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Reader Comments (18)

Posted: Nov 30th 2009 11:12AM (Unverified) said

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If repetitive gameplay is an essential part of modern MMOs and repetitive gameplay is something that is undesirable then maybe MMOs are on their way out as we've come to recognize them.

I feel a lot of what has been lost is the fun of playing with other people. In a game with a grind, through levels at least, you have to find people at your level to play with. further complication of this is questing. Why group with someone for a quest you've already done or are ineligible for?

I don't think that grind is essential to MMOs. I think that it is essential to level-based MMOs. The question should be if it is essential to have MMOs level-based.

Posted: Nov 30th 2009 11:38AM Brendan Drain said

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I don't necessarily agree with your assertion that repetitive gameplay is only essential to level-based MMOs. EVE Online has no level-based gameplay but it also has a lot of repetitive gameplay. Mining is repetitive, the gameplay in every kill mission is the same, we do the same wormhole sites and dungeons every day and so on. In a sense even PvP revolves around the same gameplay mechanics just in varying circumstances. I can be an electronic warfare specialist in a hundred different combat fleets but I do the same job every time.

At a basic level, all computer games have to use repetitive gameplay. There has to be a limited number of things you can do. Disguising that repetitition and keeping the gameplay fresh is just something that is essential in MMOs because players are expected to play them for a ton more hours than they'll spend on a typical singleplayer game.

For someone to play an MMO for months or years, they need to have something to do for all that time. It's physically impossible for game developers to manually author months worth of unique content, it would take them decades. So they construct content from a pre-made set of gameplay elements. Kill-lists, courier missions, escort quests and other types of gameplay are used over and over again. Repetition is required but it's up to developers to keep it feeling fresh.

Posted: Nov 30th 2009 11:18AM Holgranth said

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This pretty much sums up my opinions on the topic. Gimmicks and disguises that make the grind feel less like a grind (cheap as it sounds) are the way to go.

That was my big problem with WAR's public quests. There were a few of them that actually had interesting events, a giant coming crashing through trees all of a sudden or different mechaincs, clicking on gavestones to harvest the souls of the dead to summon a powerful daemon which your side loses control of due to the interference of a bright wizard.

BUT for the most part they were all boring done to death grind mobs in a field. Huge disappointment.

I think Blizzard hit it a lot better with Quests in Wrath, generally there is a REASON your going out to kill stuff and it fits in with the story. There are also a lot more gimmicks such as controling a seige engine or storm giant or even catching wild mustangs with carrots. (as completely unrealistic as that may be)

There are lots of quests that are boring grind X but they are a lot fewer.

Posted: Nov 30th 2009 11:30AM aurickle said

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The bottom line is that there are a limited number of things that can actually happen in a computer game environment. Everything has to be programmed, and that means breaking it down into basic actions. For a quest to function, there must be a programmed goal (or series of goals) that triggers advancement of the quest so that you can move to the next step or get your reward. When you stop and think about it, there just aren't that many possible actions:

Go someplace.
Talk to someone.
Get something.
Kill something.
Use something.
Make something.

In fact, even with such a basic list as this, there's still overlap. For example, talking to someone naturally involves going to where that person is. Making something involves getting and using other things.

This is not unique to MMO's either. Any RPG boils down to this same principle. Look at Mass Effect or Dragon Age. Both games really do use these same mechanics. What elevates their quests above the standard MMO is not the fundamentals, but rather the story that unfolds as you complete the objectives.

As long as games rely upon quests to gain experience and advance, you'll have this same kind of grind/treadmill. There's no getting around it. The alternative of course is a skill-based system where your actions determine your advancement. This of course is where the sandbox games come in. But they rarely thrive because the majority of players end up feeling lost due to a sandbox's lack of guidance. They don't have fun.

There is a way to blend the two, though. Use a skill-based advancement, but keep the quests. But in this case, quests should be more free-form and focused on the end objective rather than the minutiae. For example, you could be given the objective to kill the Necromancer. It's then entirely up to you as to how to accomplish this. There would be many obstacles in the way as you attempt to achieve the goal. The method you use to pass these obstacles depend upon your skills, which are an outgrowth of your personal play style. As you use these skills to pass the obstacles, they naturally advance and your character grows.

From what I've read concerning Secret World and Guild Wars 2, this seems to be the basic approach that both games are taking. Perhaps the paradigm is changing and the genre is evolving. But we'll have to wait until the games launch to see if this approach is actually any fun to play.

