The Opposite of Grind

Timeless MMO topics are worming their way, yet again, around the ‘sphere. Oh, I can definitely take part of the blame since I strongly dislike subscription games, and what I feel they entail. Clearly, I am neither alone, nor am I objectively correct. Julian, KTR lurker in the threshold, threw down an excellent comment, which in part reads:

The question is why are we seemingly unable to, after 10+ years of designing these things, to avoid the grind? It is generally accepted as un-fun. It’s been a major player complaint since forever. Why are we still operating under the design assumption that grind is somehow “needed” or “part of the flavor of the genre”? Why are we unable to come up with something better?

Which made me think, okay, grind equates to gameplay, but we hate it (mostly). So, what else is there?

“Content,” is what one of my little resident voices said. If defined in such a way, content is the opposite of grind. (Random Google’d website Wordhippo tells me the opposite of “grind” is “joy.”) Yet, from another standpoint grind is content. Our blog would have a completely different name if that weren’t the case.

Let’s back up a second. What is “grind”? I view it as an artificial lengthening of the duration of active gameplay. It is completely subjective. Some people love grinding for nickels by killing hundreds of enemies. Others hate all kill ten rats quests. Some people love crafting dozens of items and using it as a social downtime; while others see it as a huge time-wasting hurdle to jump. There is gray everywhere.

For an example, suppose MMO designer Bob wants to create a quest to teach players about the local mobs, Candlehat Rats. The Candlehat Rats are a common line throughout the zone, which culminates in to a wax-making dungeon where the rats get their candle… hats. They have one trick: when they lose 66% of their life, their candle goes out, and they become enraged. So, before the player finds himself in a candle-unlit dark filled with a handful of enraged rats, Bob wants to make sure the player understands this lil’ trick. Go kill ten Candlehat Rats, Bob writes. (Later on Rob, the writer, will turn this in to some prolific quest text…. unread by thousands.)

Is that grind? A smart player will understand the trick within 1-3 Candlehat Rats. A dumb player will likely not learn it after killing 100 Candlehat Rats. A casual player might see the simple quest as substantial content; while, a jaded MMO veteran sees it as poorly designed filler. No one can agree. Still there must be some opposite, and I told myself “think, think, think, think,” while putting honey in my tea.

If grind represents an artificial stalling of advancement, then its opposite must be ever-advancing. Story! Story always advances, even if the plot doesn’t. Story isn’t artificial. Yet, story is barely gameplay in many MMOs. Story can be a loss of control of our character (“my character would never!”). Story is expensive. And, story can be just as boring as grind. Rarely, I think, do many players go for an MMO based on story.

Yet, the two big MMOs on the horizon, Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic, are tauting story as a pillar of the games. In both MMOs, players will be making decisions that will affect their own personal story (and any gameplay stemming from it). ArenaNet and BioWare are making story core gameplay.

Furthermore, they are making the story very replayable. In Star Wars: The Old Republic, not only will each class have its own story, but there will be two wholly different sides of the story depending on whether the character is allied with the Sith or Republic. In Guild Wars 2, each race has their own prologue, and ArenaNet is heavily emphasizing that hard decisions will have to be made.

Is this the antidote for grind? Can we truly avoid grind by emphasizing an MMO so heavily on story? I do not imagine that this will destroy menial tasks, like killing ten rats, which can be considered grind. But, will this focus the developer’s attention away from so much of the combat-oriented gameplay that grind seems to originate from?  Those in Star Wars: The Old Republic’s beta might already have the answer; those waiting on Guild Wars 2… are still waiting.

–Ravious

67 thoughts on “The Opposite of Grind

  1. Dragon

    I think “Grind” is very subjective and very hard to define. For some, the grind is having to kill x creatures/gather y items, for others having to quest their way through the levels to the cap is a grind, irrespective of how intriguing the story or fascinating the world is for them.

    Grind is also not exclusive to MMOs or RPGs – FPS games require you to grind through mobs and levels to get the next boss or find the bigger weapon. Whether it be Doom, Half-Life or Bioshock, the gameplay is, essentially, repetitive and a grind. So the (adapted) question is possibly not “what is the antidote for grind” but more “how do you mask the grind”?

    The story approach that SWTOR and GW2 are taking may be the solution. If the last couple of weeks in WoW is anything to go by then it looks promising (and I really should write about my experiences). However, for people who don’t read quest text, don’t like cutscenes and don’t pay attention to the story, it won’t detract from their perceived grind.

  2. Jeromai

    Just a quick impulse comment before I think further on these very chewy discussion topics:

    I’d say… Story hides grind. It’s not the opposite of grind.

    Case in point, the reworked Shattering-Cataclysm quests of WoW. Much better story, in terms of watch-it-like-a-cinema, but still killing mobs. It’s perhaps less mobs than before, mobs that are closer together and a more streamlined experience, which makes it not-grind for some, and still-grind for others. (Usually the most jaded that have repeated the action too many times already.)

