Shacknews Spotlight: The Grind

The gang sits down and discusses when "the grind" becomes too much.

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Josh Hawkins: It seems to have become a “thing” for game developers to add hours of grinding to their games in an attempt to lengthen the game’s life-span. We’ve seen clear evidence of this in MMOs, and for the most part non MMO-style games have strayed away from this peculiar idea. However, it seems with the releases of more recent games (Destiny and Evolve most notably) that endless grinding has once more become a fad pursued by developers. This brings to question the ideology that grinding is a cheap way to lengthen your game’s life-span without actually adding anything positive to it.

Personally, I don’t mind grinding for gear unless that grind because too much. If I don’t feel like I’m progressing at all then I’m less likely to continue playing the game, and more likely to end up moving on for good. This has happened quite a few times as I’ve flipped and flopped with my love and hate for Bungie’s grind simulator, Destiny. The game is solid as far as a gameplay feel goes. The missions are repetitive, yes, but with friends shooting stuff is shooting stuff.

The big issue I run into is the Post-Level 30 Blues. It’s at this point that players run headfirst into a solid titanium wall of grinding. Sometimes you’ll play for weeks without progressing at all, other times you’ll jump forward only to have to take two steps back because you find a piece of armor that COULD be better, but isn’t better than what you have right now. For me this grind kills my love for the game, and even causes a bit of repulsion. I mean, how many times do I have to kill Crota before I get something other than his stupid shader?

Steve Watts: I think it's telling that you brought up Destiny and Evolve, Josh. They're both multiplayer-focused shooters on the new generation of consoles. I think PC players are more accustomed to online-only experiences. Consoles don't enjoy the same mod scene, and the audience seems to move on much more quickly than PC shooters that have audiences stick around for months or even years. It's almost the opposite of single-player campaigns that tack on a half-baked multiplayer mode. These are multiplayer games first and foremost, but they have to find some way to keep players around for the long haul.

It only makes sense that shooters would imitate RPG mechanics. They've been doing it for years in some ways, with progression mechanics, unlocks, and load-outs. It seems only recently that shooters have slowed the progression significantly, though, in an effort to imitate the slow progression of games like Diablo or WoW. To an extent that works. I know lots of people are hooked on Destiny and see it as a social experience, just like WoW. But I think Diablo really nails the loot loop, giving you shiny new items at a quick enough pace to keep you invested. In my time with Destiny, those feel-good endorphins just weren't triggering enough to keep me coming back.

I almost wonder if Borderlands nailed this way before anyone else. I played the first two games for much longer than any other shooter, not because the campaign was better or because it was less grindy. I played more because the randomized equipment meant there was always a chance to find something better. If you're going to make a game that forces you to grind, having randomized attributes really seems like the way to go.

Daniel Perez: I think the grind becomes too much when your daily routine revolves around a game in order to obtain loot or rewards on a specific time and day. I have a friend who plays Destiny religiously, is a part of a clan, and helps others achieve their goals. It's to a point where I consider it weird when he's not online playing Destiny. I asked him what's his main reason for playing, and he tells me "to get the best loot possible."

I could understand why that'd be enjoyable for people who buy a small amount of games in a year as the grind can keep them entertained for months on end, all the while their wallet gets nice and fat from all of the money they haven't spent on games. I, on the other hand, haven't spent that amount of time with any game for several years now. That's why a game like The Order: 1886 is ideal for me.

There was a recent controversy about the length of The Order: 1886. Many believed a game like that should last somewhere between 10 - 20 hours, and were shocked to hear a YouTuber completed the game in around 5 hours. Mind you, he rushed through the game as fast as he could. But I don't see why a highly-polished game ending when it should end is a bad thing? There's nothing more I hate than when a game throws in a bunch of quests or objectives that offer nothing to the story, and instead is placed just to add false value by adding more time players spend with the game.

Watts: I think that brings up an interesting point about game length, Daniel. There's been a lot of discussion around it this week because of The Order, and the kind of grindy padding is almost the inverse of it. I think most people complaining about The Order's length aren't exactly looking for a grind either, but it really helps illustrate the extremes.

Steven Wong: I think a lot has to do with a personal sense of work vs reward. Although I enjoyed Diablo 3, the drop system didn't really become "good" until the Loot 2.0 system was patched in. I'm sure that's lost on console players, but rare and legendary items used to be VERY hard to come by, and I'd end up using the same armor and weapons pieces for long stretches of the game because I hated the Auction House. The best way to get matching Legendary set pieces was to replay the same areas, with more people, at higher difficulties, while wearing whatever crap you managed to pick up. It was not... ideal.

Anyway, I've heard it argued that the grind is the game. To complain about the grind is to complain about the gameplay. I don't necessarily think that grind is a terrible thing, but it's a matter of how well it blends into gameplay. All MMOs have fetch quests, but WoW stands out to me because used to be a mission where you had to collect bear skins, and for some reason, only one out of every ten bears had skin. When you're stuck running back and forth across an area, competing with a dozen other players, waiting for stupid bears to respawn - that's when you've crossed the line that separates fun from tedium. On the flip side, unlocking signature weapons in Far Cry 4 by doing stuff that I would normally do anyway fits into what I view as acceptable grind.

After playing so many RPGs, I think I'm starting to have less patience for the grind. I don't do any missions that don't lead to a big reward, I don't like having to sit and wait for something to happen, and I refuse to adjust my personal schedule to conform to in-game events. I just don't want a game to rule my life like that.

