Good Grind vs Bad Grind

GearsI’ll be the first to admit that I’ve lamented the amount of grind present in MMO’s. But the hard truth is, almost every aspect of MMO’s and RPG’s involves some sort of grind, and yet I still play them. I’ve long enjoyed the leveling process of MMO’s and RPG’s, which at its heart is really just an XP grind. Why are some grinds more palatable, and even desirable, while others are dreaded?

At this point in the post I realize two things. First, many of my readers play and enjoy LOTRO. Second, to those who still play, this post may seem to be highly negative with regards to that game. To those of you who fall into this category, I have this to say: I harbor no ill will towards my favorite interactive depiction of Middle-Earth. I received over three years of intense enjoyment from LOTRO, and it will always hold a special place for me. That being said, in those three years I became intimately familiar with many aspects of the game that, over time, wore down my desire to play, some of which will be mentioned here. Some of these things are a product of a game developed for another era. Game systems are continually evolving, as are gamers’ tastes and thresholds for things like unnecessary grind. Some of these things are a product of (in my opinion) developing grindy systems into the game in order to sell cash shop items to decrease that grind. Likewise, many of the positive examples that follow are from Marvel Heroes, which, while not the perfect game, has the benefit of newness and of having learned from the mistakes of older games like LOTRO. It’s also technically an ARPG, so perhaps a direct comparison isn’t completely fair.

Complete Within a Reasonable Timeframe

One thing that I love about games of any genre is when you complete something without realizing that you were even working on it. This is typically how I approach most achievement systems. Level, level, level – oh look, I got the “kill 600 smoobies” trophy! Good for me! Once I complete my leveling, if there’s an achievement for killing, say 300 more smoobies, I might be tempted to carry on. The biggest problem I had with some of the grind systems in LOTRO was that I had to go out of my way to complete them. When I did inadvertently complete a slayer deed, for example, that only meant that I was 1/3 of the way done with the “advanced” version of that deed. The advanced version, of course, is where the actual stat boost is rewarded. In other words, there is really no way to complete the advanced slayer deeds as a part of the normal leveling process. I always had to go out of my way to obtain the advanced deed reward, which felt unnecessary.

Math
LOTRO Deed/Time Formula

What’s the big deal? So, I had to spend a few extra minutes doing something I didn’t like. So what? Well, I did a little math. The Angmarim slayer deed requires killing 150 Angmarim mobs in the Angmar region, but the advanced version of that deed requires 300 additional Angmarim be slayed for a grand total of 450 Angmarim. That doesn’t sound too bad if your main game is an ARPG, where trash mobs are slain by the dozens, but in LOTRO, mobs are typically killed one at a time, and usually via a mini-battle that can take up to 10-20 seconds (on level), depending on your class and DPS rate. Let’s say it takes 10 seconds to kill an on-level Angmarim. Slaying 450 of them would consume 4,500 seconds, or about 1.25 hours. That doesn’t even count the time needed for looking around for Angmarim or waiting for respawns, which could easily add another 30-60 minutes to that total, depending on the number of mobs and respawn rate (and whether they’re a stealthed mob!). It would be very easy to spend roughly two hours completing a single set of slayer deeds beyond your normal leveling grind – and that’s just one set of deeds! According to LOTRO Wiki, there are roughly 400 slayer deeds in the game. That’s a lot of extra time spent in addition to the main character progression system. Most players cut down on this time by first over-leveling an area, and then returning to it when mobs can be killed more quickly, which solves some problems but creates others, such as….

present the “right amount” of challenge

…the grind being too boring. Yes, that was me slaying dragonets in Moria (a level 50ish zone) at level 85. As a hunter, a ranged high-DPS class, it was like swatting flies! When I wasn’t sitting in a corner waiting for the respawns, anyway. But I certainly wouldn’t call it fun. It was something I was doing because either I couldn’t think of anything else to do, or because I felt it was necessary for my class to obtain the slight stat boost awarded at completion. I had to break the deed up into several nights because it was just…so…boring. This is always a danger zone for me. When I start to question why I’m doing something, it means I’m not having fun. When an achievement is too difficult or time consuming, I tend to give up and find something else to do. When it is too easy, I find myself sighing in boredom. In order for a grind to not feel like a grind, it needs to include just the right amount of challenge. I understand that this can be a difficult thing for developers, since a ‘challenge’ can be highly personal and subjective.

