Grind, Baked Right In

Farm status is a horror of gamerdom.

What is the point of grinding anything? Does Naxx get more fun the fifteenth time or something? It only makes sense as a business model that makes people play a long time to get to the end, so you keep them looped in for monthly fees, but then you are also selecting for an audience that has lots of time, and therefore will be logged in more. Maybe the cost of 40 hour/week players is not much worse than 10 hour/week players; there must be money in it.

I do not want to do anything more than three times. Once is an introduction, twice is learning, three times is demonstrating mastery. Past that, I am just repeating it because someone thought it would be funny to put the prize at the end of a treadmill. I am done with that.

The Lord of the Rings Online™ Volume 1: Shadows of Angmar™ is a great culprit here. If you want your Angmar or Annuminas armor sets, you are running those three dungeons (each) six times (on average). Six people in your group, one barter piece drops from each relevant boss, six runs to equip everyone. That means about a full 24-hour day to get your Annuminas set and about 2.5 for Angmar (which is odd given that Annuminas is better, but moving right along). If you did not think that Turbine wanted you to grind all the Angmar dungeons repeatedly, look at the deeds that were added. You need 300 orcs in Carn Dum and another 300 in Urugarth. They can count how many orcs spawn in each of those dungeons, and I would be surprised if there were 50 in either. This is the clearest case I know of developers being able to set exactly how long the grind is (and as a bonus, making it absurd).

Would you like an example of how to do it almost perfectly? Warhammer public quests. If you take a group of six through each of the three public quests in a chapter, and you are the only ones doing them, you will all fill your influence bars for the chapter, plus or minus a few irregularities. If you liked a PQ and want to re-do it, great, you get the experience and another shot at loot bags, but you already got the reward for experiencing the content. If you had many people doing it, yes you repeat, quickly, and the end-of-stage rewards reduce the number of times that you grind 100 rats. We can argue about that first stage, but the reward structure is solid.

If you have made good content, people will want to repeat it. We keep playing Civilization and RTSes and Settlers of Catan and tennis, even though there is no bonus for playing ten times. (Was Age of Empires III better because it had a card/level grind?) Adding grind to make the game take longer might have some financial logic in MMOs, but it does not add fun. And it is completely stupid in non-subscription games. Yes, you want your game to have 50 hours of content, but we notice if it is mostly padding.

Give me Portal. The game is all of three hours, but I bought the Orange Box just for it. Give me Katamari Damacy. I beat it at a LAN party but bought a Playstation 2 so that I could get my own copy and explore it more. Do not add non-fun to a game to round out the fun parts.

There is a place for levels. You can do things meaningfully with pacing and spacing. They should add to the game, not just make it take longer.

I am done grinding. Done.

: Zubon

7 thoughts on “Grind, Baked Right In”

  1. The 24-hour lock isn’t applicable to Annuminas. That delay is only there if you are doing the quests (for battered). You can reset the instance itself as much as you want if you are looking for the boa pieces for the armour set. Likewise, you can farm battered. So no, i am not contradicting you – it is still a grind. There is just not a limit to how fast you can do it.

  2. @Merimet: You bring up the #1 grind mechanic I hate the most – lockout timers. It is the main reason I left (and won’t return) to WoW. The end game content is fun in WoW – I’ll definitely give them that. It is hard enough to schedule 25 people but to have to set your weekly life schedule around it is reduculous. Clever for the company, okay for the hardcore, terrible for the casual. I don’t mind random drops which is part of the fun and excitement but if I am able to get 25 capable friends together for a night of fun let me do the same encounter 3 or 4 times so my raid team can get the drops it needs to leave the content behind when we are ready – not once every 7 days.

    For the record, I left WoW during t6 content.

  3. Excellent commentary, Zubon. Grind is a deeply ingrained part of the DIKU lineage, and dungeon crawlers (loot/level treadmills) have been using it for a very long time. I think that we’d have to move to a different core game design to clean up the experience.

  4. “I think that we’d have to move to a different core game design to clean up the experience.”

