Defining the grind

We had a really good discussion going on Ventrilo tonight about what grinding means.  So many times people think grinding is a negative, and it’s used by many I know as a reason for quitting a game.  In my opinion, unless everything you are doing is 100% dynamic all the time, you are grinding.  I do not think grinding is bad, though.  I make a distinction between grinding and repetitive.

I have a friend who really hates grinding, but I think he means he hates repetitive gameplay because he’s now playing Darkfall. Darkfall is a huge grind, but rarely repetitive. I completely agree that ‘repetitive’ sucks.  I think about grinding in EQ.  We would find a spot and kill monsters.  In a sense, this was repetitive; however, the social element made the experience dynamic because I was always meeting new people and learning about them.  In many ways, no two groups were the same, despite killing the same mobs in the same location.

I’ve just added another element to complicate things: perception.  Perception, or in this case immersion, trumps all — even repetition.

Options are also a huge factor.  If something is repetitive, like killing the same monsters, then options are mandatory.  In DAOC I could kill mobs in one of 6+ zones or I could go to BGs or I could go to RvR.  EQ was the same way.  Games are far too linear and the grind, whether quest or kill, is inescapable.  The same can be said for end-game activities.  If all you have is one or two raids and you do the same bosses every week for gear to be able to go to the next two to get gear, the grind is too obvious.

To reiterate, grinding isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Many games function on the grind.  If the grind is too repetitive or poorly masked by immersion then players will become aware it exists.  That’s when the problems start.

  • “Grind” to me means that you play for 2 hours & your XP bar barely moves at all. The later levels in both LOTRO & WOW took me forever to grind out. (well on the first time to the level cap) Getting that final “ding” makes it worth it in the end.

  • @Rinvan: The time element is devious because it plays both sides. If time is not a factor, something feels meaningless. If a task takes too much time, something is tedious.

    The grind in EQ to level was one of the steepest I experienced, but I only realize that in hindsight. Why? Socializing with people was dynamic and made the hours pass without realization. The grind, in this case time, was properly masked yet mandatory. Without the element of time, players would not form or have need for relationships.

    You can see how the concept of a grind is both good and bad, and how failing to get it just right is devastating.

  • I’m not sure we can repurpose the term “grind,” as that (to me) already concedes that whatever is the grind is no longer worthwhile.

    I agree with the premise though. Nils talked about the subject several months ago; an activity became a grind once you no longer believed it should be necessary. There can be something deeply satisfying about even repetitive actions, as any woodworker or knitter could tell you. Or, hell, any writer for that matter. Is the action of typing on a keyboard a grind? Think about it.

    To paraphrase Nils again, an activity becomes a grind when we believe that the destination is no longer worth the journey. It is all subjective. Back in TBC, I used to log onto WoW and just… fish. Technically I was waiting for other people to log on/the raid to start/etc, but I found the activity therapeutic. Later on in Wrath, I had to fish for the food buffs, and I found I hated it. “I shouldn’t have to do this.” Something that wasn’t a grind, became one.

  • @Azuriel: I disagree with the statement that if something is a grind it is worthless. I also disagree that an activity becomes a grind when unnecessary.

    I agree that repetitive is okay, but only as long as there are options.

    Maybe the problem is using the word “grind” to describe too many things, with too many connotations.

  • Some of my fondest mmo memories are from SWG, heading to the Dant mining outpost, joining a mission grinding group full of strangers and heading out for a few hours grinding lairs. Made a lot of friends that way back in the day.

  • The word grind, in of itself, is negative. If you’re having fun, doing a variety of interesting and fun things, it isn’t a grind.

  • The word gets a bad reputation from being attached to negative things. The point I’m trying to make is that ‘grinding’ is a mechanic used as a fundamental form of game design — specifically MMO’s.

    Raids are the same way. For many people, Raids have a very negative stigma attached to them now. The mere mention of raids and people become agitated. I’m completely guilty of this. “Oh the game has raids? ugh.” But raiding is not inherently a bad thing. Getting a large group of people together to kill monsters is not in and of itself a bad thing. It’s how it is used.

