Grinding in it’s purest form

There’s an online game with terrible graphics, terrible PVP, terrible gameplay, terrible controls, and it’s a massive grind. Yet the game has several million more player accounts than World of Warcraft. They call this terrible game Mafia Wars. I must admit, this is a free game that doesn’t require a graphics card, so it’s hardly a fair comparison to MMORPGS. But so many people willingly grind levels in bad games that there are implications for how MMORPGS handle the grind.

For the uninitiated, Mafia Wars is a browser-based game popular on social networking sites. You are are rewarded for recruiting other people to join your team. Gameplay consists of clicking on buttons that say “Do Job” or “Fight”. There really isn’t any gameplay to it at all. The only thing that happens when you click one of these buttons is that a leveling bar goes up, you gain some stats, and you’re closer to clicking on buttons for bigger jobs or clicking the fight button next to higher level players.

So the question is, why do people grind levels in a game with no gameplay?

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Suzina is a 27 year old who usally plays the same MMOs as her husband. Games played: UO, EQ2, FFXI, SWG, LOTRO.

17 thoughts on “Grinding in it’s purest form”

  1. That is the reason I hate Facebook so much. All you get is spam from those stupid games. Why everyone in my facebook even plays is beyond me.

    Its like the annoying friends, and relatives that send you the same “50 things you didnt know about me” emails, or hoaxes, or whatever.

    It drives me crazy.

  2. Probably those are more popular because they take comparatively no time to play, are free, and are simple enough even my parents can understand them. (I can’t conceive of either of them trying to figure out EVE Online, for example.)

  3. I think the no time to play is a large factor. I know I grinded my way to level 60 or so in Mafia Wars. At least part of it was because it only took a couple of minutes while waiting for something else.

    A lot of it was “it’s got to get good soon, right?” When they released an expansion pack that was essentially nothing but a new set of tasks to perform the same grind from nothing through, I realized how much of a waste of time it was.

    And in my defense, I disabled every single “spam your friends” option it had, that Facebook had, and manually undid any notifications it sent out. Because of this I couldn’t play certain parts of the game, so maybe I missed the “real” fun, but I don’t think so.

  4. Looking at it as a professional designer, I think there is no one reason, but a lot of little reasons why people are happily playing pure grind games like Mafia Wars.

    I agree that one of the big things is the low time investment. It’s easy to grind every day for six months if your whole investment is maybe 30 minutes each day.

    These games are also designed to distribute that grind over a long period of time. You make a few moves, then you have to wait for some turns to refresh. You can see this as an evolution: in old games you had to sit and grind for days. Wow disguised the grind by giving bigger xp rewards and making you do a lot of little tasks instead of camping in one location. These new games give you a small flurry of activity ever so often, allowing you to sneak a little bit of gameplay in on occasion while you’re doing other things.

    I also think there’s a bit of social acceptance here. The “spam your friends!” aspect that people hate started out as ghetto marketing, but it also made people realize how many of their friends do “play games”. If you’re not a gamer (or used to be) and worry that others will think you’re being childish for playing games, seeing a bunch of spam from a game lets you know that there are many people who won’t judge you for playing games.

    Plus, we’re a lot more patient with our first games. Many people playing Mafia Wars or Farmville are new to games. They’re still amazed that they can get a little reward for clicking some buttons. Many people here, those of us who actively read gaming blogs, are experienced and no longer impressed by a game just because it’s a game; we often call ourselves “jaded”. But, clicking buttons for a pretend reward is still fun to most of those people, whereas the rest of us would be bored to tears quickly.

    All these elements together explain why Facebook games are a big deal right now. I think it also shows why these types of games may only be transitory, too.

    1. “Many people here, those of us who actively read gaming blogs, are experienced and no longer impressed by a game just because it’s a game”

      Well, I have to admit, I play games every day and blog about games, but I still play these browser based games. Every time I’m loading in Lotro, I alt-tab and grind in a browser game. Every time I’m waiting on a “quick afk” from a group mate, I alt-tab and grind in Naurto Shippuden’s facebook app.

      1. I wasn’t saying that “real gamers” can’t enjoy these Facebook/browser games. I’ve played a few for reasons beyond research. :) But, I think there are a lot of reasons for playing these games. Why did you pick the Naruto game instead of just loading up solitaire? I guess you wanted to let people know you’re a Naruto fan so that friends who also like Naruto feel free to strike up conversations about it with you?

        There are a lot of reasons to play.

  5. It’s really simple. Watching a progress bar is “fun”. So is watching any “stat” bar or numerical value increase incrementally.

    By “fun” I mean “something you voluntarily keep doing”, which is my definition of “fun” in any context, on the basis that if something is not fun I stop doing it, so anything I don’t stop doing must therefore be “fun”.

    Even when I am just downloading a file or patching a game, I tend to sit and watch the progress bar. I’d hate to know why. I imagine it does something somewhere in the brain that stimulates (or simulates) some “reward for work done” reflex, even though I am not actually “doing” anything.If you dress this up with even the tawdriest of narrative context, it seems you have a recipe for contentment.

    I wouldn’t, however, pay $40 to install and $15 a month to play a game that just required me to click a couple of buttons and watch a progress bar. The fact that these games are free is probably the most significant factor.

    If you want to see what can be done with a simple click-and-wait browser interface model, though, take a look at Echo Bazaar,
    if you haven’t already.

  6. You have a very narrow definition of gameplay if you think there is no gameplay in Mafia Wars. MW is a strategy RPG (not to be confused with the Japanese SRPG’s), as are most web-based multiplayer games. I don’t do Facebook, Tradewars:Rising and OGame are more my speed, but these types of games are nice slow-paced strategy games that may seem superficially shallow, but I find them more mentally challenging than something like LOTRO or WoW, which like most MMO’s are tactical turn-based (albeit very fast turns) RPG’s.

    1. As a further tangent, I’ve not considered the gameplay of most modern MMOs very “tactical”. They pale in comparison with the simplest Atlus Tactics games, or even Eternal Eyes.

      As to the question at hand, Progress Quest exists, right? Zork Online? Simple progress metrics are refreshing in a world where who you know is more important than what you know, and there aren’t Rep indicators online for the factions in the office.

      1. I agree with you about depth, but you are confusing tactical gameplay with what the console video game industry has called “Tactical”. That’s what I meant when I mentioned the SRPG’s (SRPG is a popular misnomer…they are TRPG’s. Whatever though, it’s hard to predict what terms people know). Modern RTS games are mostly tactical as well, despite being called strategy (SupCom devs even call their gameplay tactical). Progress in almost every PVE MMO is based almost entirely on how much tactical combat you take part in.

        Multiplayer strategy-rpg’s have been around for a long time. People like them. Despite the fact that many modern gamers not having a clue what constitutes gameplay they will continue to be popular because they are fun.

        1. True enough, MMO combat is tactical, not strategic. No argument there. :)

          And yes, I’m all for some more strategic online gaming. MW doesn’t really scratch that itch for me, but I can see how it might for some.

  7. This is probably the main reason I abandoned my Myspace account. At the lower levels it was fun but then I found myself adding random people (over 300) to my friends list so I could stay competitive in fights. I had so much income I could not spend it on anything but more income generating properties. So now on FB I only play Bejeweled Blitz and Scrabble.

  8. I’m guilty. I got to Cuba, I know that much. The trick is to make sure each member in your mafia has a good weapon and armor, then you find someone with hotels or casinos that has less mafia members than you do. Then you rob the pants off of them, oh, and don’t forget to bookmark that page and send it to all of your friends.

    Yeah I pissed off a lot of people heh.

  9. Agree with most of the posts above, people play it as it’s easy to pick up, they don’t need much skill to play (just a little planning and resource management will do), don’t require a graphics card, and in the short time you invest in it in a day, you’d see some immediate results.

    It’s there for that “quick gaming fix”, and it seems to have become socially acceptable to play them.

    Mafia Wars and other similar Facebook games (Vampire Wars, Space Ace (?), Dragon Wars) I lump together as click-to-watch-progress-bar-increase games, and my interst in them has flagged when it started feeling grindy — never went past level 30+, and I have heaps of income in those games.

    I still get astonished how some Facebook friends are trumpeting that they’ve reached level 135 or something. Whatever floats their boat, I guess.

    What amused/amazed me though that a friend who was a Guild Wars buddy (we used to play until dawn) shifted to doing Facebook games when he got married. And if I understood him, he uses his credit card to buy in-game currency for some of the Facebook games.

    He explained to me that his wife wasn’t too keen on computers, and he was “introducing” her to the wonderful world of computers via Facebook and its casual games. So far it’s working, our Guild Wars sessions get interrupted because wifey’s itching to log on Facebook :D

  10. The first version of the FBook app was much better. When they relaunched it a few weeks agoit has all sorts of problems. Doesnt remember your login. Hangs up. Doesnt let you scroll down more than about 8 status updates. I hate. I deleted it. Trouble is I cant find any other app that did as good a job with uploading mobile photos. I may have to reinstall it just for that.

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