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Do MMOs Need Grind?

Christopher Coke Posted:
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Since the release of EverQuest in 1999, MMOs have been on a constant path of evolution. While EverQuest focused on grinding and hard earned levels, World of Warcraft changed the landscape and hid quests in every spare corner, allowing any player to reach the level cap. Grinds were relegated to key quests and reputation burns, or scouring for rare items. Today, grind is almost a dirty word… and players hop from game to game like never before. This week we ask, do MMOs need grind?

Our debaters:

Ryan “Insert Title” Getchell: Doo bee do be dooooo….

Chris “There’s Got to be a Better Way” Coke: Chris cut his teeth on games with no quests and has no urge to go back. Down with the grind!

*Note: For the purposes of this column, let’s define grinding as “monotonously repeating a task for an extended period of time” for a larger reward.

Chris: Let me begin by saying that I understand grinding. I really do. When I first began playing MUDs in the 1990s, there were no quests. Everything was work. That said, it wasn’t fun. When I look at games today, I see more options than we’ve ever had before. I see technology that allows us to do more than passively take in the scenery while spamming magic missile over and over again. Why should MMOs rely on grind when other options are just more fun? Isn’t that why we’re playing?

Ryan: When I think “grind,” I am brought back to the days where I would farm in the same spot for hours, killing the same creatures over and over. Farming Redcaps, those were the days... Placing that type of mechanic in a modern day MMO where players need to have the instant gratification just wouldn’t work. Players need to feel that their time is being rewarded. We’ve become trained dogs: we do a task, we get a treat. It’s not that other options are more fun, they are just more widely accepted. I personally dislike going from quest hub to quest hub, it’s mindless and exceptionally boring. I would much prefer going through a dungeon and grinding as I explore it, not for a reward at the end but for the experience, the adventure.I think the old style of grinding is extinct and won’t ever be revived, but I would be ever so happy if we could see a variation of it that isn’t quest driven.

Chris: There’s merit to your point about quest hubs. Worlds feel smaller today because we’re lead around on a leash of breadcrumb quests. But I think getting nostalgic about long grinds isn’t the right way to look at this. Content is being gated either way. You say that you would prefer grinding as you explore, but should that be necessary? I don’t think so. We’re at a point in MMOs where players are divided between the old and the new, one or the other, when it should really be both, and. So many players want to throw out what works now, and I just don’t see it. You don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater just because you walk between the sink and the tub.

Ryan: Questing is a form of grind as well, instead of grinding out creatures you’re grinding quests. So all MMOs offer both, but I think the underlying issue with this topic is grinding is a direct correlation to vertical progression. Once game developers realize that leveling is an outdated mechanic, we’ll start seeing larger and more immersive worlds. These new worlds will have the grind and quest aspects but it won’t feel like grinding or questing because you’re not chasing that carrot on the stick (the next level). Grinding only feels grindy because of that carrot. You watch a bar slowly creep forward, it’s like watching a kettle boil, it always takes longer when you watch it.

Chris: True enough on vertical progression not being the ideal, but I can't say that I agree leveling is the reason people don't like grinding. It's just not exciting doing the same thing over and over again. You call quests and leveling a carrot on a stick, but I love experiencing a story as I play. Quests are currently the main way to do that. And even more than quests, I enjoy the journey of leveling up and building that character. Questing may be a veil for grinding but it adds variety to what you're doing.

You know what gets me about this argument, though? So many people claim that quests somehow killed cooperation in MMOs.

Ryan: Doing quest after quest after quest is grinding, least to me. I also enjoy a good storyline experience, it’s one of the main reasons I enjoy Star Wars: The Old Republic and The Elder Scrolls Online. However, even that can feel like a intense grind. Look at ESO for example, in order to level and get through veteran rank content it’s quest after quest. If they removed the leveling progression and implemented something else the quest wouldn’t feel like a grind because you’re no longer forced to do them.

I am completely with the people who think quests killed cooperation in MMOs. Think of it this way, back EQ days the quests then required players to work together to complete it. Then there was DAoC, a game with very limited quests, yet has to be one of the most social games I’ve played. Quests nowadays are solo driven, rarely do you ever have to group with players to do them. Granted there are quests that do require a group but those are very few when you look at the entire game’s quests.

Chris: See, that’s the rub. MMOs are still incredibly social. Less than they used to be? Definitely, but cooperation still happens all the time in dungeons, raids, and battlegrounds... sometimes in group quests. Nothing died, it just transformed to what players wanted in shorter play sessions that didn’t fall apart when their buddies had to leave. Cooperation doesn’t have to be mindless and grinding doesn’t have to be the defacto answer, in quests or anywhere else.

Ryan: Cooperation in modern day MMOs only works if players get something out of it. Rarely do you see people playing with other people without the expectations they’ll have the opportunity to receive a reward. But as I said we may have found a future topic because I could go on for hours about how questing changed the mentality of gamers. It’s not that griding in the de facto answer, especially not with the way games are designed right now. Grinding has it’s place in MMOs, a place that could become the future once the carrot on a stick is removed.

That’s all from us. Let us know what you think in the comments below!


Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight