View from the Road: An Axe to Grind, Part 2

View from the Road: An Axe to Grind, Part 2

Why do game designers build games around grinding, anyway?

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I'll accept the argument for Grinding as an equalizer, but as downtime or a pacing tool, it sucks.

If a game needs downtime there are better ways to get it. Socializing is one that any MMO can offer, so why not encourage that over grinding?

And as for a pacing tool, that's a nice way of saying its filler. Well too bad. Portal was 2 hours long and it was perfect. Many people said that was because it didn't over stay its welcome. Point being, if you can't make the pacing of your game stand up for more than a certain number of hours, either you rewrite, rescale or you dump the project. You do not make players stare at boring numbers. Shame on players for doing it, too.

There's also economic balance within the game to consider, at least for WoW. You can't learn the higher level crafting professions until you are level 65, and that prevents people from being able to just make a bunch of level 1 crafters of every profession.

For the most part, though, I think the leveling time in WoW is way over the top. It doesn't take 6-10 days of gametime to learn your character. Once you already have a character at 80 who you can do raiding/pvp/whatever with, leveling becomes this relaxing sidegame you can spend time on when there's nothing else to do. But before 80, it's just a wall keeping you out of what most people consider the "real" content of the game.

I love the economic transaction analogy. I play games in a variety of genres; some I'm good at, some not so much. Regardless, even in most games, there's That One Part that gives me exceptional grief. Perhaps it's because I'm just not fast enough to pull off the jump, or I just can't memorize that boss's patterns. For example, on my second God of War I play-through (Normal Mode) I kicked butt--until I got to Ares's final form. I simply couldn't beat him. I tried for two weeks and couldn't do it. I swallowed my pride and let it drop me to Easy mode--and I killed Ares in 20 seconds. I was good at almost the entire game; there was just that one part I didn't "get."

The point is that it's nice to have various sources to raise "capital" from so I can buy my way further in the game. Not all games let you change difficulty mode (if they even have one!) mid-game. Game designers can't foresee every possible hang-up for every player.

Fine. You convinced me grinding has a place in videogames. That shouldn't stop videogame makers from rewarding time spent in the game with plenty of content. It also doesn't excuse leveling up of whatever if the only option is to grind.

Last point is very true, whenever I want to grind my team a few levels in HeartGold or EV train, I'll flick on the telly and my attention will be more on Cold Case than the recurring Elite Four Pokémon I grind against.

oneplus999:
There's also economic balance within the game to consider, at least for WoW. You can't learn the higher level crafting professions until you are level 65, and that prevents people from being able to just make a bunch of level 1 crafters of every profession.

For the most part, though, I think the leveling time in WoW is way over the top. It doesn't take 6-10 days of gametime to learn your character. Once you already have a character at 80 who you can do raiding/pvp/whatever with, leveling becomes this relaxing sidegame you can spend time on when there's nothing else to do. But before 80, it's just a wall keeping you out of what most people consider the "real" content of the game.

Plus I wouldn't see an issue with having character classes that are designed around professions. Why can't I be a blacksmith with mechanics similar to other classes (I would have certain techniques that I'd need to time to craft weapons at a forge and my success rate determines the quality of the item) and the ability to run my own shop and so on? You can downplay the grind by making in-game activities more varied and by promoting other aspects of the game for downtime, such as (another user pointed out) socialization.

My biggest problem with WoW is that it's pretty much all combat. You have some fun flirts and animations but your ability to customize your character is extremely limited and nearly every interaction you have with other players relates to grinding or raiding. As a consequence less skilled players have to run high-level dungeons in order to get their money's worth and it creates numerous issues for Blizzard in terms of how they need to balance the encounters. WoW can be challenging but since I returned to the game in March it hasn't been. I'm all for making it less time intensive but the fact that I've only been challenged in one or two instances (not accounting for terrible PUGs) has been a major turn off.

With that said, I agree that there's a place for grinding. Grinding in itself can be enjoyable when it's implemented well. Sometimes I just really love the mechanics of a game, or there's one enemy I love fighting, and it's great for creating downtime between boss fights. However, I think that's the only time it should be used to create downtime, the rest of the time it should be more like a hard-coded tutorial that goes unnoticed while you progress through the story. I'd love it if leveling felt like a side-effect of doing things that interested me rather than serving as my primary goal. While WoW can be played that way it doesn't feel like it's geared toward that mindset-something that could be solved by taking an already lively world and adding a bit of vibrancy to it. They've got the right idea with the goblin starter zone. I'll be curious to see if the rest of the grind changes that significantly come Cataclysm.

"If a gamer does not complete a game, then they've wasted time, money, and design resources on content that the player never sees." After spending ~5 minutes trying to find words that explain why I can not completely agree with this statement and failing (There is something in the fundamental logic of the argument I disagree with, I just can't pin it down right now) I'll just link to a news post that comes close on a parallel issue. I'll have to think more on this.

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/102358-Deus-Ex-3-Team-Didnt-Get-it-at-First-Says-Director

"... the high cost of game development had created a culture where everything a team built had to be something that the player would actually see, so convincing his team to make things that might be missed entirely was difficult, and that he had to stress that the whole point was letting players explore the game however they wanted and not leading them around by the nose."

Why does it have to mean that the developer, necessarily failed if the player doesn't finish the game?

Slizaro:
"If a gamer does not complete a game, then they've wasted time, money, and design resources on content that the player never sees." After spending ~5 minutes trying to find words that explain why I can not completely agree with this statement and failing (There is something in the fundamental logic of the argument I disagree with, I just can't pin it down right now) I'll just link to a news post that comes close on a parallel issue. I'll have to think more on this.

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/102358-Deus-Ex-3-Team-Didnt-Get-it-at-First-Says-Director

"... the high cost of game development had created a culture where everything a team built had to be something that the player would actually see, so convincing his team to make things that might be missed entirely was difficult, and that he had to stress that the whole point was letting players explore the game however they wanted and not leading them around by the nose."

Why does it have to mean that the developer, necessarily failed if the player doesn't finish the game?

I'd say it's much akin to an author having failed if the reader doesn't get to the end of the book.
Fundamentally, they're the same; skilled craftsmen who produce something for people to experience. If people don't experience it fully, then it's the craftsman who has failed not the audience.

This all looks good to me. Personally I don't see the point in any game having grinding, because when it comes down to it grinding really is just filler and there's so much more that a game could focus on. Like how crunchy english said, socializing can be great for downtime, because I know most of my WoW time was spent dicking around in org chatting.

As for teaches players how to play, that more applies to the act of leveling not just grinding. Because like you said sometimes, "You want to sit down, turn your brain off, and do something that requires next to no thought."

And as for "Nobody wants a game that's all grind, all the time." That's incorrect. FFXI and XIV are pretty much all grind all the time, from level 1 to level cap. And in fact the players of those games enjoy grinding. The only freshness those games have is that eventually you need to party up and grind to get anywhere.

Crunchy English:

And as for a pacing tool, that's a nice way of saying its filler. Well too bad. Portal was 2 hours long and it was perfect. Many people said that was because it didn't over stay its welcome. Point being, if you can't make the pacing of your game stand up for more than a certain number of hours, either you rewrite, rescale or you dump the project. You do not make players stare at boring numbers. Shame on players for doing it, too.

But how much of that 2 hours do you clearly remember? Maybe this is because I'm the exception and I enjoyed Portal without subsequently expecting its glorious descent from the heavens, but the only memorable part for me was the final boss fight. Mind you, I still had a lot of fun going through the game for that two hours, but the fact is that Portal was only 2 hours long because it didn't have enough significant moments to have it last more than that.

I still prefer that to an bloated 10-hour version of the same content, but I vastly prefer a game like Persona 3, which took me 100 hours on my first playthrough, and had a lot more cool stuff happen throughout. Yes, there were a few moments of grinding, but it was ingeniously paced so that just when you start to get sick of grinding, they reveal something awesome either gameplay- or plot-wise. Overall, I'd argue that Persona 3 was a much better game because of that; the contrast between tedium and novelty allows you to enjoy its most glorious moments even more.

I guess that makes me super awesome at Pokemon then, since I was able to beat gym leaders while being way below their levels.

Well all of them except Whitney in Goldenrod.
Fuck her and her Miltank.

Anyway, more on-topic. Good article, and I agree. However grinding still is a slippery-slope. There's always a chance of a game completely relying on it, rather than using it to strengthen the experience.

Grinding is not a good pacing tool. It kills the pacing by making it go far too slow.

And as for teaching people to play I really don't think you need to kill 1,000 members of local wildlife for you to figure out "hey, fireball is a good spell".

Again me and Demon's Souls but I much prefer the Demon's Souls approach to teaching the player. Here is a brief tutorial. We tell you what buttons do what. Now go figure everything out for yourself. Oh what's that? The game is scary? The game is kicking your ass? Then you must be doing it WRONG! Try another approach (oh and you can't have your healthbar anymore. You don't deserve it, weakling).

good article, and I even agree, to a point, that it has it's place in teaching players how to play the game.

I still despise it, though, and whenever I find out that it's a major part of game X, that usually means I'm not buying it. Plain and simple, it isn't fun, for me at least. Ofcourse I acknowledge that there are people who find mindless repetition "fun", but I am not one of them.

I think this is the best of the grind articles, all of which I have enjoyed.

The grind is necessary in almost any RPG (well any based around gameplay and not story), and in many cases is the best part of the game!

Who here likes Diablo? Diablo is a grind, the entire game, the entire time. It's a freaking amazing game, and lets you play with your friends and kill shit and love it, but it's a grind. To play, you click on an enemy (or enemies) and wait for phat lewt to pop out. Then you do it again. Then you call your friend and get him online and click on guys together. It's repetitive, almost neverending, and an absolute blast. But a grind nontheless.

