I’ve figured it out! I’ve solved all of our problems! I have singlehandedly saved the MMORPG genre! The answer we were looking for the entire time was the one thing we didn’t want to address! The solution to our problem is PERMADEATH!
Deep breath, hooooooo… whewwwwwww. Okay.
After thinking about MMOs as well as Greek Mythology over the weekend (kept seeing commercials for Clash of the Titans) I remembered a quote from the 2004 movie Troy,
“Let me tell you a secret, something they don't teach you in your temple. The Gods envy us. They envy us because we're mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we're doomed. You will never be more lovely than you are now. We will never be here again” –Achilles
How excited were you the first time you faced down a dungeon boss? You had (relatively) no idea what was coming, you only knew that this intimidating monster was probably going to hand you your ass. Remember the exhilaration? Remember the fear and adrenaline pumping through your veins? What about when you first ran from a mob, realizing you were in over your head and couldn’t win the fight? Or when you peered over a hill to find an elite mob, knew you had little chance of beating it, and decided to charge it anyway? The thrill existed only because fear accompanied it. But without consequence or risk, the thrill diminishes when you realize you can die again and again and it doesn't change anything, you can always try again.
Imagine an MMO that is a bit easier than WoW, but if you die you have to start over. How much more fun would it be to do a dungeon raid or run through a higher level zone if you knew that your character really was risking his life? More importantly, how much more rewarding would it be when you succeeded? Victories would be sweeter, rewards would be even more valuable, groups would be closer, and playtime would be much more memorable.
Naturally we have to take into account that humans are terribly risk averse and might be scared to venture out if they're faced with permadeath. An inheritance system might help cushion the blow, where you can roll a new character that is the son or daughter of your freshly-killed warrior, and while they do start at beginning level, they progress faster based on how high their parent's level was. Eventually characters would be able to track their lineage back several generations and be able to level extra fast. As for gear, a "Vengeance System" could be implemented to retrieve lost gear, where a descendant could defeat the faction/boss/mob type that felled their parent and reclaim the gear they were wearing.
There are ways to slightly cushion the blow of permadeath, but its major impact is exactly what we need in games to bring back the fear and excitement
Disclaimer: I am not egotistical enough to actually think I have solved the problems of MMOs, its obviously a (bad) joke.