    Another example: City of Heroes. With mission architect, you now have unlimited user-submitted stories. There’s no disguising the fact that the mission structure is the same. Here’s a door in whichever place. Click on it to enter the instance. Here are a bunch of mobs in clusters, that may act differently. Complete a set number of objectives. Mission ends. Exit mission. Quite a number of jaded folk will tell you this is exceedingly grindy. :)

    Some possible antidotes of grind are just plain stopping and not indulging in the repetition, controlled pacing to halt the repetitive pattern, and maybe choice and user-added meaning/goals as a metagame. Not sure if any of those are opposites though. Must think on this further.

    1. alinos

      I have to say story might hide the grind.

      but then to me it’s not grind

      the issue i always had with WoW was it was go here do that. Yet there was never any reason to, sure theres lore but it’s out of the way or in source materials outside of the game.

      Like why do i want to kill the boss in this low area dungeon, does he have a story i means he’s obviously not threatening anyone hes stuck in the dungeon :P If i don’t kill him(at least once) will it somehow give a boost to something else later in the game.

      will he curse me for ruining his plan or tell me that theres someone bigger that will now be coming after me for doing so. We get these types of things in normal RPG’s to some extent yet they never cross into MMO’s

      some could say it’s due to the Team thing and the persistant world, but the Phasing that WoW now employs removes that.

      I’ve clocked way to many hours into GW and i think alot of it comes down to the narrative of the story, the fact that it’s instanced annoys some. But it has structure you tend to move from one area to the next and have a more dynamic fight than theres a field of rats go kill them and come back. and there is a constant narrative pushing you forward as opposed to your lvl 30 no more quests here go find some somewhere else

  3. Jeremy S.

    To me, it seems the industry/culture has either allowed, or just unwittingly drifted into a very nebulous and far reaching broad concept for “grind”.

    I remember when it pretty much meant: Killing multiple mobs at the same for the purpose of speeding up XP gain.

    Instead of being a little more relaxed about it and killing one at a time to complete a task or quest, you focused more attention on your hotbar to maximize XP gain.

    We also have an existing term for simply killing many of the same mob over and over: it’s called “farming” If you’re killing a hundred rats to collect some gold, or repeatedly do a daily quest or killing the same mob repeatedly to get a drop, you are farming. This isn’t related to time. whether it takes you 10 minutes to kill 100 or 100 minutes to kill then, the term “farm” still is very succinct.

    If I am setting out to do 10 dailies in RoM, even if I’m doing it to get XP, I’m farming dailies. If I’m killing Ystra Reindeer to collect 100 antlers for selling or later turning in for dailies, I’m farming. It doesn’t matter how quick or how long it takes me. It’s clear and everyone can understand it within a reasonable degree of what a definition is.

    If I’m pulling 2 or more Ystra Ferrets at a time, to speed up the rate at which I would normally gain XP or any drops, I’m grinding. It doesn’t matter if I’m faster or slower than the average player.

    You can also farm and grind at the same time, as in my scenario above. I’m grinding 2 or more mobs at the same time to farm faster.

    I think the 2 terms do the satisfactory job of making things clear and understood. They also shave off a lot of the very subjective ideas/definitions that players have today, which just adds even further to confusion and makes it harder to relate a point or idea to other players.

    I may be stodgy, stubborn and obstinate with refusing to accept the fact that words and there meanings evolve, but I haven’t forgotten that. I still think these terms that have existed before under a different mask succinctly fulfill the purpose they set out to, today.

    1. moondog548

      I never heard that before. Interesting. “Grind” is indeed nebulous but I don’t think your definition is particularly useful (or relevant, honestly, to today’s MMOing). No offense. Good point on “farming”, for sure. We should be able to go somewhere with that.

        1. Jeremy S.

          Oh. Well my MMO career is very short, but I thought there were always things like mobs, kiting, pulling. I’ve considered that they may have been slightly changed over the years, but the same as FPSs have been tweaked, but Halo still plays like the original Duke Nukem. At least for the context about these universal game terms and what there definitions are, or should be.

        2. moondog548

          Well yeah that stuff has “always been” as well as the “farming” of which you speak. I was calling only your definition of “grind = killing mobs in groups” obscure.

        3. Jeremy S.

          I think you’re right. I think my definition for it is becoming a bit useless and outdated. It is obscure, and even if it occurs, there doesn’t seem to be a need for a word that describes it, very much.

    2. Jeromai

      Ah, but that’s “grinding” in your terminology.

      How about the common complaint of this game is too “grindy?”

      1. Jeremy S.

        That’s what I referred to as the newer, but more nebulous term that seems to be common nowadays. It’s also harder to express as an idea though as it’s subjective and everyone feels so differently about it. When they mention it, it loses it’s cohesiveness because the person saying it may have very different ideas about the term than the person they are telling. So, to me, it loses some of it’s usefulness as a word that is meant to convey and idea.

        1. Sisyphean

          This is an interesting branch to follow. What happens if we decouple this from MMORPGs and their baggage?