The grind is essential to any MMO, you guys. It always needs to be there, but with good enough game design, players shouldn't notice it.

When the grind FEELS like a grind, its a cue to developers that their gameplay needs improvement.

Irridium:
I guess that makes me super awesome at Pokemon then, since I was able to beat gym leaders while being way below their levels.

Well all of them except Whitney in Goldenrod.
Fuck her and her Miltank.

Anyway, more on-topic. Good article, and I agree. However grinding still is a slippery-slope. There's always a chance of a game completely relying on it, rather than using it to strengthen the experience.

I beat Lance while 10+ levels below him :P

John Funk:

Irridium:
I guess that makes me super awesome at Pokemon then, since I was able to beat gym leaders while being way below their levels.

Well all of them except Whitney in Goldenrod.
Fuck her and her Miltank.

Anyway, more on-topic. Good article, and I agree. However grinding still is a slippery-slope. There's always a chance of a game completely relying on it, rather than using it to strengthen the experience.

I beat Lance while 10+ levels below him :P

Will, Lance, and the Dark-Type Elite 4 trainer were massive pains for me. Will because his pokemon kept using confusion. And against the Elite 4 it seems whenever I get confused my pokemon always hurt themselves. With that Dark-type trainer its that damn Umbreon and Houndoom that really screw me up. And with Lance, well his Aerodactyle is a bitch to take down.

I can breeze through Koga and Bruno though. Thanks to my Typhlosion, Espeon, and Lapras they don't stand much of a chance.

FFT:
The Monster Hunter games are probably entirely grinding, but they don't feel like it. I've put 250+ hours into MHFU and it's still just as great as the beginning of the game. I don't know what point I was trying to make. Just throwing something out there.

Crunchy English:
I'll accept the argument for Grinding as an equalizer, but as downtime or a pacing tool, it sucks.

If a game needs downtime there are better ways to get it. Socializing is one that any MMO can offer, so why not encourage that over grinding?

And as for a pacing tool, that's a nice way of saying its filler. Well too bad. Portal was 2 hours long and it was perfect. Many people said that was because it didn't over stay its welcome. Point being, if you can't make the pacing of your game stand up for more than a certain number of hours, either you rewrite, rescale or you dump the project. You do not make players stare at boring numbers. Shame on players for doing it, too.

I don't know... I don't really enjoy socializing all that much and it doesn't add anything to the game for me (the Multiplayer part of MMORPG is the last thing I care about).
The problem I have with a 2 hour game is that I feel empty inside. Portal was fun but you can't really compare it, it had a good mixture of elements that made a unique experience. But the reason why it could overstay its welcome, unlike many games that are Massive (Fallout, Dragon Age, WoW) was because it was essentially a puzzle game and puzzle games get boring fast. Hell, there is not even a possible way to grind unless you count check and fail playstyle as some kind of grinding (and maybe it should be)
Personally, I need a long game like I need a long book, I rarely feel immersed in under 10 hours even with good elements and if I really enjoy it it feels disappointing.
And I'm a person who enjoys numbers, as an RPG gamer (from DnD to WoW) numbers have always been part of the game.
I also want to support the whole downtime argument. Grinding allows a game to be a relaxing experience, which draws many in do to our hectic lifestyles in today's society. It's like TV but controlled by your input and with a Massive feel to it (when I say Massive it is comparable to a TV show like Battlestar) so it feels more satisfying while still being comfortable.

All but the last point seem to apply to leveling, which I consider a different animal from grinding. I hate the kind of design that forces you to repeat uninteresting combat against nearly harmless foes -either to complete a quest, reach a necessary level for the next section, or acquire materials and wealth. That's what I call grinding.

oneplus999:

For the most part, though, I think the leveling time in WoW is way over the top.

Um... before WoW came along, it was considered standard to not see the level cap until at least 3 months worth of (heavy) play, and that's if the level cap was even realistically achievable (one MMO I played, for example, I knew a guy who'd been playing regularly for 4 years and still had a few more to go before he'd see the cap). Just goes to show how much MMO experience a person has when they complain about anything in WoW taking "too long".

Anyway, nice analogy with the "Skill = Money to buy extra content from a game" thing. It's something I'd always sorta considered to be the case, but I never really thought to put it in that context specifically. I always just thought of it as a sort of "quota" you needed to be allowed to see the rest of the game, and bosses were there to make sure that made quota for that portion of the game. Sorta like how in sales you have to sell enough product to get a bonus, except in this case the bonus was the next stage of the game.

I'm gonna call "bah, humbug" on this "grinding is necessary in games" theory. not being an MMO player, I might accept that its a necessary element in MMO games, but I really don't think so; I don't know anybody who enjoys a grind, and I think if I did meet someone, they would be the type of person I wouldn't want to know for very long.

I'm going to make an interesting argument here that just occured to me - grinding is wasting your time making an avatar good at a game, where you could be spending that time actually becoming good at something yourself. Lets keep this in gaming, here, and use the example of, say, Quake Live, so I know what I'm talking about, and WOW, so I have a vague idea what I'm talking about. In two hours of WOW, lets say you could gain one combat level (from what I've heard, this seems a doubtful, but whatever, thats not whats important in this argument) ok, so you've added a level to your character; you haven't gotten better at anything, really, now when you click a monster you deal 5 damage instead of 2, or whatever. Contrast this with Quake; I reckon in 2 hours, I could take a noobie (unless they were a complete FPS noobie) and teach him how to strafe jump and rocket jump, both extremely important skills, and now he is actually {i]more skilled[/i] at the game. Alternatively, I could spend the 2 hours playing duel matches, thats approximately 12 matches. If I was playing with an opponent of a close enough skill level, I could refine my skill quite a bit a few areas, lets say I would get better at rocket juggling, or rail shots. I could have some new strategy used on me that I hadn't thought of doing, (and I'll use examples that I have actually learned in these situations) such as spamming the corridors behind you with the nade launcher to slow down your opponent, or waiting at the top of a jumppad with a lightning gun, and floating your opponent on a shaft of lightning. Again, I could play an offline game with a bot and decide to work on my railgun skills, or my rocket skills, or my plasma spam, or whatever. Or, I could watch shoutcast matches on youtube for 2 hours (again, enough for 12 duels) and pick up tips by watching pros, or by listening to skilled commentators. For example, before I started watching shoutcasts, I hated duelling in Quake because I would always lose, because I didn't know how to play properly. I then watched tournaments and began to realise that the game wasn't about just shooting, it was more about stacking up on health and armour, learning the respawn times of these items, and picking your battles strategically. anyway, I'm being a bit longwined here, but what I'm basically saying is that instead of wasting my time increasing a meaningless number, that means my character gets better, while I myself have achieved nothing, I could be learning how to have /\/\4|) 5|<1lls (1337 used ironically here... don't worry) in Quake and actually accomplish something. Or, you know, I could be getting real good at Mario or megaman speedruns in the same way, Or I could be playing through old 16bit games with the beautiful illegal power of software emulation, or in other words, I could be having any one of a number of rewarding gaming experiences. Basically what I'm saying is, MMO players, what the fuck? why do you put yourself through these terrible games? And I know I'm biased, but beleive me, I understand. I got 'addicted' (not really; It was the only game I played for a period, but I didn't play it excessively) to fucking runescape when I was a stupid little 12 year old. And I can see that WOW is fairly good, my friend has tried repeatedly to get me into it, but its nowhere near as good as say, any one of thousands of games in a different Genre I could be playing.
/rant

I'm still not convinced and that's why I still have no love whatsoever for JRPGs and other grind-heavy games.

I thought Fallout 3 was a masterpiece. Why? (besides the obvious "you just lobbed eight nukes at once at a giant Super Mutant" answer) Simple. Because the game's level cap was so low (20 in vanilla, 30 with Broken Steel) and because there was enough packed into the game that it was designed to be very tightly-paced and push through its story (and the DLC packs, as the case may be) with a minimum of grind.

I don't believe I spent more than a few minutes total trying to get something that I couldn't just get in the run of play. Although I initially downrated it for the crap ending (ironically, that very "this is going to end" only further contributed to Bethesda's need to make it such that the player could get everything done before going into the chamber at Project Purity), I'm beginning to consider it one of the three best games ever made.

The moment I FEEL like I'm grinding, the immersion's broken and the game gets shelved. Pace your games properly, developers. Of course this doesn't apply to MMOs, but I already have a life, thanks. If I want to stare at glorified spreadsheets, I'll do my accounting homework...or play Port Royale 2.

as I think I said in the first part of this article also:

As soon as something becomes common in a game (especially an MMORPG) it is viewed as a grind.

I mean if you played any MMORPG before you picked up WoW there was next to NO grinding in WoW. Because back then grinding was considered the process of killing beasties to get xp and gold to become better.

WoW basically tossed that out of the window and made the game about questing in order to get better.

But now players view even the process of questing as a grind.

In a sense grinding is everything that takes time out of doing "what you bought the game to play"

Most people these days play wow to be at the max level and either raid or do PvP, so the 80 (soon 85) levels between installation of the game and raiding seems like a big grind.

It does seem though that blizzard is working on making "the grind" a lot less tedious.

4fromK:
I'm gonna call "bah, humbug" on this "grinding is necessary in games" theory. not being an MMO player, I might accept that its a necessary element in MMO games, but I really don't think so; I don't know anybody who enjoys a grind, and I think if I did meet someone, they would be the type of person I wouldn't want to know for very long.

I'm going to make an interesting argument here that just occured to me - grinding is wasting your time making an avatar good at a game, where you could be spending that time actually becoming good at something yourself. Lets keep this in gaming, here, and use the example of, say, Quake Live, so I know what I'm talking about, and WOW, so I have a vague idea what I'm talking about. In two hours of WOW, lets say you could gain one combat level (from what I've heard, this seems a doubtful, but whatever, thats not whats important in this argument) ok, so you've added a level to your character; you haven't gotten better at anything, really, now when you click a monster you deal 5 damage instead of 2, or whatever. Contrast this with Quake; I reckon in 2 hours, I could take a noobie (unless they were a complete FPS noobie) and teach him how to strafe jump and rocket jump, both extremely important skills, and now he is actually {i]more skilled[/i] at the game. Alternatively, I could spend the 2 hours playing duel matches, thats approximately 12 matches. If I was playing with an opponent of a close enough skill level, I could refine my skill quite a bit a few areas, lets say I would get better at rocket juggling, or rail shots. I could have some new strategy used on me that I hadn't thought of doing, (and I'll use examples that I have actually learned in these situations) such as spamming the corridors behind you with the nade launcher to slow down your opponent, or waiting at the top of a jumppad with a lightning gun, and floating your opponent on a shaft of lightning. Again, I could play an offline game with a bot and decide to work on my railgun skills, or my rocket skills, or my plasma spam, or whatever. Or, I could watch shoutcast matches on youtube for 2 hours (again, enough for 12 duels) and pick up tips by watching pros, or by listening to skilled commentators. For example, before I started watching shoutcasts, I hated duelling in Quake because I would always lose, because I didn't know how to play properly. I then watched tournaments and began to realise that the game wasn't about just shooting, it was more about stacking up on health and armour, learning the respawn times of these items, and picking your battles strategically. anyway, I'm being a bit longwined here, but what I'm basically saying is that instead of wasting my time increasing a meaningless number, that means my character gets better, while I myself have achieved nothing, I could be learning how to have /\/\4|) 5|<1lls (1337 used ironically here... don't worry) in Quake and actually accomplish something. Or, you know, I could be getting real good at Mario or megaman speedruns in the same way, Or I could be playing through old 16bit games with the beautiful illegal power of software emulation, or in other words, I could be having any one of a number of rewarding gaming experiences. Basically what I'm saying is, MMO players, what the fuck? why do you put yourself through these terrible games? And I know I'm biased, but beleive me, I understand. I got 'addicted' (not really; It was the only game I played for a period, but I didn't play it excessively) to fucking runescape when I was a stupid little 12 year old. And I can see that WOW is fairly good, my friend has tried repeatedly to get me into it, but its nowhere near as good as say, any one of thousands of games in a different Genre I could be playing.
/rant

OK long post here, so lets pick it apart piece by piece, starting from the top. You say you've never met anyone who's enjoyed a grind before.
As I posted before, have you ever played or enjoyed Diablo, Torchlight, or any of the older Final Fantasies? If so, you've experienced an enjoyable grind.

You say you have a vague idea of what WoW is about, yet you don't even spell the abbreviation correctly (its WoW not WOW, its not THAT exciting). Clearly, as you state in your post, you understand a LOT about Quake Live. And by playing it you learned that there is a lot more to the game than just shooting, right? Well WoW and most other RPG's are the same way (not runescape though, comeon). To be actually good at the game, you need two basic things, the correct gear and knowledge. Knowledge of how you class is played, which means not only the correct rotation for maximum dps, aggro, or healing, but also what each part of that rotation does and how it affects your performance as well as your teams, so that you can change strategies on the fly. You need knowledge of how aggro management works, so that you don't accidentally pull trash and wipe the group. You need knowledge of the mechanics of each and every boss, because each endgame encounter is vastly different, and not knowing the fight will kill you and up to 24 other players, who won't be happy (and BTW you'll probably need to know the route from the graveyard back to the instance when you DO wipe).

You think knowing the respawn time of a health pack takes 1337ness? How about memorizing the cooldowns and cast times for each of your abilities, as well as knowing your global cooldown by heart? Or min/maxing your gear? Or creating your dual spec so that in addition to single target dps you also have some utility?

Grinding in games like World of Warcraft (although thank GOD it isn't like grinding in Everquest of FFXI) takes a while, but this is a good thing, because it takes a LOT more time to learn how to actually play. If you think that grinding is just teaching our 'avatars' (WTF is this, ultima?) how to hit a little harder, than you SHOULD play WoW. And roll a huntard.

samwise970:
snippin dis.

yeah man, you make a valid point; I wasn't meaning to be so harsh on MMO players, tbh, more down on the whole grind of the thing. Come to think of it, I fuckin loved Diablo II. What I loved about it, though, was the presentation - the cool world design, the lore, the music, the cohesiveness of it all. but I never replayed a single area in that game, I never grinded (ground?) my character at all, I only killed what I needed to to advance the story, and this was unsustainable in the end, and I gave up before finally finishing it (still one of those games eternally on my "to finish" list, you know? maybe when I retire...). I didn't have that problem, with, say, FFIV, where I ran through the game without grinding all that much at all, never feeling like I was doing any unnecessary fights. so yeah, I stand by what I said - though I have enjoyed games that happen to contain a grinding aspect, I avoid that shit like the plague.

