Thought for the Day: Why we need the grind

When we talk about the grind in an MMO, we mean some kind of repetitive action that a player must repeat for hours. Figuring out how to optimise the grind IS the basic unit of MMO gameplay. These are resource management games; the main resource is player time and the main gameplay is strategic. The grind is deeply embedded into the virtual world side of the game — it’s a way to simulate that an activity is time consuming in the virtual world.

This is why gold buying breaks the game conceptually (this is not a moral argument, by the way, it’s based on gameplay). You break the simulation by bringing real life cash into play, it’s like bringing a gun to a knife fight.

Every time a game introduces a buttload of new tokens with an associated vendor, players are  encouraged to strategise how to most conveniently get those tokens, and how they want to prioritise their purchases.

Every time a new reputation grind is introduced, players are encouraged to think about how to most conveniently get whatever level of reputation they need for the rewards they want. (This is why the most popular post on this blog is the one about how to get the Crusader title in WoW, it’s based on multiple reputations.)

Every time a player creates a new alt, they’re encouraged to think about how to optimise the levelling time.

Every time a game introduces a large game world, players are encouraged to think about how they plan to minimise their travel time.

Every time a game introduces a new gold sink, players are encouraged to think about how to most conveniently get enough gold in game to buy the whatsit-du-jour.

If the grind is removed … is what’s left really an MMO?

About these ads

20 thoughts on “Thought for the Day: Why we need the grind

  1. If the grind is removed … is what’s left really an MMO?

    Well, there’s the Massively Multiplayer Online part. Second Life has no grind whatsoever. And nothing in the Role Playing Game part dictates that you have to keep doing the same thing all the time.

    It’s just that developers define variety as killing ten blue foozles instead of killing five red foozles. And I can see why. It’s very cost-efficient to implement the ten blue foozles grind if you already have the five red foozles one. And the players are happy (or at least content enough to keep paying) with this. So.. why would a developer want to remove the grind, especially from a subscription-based game?

    • Of course not. But if we can agree that it is an MMO, then we can start deconstructing gameplay itself to find out how and when the grind got introduced. IMHO, it has been a part of computer gameplay since it’s inception. With limited creativity, storage space, time and processing power, developers had to come up with means of delivering entertainment above and beyond the scale of their competitors. MMORPGs, especially subscription-based MMORPGs are designed to provide entertainment for thousands of hours or even years, so the grind features prominently there. But you only need to look at Computer Space, Pac-Man and Asteroids to see that it was there right from the start.

  2. Personally I think of grind as the gameplay I don’t particularly have to pay attention to.

    A raid isn’t grind, I’m concentrating. Meaningful pvp isn’t grind, (eg Eve) I don’t want to lose my ship and get podded.

    Playing the auction house – grind. Farming mobs – grind. Alterac Valley – grind.

    Strategising one’s grind isn’t grind – it’s very interesting to figure out gold making strategies, but it’s grind to do them.

    I do find I like to balance grind with challenge. I don’t want pure challenge, it gets too much. Equally pure grind is dull.

    I think that’s why I look down on gold buyers. Generally what I see as challenge they see as grind because they’re only giving 10% effort in raids, watching films at the same time etc, what I see as grind they skip.

    I suspect there are some adrenalin junkies out there who really do want non-stop challenge though. I’m not sure everyone needs grind.

  3. I asked a friend of mine in passing – “Why must childbirth be so freaking traumatic? Shouldn’t they make it nice, so you’re more inclined to do it more often?”. My friend, who is rather wise, replied: “It hurts so you value it.”

    Indeed. Why bother to look after something that’s quickly, easily and pleasantly replaced? While comparing an alt to a human being seems horrific, I still believe that, to mangle what my friend said, developers make you hurt (be it time-wise or wallet-wise) so you’re more invested in the fruits of your labours.

  4. Afaik most of the earliest computer gaming work was Chess which has no grind.

    Ah, but Chess is not just a computer game, and didn’t start it’s life as such. It is also a PvP game, while my examples were PvE games. While there are some emerging patterns, human players can always throw a spanner in the works. So far, computer opponents in general aren’t known for original thinking.

  5. Is Second Life a game, though?
    Of course not. But if we can agree that it is an MMO

    I’m going to split hairs here but no, we cannot agree that Second Life is an MMO if it’s not a game. We lazy players love our 3-letter acronyms but if we expand it back into the words we’re left with sentences like “I love playing Massively Multi-player Online…” what? The fact you said you love “playing” and more importantly that second M in MMO stands for Multi-player implies the G(ame) we leave off the end of the acronym. If Second Life is not a game, we therefore to not “play” it, thus there are no multiple players, massively or otherwise.

    For me, any time I use the word “grind” I specifically mean a repetitive action in the game that I no longer enjoy. The term came up specifically because MMOG’s have been designed to not only keep you playing — and therefore paying — but to keep you playing for long stretches of time as well. This has gradually been changing as more modern games very slowly relent on the time requirements to complete any certain parcel of content, but it’s still very much there. Grinding can be simply killing mobs mindlessly for XP and loot, or it can be the umpteenth time in an instance or raid where the only remaining surprises come as a result of what a new player to the group or instance does if he doesn’t follow instructions to a T. The rest of the group knows the instance backward and forward and can do it with their eyes closed. It’s no longer a game at that point; it’s no longer fun; it’s a grind.

