Happy State of Grind

Last weekend I dug away at a repeatable quest for Guild Wars Wintersday Redux, which ends this weekend with a finale for those having hat problems during Wintersday 2009.  The quest is a fun one called Snowball Dominance, where the denizens of the Eye of the North go outside for a massive snowball fight.  Players can bring one other person along.  The quest can be a bit challenging for casual players that stroll in to the chaos, but with a few “exploits,” like waiting for the scrum to finish by standing outside of agro range on the left side then mopping up the remaining mobs, it becomes manageable.

Of course for farmers there is a different tactic.  Take a necromancer Hero, and run it into the middle of the enemy group before they turn red.  Pop Holiday Blues (AoE well degen), Snow Fort (temporary invincibility), and Snowcone (heal) to ball up the mobs.  The mobs waste their good skills on the sacrifice, and players and the AI allies can easily take out the clumped up enemies.  The rewards are very good for something that can be run in under 2 minutes.

I thought about how much fun I was having.  I was getting good rewards.  There was enough variation that I had to stay a little bit on my toes, and the action was pretty much constant.  While there are some people who feel Snowball Dominance is actually being exploited or the rewards are too good, I think the quest hits the perfect trifecta for grinding.  Lose any one of the points on the triangle and the grind goes to slogfest.

Since I usually choose what I want to grind based on reward, that factor is the most obvious.  Variation is helpful to not going brain numb, but it is probably the least important factor.  Merely moving across the landscape to cut down mobs might be variation enough.  The one that always gets me is the constant action factor. 

As an example, I had to hunt (pre-revamp) Loneland wargs in Lord of the Rings Online for a trait I wanted.  But, wargs are scattered across a multitude of spawn points.  There is no warg den filled with wargs to slay.  Instead there are wargs surrounded by roaming goblins, and wargs that share spawn points with spiders and orcs and crows.  For the latter, if I killed a warg at a spawn point (and believe me, I learned them all for this stupid grind), there was a pretty good chance a spider or orc would spawn there next time. 

In other words, I was not constantly advancing my grind.  The grind came in spurts between running and killing things I really would rather avoid in the hopes that a warg would spawn there next.  I was not in a happy state.

I think this is one reason why Guild Wars remains near the top of X-Fire’s play charts when the game was designed with very little sticky content.  Guild Wars has constant grind available at all times.  With private instances, Heroes, and map warping, the downtime caused by non-advancement actions is minimal.  Lord of the Rings Online is also creating a constant happy grind with skirmishes, which also gives its version of private instances, Soldiers (i.e., Heroes), and map warping.

The key, in my humble opinion, to grind is making it constant.  Intermittent grind is the grind everybody hates, and developers beware that the greatest cause of intermittency are parties.  This is something Blizzard strove to destroy with its random dungeon grouper.  When the grind is constant, rewarding, and has slight variations to keep it mildly fresh, no one complains because everybody is playing.

–Ravious
impaired my tribal lunar-speak

4 thoughts on “Happy State of Grind”

  1. I can see what you’re saying: getting it done up front without having to slog through unnecessary content. It’s like immersion in an area, where you don’t have any noise to distract you from what you’re doing, or to lengthen the amount of time you need to do it.

    I think, however, that if the “noise” is necessary for other grinding, then the act of “plowing through” different mobs can be like fireworks. Take your LotRO example…for example. If you went into an area SPECIFICALLY to kill wargs, and had to wade through other mobs to get JUST the wargs, it could be frustrating. But if you ALSO needed to (or kept in mind the achievements which required you to) kill the mobs around those wargs, you’ve entered into a “meta-grind”. By simply plowing through different mobs, achieving achievements or completing quests, one can get a real sense of accomplishment while ALSO feeling that there wasn’t a lot of effort (i.e. running here and there to find the singular mob parts that you need for a single result).

    1. Sure, Mines of Moria is a good example of metagrind since it is nearly impossible not to kill 600 orc-kind… so once you get to Haldir, and he asks you to prove yourself, you’ve already done the task.

      A better example I thought of later was the (pre vamp) Lonelands bog guardian things… the things that look like balls on four sticks.

  2. Even post-revamp wargs in LL is no easy feat. There are thankfully more of them now, but they still share spawn points with other mobs that have dedicated lairs. Bog lurkers are even worse… They really should combine the bog-lurker deed with killing the swamp-neekers in the area.

    Anyway, on point. I think I agree re the difference between a grind and fun. It’s all about whether you can make consistent, noticeable progress. Leveling is hardly considered a grind in MMOs that utilize questing. While the quests themselves might be repetitive fed-ex/kill x type quests, few people complain about a “level grind” like they did in EQ1 or FF11 (or any Korean MMO) – now it’s more a question of having more varied content.

    Now we hear about grinds when game systems feel arbitrary (i.e. the one lotro slayer deed in a region without a dedicated lair for that mob type), or completely random (i.e. lotro legendary weapon system). Random works when trying to keep world locations feel random, but doesn’t work when a system is dedicated to character advancement.

    In all things character advancement related, players will not see something as a grind when they can make consistent progress towards some visible end-state.

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