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A Collection Of Thoughts On Gaming

Much like shower thoughts, playing certain games brings various thoughts, ideas and criticism to mind. I'll be sharing some of them here and see what happens!

Author: Annwyn

The Insanity of Gear Grind

Posted by Annwyn Tuesday November 22 2016 at 3:24PM
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Hello and welcome to yet another one of my rants about MMORPGs, this one spurred by yet another wall I recently hit playing Final Fantasy 14 : My cumulative gear level was too low to gain access to the next dungeon, I needed to grind more special currency to unlock better gear... for the X-th time. To me, there is nothing more annoying than to play a game only to be told by the very same game that I can't play it anymore because I'm not "properly equipped". What is it with developers' fascination with gear grind as end-game content?


For starter, developers must always seek out a way to keep its players active in the game for extended periods of time. If a player can simply start playing the game, reach and complete the end-game in 2 weeks and then stop playing for 6 months when the next content patch comes in, the developers are losing 5 months worth of subscription fees. It makes sense to slow down the progression so that rather than achieving the end-game in 2 weeks, an average player would do so in roughly a month or two, but what happens once that player has reached the end-game? Creating new content, stories and so on takes a lot of time from a developer's perspective, and so it falls on the developers to find a way to keep the player actively playing the game even after the player has completed the last dungeon at least once. How do they do it? By requiring players to repeat the same content in order to unlock every piece of gear they need to fully equip their character with the strongest armor available, and make that equipment necessary for the next content patch.


There is no better analogy for this insanity than the myth of Sisyphus, a King in Ancient Greece who outwitted the Gods until they punished him, forcing him to push a rock up a mountain only for the rock to fall down the mountain every time and to repeat this process for eternity. Not only has the MMORPG industry absorbed this myth, they've turned it into a feature :

Sisyphus pushes the rock up the mountain – You grind all the gear available to equip your character.

Sisyphus reaches the top of the mountain – Fully geared, you've gained access to the new dungeon.

The rock falls down the mountain – The new dungeon requires you to grind a new set of gear to unlock the next dungeon.

And on and on it goes for eternity, or the next content patch.


Had Albert Camus been alive today, I would've loved to hear his opinion on this absurdity, as he wrote in his book "The Myth of Sisyphus" that he imagined that, by realizing the absurdity of the task and accepting his fate, Sisyphus might have been happy. Perhaps MMORPG players are much closer to Sisyphus than I had initially thought, that the majority of these players have accepted and are wholly content to live with this curse. I am not content with this curse however, I do not accept it and I will fight it as long as the "G" in MMORPGs stands for "Game". Video games are like books, movies and other art forms, they are meant to be enjoyed, and I find no joy in completing tasks that mimics in its repetitiveness a low-level worker whose job is to stick labels to bottles.


This sort of problem is not easily addressed. The myth of Sisyphus can take shape in MMORPGs because they are built like train tracks. The train cannot leave its rails and so the only possibility for a developer to allow players to visit new content is to extend the rail. To break away from the myth is to break away from the tracks, to allow players to go wherever they want whenever they want. MMORPGs are meant to be worlds for players to live in and the best way to extend a world is not vertically, but horizontally.


Horizontal progression removes the shackles of a wholly guided experience. Instead, it favors greater customization for players to tailor their experience to their own liking. Gear still plays an important role, but its role is limited as it does not hamper a player's access to some content, instead it is more valued for its appearances, as fluff to make your character look good based on your personal tastes. Horizontal progression does not remove a developer's ability to tell a story either, but the story is not a mean to push the end-game a level further, here it serves solely to shape the world: to explain events of the past, events you are now part of, and set in motions events that have yet to come. It allows developers to expend the world, reshape it even, without limiting its access. It opens new opportunities, new ways to play, all of which without punishing the players by holding him back with arbitrary numbers and gear levels.


I think more and more people are growing tired of the traditional genre, indie developers in particular as we're seeing many new Sandbox MMORPGs being announced here and there. Of course these games will face many difficulties, financial ones in particular, and these games may not be able to deliver on what they had hoped. My only hope is that other developers don't view these failures to mean that the genre does not work, but that they view these as lessons to build on instead.



Thanks for reading!