          Console FPS games are frequently accused of a similar vice, but it’s generally called “padding” or “recycling” or something like that – indicating that the designers created enough resources to support 3 hours of gameplay, but then padded the game out to 5 by reusing enemies, settings, etc. The implication is always that this is some nefarious plot to short-change the consumer, of course – but in reality all designers must find a balance between the ideal design and the financially practical one.

          A single player RPG might be accused of something similar, particularly in today’s world of DLC – the DA:O addon that used pre-existing locations and enemies, meaning you were basically paying for 30 seconds of scripted dialog, comes to mind.

          We could continue with other genres, but the pattern is clear: Night versions of maps in racing games, “story” modes in fighting games that amount to little more than tournament mode with cut scenes, etc.

          Now, we could choose to describe these traits in a number of ways. Padding seems most accurate to me, if implying some negative judgment.

          Though in the end, I’m not certain that really means everything it needs to in the context of an MMORPG. I suppose it depends on how much you buy into the idea that time investment is a fundamental part of these games. Which is really the rub, I think – we’re asking two question: Firstly, are the designers ripping us off by skimping on content, and secondly, is the time-sink model for MMOs really fun or necessary?

  4. Ethic

    For me, grind is simply what happens when the time it takes me to reach a goal becomes longer than I’d like it to be. At that point it becomes a grind. It may or may not cause me to quit reaching for my goal for that will depend on the rewards given.

    1. moondog548

      This strikes me as sooth. Any accurate definition will have to admit to the subjectivity of it, so how useful can such a definition be? Well I guess we’ll find out when we get there. ;-}

  5. Jeromai

    Let me take another stab at defining grind:

    Excessive time being consumed by uninteresting gameplay (definitions of what is excessive and uninteresting being subjective to an individual player)

    Uninteresting for me would consist of predictable, repetitive patterns. No novelty or surprises or changes in pacing = boring for me. Not sure if that applies to others.

    Excessive time is definitely subjective. Some will wait hours, days, weeks, others get antsy wasting five or ten minutes. And this is dependent on the type of gameplay activity.

      1. Jeromai

        Yes. Precisely.

        For example, I really tried to like Wurm Online. I got reduced to a blithering idiot waiting for 15-20 seconds for one dig order, one chop wood order, etc. to process. I wasn’t able to get past that hurdle in order to appreciate the longer-term goal of player terraforming landscapes.

        I personally wouldn’t call the game ‘grindy’ because I like to pull out specifics I had issues with. But others might, if they couldn’t narrow down exactly what their problem with it was.

        Yet the game has 100-300 players who consider the game a fascinating sandbox, the complete antithesis of mindless repetitive standard MMOs because of the persistence of the game world and players being able to affect it with their actions and its intensely “realistically immersive” simulation.

        They’d probably accuse WoW of being ridiculously grindy, and Wurm to be something else entirely.

        And we’d both be correct, wouldn’t we?

        Later: Ah, *grindy* is this horrible nebulous term. Let’s just boycott its use altogether and stop trying to pin down it meaning. :P

  6. Makkaio

    I think another aspect of grinding is that for the most part it is linear. It gets you from point A to point B. There are only so many ways to get you there. So my question has always been, what do you want, people?

    I think game design has been moving toward giving players an either/or for the past few years. You can take a few paths. You can run through solo quests, you can group and do dungeons, or you can take part in PvP activities.

    Take WoW for example. You can play through quests, you can jump in PvP arenas, or you can mindlessly grind out dungeons. The latter, unfortunately, being the easiest way to level. WAR is similar. New games will be similar. Again…what do you want, people?

    The problem is, a lot of players view these new aspects of MMOs as also being grinds. I saw it a lot in a beta I recently was in. I felt there was plenty of choice between questlines, random events, and instances. Others players just saw them as grinds with nothing new to add to the genre. The grind is linear. It gets you from point A (character creation) to point B (endgame). No matter how you package it.

    Unfortunately, games put blinders on players. Not intentionally, but they do. Like SWTOR where you choose your path and make decisions. You’re decisions supposedly impact your character and the world around him or her. But will you ever really know that? You can’t…unless…like in Dragon Age: Origins…you can replay and see how alternate decisions would have impacted you.

    So even with a ton of choices…the blinders are on…and the game still feels like a grind. It’s linear from point A to point B. Maybe the zen of gaming is accepting that and judging games on other merits.

  7. Jeromai

    A lot of “grind” is also due to player perception that the uninteresting and time-consuming activity is blocking them from reaching their final goal.

    It is this fixed focus on a future gain that the player wants, plus a disregard for the actual gameplay to get there, that converts game into grind.

    I’m of the school of thought that such players should just stop obsessing on that final goal = voila, no grind, just journey or a focus on the present gameplay = but I’m enough of a realist to know that the majority of Achievers won’t, and maybe find a certain satisfaction in the wanting and the obsession. :)

    I don’t know. If we can’t shake the player off their future goal desire, then maybe we have to attack it from the point of the player not dismissing the intervening gameplay so readily. The question is how?

      1. Jeromai

        Sure, that’s one way. :)

        I’m personally a sucker for a good story. I’m playing WoW now, cos of the story in the undead starter zone, oh the horror…

        Any other ways though?

