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Community Forum Spotlight - Journeys and Destinations

In this Community Forum Spotlight, Community Manager Laura Genender takes a look at whether or not the art of the journey is lost in today's mad scramble to hit max level.

Journeys and Destinations

Gaming today is largely centered around high-end content. Modern titles are giving us fast tracks to endgame raiding and PvP; max level in Guild Wars takes 2 days, World of Warcraft 15, and Lord of the Rings Online a whooping 27 days. In today’s MMOs, players are max level in under a month.

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Now, don’t get me wrong – I love raiding and I love PvP, but what ever happened to the journey? Levels 1 through 20 or 50 or 80 are no longer fun; they’re a means to the end, and we look for the shortest path through the majority of game content. Even in games with longer playtimes – such as Lineage II, where the most hardcore need 100 days to reach max level – we have a mentality of speed over enjoyment. This is called the Grind, where players partake in a mindless, repetitive activity because it is the most efficient.

This week on the forums, user pur3.5ync started a thread “Alternatives for Grinding in MMOs,” looking for ways around this gameplay mechanic flaw. On seeing this title I was immediately intrigued; I, like many gamers, am guilty of getting caught up in the grind and forgetting the real goal of gaming: fun. Reading through this thread, I found it interesting how various users combat the daily grind of MMOs.

Users teldreth and Ampallang have a simple player-end solution to the grind: find a group. Groups give you someone to talk with while you’re grinding; you can share stories, talk about the game or life in general. It’s always wonderful to find someone with common interests, and MMOs are a breeding ground for like minded people! “[It] helps alleviate boredom and we crack jokes and so forth,” states Ampallang.

“I can ‘group’ in chatrooms,” counters another user, Mylon. “And there’s no fee to pay!” For Mylon, the elimination of the Grind lies in the hands of developers. His suggestion is to allow players to make offline actions, so that time becomes a currency and contributor to character progression. I’m not sure whether Mylon has spent time in either game, but his suggested system reminds me a lot of EVE Online or A Tale in the Desert.

In EVE Online, all skill-training is done via real life time; a skill might take 30 minutes to train, or 7 days 18 hours, or 61 days. In-game activities are purely to gain cash or partake in PvP operations. In A Tale in the Desert, players could offline-automate certain tedious activities that were necessary in gameplay, such as picking grass, making coal, or growing onions.

As for the effectiveness of these models, I don’t think either really take away “the grind.” In EVE, players are still required to grind certain activities like mining, hauling, or ‘ratting to gain cash. In ATITD, most players just had “onion alts” to supplement their in-game activities. Almost ironically, these are two of the most hardcore games I’ve ever played!

User K.o.v.e. feels that the solution is in the storytelling; “jampack your MMO with tons of interesting quests. I mean INTERESTING not go kill 50 sewer rats or deliver this message to X.” While more storydriven gameplay would be fantastic, it takes a lot of developer time to handcraft stories and missions, while “go kill x” missions can be created in a matter of minutes. It’s an easily implemented timesink – I’m not excusing it, but I doubt we’ll see a change anytime soon.

Poster Orthedos points out, “At the end of the day Flavor of the Month will ruin it. People will compare the time it takes to hit lvl 50 or 60 or 128, and will find that healing people randomly or crafting bronze flat arrowheads is the fastest way. Suddenly everyone is trying to heal some[one] else and no one is getting hurt, or the OOC channel is flooded with “WTS 1 trillion bronze arrowheads,1 copper for them all.”

This post reminded me of my Oblivion experience; despite the game being very twitch-combat based and storyline heavy, I found the easiest way to level my skills, be it sneaking into a corner or jumping everywhere I went. It’s in our nature to find the easiest path to our end “goal”; maybe the only real answer to the Grind is perfect game balance.