A Case for Grinding Redux

brock_samsonSome MMO topics never quite go away, but fade with the autumn’s chill and reappear with spring’s warm breath.  One of these is about the desirability (or not) of grinding in online RPGs.

“Grinding” is a swear word for many, meant to represent a repetitive activity that has to be done for hours upon hours before yielding a positive result.  “Grind out faction”, “grind mobs”, “grind dungeons” and so on.  It’s so reviled and so hated that one of the biggest messages that players have been sending back to developers is “Cut out that grindcake, already, and bake us a content pie!”

Then again, there’s always a case to be made for grinding.  There actually is.  I’m not saying that I love grinding all the time, but there is a time and a place where, yes, I prefer it above other activities.  Usually it’s when I want lowest common denominator in gameplay, something simple and uncomplicated and basic.  The casual of casuals, so to speak.

Let me put it this way.  If I was to be less lazy than I am right now and make a chart, with one end representing maximum stress and attention and the other representing maximum relaxation and minimum attention, then I’d probably put things like “PvP” and “raid content” over on the stress side, and “grinding” and “seeing if I can jump onto the roof of that building over yonder” on the relaxing side.  Since I often play MMOs at the end of my day, when I’m tired and fading fast, I don’t always have the high energy and attention span for complicated gameplay.  Sometimes I just want to sit back in my chair and take on mob after mob after uncomplicated mob, without any garnish.

And, strangely enough, this sort of self-imposed grinding can be quite satisfying.  For one, grinding isn’t without reward — it provides loot and XP for the time you spend doing it.  If you plan ahead, you might throw in faction/reputation points along with everything else.  When I log off, I may not have saved the princess or destroyed the enemy’s stronghold, but I haven’t done nothing either (double negatives FTW!).  I’ve advanced my character, earned more goodies, or progressed in a faction of my choice.

In my life, some forms of grind are more desirable than others — for example, I like to straighten and clean.  I’m not the most fastidious person in the world, but I enjoy turning a destroyed kitchen into a sparkling visage, even though I know it’s just going to get messy a few days later.  I still feel as though I accomplished something, and that gives me reason enough to do it.

Or look at how my wife games — she of Desktop Tower Defense, Plants vs. Zombies, and that word typing game on Facebook.  Right there is a person who grinds and grinds a game, doing the same basic, simple actions, but still enjoying it, being relaxed through it, and challenging herself to do better next time.  I’ve shown her more complicated, deeper games, but this is what she wants when she needs to unwind.

So, yes, there’s a case to be made for grinding.  Just… let’s not make it ALL grind, okay devs?

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11 thoughts on “A Case for Grinding Redux

  1. Pete S September 17, 2009 / 4:03 pm

    I wonder if the folks who are sick of questing are in favor of grinding.

    I like grinding at times too. In days of yore folks used to whittle. And I don’t mean carve, I mean whittle. They’d take a stick and a knife and just shave it down to nothing for no apparent reason. Why? Well they didn’t call it that, but I’d say it was a zen thing. A relaxing, repetitive task that let their minds wander.

    Think about the game that is too-often called Mah-jong (when they mean removing matching tiles from a pile…not really playing Mah-jong). That feels like the digital equivalent of the same kind of thing. There’s not a lot of skill involved…just observation. Your eyes and a small part of your mind are working but most of your brain is just idling, relaxing.

    So yeah, there are nights when I’m pleased as punch to log in and play whack-a-mole killing fairly easy mobs in a stress-free environment, sorta hoping to hit the Bingo! in the form of a nice drop but not really being that worried about it…

  2. Toxic September 17, 2009 / 4:05 pm

    Yeah sometimes a nice low end trance grind can be fun.

    But, in rebuttal, I have six words and one acronym: “Cenarion Circle Reputation before they released AQ20”

    That is all. May justice prevail.

  3. Cydmab September 17, 2009 / 7:40 pm

    The problem for me is gating complex content behind the relaxing/easy/grind content. This is a special case of the general principal that one should not have to do content of type X to access content of a radically different nature Y.