        1. Dragon

          Like “Hellgate: London”? Or “Diablo”? Which, so my sources tell me, could both be classed as grindy in their own way.

    1. Sisyphean

      I think you’re on to something, but I think your solution also plays at blaming the victim a bit – or at least assumes some unfounded impatience on the part of the player, that should or could be corrected by a change of expectations or attitude.

      The issue is, the impatience in MMORPGs is often very well founded indeed.

      Take me – I’m primarily a PvP player. I don’t really care for RP or story, I just want a big world I can run around in and explore. I also want a deep gameplay experience, and I want it right now – I understand game mechanics quickly, and simply don’t need a hundred hour tutorial, during which I’m learning how heal 3 and fireball 2 work.

      So I see my desire to get to “endgame” ASAP as completely rational and understandable. I’m not an achiever, it’s not that I want to be 80 right now and get that “reward” – I just want to play the full game with its full complexity, rather than being forced to “earn” that right by trudging through the tutorial and easy mode first.

      I would have the same issue with any game that locked entire types of content (WoW arena comes to mind) behind hundreds of hours of completely different types of content – whether that is grinding or story doesn’t really matter to me. I’d liken it to SC2 disabling multiplayer until you finished the campaign – which, for the record, I’ve never played more than an hour of, and I can play the multiplayer just fine thanks. :)

  8. Jeremy S.

    How about if we think about the activity first and then try to define it. The definition needs to be easy for anyone to understand and comprehend.

    Things that are not clearly stated as being your view, would be hard to define otherwise. “I find it too be grindy” is better understood, but even it carries a large unknown variable that has the reader asking, “Well what is your definition of grind?”

    So a question would be, “What do you call the activity of killing mobs over and over for the purpose of collecting something from those mobs?” Some might say grind, some farm, and some a totally different term. That’s where confusion comes in and it tells us that there is no clear definition for the word “grind”.

    But a definition that states, “Grind is the activity of killing 2 or more mobs at the same time for the purpose of progression(XP gain)” is much more understood universally. It can also apply to wider activities that are approached in the same manner. Farming is the same way. It leaves out the confusion and misinterpretation that can come with differences in the way players approach games. It won’t matter if I find questing to be too long and boring in WoW or if I think RoM requires you to kill too many mobs, or do too many dailies to get to the next level. The terms clearly fit into all instances. It also still allows for people to feel however they feel about the pacing of a game.

    The words came about as a way to describe an acitivity, to get across an idea and share information, but that information has to be understood.

    “This apple is too ‘mooshy’” can still have two people feeling differently about whether they like ‘mooshy’ or whether one feels it’s not as mooshy as another one.

    I love topics like these, because it’s about what makes us tick and how we think. To me, the term “grind” is so broad we don’t even need it now. If it’s to the point we’re backing away from the game so far and looking at the whole, we’re really not trying to define a more specific way of doing something in MMOs. It’s like Kiting or pulling. Those are much more specific within the game and anyone can understand those terms.

    1. Sisyphean

      I’d also argue that grind today applies just as much to activities that don’t involve killing at all: Grinding holiday quests, grinding crafting, grinding fishing skill, grinding car unlocks in GT5.

      I think one could certainly make the argument that we should limit such a term to its initial meaning, in order to prevent it losing all meaning entirely, But I’m not certain it really needs to be limited to killing or mobs at all to keep its original definition.

      Isn’t it really just about repetition on some level? Can a math test require grinding? For that matter, could this broader definition (which still retains the associations of its genesis) actually serve us intellectually, by allowing us to think of old pre-MMORPG ideas in new ways?

      I kind of like the specific nuance of saying “This class is too grindy, man. The instructor needs to give us more content”. In short, while specificity in a word’s meaning is certainly good, we don’t need to cage it into its original context for it to keep a specific meaning.

      A very interesting topic indeed, if not exactly what Ravious was talking about. Man, the KTR comments are good. :)

  9. Mikey

    Grid I think came about when the drop rate percentages for something to get so low, so that in order to get something, they had you kill, on average, hundreds of mobs. Or there weren’t enough quests to fill up your level bar, so you had to mindlessly grind mobs to get there.

    Kill x quests are necessary, and they have been rediculously creative about disguising them in many way shape and form, but they all come down to the same things over and over again… is this a grind? Is the entire game just a grind?! I don’t think so. I think the grind comes when there isn’t enough quests to fill your time up with, and they don’t give you want you need to progress in a reasonable amount of time. (Its a hard line… too little, and the game is too easy/not enough content… too much and its a grindfest) There just needs to be enough quests to fill up your bar and quest rewards are good enough to make you want to do them instead of hoping for random drops.

    1. Jeremy S.

      Thank you for making such an intriguing topic and the comments have my brain in overdrive :)

      I may have to write something about grind and the definition of it.

    2. Reggie

      Exactly. I have remarked to friends on several occasions: “What, do they have to pay for that foozle out of their own pocket? You would think that the pixels themselves cost more than uranium.