    You could even say a lot of FPS matches are grinds since you’re doing the same thing over and over: running and shooting. The names of the people you’re shooting at — and who are shooting back at you — change, but at its core it is a repetitive action. The difference is most (not all, it depends on the shooter sub-genre) FPS matches allow players to come and go as they please, and often 20 minutes or so is enough whereas in most MMOG’s you can barely get anything accomplished in that time frame.

    MMOG’s are a business, first and foremost. If we could zip through the developer content with no repetition (unless we simply wanted to) and no mandatory repetitive content like daily quests, etc. would players stick around for the long haul? On the one hand, I want to say yes simply because I look at all the (seemingly) optional content that a lot of players turn into mandatory (for themselves) content. Crafting is a great example. In the majority of theme park MMORPG’s crafting is nothing more than a time-sink and is just this side of useless. Yet players continually think they “must” max out their crafting skills, and spend untold hours and in-game gold doing so.

    The heart of this post actually seems to be yet another attack on the players who buy gold though, rather than grinding itself. While it’s not an activity I partake of myself — hell, I won’t even let my main give gold to any alts, I make them earn their own damn gold — but I don’t really have a problem with it because (and this is very important so pay attention) it does not affect my game. At all. My apologies to the heavy crafters and auction house players out there, but I just don’t see that theme-park MMORPG’s have any semblence of a true economy for gold-buyers to have much of an effect there, and I doubt anyone can convince me otherwise. As for buying characters or gear… who cares? Really! I used to raid full-time in WoW with multiple classes. Say I wanted to jump back into WoW after all this time and get back into the raiding game so I decide to buy a maxed-out character rather than working one up from scratch. I’ve done all that content before, many times, I have zero interest in ever doing it again and if my only reason for being there is raiding then wouldn’t I want to get right to the part of the game I’m paying my $15/month for? If I’m able to jump right back in and properly do my role in the raid, not a single player would know I bought that character unless I told them. Flip side of that, how many players have you all grouped/raided with who put hundreds of hours into working their characters up themselves and they still don’t know their ass from their elbow?

    In the end, gold-buying or not is a personal choice, but also in the end the only player it has any true, lasting effect on is the one doing the buying. As usual, we MMOG elitists would be much better off if we’d pay more attention to our own game and stop worrying about how everyone else plays theirs. I’m not paying the $15 for their account, so I don’t get to tell them how to play the game; and vice-versa.

    • second M in MMO stands for Multi-player implies the G(ame) we leave off the end of the acronym. If Second Life is not a game, we therefore to not “play” it, thus there are no multiple players, massively or otherwise.

      Who said that “player” only refers to game players?
      From Webster:
      S: (n) player, participant (a person who participates in or is skilled at some game)
      S: (n) musician, instrumentalist, player (someone who plays a musical instrument (as a profession))
      S: (n) actor, histrion, player, thespian, role player (a theatrical performer)
      S: (n) player (a person who pursues a number of different social and sexual partners simultaneously)
      S: (n) player (an important participant (as in a business deal)) “he was a major player in setting up the corporation”

      All but the first definition apply to Second Life users.

      • None of those apply because they are not applied in normal conversation. Normally play implies game. If you want to argue for less-used meanings, go right ahead, but you’re only weakening the meaning of MMO by spreading out the worlds that it describes.

        Without the grind we’d attach much less value to everything except those rewards which are purely skill-based. By investing more time we naturally add value.

    • It’s only an attack on gold selling in the sense that I’m noting that it breaks the simulation.

      In a virtual world, the idea is that you do virtual activities to earn virtual gold to support the virtual economy. It doesn’t break the game especially if someone buys gold but it does go against the idea of simulating a virtual world. It won’t bother some players, but it is jarring.

      Also, I do agree with you that players shouldn’t be querying how each other choose to spend their money, but devs and people running the games certainly can.

    • “but also in the end the only player it has any true, lasting effect on is the one doing the buying”

      I think you miss the point that there is a closed economy.

      If gold farmers are farming coin drops and vendor trash for example (as in vanilla) more currency enters the system than would normally be expected.

      This has the same effect as when in the real world a government prints more money.

      So when someone pays them $20 for some of their gold he is becoming significantly richer and everyone else on his server is becoming poorer by a very small amount. This is because the buying power of our money is reduced as more currency enters the system.

      More fundamentally it has deep implications for game design. Want to talk to someone when you play a MMO on free trial – it won’t work because of gold sellers. Want a robust economic system? MMOs avoid them because they are so easy to gold farm in. Want to make money raiding instead of having to farm? Designed out of the system to a large extent.

      In addition vast amounts of development resources go to fighting them and many players are victimised by hacks, phishing and other malicious behaviour.

      I wonder if next time you log in you find your account hacked and your characters stripped whether you will still feel gold buying affects no one else but the buyer.