I like the way Marvel Heroes has provided different levels of difficulty for their terminal repeatables. “Repeatables” by very nature can be extremely repetitive and boring. However, the challenge and rewards offered via MH’s Green, red, and cosmic terminals provide increasing levels of difficulty while at the same time offering a sense of accomplishment and reward.

PERCEIVABLE rewards

While we all have our own motivations, rewards tend to be a fairly common goal within a game. But offering rewards can also be a tricky business, and has a great influence over whether a player clicks on “one more run” or logs off in exasperation. Exciting, measurable and visible rewards are key to making a game grind palatable, and even fun and desirable.  In my experience LOTRO really runs the gamut between fun rewards with perceivable benefits and collections of pixels that find themselves dragged out of my bag and trashed. The reason I like the leveling system in LOTRO is because it actually feels like progression. Your bar fills up, your character gains a level, and suddenly mobs that presented a challenge just five minutes ago are much easier to destroy! In fact, the whole world changes as mob colors progress from orange to white, and then to blue and green as your character enhances his skill. Especially in the earlier levels, the excitement that came with getting a new ability, and the anticipation of learning how to use it, made leveling an enjoyable experience, despite the fact that at its heart it’s simply an XP grind. By contrast, the tiny boosts offered via the aforementioned slayer deeds are practically imperceivable during normal gameplay and serve only to make you question why you just spent an extra two hours killing smoobies. Likewise, LOTRO did themselves few favors when introducing the oft-maligned Epic Battle system with the Helms Deep expansion by offering only jewelry as an end-game reward. Jewelry provides stats, but not the visual reward that most players were accustomed to receiving at end-game. Many players reasoned that if they were to “suffer through” the new end game system, they should at least get some epic looking gear!

Reward

Marvel Heroes, by contrast, offers loads and loads of gear drops for the copious amounts of grind. What interests me about the gear in MH is the multitude of uses designed into the game. For example, as a lowbie I was excited to find a purple (rare) drop with numerous stat increases. As I progress through the game, I start to discard the purple gear for cosmic (yellow) gear, and later for unique gear. However, I’m still able to donate lower-tier gear drops to crafters, enchanters, and other such NPC’s in order to better their offerings. I’m also able to ‘level’ my pets’ passive boosts by throwing gear of different tiers in their direction. Due to the numerous uses for gear (and other drops), grinding doesn’t usually reach the level of feeling ‘pointless’ like my deed completion in LOTRO did. In a sense, the usefulness of these drops is its own reward, and I continually feel like I’m working towards something worthwhile.

I don’t envy game creators in their quest to keep players happy. Grind is an integral part of MMO’s and RPG’s, and has proven that it can keep players busy and happy for weeks, months, and sometimes even years. However, allowing players to see and feel the progression and rewards associated with grind is essential. The best grind is the one that players don’t notice because we’re too busy having fun.