Posted: Nov 30th 2009 11:38AM Pingles said

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I played 3 or 4 MMOs before I experienced my opinion of grind and it was WoW's rep-building. I wanted to get through a tunnel lined with enemies and was told it was possible to make those enemies friendly if you kill their arch-enemies. After DAYS and DAYS of slaughtering their enemies I received safe passage.

After getting through that tunnel I realized I would NEVER grind for rep again and quickly lost enthusiasm for WoW and canceled.

Posted: Nov 30th 2009 11:40AM Pingles said

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I sidetracked my point in that previous post.

I don't mind repetitive game elements. I kind of like them. But give me a goal and a realistic timesink involved. When games go over the top with kill-counts I generally don't hang around long.

Posted: Nov 30th 2009 11:41AM elocke said

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You all keep mentioning skill based games solving the grind, but I disagree. I think it is still the same as you still have to repeatedly use said "skill" to improve it which in itself is a "grind".

Good article, this is one reason why WoW was such a hit I think, it truly disguised the feel of the grind that prior mmorpgs never did. Of course, 5 years later we are bored with what WoW gives us because we're used to it, so yes, some new disguise is needed I think.

Posted: Nov 30th 2009 12:09PM Brendan Drain said

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EVE Online uses a skill-based system where skills train automatically in realtime rather than upgrading with use. But even EVE has to use repetitive gameplay, and you're absolutely right that we need some more ways to disguise it and turn a grind into a proper adventure.

Posted: Nov 30th 2009 12:07PM (Unverified) said

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Great article Brendan, the problem is even the tactics you discussed to disguise the grind get old and soon feel repetitive. I think game developers need to add two more things into games:

1- More things to do that aren't "grinds"
2- More than one way to accomplish a quest goal.

- Crafting skills was a good idea for more "things to do" but has been implemented as just another grind & timesink in any MMO I've tried. Ideas for improvement: Find a more creative way to acquire the basic mats for crafting. Add more chances of a random "improved" item while crafting (think Meta items in EVE).

One thing I like about EVE is there is many different things to do: PVP, Mining, R&D, Missions, etc Just that some of them overlap too much and get "grindy".

Posted: Nov 30th 2009 12:15PM Brendan Drain said

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I think you're spot on. Having more ways to complete a task adds some variation and it doesn't have to be difficult to implement. For example, there are a few emergent alternative options for completing the Everquest 2 quests I mentioned in the article. In the quests where you have to grab items surrounded by enemies, you don't necessarily need to kill them. I play a Bruiser, which is an avoidance-based tank. I run through, round up the enemies and run around in circles while my partner grabs the items. Then I can use a feign death ability to get the enemies off my back.

I think MMOs need more in the way of support for these types of emergent gameplay where each class can have their own alternative way to complete tasks. Perhaps mages could teleport short distances to avoid enemies, or rogue-like characters could sneak past them. It doesn't always have to be about killing. It's up to the game designers to create content which can be, for all intents and purposes, bypassed with a clever combination of characters and abilities. I think that's much more interesting than what we have currently in most MMOs.

Posted: Nov 30th 2009 12:06PM toychristopher said

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Honestly I don't mind grinding in mmo games. One thing I miss from older mmo's is grinding in groups, it can be a lot of fun to set up camp and clear an area that is filled with enemies. It seems like mmo's are moving away from straight grinding even really being an option as opposed to questing. I remember when wow first came out people would argue about which was fast grinding or questing. Now it doesn't even seem to be a contest.

I wish there was a game where the virtual world was large enough that your grinding actually made a difference. What if you really could clear an area of the mercats that have been devastating the area? Of course over time they might return or a new predator would move in...

I think one thing you touched on in the article is grinding can emphasize flawed game mechanics, especially combat.

Posted: Nov 30th 2009 3:50PM breezer said

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Great article. Very relevant in MMOs right now, imo, since MMO customers are getting older, have a lot of experience (points) under their belts, and are frankly imho, burning the eff out on grinds.

First it was group, camp and grind (for me anyway). This was fine because you have other people to keep you company, and if you're playing a game like FFXI, you have amazing group combat dynamics to keep you thinking and always wanting to do the best you can for your group. Every fight was a challenge too, which was great (these days, individual fights aren't so challenging in FFXI, but trying to get to chain #200 is challenge enough).

Then the MMO gods whispered unto their disciple Blizzard and said, "there will be quest grinds" and it was good. It was sooo good. Grouping and camping were alright, but could get tedious, and finding a group and getting to camp could be very, VERY time consuming. Quest grinds you can do on your own time and... you get to level up from just doing quests! What a novel and cool idea!

Fast forward 5 years later. It's not novel or cool anymore. It's the same thing as camping mobs but with lots of travel time and lots of "what do I do? where". To make matters worse, you're doing it alone. It sucks.

