it applies, I would suggest to ask worldbuilding for implications of people reincarnating. The economy and politic of (your particular brand of) reincarnation could guide your setting. And for your consideration: Is there people in universe that know that reincarnation is a thing?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ On the aging thing the first Fable had something like that with training you skills. Maybe that could be a tradeoff with being more skilled and powerful fast with no grinding but at the cost of a shorter lifespan. Maybe have a training room with x1000 accelerated time but at the cost of your age. \$\endgroup\$ – adrix89 Jun 29 '18 at 9:12

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