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?