- Slower leveling: long =/= hard. Saying "cheese" is easy. Saying it 10K times is long, but not harder. Yet it would be great if one could finish his questlines without greying out all the quests and monsters.
- Experience loss death penalty: Definitely yes. Without death penalty all content, regardless difficulty can be brute-forced: you try and try and try until the RNG gives it to you. So without death penalty nothing is hard, just long (need more tries).
For someone who spends a lot of time talking about opportunity costs, I'm especially surprised to see Gevlon of all people fall for the "harsh death penalty = more difficult" fallacy.
ALL MMORPG death penalties are really just time
When you die in WoW, you suffer two penalties:
- Time lost running as a ghost back to your corpse to revive, recast any buffs, and deal with any respawned mobs.
- Money spent on repair bills and refreshing any consumables that ended early because of your demise.
The time is, obviously, time. The money, however, can also be measured in terms of the time it would take you to replace it.
Now let's look at the exp penalty that Gevlon says prevents players from repeatedly retrying content until they win via RNG default. Experience debt on death delays your next level, while the losing levels outright might obligate you to go back and regain the level immediately before you can continue what you were doing. Still, both penalties are ultimately reversed by spending more time playing to re-gain the lost exp.
How about item loss? Games with item loss/decay very rarely feature items that simply cannot be replaced. EVE veterans repeat the motto "don't fly it if you can't afford to replace it". In this context, loss of items is effectively loss of money, which we've already established is actually loss of time.
But what if the game goes even further, and actually inflicts irreversible harm to the character, whether it's permanent loss of an irreplaceable item or even the almost-never used extreme of permadeath? Even in this case, the amount of damage the developer can inflict on the player can be reduced to a quantity of time - the time it would take to replace their character re-starting from scratch.
Unless the developers are actually charging you real world money by the death - and playing a game with that business model would be a real leap of faith - there are no penalties that cannot be reduced to an amount of time that it takes to recover from the damage.
The effect of increasing time penalties
Though all penalties are ultimately an amount of time, there is no question that the amount in question differs drastically from game to game. In WoW, I find that the gold cost for repairs and consumables is all-but irrelevant in the context of my daily income. In EQ2, the experience debt for a death can be fully paid off with a handful of mob kills, or logging off for the night. By contrast, losing a level in FFXI can put the player in the difficult position of having to seek a group that's farming in a different level range.
Even so, all of this is merely increasing the time the player is penalized for their mistakes. And, as Gevlon himself says barely a line before falling for the death penalty fallacy, long is not necessarily hard. If anything, the game that players actually experience when harsh death penalties are implemented becomes easier, not more challenging. Players are not willing to risk failure when the penalty in their time is so steep, and thus they are far more inclined to demand group-mates who outgear the content or can otherwise demonstrate that they will provide a SAFE experience.
Ironically, we're seeing precisely the same behavior in WoW today, despite its supposed lack of death penalty. The fact is that a five-man group that wipes twice on every boss and needs to replace someone midway through via votekick or frustration can easily spend double or triple the time it takes an overgeared raid team to clear content that's five tiers below them. And, sure enough, players bail out on unpopular dungeons and immediately votekick their team-mates if gearscores and achievement checks raise concerns that someone will not be able to pull their own weight. Perhaps even WoW has more of a death penalty than people realize.