Wednesday, July 14, 2010

No one likes grind.

To me, the statement "No one likes grind" is one of the most obvious observations that a person can make. It's right up there with "the sky is blue" and "black is darker than white".

The actual definition of Grind is "a tedious task" and it's synonymous with Drudgery. Tedious, by the way, is defined as "boring, monotonous, time consuming". I think that pretty much sums up what most MMO players think of Grinding.

And yet... I always find it terribly surprising when someone speaks out in favor of the grind. "No. No." they say, "we like the grind. The grind is important. It provides meaning. Context for all our hard work."

You like boring, monotonous, time consuming tasks? Really? Forgive me while I display some skepticism for a moment. For I find it impossible that even a masochist would really enjoy tasks that, by definition, are uninteresting, repetitive and cause players mental weariness.

No. I don't think you really do like the grind. No one likes the grind.

I think you like the reward.
I think what players like is the sense of achievement that comes from overcoming difficulty. That and the shiny Pavlovian treat that usually accompanies that sense of achievement.

No. It's not the "grind" that players find rewarding. It's the reward that they find rewarding.

I'm convinced that if you created a "box" in the middle of Orgrimmar that players could jump on for free coins that players would happily jump on that box 24/7 and proceed to send Blizzard thank you emails for giving them that box. The "box" they would say is the smartest idea ever.

But, of course, it's not the "box" that players would enjoy but the Reward it provides.

We need challenge, but do we need Grind?
As MMO players, we crave challenge. We want challenge. It's what gives our virtual achievements context and meaning.

As I wrote in Mid-June, there are several ways to make your MMO more difficult:
  • Twitch Skills
  • Reactive Decision Making
  • Planned Strategic Thinking
  • Time Consuming
  • Severe Consequences
  • Organizational Structure
Of all six methods for making your game more difficult, the worst possible choice from a player perspective is to make it more time consuming. Difficulty, by virtue of only being lengthy, is a miserable and mind-numbingly boring way to make your game more difficult.

We don't need the Grind to make a game challenging. There are plenty of ways to increase the challenge without needing to make it monotonous or boring.


Stabs said...

It's a semantic thing. For me I enjoyed leveling in WoW probably more than being max level. Soloing group quests, planning to optimise the fedexing, and checking Who to see who was winning really appealed to me.

Because I liked it it wasn't grind. To someone else it may have been grind - that's their loss.

Certain things can be taken either way. I pvped quite a lot before they brought Honour in just for fun. Afterwards sometimes I played for fun and sometimes I put my head down and accumulated points. The accumulation of points was in and of itself fun gameplay as was upgrading into new purples and gradually beginning to kick butt as my resilience rose. But did I like WSG in blues at the start? No. Was it a grind? Yeah, probably.

Klepsacovic said...

I have to disagree, partially. Not all grinds are the same. Some are painful, such as working up gear in BGs. Some are just repetitive and varying degrees of tedious, such as random heroics.

Personally I don't mind gathering grinds too much. They are relaxing if I'm in the right mindset, that mindset being "relax, there's no rush, just take it easy." It's mindless and requires minimal interaction, but sometimes I think that's a good think. It's the MMO equivalent of those ocean sounds CDs, or maybe techno.

sid67 said...

Is a grind that tricks you into thinking it's not a grind still a grind?

No. To Stabs point above, I don't think it is... After all, if YOU don't find it boring or tedious, it's not really a grind from your perspective.

This is where I think Daily Quests fall in WoW. They can be a a grind, but can also be compelling enough to offer some decent gameplay. But would you do them if there were no faction or gold reward? Likely not.

By contrast, BGs would likely have PvP-minded players even if there was no reward. Would they have as many as they do today? No. And that's one reason why I think BGs fail so miserably in WoW. It's a group activity where 50% (or more) of the people playing in it feel like it's a grind. Which, in turn, is unfair to the players who WANT that style of play.

Stabs said...

Interesting. That suggests that everything is just play until players value the end result more than the process. Therefore grind is a result of attaching points values to gameplay. Which attracts those who are just doing it for the points.

I must say I think WoW is proof of concept of the attractiveness of points. Even achievement points which are useless motivate people to accumulate them.

sid67 said...

Interesting. That suggests that everything is just play until players value the end result more than the process.

I would agree with that observation and add a bit to it. The less exciting or interesting the game play is, the less players will value it. It's that valuation, when compared to the reward, that makes it feel burdensome and tedious.

And more than that, it's about value over time because your valuation of the gameplay decreases the longer you are exposed to it.

After all, even raiding can start as a blast and then feel like a grind after the 10th, 15th, or 30th time you have killed a specific boss for a piece of gear. And that's the best gameplay that WoW has to offer.

To reiterate what I was saying in the post, that's why "time consuming" is the worst kind of challenge. Because it can turn enjoyable gameplay into total crap due to overexposure.

Anonymous said...

Great article and comments, guys. I come firmly down on the side of playing the game rather than running the treadmill, and when a game feels grindy, I'll stop. Pavlovian conditioning doesn't work on me for long, and there are too many good games out there to try to get stuck on the treadmill.

I wholeheartedly agree that time sinks are abominable. Unfortunately, they exist in a vicious feedback loop with the subscription model. As they feed on each other, we're not likely to see much real will to change that. It will be interesting to see how grindy Guild Wars 2 winds up.