oh, and I wouldn't say memorising health timers takes "1337ness" so to speak - its just a thing you need to know, like cooldowns and other stuff you mentioned. but I've never seen or heard of anything in WoW (or any other RPG for that matter) that compares to, say, hitting a flick rail, juggling someone with rockets, or something like that. I guess I just enjoy all RPG style games for their setting; that was certainly the case with Diablo II, and more recently, Oblivion. I never got past level 10 in that game, but I sure sunk a lot of time into wandering around, looking at the night sky, stealing horses and riding across the land, stuff like that. and I'm sure that there'd be plenty of stuff to enjoy like that in WoW and other MMO's, I just don't feel like forking out every month for the amount of time required to unlock all the game content, etc.

jeah, but Im really writing way too much for something that doesn't really bug me at all. Lol, internets, and spare time, and all. Do enjoy a good soliloquy now and then.

I understand grinding in MMOs (to keep enough players busy for long enough), but not in JRPGs or other genres.

It's not grinding if there is always some variety between the next challenges.
It's grinding when the action becomes going through the motions, because you know exactly what's going to happen and how to do it.

I don't see how anyone could prefer grind over a shorter game, especially single player.

I can understand a LITTLE game training through repeating the same encounter once or twice and not everyone learns everything the first time (so grind may be slightly subjective), but NOT going through the motions during most of the game.

Lesse now...

Equalizer.
Isn't that what difficulty levels are for? Grinding might work on a functional level, but it still makes your game really boring to play. That strikes me as a rather high price.

Pacing Tool.
Errgg. If someone has to make the majority of their game's content boring and overly repetitive in order to make the good bits stand out then I think they're doing it wrong. (See: FF XIII.) Plenty of games have managed to have good pacing, complete with awesome crescendoes and climaxes, while still keeping the rest of the content interesting. (See: Half-Life 2).

Teaching Tool.
Okay, that makes sense. But just how much repetition is required? Just how much does a level 80 WoW player know that they didn't know at level 50?

A Break.
Not sure about this one. Personally, I play games to be actively engaged with something. If I want to shut my brain down then I take a nap. Or watch some reality TV. But eh, each their own I guess.

Zhukov:

Teaching Tool.
Okay, that makes sense. But just how much repetition is required? Just how much does a level 80 WoW player know that they didn't know at level 50?

Not much in the solo-questing department. But believe me, there is just no way that 25 level 80 players could beat all the raid dungeons if they had not experienced other >10 player dungeons on level 60 and/or 70.

Also, even though grinding definitely has it's uses, I still don't understand why people tolerate the grinding in Final Fantasy games. In these games it isn't just a break, a teaching tool, a pacing tool or an equalizer; it's actually nessecary if you want to beat the game, long after the point that you want a break, some pacing or some training lessons. The last hours of FFX for example (in the main quest that is). You simply won't get to see the endcredits without grinding or by being a much better player than the previous parts of that game require.

The bad use of grinding is very common in a lot of games, but these games actually get punished for that by critics and players alike. What's the difference with FF?

Yeaack. I normally agree with your articles John, but this one...I must say I'm disappointed. Let's go through this point by point.

Grind as an equalizer: Why is this a good thing, again? Because it lets people spend time to get through content. The other side of that particular coin is, of course, it lets people who are terrible but have tons of time become far more powerful than skilled players with relatively little time (or who simply can't stomach the thought of grinding away their free time on repetitive tasks). What's wrong with difficulty modes, and an easy main storyline combined with difficult and plentiful side dungeons? That should allow most everyone to play through the majority of the content (or, at least, to feel that they've had a complete experience) while not punishing skilled players who can't or don't want to grind their eyes out? If you don't do the crazy grinds in some games (kill 1000 Wargs in LotRO, for example), you will simply not be as effective as someone who does. To be clear: I don't mind this type of grind-based advantage in a single-player RPG, where it does act as an equalizer between good and bad players...but in an MMO, where players are competing (directly in PvP, or indirectly in PvE by trying to get into dungeon groups looking for the best outfitted player), it's atrocious.

Grind as a pacing tool: You compare epic, show-stopping, game-defining moments in single player games to hitting levels 60, 70, and 80 in WoW. One of these things is not like the other. Dinging 70 should NOT be a huge deal in a game; it's just a number, the only reason it's exciting is because you think to yourself "ok, now I can FINALLY do exciting content X, Y, and Z". Why can't it be "cool, now in addition to all the fun stuff I was doing before, I can do some more fun stuff now too"? In other words: you should be able to have epic moments in an MMO without necessitating hours of boring grind to fill up the spaces between. I understand that not every fight can be against the biggest, baddest, most awesome boss in the world, but I reject the notion that that means the fights in between need to be a boring slog. Most relevantly, if MMO combat was actually fun, you could actually do the sort of pacing you need without the player falling into the doldrums of "Oh God when will it end?"