  6. I just thought about it, too. This grind is part of the game.

    But there is a difference between mind-numbingly dull and extremely repetitive grind and having options to do different things in different ways. And the worst thing to happen to an MMO is if standing in one spot and killing mob after mob is the most efficient way to play it.

    I think this is also why daily quests are so popular – they are grindy and repetitive as hell, but things could even be worse and less inspiring than that.

    I wonder how LOTRO’s new “Mirkwood endgame” will play out when it comes to Item XP levelling. The old bounty quests are no more of value to level the legendary weapon, and skirmish marks for item xp runes or doing some dailies around the Gazburg (sp?) outpost near Dol Guldur plus hunting 25 spiders in that cave seem to be way to go.

    I would like to promote the idea of the “individual random daily kill quest”. “There is a mob hidden somewhere in the North Downs. Go to find and kill it!” Spawn location and type of mob would be different for every player.

  7. None of those apply because they are not applied in normal conversation. Normally play implies game. If you want to argue for less-used meanings, go right ahead, but you’re only weakening the meaning of MMO by spreading out the worlds that it describes.

    But wasn’t that the point? If we shrink the definition of an MMO to a DikuMUD derivative, then sure, grind is a part of it. But it doesn’t need to be.

    Without the grind we’d attach much less value to everything except those rewards which are purely skill-based.

    You say it like it’s a bad thing. Why should time spent in MMOs have anything other than entertainment value?

    By investing more time we naturally add value.

    In the sense that digging a hole for the sake of digging a hole adds value. ;-)

    IMHO, there has to be some point to the digging. Maybe digging itself is fun (although the grind rarely is). Maybe that hole will be used for a tree, making your community happy and thus making you more popular. Maybe you dig to find a hidden treasure. Maybe the hole will work as a trap against your enemy. Maybe you hope to reveal a hidden cavern to explore.

  8. Grinds give a game “depth” in a casual player’s view.

    But really grinds are the result of bad design. It doesn’t matter in MMOs, though, because they are not about good gameplay and game design, they’re about relaxation, socialization, and competition between people who have way too much time to spend.

    I could definitely design an MMO that has no real grind (you could chose to repeat certain aspects of the game, but that would be suboptimal). The fact that people are incapable of understanding that grind is unnecessary shows that we’ve become accustomed to bad design, and now it seems like it can’t be avoided.

    • I’m just wondering if we’d recognise a game as an MMO if it didn’t have this underpinning of time management. I don’t say it’s impossible to create a non-grindy game that still attracts people in the longterm but it is one way to make long term goals.

      And it is also a way to add some simulation that an activity is difficult, time consuming or otherwise non trivial (maybe not a great way, I don’t disagree with you there, but it is effective.)

      I know that I do enjoy learning my way around, in order to optimise my own travel, for example. That’s not really a grind … or is it?

  9. I suppose we “grind” in real life so if we’re really projecting a sense of “virtual life” and “virtual worlds” into these games (at least the RPG ones) then maybe if there’s no grind at all, we’re unable to accept the game? No way to really find out until someone designs one with zero grind, I guess.

    I’ll use Test Drive Unlimited as an example, but not having played it myself I could be way off-base. It’s marketed as a MOOR (Massively Open Online Racing) game. My understanding is there’s essentially a persistent world to drive around in. There are various challenges and races to participate in, but is that “grinding?” I also don’t know how many players it supports at any given time for exactly how “massively” it is, but would a game like that go over if it had a world big enough to support 3K+ players per server like the typical MMORPG does?

    What about something like GTA4? Let’s pretend there’s a MMOG version of GTA out there (meaning the big seamless world, sandboxy, complex urban areas etc. unlike the extremely simplistic “cities” in our MMORPG’s) but for non-shooting/gang activities there’s also just “stuff” to do (let’s say a marriage of the GTA and The Sims). BUT without any true RPG to it. No leveling, no attributes to improve, etc. Just the game. Would it have staying power to keep players coming back month after month? [Note that I am excluding APB from this since that is a PvP cops and robbers game and its level of "massively multiplayer" is up for debate.]

    I know that I do enjoy learning my way around, in order to optimise my own travel, for example. That’s not really a grind … or is it?

    By my definition, no it isn’t because you enjoy it. Using LOTRO as an example (though what I remember of vanilla WoW’s Alliance quests fits this bill too) I enjoy exploring the zones, etc. and finding stuff on my own. But when quests have me running from point to point, zone to zone and I feel like I should be getting paid by the Middle Earth (or Azeroth) Postal Service, I’m not having fun anymore.

  10. Sometimes I’d vastly prefer to bring a gun to a knife fight.
    Indiana Jones taught us that, eh? :)

    I don’t buy gold, but no, all your arguments that buying gold conceptually break the game fall as flat as Indy’s scimitar-wielding assailant did when he pulled out his pistol.

  11. The problem is that grinding is not pleasant and hence the name. It’s often a time sink implemented by designers to force people to slow down and spend longer doing things and thus create artifical value.

    I believe that every activity, and every minute, spent playing a game should be fun and not a chore.

  12. Pingback: TLC “Thursday”: Day Late And A Dollar Short - Sideshow & Syrana

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s