Rusty Gear Traverse City Visit April 10, 201032 by Steven Depolo on Flickr Creative Commons

Some Math by Behdad Esfahbod on Fickr Creative Commons

Reward by GotCredit on Flickr Creative Commons

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9 thoughts on “Good Grind vs Bad Grind

  1. tsuhelm July 8, 2015 / 8:31 am

    Great post 🙂 Grinding and LOTRO…the biggest grind of em all is the TP grind, some deeds also award TP which can be used for ingame purchases, it is possible to get the entire game this way but boy is it hard work and requires commitment…

    I find that if I am in the right frame of mind grinding can be fun, even the most tedious kind, the brood slayer deed in barrow downs…I did this on (or near) level with my first ever char and I enjoyed it! But when I don’t want to grind I hope I can do something else. I challenged my self at lv75 to grab as many deeds as I could for a couple of weeks and in doing so I ground with enthusiasm, when that ‘madness’ died down I headed onwards…

    I think LOTRO has started to show cracks all over the place, and playing can be a rough ride at times…I have yet to find anything I prefer that caters for all my needs…

    Presently exploring EVE Online and finding all activities grindy yet its somehow addictive… maybe in time it will lose its charm…

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  2. Roger Edwards (@ModeratePeril) July 8, 2015 / 10:11 am

    Grinding is very much down to the individuals state of mind. if you’re having fun then it’s not such a chore or on some occasions you don’t even notice it, like you said.

    In my mercenary point of view, whether or not I undertake a grind simply come down to two factors. Do I get something that I deem beneficial at the end of the process and is that reward in itself sufficient to cancel out the “tedium” of the grind.

    In LOTRO I use to be kindred rep with most factions until Wildermore, when the rewards ceased to be of any use to me. In STO I have achieved Tier 5 with all rep factions because it grants access to crafted gear that is demonstrably superior.

    TL DR: If grinding doesn’t offer a reasonable quid pro quo, then don’t do it.

    Like

  3. Tomeoric (@PuckByter) July 8, 2015 / 12:41 pm

    Good post, and I like and mirror the comments from Roger and Tsu.

    When I’m managing what little game time I have, I find I now ask myself questions before I even start some grinds. If it is a task that I could teach a monkey to do, and it’s going to take an hour+ to do, do I want to waste my game time on that? Do I want to grind essence gear, to then grind for essences, so I can kill something .05% faster? I’ll actually spend a little time in Excel to compare what I have to what I’ll get, then factor in the time it would take to complete. Sadly in LOTRO right now, rewards =/= grind time spent.

    Back in the days of Diablo II, my friends and I used to wonder, “We keep playing this game and doing essentially the same stuff over and over – why is it so fun?” There was this old article that explained how it was like shopping – you’re moving from the Wal-Mart level, to the Nordstrom level, to the Tiffany & Co. level. You keep getting better and better stuff, just by playing “normally” (non-grind) – and it was dang fun! I think for me, that is the draw of the games I’m playing now. LOTRO it seems you have to grind to “bedazzle” your existing gear or weapons, and that’s just not cutting it for compelling gameplay.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. C. T. Murphy July 9, 2015 / 10:12 am

    I haven’t seen too many games try it, but I’d like to see more experimentation with hiding requirements and somewhat randomizing them. WildStar kind of did this by hiding numbers and replacing them with progress bars, but I think adding a randomized value per mob killed might make it more exciting.

    For example, imagine killing dire badgers in the woods for a quest. In most games, you’d have to kill 10 or you’d need a certain item to randomly drop from each one you kill. Now, instead of that, you’d have a progress bar and each kill would contribute anywhere from 1 to 5 points toward it with maybe only 20 points needed. You could even make it so the closer you are to the goal, the better chance you have to score a higher number.

    It isn’t much, but I think the days of ‘kill x’ are especially tired. We need some variety, even if it is just playing with how the gain is perceived.

    Liked by 1 person

    • j3w3l July 11, 2015 / 7:08 pm

      no wayyyyy… grind shouldn’t be randomized. That is equivalent to those gather 10 bear eye quests where you’re not guaranteed it has eyes. Give me defined progress

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      • C. T. Murphy July 11, 2015 / 8:16 pm

        No, you are still guaranteed an eye, you just have a chance at getting multiple eyes in one go. Plus, the closer you are to finishing, the better chance of getting even more eyes in one kill occur.

        It isn’t so much a randomization of progress, but a system that allows for crits!

        Like

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