I. Hate. Quest. Grinding.

Resubbing to FFXI (for the 50th time), I realized that, while it's not dressed up and while it sounds unappealing on paper, camping with a group is 10x more fun than quest grinding. Because playing with others will almost always be more fun than playing alone. Challenging will almost always be more fun and more rewarding than quest helper and 3 shotting brain dead mobs.

All that said. I can not believe there has not been a major MMO to try a grindless game yet. It's astonishing to me. Surely someone can cook up another way to progress than days-worth of level grinding before you can start the real game. Why NOT have a game where there are no levels? Where you can just jump in and go to tier 1 raid/pvp? Where progression is based on story and progression through content than arbitrary time sinks and grinds.

We are sick of grinding. With so many utterly worthless games being pooped out (yes, I'm talking about you Alganon) and struggling hard (take your pick), what do devs and pubs have to lose from trying a game where everyone starts at max level? People would love it, they would eat it up. Look at the popularity of private servers, where you start max level or have ridonculous exp rates. People would love it.

But obviously, there would have to be a way to let them KEEP loving it. I'm positive there's a way to do it, but I wish some game devs would take that chance.

We're so ready for it.

Posted: Nov 30th 2009 4:47PM (Unverified) said

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Breezer, I agree with most of what you said.

The modern MMO places most of its focus on making creature hunting and actual game playing not rewarding. They make questing rewarding.

This allows developers to have more control over their game with a lot less work. When you know how many quests there are in game, how long they take to complete and how many you need to complete to level up and what rewards they give out it becomes a lot easier to project how long it'll take your players to level and what they'll be using.

I feel like this tight grip on a semblance of balance really hurts the genre and controls the fun you can have. It reminds me of a commercial, a little girl on a bike and the person who gave her the bike won't let her take it out of the small box he's made for her to use it inside of. Skills, items, levels, quests, crafting it's all tightly constrained and game play quickly loses its fun.

We all remember games like Diablo and more recently games like Borderlands. Games that don't have such a tight constraint on your characters and allow you to use amazing skills and find great loot around every corner. Games where it's rewarding to kill creatures as well as complete quests.

The classic MMO creature grind, in my opinion, is far superior to the quest grind.
1. There's no specific time you need to set aside to grind, 5 minutes, 5 hours either works, log in and just start hunting. Quests require a certain amount of time to complete and make limited game play time far more difficult to deal with.
2. Creature grinds also allow players to pick what they like to do and repeat that for XP. I've found a lot of creatures in MMOs I like to kill and a lot that I hate to kill. Letting me only kill something I like to kill for a limited time (only on certain quests will I get a decent amount of reward vs. time for it) is annoying.
3. With a creature grind game the designers have to focus on fun game play and not trying to keep players in the game by giving them more things to do and get. There are many games people play that have no advancement, many of these games even have little to no story but people still play them. Why? The game is fun to play on its own. If a game is fun to play it won't really feel like a grind. If your game is about killing monster make sure killing monsters is fun!

I think the primary fault of this article is the assumption that the quest grind is good and that all that needs to be done is it needs to be masked over or painted a different color. Sure, living in a shack is certainly nicer when it has a fresh paint job and fancy molding but it's still just a shack. Quest based MMOs give players a small box to work within that has a large quantity of down time running to and from NPCs to get and complete quests. Most creatures that don't need to be killed are avoided because, well, there's really no reason to kill them, even if it's fun it's not rewarding.

Three things from this article:
1. Making players have to collect items in an area swarming with trash monsters is annoying. It's even more annoying when you need to use an induction.
2. Making players have to kill monsters in a hallway for little to no reward just to reach their quest is annoying. There's a reason they're called trash mobs.
3. Escort quests are largely agreed to be one of the most annoying things you can do in an MMO. Having to protect an NPC while he wanders thoughtlessly into spawns that could have been avoided can cause a lot of problems. That and the NPC dieing and needing to restart the quest, thus spending time for no real reward can be very frustrating. But if the NPC is too strong or can't die then you're just following a dotted line of "Kill this, kill that." which isn't enjoyable either.

Posted: Nov 30th 2009 5:24PM breezer said

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Some excellent points Django, total agreeance here.

I'd also like to add that I'm a firm believer that players only THINK they know what they want, and some kind of belabored progression is necessary to make a game rewarding.

The level grind, in particular the quest grind is just so played out and so not interesting at this point though, Something new, yes please.

