[Note: This was written before CIG published "Death of a Spaceman" and clarified the death mechanism in the game. As noted in the comments below, even Chris' tome on death leaves some economic questions unanswered.]
Nomad banked right, but with nearly every system out she knew it was a useless maneuver. That other pilot wanted her dead. She already ejected her cargo and offered to pay the pilot to spare her ship, but no response. Nomad punched out just as her engine exploded.
Five seconds later, Jennifer watched as the opposing pilot detonated Nomad’s escape pod. “Well, shit,” Jennifer thought. “I was really attached to that character. Nomad was one spunky chick and she’s out of medical repair options.”
It’s likely going to be 2015 until we see the full release of Star Citizen. This is worth mentioning given the heated discussions on the site forums since a brief comment on character death made by Cloud Imperium Games’ Chris Roberts. There is a great deal of coding and gameplay balancing to happen over the next two years.
In an interview with the Coalition of Christian Gamers (CoCG) posted on YouTube, CIG’s Chris Roberts talked about how character death might be handled in the game. And while I believe most folks on the forums misunderstood or are blowing the comments out of proportion, his comments caused quite a stir.
Handling death in a game is not a trivial choice. The more “painful” death is to a player, the more likely the player will be very careful. The “death penalty” in any particular game is a matter of much debate and discussion among players, and perhaps nowhere is that more true than in Star Citizen since CIG has committed to developing the game openly with community input.
“Permanent Death” is one way to handle death in the game. Under the definition I use, permanent death means the player loses his/her character, all the goodies earned to that point in the game, and has to start over from zero. Very few games feature this severe of a death penalty.
During the CoCG interview, Chris Roberts indicated the CIG team was exploring the idea of a modified form of permanent character death. Chris said that any character dying in game would be medically repaired. After a few deaths, those medical repairs would require some cybernetic implants. After a few more deaths, or perhaps a certain number of deaths in a short period, that character would become medically unrepairable and permanently die.
The character’s goodies wouldn’t disappear, however. They would be “willed” to a next of kin. The player would continue with the same goodies, just with a different character. In this type of death penalty design, dying in game wouldn’t mean the player had to start over from scratch – but it might mean the player would have to develop a new character from scratch.
This has serious economic system implications. Or at least it could, depending on CIG’s implementation of this concept.
As a reminder, Star Citizen has something akin to a reputation system called “citizenship”. If you have a high citizenship level, you have an easier time getting help when being raided and certain perks in policed areas. You may also be more of a target in rogue areas. Conversely, if you have very poor (negative) citizenship, you’re going to have trouble traveling in any unpoliced area and be welcomed in rogue areas.
Does a dead character’s citizenship transfer to the next-of-kin? If not, relationships nurtured (with the authorities or rogues) over many hours of game play would have to be re-created. This could be a real issue for players, especially casual players who don’t devote all their waking hours to the game.
Do a dead character’s contracts pass to the next-of-kin? As discussed in other posts, contracts are going to have to be an integral part of any functional economic system design. If contracts die with a character, that will make for some interesting issues. Let’s say a player took two shipping contracts and picked up both loads, but in different vessels. While delivering Contract A in his/her Constellation, the player’s character dies. Does that mean Contract B dies, too? If that’s the case, the player just got whatever he/she picked up in his/her Freelancer on Contract B for free. Hardly fair to the contract counterparty.
To pair the above two issues, how would it be handled if the loss of citizenship status due to character death prevents the fulfillment of a contract? A rogue who picked up a transport contract to rogue space is going to get jumped instantly if he/she shows up there with a shiny “noob” citizenship level. “Wait! I used to be…” will be muffled by blaster fire and the sound of an exploding ship.
Then there are Guild memberships. In Privateer, membership in the Merchants’ or Mercenaries’ Guilds weren’t cheap. We can expect the same from the various Guilds in Star Citizen. Would Guild memberships pass to the next-of-kin? If not, this might also have an impact on contracts.
The biggest economic implication of this death penalty approach revolves around the character’s name. If I die in the game, is my next-of-kin named “Eidolonius the Second” so the friends I’ve made in the game recognize me instantly? Or will I have to explain to everyone I meet that “I used to be Eidolonius before that WingMan dude ganked me.”
And what if I’ve had multiple characters die? “Well, you might have known me as Eidolonius. No? Tracer? Nomad? Tigger? Eeyore?” That would obviously get really old, really fast.
For the loss of a character to mean anything, I fully expect there to be some things that don’t get passed down to the next-of-kin. Citizenship and Guild memberships are obvious ones as they, at least theoretically, only affect the player. Voiding contracts would be problematic, though some provisions could be made for voiding only contracts not in the process of being filled.
I worry most about character renaming. Economics in any situation, real world or game universe, are about relationships. If character death requires renaming, this could have an unintended adverse impact on the economy because it would clearly make maintaining relationships more difficult.