  10. Tigger

    I would argue the opposite of grind is novelty not fun or content.

    Repetition can be enjoyable. Sometimes logging into a game and mowing down a few mobs can be relaxing at the end of the day. Consider the zen-like state in some games when you are playing purely by muscle memory. Its pure repetition and very enjoyable.

    The problem is the gap between this more of the stuff I like state and the novelty “wow, this is cool” state of enjoyment for something totally new. New and fun is just a hard combination to find.

    I think this is the dangerous point for expansions with experienced gamers. The skins have changed and you are killing lantern-hat rats in a tower rather than candle-hat rats in a cave but are you really doing something new. Your avatar has a new skill to try but does it change the way you play. The new content may have a few new dances to learn for raids and a few new skills to work into rotations but that’s different not new. Different just doesn’t have a same wow that new has after you’ve been through the dance a few times.

    Story has an even bigger hurdle. Writers are either adding trivial story arcs for small quest chains or extending the central acts of a play with no real conclusion. Neither are likely to impress. MMOs just aren’t as good vehicles for stories as single player games by their very nature. My story choices might make small changes to the shared world but I’ve never been very impressed by karma meters.

    Totally new risks alienating the players who enjoy the grind for achievements. MMOs tend to be very conservative because the established players tend to be conservative too. I won’t hold my breath waiting for a game to totally rework a class and players to enthusiastically respond that they can explore a new way to play in the game without having to grind the leveling content again.

  11. Syncaine

    People who feel like they are ‘grinding’ (in the negative sense) are generally people who no longer like part or even all of the game they are playing. To me it has very little to do with the gameplay itself, but who is playing.

    Take Dragon Age for instance. At the start, the combat is interesting, the story well paced, and overall the game is ‘good’. Then 30hrs in, while the game is the same, you feel that the combat is just a ‘grind’ to move the story along, and slowly you have less and less motivation to move it along because it’s now ‘so slow’.

    For whatever reason, instead of stepping away and moving on, a lot of us ‘grind it out’ to the end, then complain about how grindy the game ‘really’ is.

    An MMO can complicate this because generally there are a lot of very different activities to do, and if they are closely tied together, you are ‘forced’ to do many of them. If you only like a few, and hate the rest, you ‘grind’ out the ones you don’t like. Add in the social aspect, and I’m sure there are tons of people who hate EVERYTHING about the MMO they re playing, but do so because their buddies are still playing (who may or may not also hate the game).

    1. Sisyphean

      Very well put indeed – this informs much of the posts about my personal experience further up the thread.

      I think the problem is that many of the basic choices that you could make – to avoid an aspect of the game you dislike, specifically – are viewed as “bypassing content” in RPGs. If I’m playing TF2 and get bored with Soldier, I can just switch to Medic and be back doing exactly the kind of PvP I want to be doing, with zero down time. Same is true in an RTS, a fighting game, what have you.

      Also whereas a game like DA:O has you still fighting 30 hours in, most campaigns or single player modes in other genres are now closer to the 5-10 hour duration. Even if you hit a level/area you dislike, you’ll be done with it in no time. In an MMO you could spend the entire length of CoDBlOps’ campaign in one or two zones – which just so happen to be a color purple or orange that gives you a migraine. :)

  12. Tesh

    In contrast, we see a bit of Stockholm Syndrome out and about these days, where WoW leveling is now apparently “too fast”. It’s almost as if the grind became the baseline, no matter how much it was hated, and anything different whether faster or slower is Wrong.

    It’s all too subjective.

    1. Katherine

      Most of the complaints I’ve seen about this have been caused by the fact that if you get even a little bonus XP from killing a rare, herbing or mining, or let yourself get rested, you’ll vastly outlevel a zone (1-60 only) before you’ve finished its main questline.

  13. Reggie

    For a good answer, you need to go deep into game design theory. At the core, there are only a few ways to block a player from reaching their goal. You can use annoying puzzles, annoying mazes or backtracking, annoying mobs of hostiles, or annoying quest or level requirements. There may be a few others, but the key point is: monsters exist to prevent players from reaching their goal. More importantly, those monsters must be breakable. They cannot prevent the player from reaching the goal forever. They need to be tough, but ultimately beatable. Designers can (and sometimes have accidentally) made monsters too tough or unbeatable which is no fun either.

    Grind occurs when you have to go kill monsters or do repetitive quests or actions that do not advance the plot or game. As set forth in the main post, if you’re travelling to Xanadu and there are ten rats blocking the road, that is not grind. If, in order to enter the town, you need to kill ten rats to get to the sewer grate so you can avoid the guards, that’s still not really a grind.

    Grind occurs when there is some aspect of the game, a reward, access to an area or quest, leveling, whatever, that can -only- be achieved by doing an otherwise pointless activity over and over again so the player is forced to engage in mind-numbing repetition in order to get the reward. It is poor game design, because there should always be a way for the player to achieve their goal without tedium. People go to games to avoid tedium, not to have it thrust upon them.

