I referred to mechanics that work against their flavor. One on my mind: Players view player death as “the end”. Designers use player death to mean “try again”.
This creates a conflict, particularly for new players who haven’t seen it before. I believe this is a core reason why so many players hate death, and we see most “quitters” after death. Here’s a quote from my friend Wyatt watching new players die playing World of Warcraft several years ago:
“Most players didn’t realize that when they were a ghost they had to go back to their body. A lot of players upon turning into a ghost go off wandering and end up very far from their body. Often when somebody tells the player they have to get back to their body to resurrect or get back to a Spirit Healer, that’s when the player decides it’s easier to just quit.”
Games are reexamining this paradigm. Scanning my shelves, the new Prince of Persia stands out. The narrative of the Prince telling a story and the voice over when you die saying “That’s not how it happened” implies that you made a mistake, but it can be repaired. Bioshock and Pokemon do a good job of taking this approach as well.
The other approach I can think of is to try removing death altogether and replacing it with a better paradigm. In a lot of ways, we have death because we have health and it’s analogs. That seems a lot harder, but it may just be because we haven’t found a better metaphor for “try again”. If I wanted to get someone to try something again after they made a mistake, I’d put them right in front of the problem again, with no down time. Lots of games do that too, and we’ve seen the benefits with higher sales and better impressions. Portal comes to mind, but most First-Person shooters have gone in this direction. The next question then is, how can we bring that approach to other genres, such as strategy games or role-playing games? And can we take find a better “try again” narrative metaphor then death for FPSs?