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MMOWTF: Teh Grind

MMOWTF: Teh Grind

Dan Fortier returns this week to talk about the endless grind of some MMORPGs.

Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Staff Writer Dan Fortier. The column is called "MMOWTF" and will look at some of the stranger or more frustrating events in MMOs as seen by Mr. Fotier. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.

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It's hard to remember the last time you read a forum for a new or existing MMO and didn't encounter endless rants, comments, and flame wars over that indelible aspect of the genre known simply as 'Teh Grind'. It's right up there with PvP. 'Epic loot' and "Is Guild Wars an MMO?" as one of the most debated points among fans and critics alike. Instead of taking the time and effort to dissect some of the more complex issues in games today, I thought I'd put the spotlight on one of my favorite whipping boys.

In a world full of instant gratification, it seems almost insane that millions upon millions of gamers would purposefully take on the second jobs that most MMOs have become. What makes the grind one of the most common yet most hated concepts in online games today? Will next gen MMO's continue to use this tried and true method or bend to the perceived pressure for 'something else'?

To answer those questions you have to look at the reasons Teh Grind was ever a part of these games to begin with. The original concept of levels comes from the D&D system as a way to measure a player's progress and skill at surviving the tests that the DM threw against him. Back in those days, if you did something stupid that got most of your party killed you were dead for good, perma-death style. Somewhere along the way, the goal became more important than the journey and game designers decided that people wouldn't want to play a game with any kind of death penalty. With the invention of 'respawning' and the change to an arbitrary XP system based on killing monsters without reason, the grind was well on its way into the annals of gaming legend.

The first game I can remember that introduced the concept of grind was 'Dragon Warrior' for the original NES. DW boasted that it contained over 30 hours of game play, which in the era of Ninja Gaiden and its two hours of carnage for you money, seemed a dream come true. Alas, what they didn't tell you was that 26 of those hours would be spent killing the same monsters over and over again to level up just to walk across the next bridge and not be killed in one hit by the more powerful, and slightly different colored, mobs there. Sound familiar? Sometimes I wonder if all the current MMO Developers still have a copy of it on their game shelf.

Many RPG games followed its example to various degrees, mostly for the purpose of inflating a lack of content with insane time sinks. "Why build lots of content? Players probably won't even notice or appreciate it anyway, right? Much better to just design a few areas and make it take weeks of leveling to move between them, then we won't need as many QA guys either!" We all know the rest of the story and to avoid the same pitfall with this article, I'll skip right to the good part: Why do modern online games use this tactic to this day almost without exception and why are RPGs seemingly the only victim?

The nature of MMORPGs makes any kind of large scale GM system financially infeasible and without a way to permanently die or an intelligent system of rewarding player skill other than the mindless and repeated slaughter of endless monsters. The concept of grind had become a natural evolution of our gaming styles. Combine that with a monthly fee revenue program and you can clearly see the reason that grind rules supreme. Even so-called 'skill based' game have their own version of the grind whether it's money or repetitive skill tasks, it's really only a bit of TurtleWax on the proverbial turd. All the really interesting games that appeared to change our perception of the grind failed spectacularly in virtually every other category of their design. Games like SEED and Dragon Empires, why have you forsaken me?

Many offline RPG games (like Oblivion) involving levels have done an exceptional job of pacing the player through the game without resorting to needless time sinks and provide a lot of content for a one time price tag, but you can bet that developers will only go as far as they have to. After all, it's still a business. You would think that with the incredible budgets and manpower put into making even a sub par MMO, that there wouldn't be any shortage of content to hide behind an annoying treadmill, but the trend in recent years points toward quite the opposite. It seems that more and more developers are realizing that we, as consumers, are willing to accept things that would doom a single player title. Who would buy a half finished and buggy PC game on the promise that the rest would be added later? We have been trained to accept that because MMO's are never 'really finished', it ok for us to pay for them 'half finished' as well.

Now that you have earned 'Read Vacuous Article' Level Two, I'll let you guys farm me for a bit in the forums. Gratz!

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