Softening the blow of losing

I’ve been playing Dota 2 lately, and it has made me think a lot about losing (cue laughter). Losing is part of any competitive game but there are steps that can be made to soften the blow.

In a discussion about board games on Shacknews, Riptyde linked a post titled Monopoly is terrible. It’d been a long time since I enjoyed a game of Monopoly and this post helped me realise why: ‘It usually doesn’t take long to determine who will win a game of Monopoly. Unfortunately, the game has to continue several hours beyond this point to make this winner official.’ In other words: It takes a very long time to lose. Modern board games will have a hard limit that is reached (get 10 points, for example) that happens abruptly, and often will allow other players to catch up using some self-balancing mechanics.

Team Fortress 2 tries to make losing fun, or at least not so frustrating. One of the worst things a  player can feel, from a game design standpoint, is uselessness upon death, and to counter this Valve attempts to build a connection between the player and his killer. Upon death the player is shown a freeze frame of their killer, which serves dual purposes: it clearly indicates the location of the opponent (allowing the player to avoid or target them next time), and also frequently provides some comedy, with cartoon body parts or characters in funny poses.

In Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends, losing can be drawn out and frustrating. Even with large skill differences between teams it can still take a significant amount of time for the winning team to fully demolish the other, and the compounding level/gold effects of doing so means there is little to no chance of coming back from such a loss. As a result, both games have implemented the ability for the losing team to vote on conceding the match, past a certain time limit. This allows players to at least end more quickly the ‘oh god we are losing’ stage of the game.

Dota 2, however, seems to deliberately leave this feature out. Allegedly, this is to encourage people to keep playing to the bitter end, which keeps the game fun for the winning team, and provides the possibility of a miracle turnaround. This doesn’t exactly soften the blow of losing, but for those few games where your team does manage to claw their way back from  an inevitable defeat… it might just be worth it.