    Same for the idea of a grind. I’ll use Darkfall as an example. Going from 1 to 100 in a skill takes work. If you try to do it in one day fighting just goblins, you’re going to truly feel that grind. Taking your time and simply letting the skill points come as they will, while participating in sieges or hunting monsters for loot, or simply going to dungeons to kill monsters with friends, and before you know it you’ve gained a lot of skills and never even realized you were actually, technically, grinding.

    That’s the key to perception and immersion. It’s still a grind, but you don’t care. Sprinkling cheese on broccoli so that a child will eat it doesn’t change the fact that the child is eating broccoli. The child simply doesn’t care. (Note: I enjoy my broccoli more with TONS of cheese. And salad dressing.)

  • So would say that good game design has to do more then just hide the grind, it has to put the player in the right perspective for the grind?

    Also what makes raids where you talk to 40 different people each time a grind and while chatting with people while grinding a mob dynamic?

  • @Wufiavelli: Yes to your first question.

    Second question, it’s not clear cut. The gear treadmill is a very, very visible pattern that for me trumps the idea of camaraderie. Take away the gear treadmill, send me out to kill dragons, and I know I’d have more fun doing it with others who were there for no other reason than to socialize.

  • Grind to me is that you are forced to kill monsters x,y,z for hours and hours, not because they are fun or challenging, but because eventually you may get something. Even worse is the tacked on grind, that is simply meaningless. ie in Rift they added some sort of weapon advancement. Basically, added grind for the sake of grind.

  • Asherons Call could be extremely grindy, if you chose to make it so. You’d load up on spell components and healing kits (there were calculators based on your skill level and spell list/level for what components you should bring). You would then proceed to FARM the same mobs on the same spot, taking a break only to run through your buff cycle:
    Buff magic stats, buff buffing skill, buff magic stats more, buff buffing skill more.
    Buff combat stats, skills.
    Buff weapons.
    Go fight for 20-25 mins.

    Repeat until either spell components or healing kits were used up. This was the most efficient.

    Less efficient: exploring, going places that are too high level for you and taking risks. Grouping up with guild members/friends and roaming places. Doing some of the quests in the game (sometimes good gear, sometimes just to have done them).

  • Grinding can be awesome but it is often part of a time v. reward assessment. Imagine AoE grinding…that can be challenging and fun but the best part is that you get a lo for your time investment. If you grind and get the feeling…oh those other suckers don’t know what they are missing…then grinding can be fun.

    In AC it was pretty fun if you found a new dungeon with nobody in it and a quick spawn rate…you felt like you got things done. In UO, you didnt feel the grind…because that was half the game…kill stuff….maybe get some skill points…get some cool loot or money which mattered. The grind is probably worse in level based games…in a skill based game, the grind is less noticeable…but it also depends on the other rewards you get,e.g. Loot…I don’t understand why developers don’t make some of the really cool armor or rewards in game droppable. Hell, make it a 0.000000000000001 percent chance….but it is still cool that you could get the leet piece of armor…it is the same reason that motivates people to play the lottery…

  • If you aren’t enjoying it it’s grinding. If you are enjoying it it’s gameplay. When it was good, we never used to call it grinding back in EQ and DAOC, though. We called it “hunting”.

    The longer I play, the more I realize I prefer just killing stuff to questing. Given the option I almost always choose to go somewhere where my character finds mass-slaughter reasonably easy but which still gives good rewards, either in experience/AAs, in tradeskill raws, in drops he can use or that he can sell for good money. Ideally, a mix of several of those.

    Questing is fiddlier, allows less freedom of action and is fundamentally just more tedious. This is why I prefer simple Kill Ten Rats quests to long-winded story-driven material. Best of all I like the classic “kill all the goblins you can, cut off their ears and bring them to me and keep them coming because I have unlimited funds for payment” type bounties.

    If killing things is fun enough then there’s really no need for much more. It’s knocking a tennis ball against a wall. It never stops being fun no matter how long you do it.

  • Perhaps the best way to describe it then is to say that grinding is the result of gameplay improperly masked by immersion?

  • It’s a negative word to me. To me it’s about forcing players to do something over and over. So it’s more about choice vs. freedom. This goes hand-in-hand with game design like a gear treadmill. You have to grind out gear x to unlock content y, repeated infinitely.

    In a game like GW2, of course there’s ‘repetition’, but I wouldn’t call it a grind. That game will give players the freedom to do whatever they want and reap the same rewards. You can technically grind, but that’s your choice…and it’s not forced on you, and it’s not required to ‘advance’ in the game.