    Grind is not necessarily a creature borne of design. Zubby mentions it well:

    “Okay, so we have a subscription model, that’s our income. It’s beneficial to us to have our players playing the game as much as possible. How do we make them play more, and for longer stints?”
    “Make whatever they need to do take longer”

    For example, just to use the common WoW example, there is no technical or design reason why the end boss in, say, Scholomance can’t drop the appropriate tier armor set piece. What do we have in this group, let’s see… two warriors, a mage, a priest and a druid? Okay, here’s your 2x Warrior helm, 1x mage helm, 1x priest helm and 1x druid helm. Thanks for coming. Hope you liked it.

    But no. Gandling drops basically whatever the RNG tells him to drop, and one of it to boot. Not necessarily something that any of the present classes can use. That might be SOP in DIKU, but it’s also “DIKUing” your players around.

    Personal anecdote, (which I”m not proud of, but illustrates the point): I had to go to Stratholme and kill Baron Rivendare 47 times (forty-seven times, yup, I counted them) until he was kind enough to give my my Shadowcraft Pants.

    If you take a step back and see how the design evolved through time, you can see Blizzard starting to see the error in that and slowly changing things around by the heyday of Zul’Gurub, and all the different coins you could get and exchange for gear.

    Now we have badges and badge gear, which is essentially the same thing: We’re sidestepping the RNG (not for all gear though). We know whenever we drop a boss we get badges and then we turn around and use those badges to get what we want.

    Badges are not a complete solution. If you’re going for tier gear, they’re not very useful to you. But it’s a system that lets those who are not so hot for tier gear to acquire lateral or incremental upgrades as they go. Also, the intrinsic “value” of each badge in terms of the investment of time it takes to get all the required badges is out of whack. That’s where most of the grind moved to: Yeah, now you get badges for sure. Woohoo. But you’ll need 150 of them.

    Grind has no easy solution. You can mask it. We can point to DIKU and say that’s where it comes from, but the fact remains that as long as your players play through content faster than you can make new content, the easiest (not best) solution is to make them repeat that content until the new one is ready. You don’t want bored players in your game. Bored players leave, and what’s worse, take others with them. User-created content is no silver bullet either, because most players won’t play through crap content.

    It ain’t easy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending grind. I agree with Zubon that three times should be about right as far as “what a player should get” from content. Mandating more times is dicking people over. And until you can churn out content way faster than we’re doing now, you’re gonna have to continue dicking people over.

  5. My favorite part of the Blizzard vs MDY (glider) lawsuit was reading Blizz’s claim against them – that their entire game was designed around forcing players to waste x amount of time in game to collect their sub dollars and that MDY circumvented that time which related to losses. The core of the claim against MDY wasn’t that it ruined the game experience.(it made mention of it of course). The funny part about that is that Glider just eased the most mundane of tasks -farming and leveling – you couldntbuse it to grind out instances and bosses. Of course this is also why they don’t let you share accounts.

    I guess that miffed me the most. At least companies used to actually TRY to hide the fact the built a midelnto waste our time for money. Blizzard states it in a public document.

  6. Julian, well stated. I completely agree that grind is all too often the unholy byproduct of the subscription business model. Game design is bent to serve the money model, and that can be trouble sometimes. I’m also no fan of the subscription model.

    Grind isn’t necessarily a terrible evil in and of itself. It can be fun, in a Zen sort of way. That said, padding game content to string along subscribers is simply unacceptable in my book. Forcing the player to grind the same content is likewise unacceptable.

    I’m a fan of the Final Fantasy series. They can be very grindy at times. Again, I don’t mind it sometimes, but here’s the key: game design should be such that grinding is optional, and it has to be borne of a player’s desire to play your game, rather than something that players need to do to progress in your game, or to justify to themselves the subscription cost.

    I’m playing Valkyrie Profile 2, for instance, and I’ve spent time grinding to find some unique weapons. That’s not necessary for progress in the game, I just felt like doing it. Grind as an optional game element doesn’t bother me. Grind as a requirement or as a business scheme are very annoying.

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