    I agree that farming is a variant of grinding, but the distinction is the voluntary aspect of the activity. I have several farming activities I voluntarily do when I get home too tired for real challenges. The game dynamic does not require this however.

    Ultimately the labor- reward ratio (granularity) is also implicated in the balance. Gaming should feel like play and rewards, not a job on top of a RL job. Killing ten rats to open up the whole town for exploration is a good ratio. Killing a hundred rats, not so much. Killing a hundred at every single town you ever try to enter is grindy. It just kills the fun, practically demands power-gaming and then causes screaming when the power builds get nerfed and people are thrust back into the grind approach.

    Good design avoids grinds (or makes them very optional) for a good reason. People buy a game to get the rewards, not to be forced to chop down trees with a herring.

    1. Sisyphean

      Very nicely summarized indeed. I particularly like the limited use of subjective definitions. I think it’s totally possible to tackle this problem without falling into a cycle of “but how *much* is grind for *me*”, but I admit I’m not really up to doing it myself.

      This post, however, comes darn close.

  14. Carson

    “Grind” is when you persuade achiever-type personalities that the “reward” for an activity that they don’t enjoy doing will make them so happy that it will cancel out the unhappiness of actually performing said unenjoyable activity.

    1. SKapusniak

      This is the one that rings true to me.

      There is a reward you really want, however it’s a reward for doing something you just don’t want to do. You grit your teeth and do the stuff you don’t want to do anyway and get the reward.

      That’s grind. Not only is it subjective, it’s doubly subjective, as both the shininess of the reward and the suckiness of the activity are in the eye of the beholder.

      The reward does not have to be anything anyone else would think would be shiny at all, it could be as trivial as ‘I’ve completed that quest rather than abandoned or not taken it’, and the activity could be something lots of other people like such ‘I have to do it solo’ or ‘I have to get a group for it’.

      The opposite of grind is not good either. That’s when there is a ‘reward’ you really don’t want. To avoid getting the ‘reward’ you would have to avoid an activity you really want to do.

      When people complain about levelling too fast this is maybe the one they’ve stubbed their toes against. The reward is something like ‘being enough levels above this content that it’s unfun due triviality’, and the activity is ‘playing the game in my normal playstyle’.

  15. Julian

    “Lurker in the threshold”? Pah at you, sir. I’m still with the staff.

    The way I’ve always personally felt and defined grind was “Needless and artificially long repetition of tasks.”

    And before I get dogpiled, yes, of course it’s subjective. This is 100% in the players’ realm, not the character. We all have different notions of what we consider needless and we all have a meter that pegs when we see something and we instantly grok it to be artificially long. To me (YMMV) “artificially long” usually signifies something that has no in-game reason to be as long as it is.

    This could be due to how ridiculous the nature of the grind track sounds (trolls “needing” some coins which are found as drops for no reason other than them needing the coins and are not used for anything else, random turn-ins of crap, etc) or because of just how long it is (a hojillion coins to turn in. why? nobody knows. because it’s a hojillion and that’s it). Or both. Ridiculous -and- long.

    It would have been much different if said trolls had based their reputation estimations on giving players a lot of different tasks to do, but when gaining favor with them is so absurdly condensed into a silly progress bar that you can put in 8 hours of play and it barely moves… well, there you go.

    Repetition in itself… I don’t know if it’s -the- problem. After all, take a game like Pirates! Piracy there is a constant repetition of stalking, shooting, boarding, fencing, plundering, but we love it and we have no complaints because that’s what the game is about. For the same reason I usually don’t count it if a game has 10k quests of which there are only 7 varieties. Yes, you’re repeating quest patterns over and over again, but at least you’re doing it in different environments, fighting different enemies and so on. It’s done in a way that it feels ‘gamey’ but not grindy.

    Yes I suppose we could get terribly technical and say the modern MMO as a whole is just one huge ass grind where the main progress bar of that track is your XP bar, and it’s all broken down into 8 or 10 flavors of tasks… but that’s probably threading too thin to me and feels like an academic definition that is just thrown in there for whatever reason. Players certainly don’t feel it or see it that way. They see it as “the game” and they rather love it.

    The repetition in itself is not the problem. Is whether we enjoy that repetition, if that repetition is not too obvious and in our faces, and if it’s not artificially long.

    Of course it’s subjective.

    1. Jeromai

      I would almost guarantee that if you play Pirates! for 4 hours a day for four years running, it will feel grindy, because you’ve grokked the pattern and are still forcing yourself through it. (The element of force and feeling obliged to do it is another aspect of grind, as others have commented above.)

      And I have a feeling those who avoid MMOs in general because they are “too grindy” see the modern MMO as exactly that. Where’s Bartle to dismiss the genre as “WoW, been there, done that?” :P

      But it’s still nice to see what others individually consider as grind, since it also reveals what we would actually consider captivating gameplay.