    So…yeah. There’s repetition and there’s grinding. The difference I see is the freedom of the players to choose what they want to do. A game like WoW is a grind game, because it grabs you by the hair and says, ‘You want to advanced to this tier? Then grind first, then grind the current tier so you can grind the next tier to get to the next.’ Same goes with their pvp system.

    Maybe the best/shortest (too late) of putting is this: grinding means chasing a carrot. A carrot you’ll never catch.

  • I define grind this simple way: When you have to think of the reward to get motivated to do it, it’s a grind.

    I should be enjoying the activity by itself, not delaying enjoyment just because I know enjoyment will be coming eventually.

    Grouping in FFXI was sometimes a grind, sometimes not. Grouping up with people and killing the same mob can sometimes be enjoyable. It’s risky though, it can easily become a grinding depending on how much you have to do it and how repetitive it is.

    Strangely enough, I rarely felt the grind in early, classic wow where the game was MORE “classic grindy” whereas I distinctly felt the grind later on, in later expansions, even when it became so streamlined.

  • TBH I think that a lot of the treadmills they put into these games are unnecessary. It forces you into a few very limited activities to get the worthwhile rewards, thus creating grind. If every activity yielded xp and gold, and that was all, then you could choose where to go to get it.

  • Couldn’t it be said that real life is a grind and that MMO’s grind is just the reflection of the grind we experience in our daily lives? People get restless, bored and depressed when they get into the habit of doing the same things every day week in and week out; just like they do in MMO’s. One of the escapes is to go into a fantasy online worlds and try to get away from the grind of real life.

    The fantasy worlds after all are still just reflections our real world reality. However in real life you have a much wider variety of alternative activity and are not confined by constraints of the game only by the constraints of your mind. In an MMO you are constrained by parameters the game developer has given you. This is why sandbox games tend to provide lots of more entertainment value that theme parks. The player is given the tools to entertain themselves, much like real life.

  • I prefer to think of grinding as just really poor “gating”.

    Lets say I want to get from A -> B

    There’s a gate between the two.

    In game one, this “Gate” is a dungeon, filled with traps and monsters. Each room offers a challenge, dynamic events happen and a opportunity for me as the play to feel skilful and powerful in the way I overcome those challenges.

    In game two, this “Gate” is a button on the door blocking the path. In order to progress, I need to press that button.. 150 times.

    There is nothing challenging about that action. No skill required. No chance to prove my worth, or learn skills that further my knowledge of the game. No great stories about slaying the dragon, or finding a magical sword. Just a tedious, annoying and pointless obstacle.

    That for me is the difference. Sure, you might be just “Slaying monsters and looting rooms” in the first game, but the way it’s presented feels like these are things that you do *on the way* to your goal.

    In the second game, the point *is* the pointless repetition of a banal task, that is neither interesting or challenging..

  • @DamageInc: Ok sure..

    But trolling aside, the topic isn’t isolated to MMO’s. It just happens that MMO’s by nature have used this kind of gating in the past.

    The topic was “Defending the Grind”.

    I also happen to think people who have patience for that kind of gameplay haven’t yet realised the true value of their time.

    Once you hold down a 9 to 5 job, have family commitments, relationships and responsibilities to maintain, you may find “grinding” becomes something you simply can’t entertain any longer in your recreational time.

  • Another example of my “Game 1” would be basically every single player RPG created.

    Baulders Gate didn’t have the notion of grinding. Everything you did was about following up leads, or questing to help party members or learning more about your past.

    “Killing” and “XP” were things that happened during the course of those activities. They were not the “focus” of the activity.

    Games like Skyrim are another example. Sure you can grind out skills, but you’re also free to just play the game and let things develop at their own pace. When played in this way, progression feels very organic and enjoyable.

  • @Anon – First, I can’t wait for Keen to ban your trolling fanboy account. Second you’re telling me that when you go into a dungeon in Guild Wars 2 they will have some kind of random/dynamic challenge for you to complete? One day it’s a jumping puzzle, the next it’s a series of pit traps etc…

    I haven’t seen anything in the previews to back this up so I doubt anything like this is in Guild Wars 2.

