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Your Sacred Cows' Mad Disease

Challenging the Tired and Used assumptions in MMO's - and gaming in general.

Author: badgerbadger

Grind in MMO's - the Subscription Model

Posted by badgerbadger Monday October 15 2007 at 9:18AM
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  As I often read posts or blogs on what i notice is that many; many are from the people looking for a little something more  or a little something different.

 After all; do you remember what brought YOU here?

 Myself; I came here looking to for another game to try as i had tired of mine...

 I think this is the case for most players; after all; truly satisfied MMO-ers are in a hurry to use what free time they can spare gaming; Logging on; not coming here to read about logging on.

having just watched the humorous review of Yahtzee; of whom I am becoming a fan:

  i observed that once again the idea of Grind had come up.. the idea of the repeating or never-ending story...  And after all; if money is made by subscriptions; the companies have to have some mechanism for keeping paying customers playing (and paying).

  Again and again; various posters have pointed to other ways than the typical 'grind' to keep customers involved... and i think it has been well-said that in fact it is WHEN gameplay begins to FEEL like a grind (kick another 20 bunnies for a bunny stew recipe); that player interest declines.

 BLAH BLAH BLAH... we've heard all this before.

  i would like to remind you of another albeit similar business model... that of MAGAZINE subscriptions.

Unlike most mmo's where people play ina largely static game world; often 'grinding' to rush to the Vaunted Endgame; (to repeat the same raids?)...

  Magazines have a different model - people are subscribing to new content.  Magazines; just like MMO's ; have operating expenses... Yet they survive by CONTINUALLY providing newe and interesting content that KEEPS reader interest.

 There are those that would say by subscribing to an MMO you are in effect paying for the original development and rental of their servers... someone in one of these threads actually used the term 'free update' - when in fact it isn't free at all.  It is part of the service you are paying for; and to imply that new content or service updates are some kind of 'freebie' would tend to argue this.  It would be as though the big book companies - which BTW if you are interested in fantasy; they specifically ask if writers can drag series on for multiple volumes (my understanding is this is true for movies as well; but I've never tried to sell a movie)- asked you to keep paying for (and one supposes keep re-reading) the same novels.

  And who hasn't looked at some of the bloated fantasy series and thought that getting through them would be a grind?  But that is a seperate tangent.

 People have spoken of Dynamic content and Sandboxes...

      What  I want to add to this discussion is the magazine model of subscription - continual new content; perhaps a deveolping story line; be it seperate or dependent on the players; the idea here is that development does not stop at release; and that this continuing content be expected the same as i would from a magazine or short-story colections or TV series.  One does not subscribe to a single static story; no matter how long the movie or books.

    The current business model to me smacks of sitting on the laurels of the old content; expecting people to be content running 'raids' or memeorizing quest/levels for a sense of "accomplishment".

     Just as book companies encourage writers to 'fluff' novels to great length and multiple volumes to make series longer (keeping customers of a series buying books is easier than getting fans of a new series); MMO companies 'fluff' theirr games with time-sinks and what people call grind.

  As always with my articles; i ask you to question THIS sacred cow; and ask if it could not be done some other way.

BadSpock writes:

see, many many many people wouldn't stay with a game that DIDN'T have a grind.

A game with no grind, the "hardcore" or "powergamer" types would complete in a month, maybe less.  And by complete I mean hit max level. 

so what do you do then? you either create your own content or grind away at whatever the game has to offer, waiting for the next content upgrade.

the 'grind' only exists because we MMO-addicts spend too much time playing these games! they "have" to put in some kind of grind or we'd be done in the first free month.

1-70 in WoW will take a non-MMO addict months and months, maybe even a year to do. Well, maybe before they patch 2.3 to increase leveling speed from 20-60....

Mon Oct 15 2007 9:54AM Report
Flungmuk writes:

Its not just MMOs that have a grind. Even sinlge player games have a grind. 

The trick is keeping it intresting from level 1 through to the end.

Quests and content make a huge diferance. Dynamic quests that change the world, or even just change you. As for the player, progresion quests a few for each class, you can only pick 1 path of progression, and it will alter you character as you complete the quest.

Raids that alter the world. Even if its only for a short time.

Mon Oct 15 2007 12:12PM Report
strobhen writes:

Not every single player game has grind. Half Life (whole series) is a good example of one that doesn't -- the combat is varied enough that you never really feel like you are doing the same thing over again. There is something different about every encounter.

But that is significantly easier for a single player game to accomplish. But you know what? If you are going to charge me monthly to play a game, I expect you to figure out those hard problems.

I played TR a bit, and believe me, it is a grind. There's nothing new about the game, no overall storyline, no interesting RP points (though I think a true RP game is a lost cause. The market of true RP'ers seems to be very, very small). Taking back a base is the same as running a mission.

I agree with the premise of the article -- these kinds of games should provide new content on a very regular basis, provide events (and an event isn't just spawning a ton of enemies at a location), even DM-run quests. By my standards for a game with a monthly fee are very high.

