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An Earthbound Perspective

Practical perspective on MMO play and practice.

Author: Dengar

(Un)Masking the Grind

Posted by Dengar Wednesday May 11 2011 at 1:33PM
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Think hard about your reasons for leaving past MMOs. Social conflict and new games may be up there, but also nerfs to classes, abilities, features, etc. However, part of it may have been seeing the game for what it is: a grind.

Did you leave over loot drama, or because the game was developed to make people run the same conent 10 or more times several days a week?

Did you leave your old game because one was shiny and new, or because you'd already completed all the content for your current patch/expansion (or at least, all you had access to)?

Did you leave because of class/abilities/content nerfs, or because these features affected the way you grinded?

Face it, the grind is the most important part of an MMO. An open world, leveless game with completely balanced skills/classes and no artificial "skill ups" (i.e. the game says your accuracy increased as opposed to having learned when and how to release an arrow to hit a moving target) may seem perfect, but how long would you play it? One may point to Second Life, but few people consider it an MMO, not just because it lacks content, but because it lacks a grind. The high amount of customization also makes it so players can potentially create anything they want. If this occured in, say, World of Warcraft, why would people raid when they could make better gear?

No kids, sorry, but the grind's going to be here for awhile. It's hard to escape, but it can be masked. For example, sandbox players in FFA PvP may argue that they're not grinding but fighting over territory. However, the same can be done in World of Warcraft. Players can actually raid enemy capitals, especially with the centralization of Stormwind and Orgrimmar. The problem is there's no tangible reward for it. Honor is gained, but the pace isn't nearly as good as with BGs. That is, the grind is more apparent. However, while Darkfall Online lacks anything similar to "honor points," it does have resources. Player cities tend to have special resource nodes that drastically cut down on the grind of gathering, and are located near creatures that may also help cut down on the usual grind (for example, newbie towns may be located near goblins, but any MMOer will tell you that giants tend to drop better loot ;P ). What players are fighting for isn't the sense of having their own town, which they could do by simply buying Animal Crossing, but because it cuts down the grind when compared to other players, which in itself can be fun since you're a "have" and know that there are "have nots."

This idea of "hiding the grind" becomes most apparent when a change comes that explicitly reveals an increase in grind. World of Warcraft is a prime example of this: players run the same content over and over again in order to have access to gear that may last them a few months before the developers once again come out with new armor/levels that must be earned in a similar fashion. It may sound cynical, but the current 4.2 test realm notes include a little tidbit:


  • Conquest Points
    • The minimum cap on Conquest Points earned per week is now 1500 at 1500 or less Battleground rating. The maximum cap remains 3000 at 3000 or more Battleground rating. The cap continues to scale non-linearly between those two points.
    • The game now separately tracks different Conquest Point caps for Battlegrounds and Arenas. The cap for Arena rating will always be 2/3 of the cap for Battleground rating at any given Arena rating. Players may earn a total number of Conquest Points per week equal to the higher of these two caps, but once players have reached the cap for either Arenas or Battlegrounds, they can no longer earn Conquest Points from that source. Conquest Points from Battleground holidays only count toward the total Conquest Point cap.

If you were to do only arenas and the daily random BG everyday for 1 week and were under 1500 rating for arenas and RBGs, you could only earn about 1175 conquest points, which is about 200 less than you currently can get by "being bad." This number only increases with your rating. As Kaliy, one of my guild's officers of our WoW branch noted:

RBGs weren't as popular as they wanted, so instead of addressing WHY they aren't popular and trying to fix the underlying structure and mechanics issues, they are simply brute forcing people into doing them in hopes of raising the numbers participating...which they can then cite as a "fix" to the issue. Lame lame lame lame.

While she may be a game professional in the industry, I don't think it takes too much mental work to see that this is an extension of the grind. Keep in mind that this change comes a patch after they drastically lowered the amount of conquest points gained all around, effectively doubling the time spent to earn the same rewards, which leaves less time for other grinds, such as raiding. 

So, as players, how have games effectively masked the grind for you? What mechanics or features made it so that your play time felt like "progress" as opposed to carrot chasing? At what point did you wake up and see it for what it is?