The Grind

This is early because I don’t plan on writing and posting things on Christmas.  So I hope you enjoy the early post!

WARNING: This will most likely come out as a QQ post.

Remember when games were so fun that you just played them because you wanted to?  Because they were fun?  I do.  Hell, I can even recall how much fun I was having back when I first started to play WoW.  Or even how much fun I was having back when I started playing RIFT.  But how come after the cleanest launch to date (I guess SWTOR was pretty clean, but I am not here to argue yet and its too early to tell), how come the game is suffering from a rapidly declining population and the people that still play it are mostly just holding out until the next MMO that comes their way?  Honestly, I think there are a number of things that contribute to this.  Personally, and this is highly opinionated, I feel that there is one reason why MMOs these days are failing and the reason is quite simple.  I have yet to figure out why developers feel the need for this.  But why is there more grind in MMOs these days than at any Starbucks?  I have yet to find anyone that finds grinds to be fun, so why do developers do them?  Why do they feel the need to stagnant player progression so?  To be honest, I find that if developers keep going with the grind, they will be their own downfall.

What is the grind?  Well, the term grind is generally used to describe the way most people feel about their 9 to 5 job.  Typically, they work during the week, hate their job so that they can have fun on the weekend.  In all honesty, its the type of life style that doesn’t suit a lot of people and lead to a lot of dissatisfaction with life.  Most of those people tend to relax when they get home.  Even if its just watching a movie or playing games when they get off work.  So why is this a term used in games?  Well, its basically the same feeling that is involved.  Grinds in MMOs tend to be long, drawn out means of acquiring money, or completing the same task several times to slightly progress forward.  Content that is viewed as grinds tend to be very unfun, meaningless tasks that don’t provide anything more than just extending the amount of time players are required to put into the game to experience the fun content.  Carrot on a stick is a good analogy to this.

The purpose of grinds is to artificially extend the games content.  If you can put a bunch of checks in the way with steep requirements and a slow means of acquiring the required whatever to get past it, than that means you just made your game that much longer.  However, despite their purpose, why not just make their game larger or have more fun content in it to naturally extend the games content?  Bethesda games are known for 1 thing and that is huge, expansive games with tons of options.  You can be whatever you want to be.  The world is large and there is so much stuff to do, so many people to talk too (or kill), so many quests to do that you can literally play that game 5 different times and do something new each time.  MMOs are notorious for Artificial extension.  In fact, MMOs are really the only genre of game that suffers from this problem.

Artificial extension shows 1 of 2 things to the player base.  That 1) the developers think their own game is not fun or 2) the investors want the developers to place this artificial extension in the game so that they can milk the player base for all they are worth.  I have the mindset that I get on RIFT to do my dailies because I have to.  I am never thinking that I want to do dailies for fun.  Mario games are still being played because those games are fun to play.  In fact, the original mario game can be beaten in 10 minutes.  Yet many people have logged hours into that game.  The first Super Mario game is a great example of good game development that turned into a fun game where people are not pressured to do some meaningless task over and over again just to access later parts of the game.  Grinding is like asking the player, playing Mario, to kill 100 Goomba’s to get a skill to be able to kill Koopas which you need to kill 100 of them so you can kill Paratroopas.  It is an absurd requirement being set up by the developers because they know their game isn’t as fun as it could be.

I remember playing Pokemon Red and restarting and starting that game over and over again because they were so much fun.  In fact, I got the most recent remake of Soul Silver and I still log in so much time into that game.  I beat Pokemon Black twice now, logging 20 hours each time through.  Dungeon Defends is one of the games I bought recently and I have so far logged in 34 hours into that game.  Whats the key here? They are all fun!  I have fun playing those games.  None of them set up ridiculous requirements just to beat the game.  The gameplay is fun, the boss fights are interesting  and the stories are great (if you can say there is a story in Pokemon).  In fact, I would still be playing WoW if there were more boss fights like Lurker in Serpent Shrine Cavern (SSC).  Lurker was a great example of a boss fight that was so much fun, in fact I always looked forward to running that raid because that boss was so much fun.  Why can’t the rest of the MMO content be that much fun?  Wrath failed to capture this feeling for me.  All of the fights were stale and and felt like they were put together as a challenge.  And while I like a good challenge, a challenge without any fun is just hard.  Mega Man games are hard, but they are also fun and that is why people still play them.  Key word here, fun.

The difference between a dailies and say practice is that practice actually yields something.  You have to practice to get better, you have to practice to maintain your skills and anyone at a professional level of music/sports/whatever will tell you that practice is the most important part of their routine.  Musicians will practice their scales over and over, practice measures, play the songs they wish to perform so they can stay at a professional level.  Commonly throughout the world of practice is that if you don’t practice, your skills will noticeably decrease, thus the saying “I am out of practice” is a very valid statement.  Nobody does dailies for practice.  I have yet to actually see any benefit of hunting the same monsters every day for a few gold/plat/credits/virgins actually constitutes towards you developing as a player.  You can argue this point for years but it will always be in vain because there is no point to dailies than to create a time sink for players to keep playing.  Especially when those dailies are tied to very specific requirements that are needed for max level content.

Free to play games like Guild Wars do not stay around for long without there being a good reason.  Clearly the developers set up a system that thrives on players having fun rather than feeling forced to push through content.  The lore is engaging, PvP is complex and most of all, there isn’t really a grind.  Without a subscription, the developers have to create fun content for players to enjoy.  It cannot just be content for players to progress through, but content that players want to have to play again.  And at 6 million players, I think they are doing quite well with there development strategies.

Guild Wars 2 has indicated that there will not be a grind or much of a grind.  Gear drops in dungeons are tokens that everyone gets to turn in for a gear of your respective class.  What this means is that you kill a boss, you get a token for a helmet (or other piece of gear) that you can turn in for a helmet.  1 to 1 ratio.  This means you dont have to farm out hundreds of tokens to eventually get a piece of gear.  You can actually do dungeons because you want to, not because you have to.  By doing a system like this, it becomes very imperative that Arena Net makes fun encounters, fun dungeons and overall fun.

If their success with Guild Wars is any indication of the future success with Guild Wars 2, than we have nothing to fear as players.  There should constantly be a surge in new players and old recurring players.  Without a subscription model, we can assume that the developers are not being pressured to find different ways to stall progress just to keep players playing.  And without a subscription model for Guild Wars 2, we can assume that the developers are more concerned with high quality content over pushed out numbers to keep players playing because they need to to beat the game.  Developers just need to remember that people play games to have fun, whether that be through competitive play or just simple platforming.  People dont play games to eventually have fun.  So Arena Net, I hope you don’t institute any type of grind.

Also, here is a cookie for everyone that I personally enjoy.

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