    For example, having to repeatedly kill trivial monsters to access a raid (eg. EQ Vex Thal keys).

    Or get to max level by doing simple tasks so you can do complex (raiding, pvp, complex group dungeons, or even complex solo dungeons) things.

    One subtlety is one person’s grind is another person’s challenge, or even the same person at different times. For example, tutorials/low levels. The first time they (should be) reasonably complex. By the time of your 3rd or fourth alt, it’s possible for them too become too simple, and thus grindy. It’d be nice if one could skip at least some of the basic training the second or third time around.

  4. Callan September 17, 2009 / 10:11 pm

    Given the reason it’s there, I’d have it that these things actually complete themselves over a long time, like six months, or whatever, without you lifting a finger. BUT if you sit in and grind away, it goes much faster (perhaps if you grind it at a reasonable rate, you could get it in a month (compared the the six months it’d take on auto)). That way you can grind if you want to, but you don’t have to (and the company gets it’s money from having accounts for longer). Best of both worlds, right?

  5. Tesh September 17, 2009 / 11:08 pm

    The key is in the middle of your article, Syp. Grind has to be something players choose to do entirely of their own volition, not something that they have to suffer through to get to the part of the game they want to play. That’s a critical distinction, and why grind has to be *optional*, not a core design feature or monetization device.

  6. canazza September 18, 2009 / 2:55 am

    If they livened up grinding a little bit, thew us some curve balls some times.
    Left 4 Dead – okay, not an mmo – is basically one big grind with little or no reward at the end of it (once you’ve played it loads) yet people still play it often.
    The magic of games like L4D, Counter-strike etc is that each time you play it’s different (Be it the AI Director, or the fact you’re playing against people) even though the setting is restricted.
    MMO’s can learn alot from this. PvP in most MMO’s for example are just as much of a grind as PvE can be.
    Champions Online has one good step in terms of grinding, random Civilian Quests. Save a civilian and he might give you a quest (or a random civvie will come up to you in the street) – the only problem here is that grinding mobs in CO is terrible, the XP is almost non-existant.
    Some kind of randomness would be nice. Like killing 20 of the same kind of enemy spawns a boss that’s gunning for you, or in PvP, getting killed by someone repeatedly then killing them gives you a vengance perk, or more XP, or whatever (as well as killing someone 3+ times in a row gives you XP or whatever) – which, I admit, I took from TF2. Maybe Valve should just make an MMO… scratch that, they’ll never release it.

  7. spinks September 18, 2009 / 4:31 am

    I think grinding is fine, the main problem I have with it is where tokens are involved. So devs somehow work out how many hours grinding will be required to get the shiny.

    If you play enough to have that many hours then you can get it, if not then not. What I’d really prefer would be some way of having graduated rewards so you could stop grinding when you got bored and still get something out of it. As it is now, you pretty much have to grind to the end, if that makes sense. Or you get nothing.

  8. Castamere September 18, 2009 / 9:00 am

    When combat is fun and dynamic grinding is not a problem for me. Rivs made a post recently about Mages and how pulling less than 5 at a time is almost unthinkable. When my wife and I played WoW with our mages we tried to herd up as much as humanly possible at a time before engaging.

    If grinding consists of one or two mobs at a time and lots of downtime betwixt frays I’m not interested and would rather quest for xp. It’s when you’re pulling a dozen mobs and you’re on the razor’s edge of dying and glorious victory that I could do a thousand times on end.

  9. Callan September 18, 2009 / 4:28 pm

    Spinks, that’s exactly what my post was about – grind until you don’t want to, then the rest will slowly get automatically done over a certain amount of time.

    In fact I could complicate my idea a bit further and instead, every time you do something that get’s some points in the grind, you also get some auto points – points that automatically are given to you over hours or days/whatever time period.

  10. Callan September 18, 2009 / 4:33 pm

    Castamere – if your talking about wow, I think I only saw that ever really happen with mages? I think I get what your talking about and given it’s fun, it’s sad that it only happened with one class. I think it may have been pure chance that it was implemented with mages, even.

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