Perez: Your last point brings up something that I personally enjoy doing in RPGs and games with RPG-like elements, and that's side quests. Side quests can feel grind-y if they don't go anywhere and don't offer any real benefit. But if the writers take the time to give me some kind of incentive, like the Forlorn Farm quest in Diablo 3 or the Gunslinger mission in Dying Light, then I don't feel like I wasted my time as much since I received some kind of entertainment from it. The same goes for side quests that offer some sweet loot.

There have been some side quests I experienced in Dragon Age 3 that went absolutely nowhere. I mean, I did get experience points and maybe some crafting items, but ultimately, I want quests that offer more than gaining XP for fetching an NPC something they probably don't even really need.

Hawkins: I have to agree with Daniel's last point. I like rewards. If the grind leads to a great piece of story, or some situation that I really find interesting I'm all down for working through it to complete the side-quest. However, it's become a thing (going back to the Destiny deal) with games to want players to grind for nothing. This is especially evident with Destiny as the game's loot system runs completely off of a RNG (Random Number Generator) setup. This means you could spend 8 hours a day playing the game and take the chance of NEVER walking away with anything good. It's virtually like playing Blackjack against the most stacked dealer ever. 

However, if something like a side-quest, or even a mission in Destiny, were to offer some sort of GUARANTEED reward I think it would become more acceptable. As to Steven pointing out that some people think "the grind is the game"... well, I think they're wrong.

Games are a form of entertainment. They're meant to give you time to get lost in a different world, and maybe even forget about your problems in life at the moment. But, when you enter in a huge grind-fest to extend your game's lifespan... well you take away the entertainment of it all and make it more like work and less like play.

Wong: When I say the grind is the game, I mean it literally. You need to kill X things to reach the next level. That's a grind. But, if you were going to kill those things anyway, or get a special sense of joy out of killing those things, then all the better. The grind is acceptably been integrated into the gameplay. People accept different levels of grind. Some people don't mind doing the same things over and over again just to get an inch further than where they were. But after playing more MMOs and RPGs than I care to remember, I've lost a lot of patience for it. But there is no such thing as XP/level/skill unlock based game with no grind. I would even argue that a lot of rogue-likes are basically grind fests, but fun ones.

It's when developers kind of go overboard, or can't figure out what to do when players reach max level, that a game starts to get in trouble. That's when games start to reach an escalation point. They have to throw in as much time consuming content as possible to keep players in. That often means a lot of work for little reward.

To Daniel's point, I make some exceptions for side missions. It depends on what it is, where I think it's heading, and what rewards lay at the end. I'm happy to forgo a reward if the side mission story is really interesting. 


WHAT CHATTY HAS TO SAY

Vincent Grayson: This is a hard question to answer without resorting to something short and simple like: the grind is too much as soon as it feels like a grind.

But really, I think that's the answer. There are people who can happily commit to games full of what most people consider "grind", like the vast majority of MMO endgames, Diablo 3 (and its like), and many RPGs, because to them, those things are still fun enough in and of themselves, or at least they support/enhance their ability to tackle more interesting content.

Personally, I draw the line at feeling like I "have to" grind to make the next part of a game fun.

I'll never be the kind of person to run say, the same dungeon in an MMO over and over to get a rare mount drop. To me, the gameplay involved there just isn't rewarding or fun enough to merit doing the same thing over and over and over and hoping to get lucky.

I feel the same about games that have cool post-game content (say, super hard optional bosses), but that require you first to grind out levels/items/etc on boring/uninteresting/repetitive content until you're adequately prepared/equipped to do those fun challenges. But I'll happily play the same basic content over and over in a game like Diablo 3 because I like the act of playing the game, and I'm not "grinding" in D3 just in hopes of getting better gear so I can get to the real fun later. I'm having fun pretty much 100% of the time in D3.

xsoultbrothax: We talked about this at a Shackmeet, I think. I hate grinding when it becomes a given... when there's zero chance I'm going to lose, have anything interesting happen, and the circumstances of the grind will always be the same with no variety. You'll reach the end, it's just a matter of time. And a robot could do it for me.

Stuff like grinding gathering/pickup skills in MMOs, or grinding against easy enemies for $ or XP in RPGs. Also endurance races in racing games where you completely outstrip the other cars, and there's zero challenge. The 'endgame' of Diablo 2 was borderline for me, but the Cow Level crossed the line (my highest characters generally petered out around 80-90) - I largely switched to PvP in that game.

The grind in games like World of Tanks doesn't bother me so much because the individual battles have variety, by large. I was also really happy Bravely Default let me auto-set the combat for its possible grinds, so I happily abused it. :D

-TKF-: Very easy, when the grind doesn't equal the reward, and usually it is up to each individual to weight that one out. The good games balance this to a very good extent, so that there is always small rewards (side rewards) on the way to the bigger goal.

Hemtroll: I think the reason I give up on grinds is mainly that I'm not making noticeable progress. Grinding the same thing over and over again is what kills me, really. I've played games where you essentially grind levels and gear all the time but you still progress, the enemies change and the environment changes so you're grinding different things. Repeating the same area/quest/enemy over and over again does it for me. Every game is different though.


Want to see the rest of the responses? Check out the original Chatty thread.

 Itching for more of our opinions and thoughts? Check out last week's Spotlight.

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