Grind as a teacher: This has to be the worst point in the article. No one thinks we should do away with learning curves. No one thinks that a new player should be thrown behind the wheel of an endgame character in any game with a large amount of complexity, MMO or otherwise. So why did you choose to defend grind by saying "new players can't handle a maxed character"? That implies that people who are against grind would be all for that, and that is both untrue and (as a result) a complete strawman. Other games have learning curves, intricate abilities, complicated control schemes, and yet only MMOs will make you fight the same enemies for literally hours on end before it lets you move up the ladder to the next set of powers. Are you honestly suggesting that you need 20+ hours of gametime to learn a handful of new abilities before you should be allowed access to the next batch? Are you suggesting that fighting the same mobs using the same pattern is teaching the player anything at all after the first 50 kills? I don't think either of these are true. If the fighting is mindless, you're not learning anything, and if it isn't mindless it's not what I would define as grind, if you're learning something at least.

Grind as a break: As you said, a subjective reason at best. However, it's certainly not a justification for requiring grind as part of the main (leveling) game. Put grindy mindless stuff on optional things that players can do if they want but skip with no repercussions. If some part of the game can - in your own words - be used to cure insomnia, it should not be required to play the game, period.

@PlasticTree: Regarding FFX, just get Yuna's ultimate weapon (easy peasy) and doublecast Holy over and over. The rest of your party becomes entirely irrelevant, it's actually difficult to get them into fights to get XP because Yuna can basically one-shot everything left in the main storyline.

WhiteTigerShiro:

oneplus999:

For the most part, though, I think the leveling time in WoW is way over the top.

Um... before WoW came along, it was considered standard to not see the level cap until at least 3 months worth of (heavy) play, and that's if the level cap was even realistically achievable (one MMO I played, for example, I knew a guy who'd been playing regularly for 4 years and still had a few more to go before he'd see the cap). Just goes to show how much MMO experience a person has when they complain about anything in WoW taking "too long".

Then the endgame in those games must have been gutted, either due to lack of content or lack or people available. You seemed to miss my other point. If you are level 1-79, you have a very small number of games you can play: you can grind xp in a dungeon, you can grind xp doing quests, or you can grind xp in a battleground. Once you hit 80, suddenly a bunch of other games open up, and the server becomes a group of people you regularly interact with, instead of just people who you pass by on you way to the trainer every couple levels.

Other games may have had leveling as more of the focus, but that hasn't been the case for WoW in a long time.

No one mentioned the most obvious reason??

To keep people PAYING.

Adding a buffer of grind where the vast majority of players will take weeks or months to get through guarantees income and ensures that the players don't get everything that they want straight away, get bored and leave.

4fromK:
I'm gonna call "bah, humbug" on this "grinding is necessary in games" theory. not being an MMO player, I might accept that its a necessary element in MMO games, but I really don't think so; I don't know anybody who enjoys a grind, and I think if I did meet someone, they would be the type of person I wouldn't want to know for very long.

I'm going to make an interesting argument here that just occured to me - grinding is wasting your time making an avatar good at a game, where you could be spending that time actually becoming good at something yourself. Lets keep this in gaming, here, and use the example of, say, Quake Live, so I know what I'm talking about, and WOW, so I have a vague idea what I'm talking about. In two hours of WOW, lets say you could gain one combat level (from what I've heard, this seems a doubtful, but whatever, thats not whats important in this argument) ok, so you've added a level to your character; you haven't gotten better at anything, really, now when you click a monster you deal 5 damage instead of 2, or whatever. Contrast this with Quake; I reckon in 2 hours, I could take a noobie (unless they were a complete FPS noobie) and teach him how to strafe jump and rocket jump, both extremely important skills, and now he is actually {i]more skilled[/i] at the game. Alternatively, I could spend the 2 hours playing duel matches, thats approximately 12 matches. If I was playing with an opponent of a close enough skill level, I could refine my skill quite a bit a few areas, lets say I would get better at rocket juggling, or rail shots. I could have some new strategy used on me that I hadn't thought of doing, (and I'll use examples that I have actually learned in these situations) such as spamming the corridors behind you with the nade launcher to slow down your opponent, or waiting at the top of a jumppad with a lightning gun, and floating your opponent on a shaft of lightning. Again, I could play an offline game with a bot and decide to work on my railgun skills, or my rocket skills, or my plasma spam, or whatever. Or, I could watch shoutcast matches on youtube for 2 hours (again, enough for 12 duels) and pick up tips by watching pros, or by listening to skilled commentators. For example, before I started watching shoutcasts, I hated duelling in Quake because I would always lose, because I didn't know how to play properly. I then watched tournaments and began to realise that the game wasn't about just shooting, it was more about stacking up on health and armour, learning the respawn times of these items, and picking your battles strategically. anyway, I'm being a bit longwined here, but what I'm basically saying is that instead of wasting my time increasing a meaningless number, that means my character gets better, while I myself have achieved nothing, I could be learning how to have /\/\4|) 5|<1lls (1337 used ironically here... don't worry) in Quake and actually accomplish something. Or, you know, I could be getting real good at Mario or megaman speedruns in the same way, Or I could be playing through old 16bit games with the beautiful illegal power of software emulation, or in other words, I could be having any one of a number of rewarding gaming experiences. Basically what I'm saying is, MMO players, what the fuck? why do you put yourself through these terrible games? And I know I'm biased, but beleive me, I understand. I got 'addicted' (not really; It was the only game I played for a period, but I didn't play it excessively) to fucking runescape when I was a stupid little 12 year old. And I can see that WOW is fairly good, my friend has tried repeatedly to get me into it, but its nowhere near as good as say, any one of thousands of games in a different Genre I could be playing.
/rant

