Salem: Permadeath and open PvP

I saw a trailer for Paradox’s Salem over on Arislyn’s Tumblr page. I’d only heard a tiny bit about this upcoming MMO: basically that it took place in Colonial New England, was a sandbox game and so lots of crafting and what-not.

Now I’ve learned that it features permadeath and open PvP. The creative director, “Brother Bean” says he believes the player population will police itself and find its own balance. It’s a brave direction to take and I enthusiastically support the plan while at the same time doubt it can succeed. I’m glad I’m not investing in it, but I’m happy it is being made.

Here’s the problem with punishment in MMOs, in my opinion: it’s binary. When someone commits a crime against you, your options are: ignore the character or kill the character. There’s no other law or recourse beyond slaughter. I think for a system like Salem’s to work there needs to be the potential for some kind of (player run) police force. If you steal a chicken from your neighbor, someone should be able to forcibly take that chicken back and then make you pay some kind of fine. As it stands now the only way of doing that is to kill you and loot the chicken and fine from your corpse, which seems pretty extreme.

I’m not sure how to handle punishment in any other way. If you put a character in some kind of prison, the player is just going to log off and go do something else. Maybe some kind of tax system where a % of any wealth you pick up magically goes to whomever you’ve mistreated?

Maybe Salem will work; I’d love to be proven wrong. But there are just so many bored gamers out there who’d happily spend time to strengthen a new character just so he can then go and grief someone else. Sure, the ‘community’ will then kill him in turn, but that’s small comfort for that character’s initial victim, who now has to start over.

Hmm, maybe a semi-permadeath system where you only stay dead if the person who killed you manages to stay alive for 24 hours after the killing? And the dead has the ability to speak to the living and plead his case…

I dunno, just a random thought. What do you think? Could permadeath and open PvP ever work together?