      1. Julian

        “I would almost guarantee that if you play Pirates! for 4 hours a day for four years running, it will feel grindy”

        I started playing Pirates! on the C64 and pretty much all later versions, many times…

        *makes sure mom is not reading*

        … for way, way more than 4 hours a day and never at any point it felt grindy. It’s similar to how I feel about your vanilla PvE progression: it’s injects just the right amount of variety, ebbs, flows and unexpecteds to keep it not grindy.

        I also fully realize some people can’t take more than an hour of that, but will happily park ass and kill murlocs for 8 hours straight, in the same statistically ideal spot even, if it slowly adds tiny lines to the particular bar that rewards them with “Conqueror of Fishy Things” at the end.

        Subjective.

        1. Jeromai

          Fair enough.

          We appear to have reached the conclusion that grind is subjective.

          Perhaps we should strive to quantify what exactly feels grindy the next time the topic comes up so that more of us can understand each other past the nebulous term. :)

  16. Lucas

    Dear Dr. Tatiana,

    I’m a queen bee, and I’m worried. All my lovers leave their genitals inside me and then drop dead. Is this normal?

    Perplexed in Cloverhill

    For your lovers, this is the way the world ends – with a bang, not a whimper. When a male honeybee reaches his climax, he explodes, his genitals ripped from his body with a loud snap. I can see why you find it unnerving. Why does it happen? Alas, Your Majesty, your lovers explode on purpose. By leaving their genitals inside you, they block you up. In doing so, each male hoped you will not be able to mate with another. In other words, his mutilated member is intended as the honeybee version of a chastity belt.

    [...] If, by blocking you up, he can prevent just one other male from copulating with you, he will fertilize a larger proportion of your eggs – and more of his genes will be passed on to the next generation.

    DR. TATIANA’S SEX ADVICE TO ALL CREATION by Olivia Judson, pp. 16 – 17

    It’s a thin gray line between artificially luring players into playing longer, and rewarding those who do naturally (because your game happens to be fun). I get the impression that the grindier MMOs are designed to be so grindy, and if they’re subscription-based my suspicion is only heightened. I quit FFXI because of that, and never tried WoW.

    “Artificial lengthening of the duration of active gameplay” is indeed the problem, but grind isn’t the only method and grind isn’t always bad. For instance, the quests in Guild Wars where you need to grind to level 5 Sunspear or get 10,000 faction to continue with the story involved grinding, but I never had any problem with them because I was invested in the story, and the story demanded that I become established with those groups. Grind happens.

    PS The queen bee stuff and the honeypot/Winnie the Pooh thing are coincidental.

  17. Be Szpilman

    The opposite of grind ain’t content, grind is actually full of (dull) content. The opposite of grind is great gameplay. What MMOs often lack is engaging game mechanics (for combat, travel, etc.)

  18. Russ

    On the subject of game development, I think that the underlying problem we’re addressing is that nobody has thus far been able to accurately reflect “learned skill”, so we are forced into artificial level constructs and skill trees and whatnot, which then directly leads to farming and grinding (described very well above). As discussed above, quests are often grind-y too. A quick test — if you’re not actually reading the quest text with considerable interest, that’s grind. WoW has a LOT of quest grind. In some ways, I’d almost rather just sit there and kill rats repeatedly than FedEx things all over the place without any real immersion, and I’m guessing I’m not alone.

    I’d like to see a game try to more accurate proxy reality for learned skill progression, where the game constantly measures how “good” you are (e.g. timing of attacks, efficiency of attacks, ability to mitigate damage) and reflects that in your level. So your “level” is explicitly independent of the amount of time that you’ve spent playing the game (although in theory the more you play, the better you should get). So if you’re an expert MMORPGer, your character “level” would quickly reflect that, allowing you to move immediately to the most challenging content, while if you’re a relative noob (e.g. fumbling for keys, unsure of what attacks or defenses to use against which opponents and when), the game encourages you to practice on easier targets and, over time, improve. Then quests could be about learning about various opponents and their capabilities — and how your skills interact with those capabilities. As a result, the game becomes about mastering your skills and capabilities rather than killing ten rats repeatedly so that the game artificially grants you additional skills, better armor and weapons, etc.

    This would also solve a common pet-peeve, which is people that have quickly grinded (there’s that word again!) up to the level cap, but never really learned to play their character. My approach would make it impossible to “cap” without having truly mastered your character and all of its skills. For me, that would be a better game.

    Similarly, better weapons could be weapons that aren’t explicitly better (e.g. higher DPS), but weapons that, in the hands of someone who knows how to use them and when, allow them to defeat more difficult opponents.

    Thoughts?

    1. Randomessa

      That’s an interesting approach, though in my view, Guild Wars is already something like that, in that max-level content (if one is following the storyline) grows increasingly complex and challenging to the point where, if one has up til that point merely facerolled to victory, the last couple missions are often impossible to complete. In that sense, the last two missions force the player to “keep trying” until they master both the ability to choose effective skills and how to time and utilize them correctly. True, this is not tied to level as you suggested, but rather to “where you are” in the game in an RP sense. Become skilled enough, and you get to complete content. This also applies to capturing elite skills, since that is explicitly about besting a boss, often in a difficult late-end area.