I see your argument here, and I somewhat agree. When you are leveling a character in WoW, you are correct in the assumption that 2 hours of playing will not improve your character much, but this is the nature of the beast when it comes to MMO's. The true improvement in an MMO is when you hit level cap and start running the end game content. Each time you wipe on a new boss, you (normally) get a little bit closer to downing him. Eventually you improve enough (as a group) to be able to kill said boss and possibly get new gear which allows you to improve your character by the ability to deal more dmg, more threat, more health, more heals etc, etc...The improvement located within an MMO is more focused on the entire group improving rather than a single person improving in your given FPS example.

Ugh. I had to read all three articles just to make sure that my points weren't already covered. Thanks for making me grind articles.

As an equalizer grinding sucks, in both single player games and mmos. For a single player game I'm thinking way back to Devil May Cry, a game I truely sucked at, I was even worse at that then I am at spelling truly. There was a point where you beat a spider boss, and in the next level he comes back, crashing through the wall. You can kill him there, get a lot of power-ups, reset the level, and do it again. I had to do that forever just to progress in the game. I would have much preferred a "Wimpy McLoser" difficulty setting, it would have been more fun. For mmos, WoW is the best example. Grinding in WoW does not equalize things. Once you grind quests up to lvl 80, you are a second-class citizen. You're still one once you grind dungeons or battlefields to get your first set of epic gear.

Pacing, yeah it works for pacing but it doesn't have to. Someone else mentioned Fallout 3 (Simulord), and I can't agree more but still disagree at the same time.

SimuLord:
Because the game's level cap was so low (20 in vanilla, 30 with Broken Steel) and because there was enough packed into the game that it was designed to be very tightly-paced and push through its story (and the DLC packs, as the case may be) with a minimum of grind.

I didn't think it was tightly-paced or that I was pushed through. It was great that you could do that, just follow the map beacon to the end of each quest, but Fallout substituted grinding for pacing with game show flair. You can follow that beacon, but there's a door going the other way. What's behind door number 2? Or 3? What if I just go north? Much better than grinding.

Grinding destroys the pacing in WoW. There's nothing quite like defeating the Archmage in Shadowfang Keep then going to kill x amount of ogres in the next zone. If experience is a numerical representation of what your character is learning, then what is my character learning smashing ogre thugs that he didn't learn fighting the lord of the wolves?

Grinding doesn't teach players how to play, it teaches them how to play in the time and place they are grinding. Pick any Final Fantasy game and use the same attacks that you used to grind in the beginning on the final boss. No Knights of the Round on Sephiroth, just Attack and Lightning (I think that's what Cloud starts with). Please, don't reply to this with a no materia faq. Someone just downloaded FF7 on to their PS3 to play it for the first time (and an angel got its wings!); I doubt they will consult the faq and just attack and use limits.

WoW grinding to learn? See above. When you reach lvl 60, you finally have access to the best skill in whatever skill tree of whatever class you are playing. Disregard everything you learned while grinding up to that point. And when you get to lvl 80, soon to be 85, dump your leveling spec for a PvP spec or a PvE spec.

Sometimes grinding is a break. Agree but disagree, and my disagreement is quite sloppy. I'm thinking back to old school Pokemon games on this one. I think FireRed is the last one I got, and maybe they've changed things up since then. But the Pokemon had their stats, Attack, Defense, Special, and Special Defense, again it's been a while so I'm not sure. When they leveled up, their stats grew randomly, or so I thought. I thought my pocket monsters had shitty luck, but once the internet grew up I found out that I was grinding them badly. Because killing Treekos (I'm stretching here) over and over again secretly raised defense (hidden game math)so that when my Cintaquil leveled up he gained defense. Not special or special defense. So his fire attacks (he was a fire pokemon) weren't that effective and his Special Defense wasn't that great so when he was hit with water it trashed him. He was a Cintaquil runt because I mindlessly leveled him.

I agree with what the OP says in general, grinding has purposes, but if a game grinds on your patience, or anyone else's, it is flawed.

MaltesePigeon would love to play Pokemon HeartGold or SoulSilver. But he is unemployed, so he can't afford a DS and either game. If he was employed, he wouldn't have time to play either. Catch 22. .

 

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