Posted: Dec 1st 2009 12:33AM (Unverified) said

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"I'd also like to add that I'm a firm believer that players only THINK they know what they want"

Very true. This is very similar to my normal eating experience. I think I know what I want then when I get it I realize that wasn't at all what I wanted but I have to eat it anyway.

Posted: Nov 30th 2009 5:56PM Sean D said

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We're going to have to let go of this idea if MMO gaming is going to evolve. Repetitive play is necessary in MMOs right now, but only because we have demanded that it be that way. In all of our complaining about balance and fairness, we've limited developers to creating (and recreating) games that all follow the same fundamental philosophies. If we're going to ask developers to show us the path to the next level, we're going to have to untie their hands and stop whining at them every time something doesn't go our way.

Let's raise the learning curve a bit. Challenge us. Take quests out of the game and let people find their own motivations. Add real-time, responsible intervention. Reintroduce consequence (that doesn't mean punishment). Unbalance the game and allow those who really dedicate themselves, through both skill and time invested, to outdistance the rest as they should. Let one player's actions realistically affect the game universe and let the game universe realistically respond to the player. The more realistic a game is - the more it mimics the paradigms of real life - the more fun and rewarding it will be in the long run.

Posted: Dec 1st 2009 2:54AM Jeromai said

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I'm a little weird. I actually like what most folks call grinding. I think it's because of both the 'achievement' hit from the loot lottery, be it from the dead mobs or the end of the quest, and the actual moment-to-moment combat action.

That's the key to me, the combat gameplay has to be fun. Smooth. Look great. Fancy animations even better. I can dig it both ways, zen meditative repeat action as long as the mobs die decently fast, or with more strategic options.

I have been enjoying Batman: Arkham Asylum lately and wondering about MMOs that come close to that sort of action, City of Heroes perhaps, Age of Conan, etc. Even WoW has pretty slick/smooth animations. Conversely, I always felt a little thrown off by LOTRO's slightly jerky character animation, and Tabula Rasa's mouselook turning animation seemed less smooth than Fallen Earth's.

All games consist of repetition and repetitive elements, but their appeal to different people would depend on exactly what repeats.

Posted: Dec 2nd 2009 12:14AM (Unverified) said

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For me, if you missed that story in between that quest, it will then become a grind because we will just mindlessly go and aim to complete the objectives. After a while it will feel like grinding. But if we take some time to delve into the storyline first and capture the feeling of that quest, then it will feel less "grindy". It's a slow process but it is necessary.

I've been playing WoW for about 3 years now, i love to see that game evolves. I like their approach on putting emphasis on the storyline and the lore and how they experimented a lot of new approach to questing. The quests has become less grindy now compared to the vanilla. They introduced dailies which stops players from repetitively doing the same thing and exploit it and phasing which gives some feeling of an event flow in the world.

What i like to see in the next generation of MMO for questing (WoW i my case) is

- strategic element in questing where players have to decide something and deal with the unique outcome from that decision. Maybe something like in Commando games, where enemies line of sight is important. Or RTS where the player will have to decide which NPC to take to help him a very difficult task and impossible to be done solo. Maybe rock, paper scissors strategy?

- puzzle elements where some logical thinking is required, take monkey island for example, puzzles can be fun too. Or maybe something like tomb raider. Or could be like Heroes of might and magic where players have to collect pieces of treasure map to find the random treasure.

- hunting element in quest; the objective may not be at the same place again. It could be somewhere else or some surprise factor. This is difficult to pull due to the direction and navigation to explain to players but with game devs experience i think it can be done. I am thinking something like in dragonball comic where players has to travel around to find the random target using just a proximity radar. The closer you get the faster it beeps, Hot n Cold games.

- cooperative element where each player in that group will have a role to complete to fulfill the bigger task. This has been done in raids, but i like to see it in 2-3 person group quest. Or maybe for solo, the player can control multiple avatar and send them at different places.

- choice element in quests players can decide which difficulty that player can do with same outcome but with different rewards relative to that difficulty. "You like kill 100 mobs instead of 10 with tons of Xp and a special loot? sure why not, do this quest instead i'll reward you handsomely." Sort of like that.

A lot can be done in quests like i have listed probably some has been done but not properly emphasized. But the problem now is, can the player do it? Will the player get annoyed with it due to its difficulty and time required? WoW for example targets casuals and with that philosophy, they gotta have to tune down the difficulty a little bit and that i understand. But since players has been to level 80 and going higher in future expansions, they have to step up the difficulty a little more IMHO. Higher level players will gonna have to grow up and face more difficult challenge, not easier because high level players is supposed to be more experienced and have familiarized themselves better with the game. No more spoon feeding at that level.

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