Game Design

Why you shouldn't have persistent consequences for failure

Persistent consequences for failure, most commonly losing items you had before the try, are used in a lot of games with a reputation for being "hardcore", like Dark Souls. I'm disappointed that more people don't rail against it, so I'll list several downsides and debunk all alleged benefits of the practice that are brought to my attention.

Dark Souls review

It's emotionally harmful

Not only will the player be more upset on failure because they've lost more, but they're likely to *regret trying*. "Why did I decide to play this game when I was distracted?" etc (leading to not wanting to play the game except when they feel they're at their very best). If they were having a bad day and sat down to recoup with their favorite game, they'll come away far more upset because their attempt to get a break from a bad day backfired.

Perhaps worst of all, if someone else in real life is in some way responsible for them losing (such as disturbing them during them an attempt), you can cause interpersonal drama.

In a good game, every time you fail at a hard section you can at least think "Well I got some practice. It wasn't a waste" (Dark Souls is actually a very good demonstration of this feeling whenever the persistent consequences don't apply; Jedi: Fallen Order is a purer example). But that's not true of games that punish you for failure. It's often the case that you'll have truly moved yourself farther away from being able to beat it.

Jedi: Fallen Order review

Disincentivizes experimentation

If they're leaning on a bad strategy as a crutch that only works for the early levels, they're not going to want to try to learn to play better because you'll punish them for doing so. I experienced this with parrying in Dark Souls; it's incredibly powerful but it takes a lot of practice, and during the practice period you'll fare much worse than if you didn't try to parry.

Obviously, you want to encourage players to experiment to see more of what the game has to offer.

Conclusion at the extreme

If the player fails several times, one of the following things will necessarily happen:


As of now, the only defense of the practice I'm aware of is "consequences are necessary to raise the stakes; games aren't as engaging when there are no consequences for failure". This defense, like the similar defense of randomness, simply misconstrues how fun works.

A little bit of randomness is not okay

How fun works

Being afraid of being punished is not fun; being excited to win is. But that excitement scales with the magnitude of the enjoyment of winning, which of course is based on the degree of challenge you overcome. In other words, the real way to make a fight more exciting is not to make it longer or impose consequences for failure but to make it harder. The fear of loss on the other hand scales not with difficulty but with how much you stand to lose. So punishing players for loss raises the fear of losing *without* raising the excitement of winning.


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