That may be because I have seen what people do, for free, with NWN (here's a hint, smaller # of players, but more fun than TR, Guild Wars, etc.). It may also be because, as a programmer, I *know* it is possible to make a game system easy enough to modify and add to to make very frequent updates economical for a company charging a monthly fee.

So when I see yet another grindfest game pop out, I get annoyed. They will end up raking in the cash, and providing piddly content every so often. Perhaps even have the gall to charge for an expansion. (And seriously, if you aren't raking in the cash under that kind of model, you have some very serious problems with your game, or your management).

Seriously, it is possible to make a game with very little grind. It requires *gasp* creativity, and a quality team. But it is possible. Don't let these companies convince you otherwise (We can't hire employees to run events! There's no way we can afford that!). It isn't true.

There are programming teams out here running equally large enterprise systems with a higher standard of quality (nearly no bugs) that make small changes every couple of weeks. These companies are quite capable of doing the same.

Provided they make the effort.

Mon Oct 15 2007 1:11PM Report
Meltdown writes:

You bring up some good points. I really think it would be difficult/impossible to entirely remove the grind from the game. I think developers should concentrate more on making the game fun, if it's fun then the grind isn't obvious. Sure it's just a distraction from the truth, but the general public LOVES NOTHING BETTER than a distraction from the truth.

If you look at some of the more successful business models out there you will find big game-changes through patches. Blizzard does this so well in both WoW and D2. I remember in D2 when I was max level just grinding away and they introduced the synergies within the 1.10 (?) patch changing the game enough so that I could play it from start to finish again having fun. WoW does this too. Changes to PvP, PvE or classes are constantly being made. Not just minor bug fixes either or aesthetic changes. Major gameplay altering changes and they aren't afraid to make them.

Mon Oct 15 2007 1:43PM Report
Regiko writes:

 There are several things wrong with MMORPGs that will probably never really be solved. Things such as money, development time, playerbase and the development team all play really important roles in making a good MMORPG.

Most of these new MMOs that are coming out such as Tabula Rasa and others, are just testing the standard MMORPG formula. Make some quests, make some monsters, add some grinds, skills, equips. You have to really know your market before you go in to improving it. I for one would have been majorly insulted if they would have tried to turn the market into a different viewpoints. And I realize most people would have seen that as closeminded, but it the long run it makes sense.

A truly pure MMORPG would be one where you actually log in and have an adventure with friends online and have FUN. It's just really really REALLY hard to simulate that when you are limited to such space. Creating room based MMOs limits your free roaming time and creating free roaming MMOs usually results in no storyline.


There is currently a trend going on in MMORPGs. 

I'll see if you can figure it out by yourself but i'll give you a hint: They are trying to create a world that you control but they create it and everyone else plays within it.



Mon Oct 15 2007 2:54PM Report
eshi writes:

I think it would be appropriate to mention that alot of games have tried to create new content and change the game continuously.  Take Star War Galaxies.  It has changed arguably too much since its release, but they at least they tried to improve on their game.  They're player crafted cities and objects was an amazing detail to the game, not to mention how they're combat system was based on skills rather than health mods.

Mon Oct 15 2007 11:08PM Report
Xix13 writes:

A few points stand out.  Yes, there's grind to keep the subs going.  But the most famous sacred cow of grinding is that the FREE to play games are even MORE of a grind!

Secondly, book publishers have one major advantage over MMO companies:  they deal with WRITERS!  People who are somwhat conversant in the language in which they write, AND are PAID to develop stories.  MMO devs are PROGRAMMERS.  The language they speak is geek, er, C++ or some other such.  They are paid to develop MECHANICS.  OK, so how about paying a WRITER to work on the team too.  Well, they do.  But they ain't paying for a Tom Clancy, David Drake, Terry Pratchett, Robert Jordan or Carl Hiaasen.  They're paying a guy fresh out of school who's taking his first shot at creative writing for pay.  Some are good, some OK, some terrible.  Some are all 3 in the same game.

Case in point is Auto Assault.  This game (which I loved, sadly gone now) was all about story.  3 factions.  The writing and the story for the Mutants was absolutely terrific.  You actually felt some emotion and got some yuks ocassionally.  The Biomek story was OK.  The Human story was virtually non-existant, a series of standard Kill X and Fed Ex missions strung together.

This implies, of course, that players will actually READ the mission text.  Well, I do, but I'm also the one the group yells at "Hurry up, Xix!" or leaves behind as they head into the room/corridor.

All that being said, I don't think that MMO devs should be as concerned with providing Shakespearean content as for providing a framework in which players can make their OWN content.  Hence, I always prefer the "sandbox" style of game.  My favorite MMOs to date have been pre-CU SWG (top of the list by far), UO, Horizons and EVE.  I happily pay/paid for these games and could spend hours online doing whatever I felt like whenever I felt it.

The linear grind games are the norm now.  Sandboxes are shutting down or being destroyed.  That puts a HUGE amount of pressure on the dev companies to provide constant new CONTENT, and they aren't equipped for that.  I don't for the life of me know how they expect to succeed with that model.

Thu Nov 01 2007 4:32AM Report writes:
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