    Oh and as for holding down a job, having family commitments, relationships and responsibilities, I’ll just say, I was playing the MMO Neverwinter Nights via AOL in 1994 when I was 28 and was introduced to UO in 1997 when I was 31. You do the math on how old I am. I’ve also been in a relationship now for 16yrs, have been “holding down a job” since I was 20 in 1986, and just put an offer in on Saturday for a new house. All those things and I find grinding in games likes Darkfall, UO, EQ, AC and DAoC much more enjoyable then the theme park games like WoW and most of the MMO’s that have come since.

    Another interesting thing, many of the guys I play Darkfall with are not teens/college students, they are adults as well with families and children. All your trolling message says to me is how ignorant you actually are.

  • My definition of grind:

    Having to do something far past the point where it is fun to achieve a goal in the timeframe you find acceptable.

    So the grind is half the responsibility of the MMO for requiring you do do X 5000 times to get Y.

    But it’s also your responsibility for choosing to do it at a pace that makes it incredibly boring and frustrating. You could do it at a pace that wasn’t grinding, but waiting 6 months or a year to get Y isn’t acceptable because you overvalue Y.

    For instance, going non stop for a week to grind the reputation to get a marginally better shoulder enchant.

    So the grind is mostly self inflicted because of a lack of perspective; if you find yourself grinding, you should just log out and clear your head. If you can’t do that, you should quit the game.

    I play World of Tanks right now, been playing for quite a while. I don’t grind that game, even though it is ripe with opportunities to do so, because I play until I’m bored or not having fun, and then I stop playing until I want to play again. That way I am never in the mental state of grinding.

  • I think a few other items need to be factored in as well.

    1. How many hours a week to get/want to play your game?
    2. How many games have you played in the past with a similar style?
    3. How many total hours have you played those games with similar styles?
    4. What’s the main enjoyment of your game play experience?
    a. Build a character?
    b. PvP?
    c. Content completion?
    d. mixture of all of the above, other, etc?

    For me priority 1 is PvP. As much as I loved Darkfall I only have 4-5 hours a week to play games, so that turns my desire to PvP competitively into a grinding of skills/items which I don’t enjoy. Now if I had more time to also enjoy building my character knowing that I will get to PvP effectively with him then that may change my feelings about the game.

    So with my 4-5 hours a week, I would rather have instant queues and get straight into the PvP. So currently the Themepark style works for me, but I would probably want more if I had more time to invest. There are other factors, but that’s it in a nutshell.

    I think a LOT depends on each individuals life, past experiences, and current frame of mind.

  • This is pretty much why I quit MMOs…

    I’m an efficiency nut. I love min-maxing gear and stats on a character. I love discovering ideal spell/skill rotations. Unfortunately, I hate the realization that killing X of creep Y over Z time yields a certain leveling speed efficiency.

    As a “casual gamer” time is my most valuable resource in game and in real life. If I’m not maximizing my time in game, I feel wasteful. And when the most efficient way to progress in these games is to simply find a camp and grind it out using optimal skill rotations… no thanks. This is made worse because modern MMOs punish grouping. You must trade efficiency for socialization. Lame.

    Remember when DAOC released Shrouded Isles? Any time you wanted to make an alt, you simply snuck your level 1 all the way over to this hidden island, grouped with some guild-mates, and ~16 hours later you’d have a max level character. It was so mechanically mindless that you could have some pretty interesting conversations and really get to know your guildies. You could do the same in some of the Trials of Atlantis zones if you wanted to mix it up. This worked because DAOC actually gave GROUP BONUS experience. Those were some fun times. :p

  • @DamageInc: Wow man.. *breaaaath*

    You’d think I’d stolen your first born or something the way you’re reacting.

    You asked for an example of an MMO that might match the first style I described. I gave it? How is that being a fanboy? It’s based on actual information I’ve researched from previews and interviews?

    Secondly, great that you’ve managed to find a balance between commitments and gaming. Personally, if given the choice between spending an hour grinding and an hour actively enjoying my gaming experience, I’d skip the grinding. My description wasn’t designed as a personal dig at you.

    If if you don’t feel that way, that’s fine. Maybe you like grinding?
    As Keen pointed out, the point of this isn’t “Defend/Attack Grinding”. It’s “Define Grinding”.

    So I did. Look, I meant no offence. I’m sorry I appear to have caused you some.