      1. Russ

        I’d certainly agree that Guild Wars is the closest thing that exists to my stated ideal, although it uses that foundation for more of an arena-based solo or team-based PvP end-game rather than an epic PvE and/or RvR end-game, which is what I’d like to see.

        But some of the core elements are there, no doubt. I like that there are no “best skills” — just what works best for you and/or for a particular situation. And they’ve taken some steps to eliminate or reduce the grind. Correct me if I’m wrong, but can’t you just opt out of PvE entirely and just buy all the skills — and jump immediately into end-game PvP if you so desire?

        1. Randomessa

          That would definitely be an angle I would welcome! New and upcoming games would do well to take note.

          Yes, you are correct about creating a max-level PvP-only character and the ability to purchase (non-elite) skill sets. If I understand correctly, in that case, elite skills are purchased with faction gained in PvP.

        2. GLN7

          Like Randomessa said, you can certainly leave aside PvE and just do PvP, earning upgrades, skills and even skins for weapons and armor entirely with rewards. Actually PvP Chars even have advantages over PvE Chars, being able to freely change their equipment in a menu when in an outpost without any cost.

          But even Guild Wars got more grind heavy with time. I’m not talking about optional quests or title tracks, I’m talking about title tracks and related skills that affect effectivity, namely the sunspear and lightbringer, the kurzick and luxon, and of course the four EotN faction title tracks.
          That degraded Guild Wars quite a bit in my eyes.

    2. Sisyphean

      If they could make such a system work, that would be amazing indeed!

      I’d go a step further and have one level which determines what difficulty level you play at, as you describe, and then another that just tracks time you’ve put in.

      There are simply going to be people who will never get good beyond a certain point, but those people still deserve to see all the content and have a sense of constant progression. Basically this would work in the same way that matchmaking does in many FPS games – there’s one rating or true skill to determine your position on the ladder, but another ranking based on XP from kills that just keeps going up as long as you play.

  19. GLN7

    T least in GW2, we already know one form of grind: dungeon rewards.
    It was said that each time we complete a dungeon, we get one token which we can exchange for one weapon or one piece of armor. You like three pieces of the armor and the sword? Gotta repeat the dungeon three times. Thinking about what one has to do if one likes even more pieces leaves me frowning. Sure, they want to add diffenrent approaches and goals to a dungeon, but after all, I’m still just grinding my way through to get my desired pieces of equipment.

    1. Sisyphean

      But each of those dungeon runs could potentially be very different. The first might be in story mode, and then the following runs would be in exploration mode, in which we’ve been told there will be multiple paths to take.

      Which raises the question, is it grind if there is variety? Well, alright of course it is. Perhaps more importantly, how much does variety mitigate the pain of grind?

      1. GLN7

        Of course it’s grind, since I am forced to go through the dungeon again and again to get the desired parts. The how doesnt matter, since one then desires the reward, not the content. It doesn’t matter if the goal is to kill fifty moles, kill the commanding mole or plug the mole hole – you still slice through heaps of enemies to reach a certain number or point and then march of and get your reward.

        1. Russ

          I guess my point is that working toward the goal of killing the Boss Mole would seem to be less of a grind to me if the player (and the player alone) determined when was he ready to take on that challenge. If the journey was learning about how moles attack, how to defend against those attacks, what their vulnerabilities were, and what tools you needed to exploit those vulnerabilities (perhaps those are non-explicit sub-quests!), it would certainly seem like less of a grind. Perhaps that approach lends itself too much to spoilers (just read the FAQ on moles and watch a YouTube video of the Boss Mole fight!), but that would seem eliminate a lot of the unsatisfying treadmill time.

          I guess as a related note, I’d also love to see some randomization applied to boss behavior that increased the unpredictability / danger element of boss fights. I seem to think some of the old EQ bosses were much LESS predictable than the current bosses in WoW and elsewhere. Too many times these days, it’s just a mechanical tank ‘n spank, with everyone standing in pre-assigned places like little toy soldiers. Is that realistic at all? “Ooh, he’s at 40%, everyone start dps’ing! More DOTs! More DOTs!”

  20. Sisyphean

    Well, this has been another fascinating read on KTR, I must say. I’ve left a variety of replies scattered through the thread, though I’m sorry that I’ve likely missed the most heated period of discussion.

    That said, thanks to everyone for the very stimulating comments and thoughtful ideas. The intelligence and insights to be found here are always a wonderful treat. :)

  21. Julian

    It would be terrible if we can’t make it to 100 comments in a post about grind.

    The reward is minimal; just to brag that you made it to 100. A completely forgettable pseudo-achievement in which you had to mechanically repeat something ad nauseum. Typing, in this case.

  22. Sisyphean

    Can I hire someone to do it for me?

    Also, if we wait long enough, perhaps they’ll make the grind easier – in this case, I predict a neural-interface whereby we can make thoughts directly into words.

    Man that sounds a lot cooler than reducing the level at which you can train riding. :)

  23. Pingback: The Soapbox: Defining the word “grind” « MMO City

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