The Good or Grueling Grind

It would seem at first glance that I have been rather hypocritical of late, and I’ve been struggling a little with this conundrum myself. I have written before about my feelings on the recent content updates in GW2 and how a lot the mechanics feel rather grindy to the point I can’t be bothered with them most times. Yet I’ve been playing Firefall for some time now and I’m still more than comfortable with the grind there and just thumping all night to gain more and more materials.

Firefall by design, with its huge amount of resources are needed to progress and limited event styles is inherently a very grindy game. Then you have item durability and loss making it a grind that technically never ends only lessens. Coming from my previous post you might of thought I was one of those greedy, self-involved demanding casuals that wants everything just given to them, I even thought that for a time. All I needed though was a system I was more comfortable with.

A Call for Control

The big part I believe comes down to having a sense of agency in your play. I yearn for a sense of control in the game’s I play and like directing my own experience. Having agency in your actions means being able to play the content and activities you enjoy, not being pressured into other areas. It means being able to create your own experiences rather than them being delivered to you. Being in control of your character is an important part as it helps you feel immersed and aids you in creating your own stories yet too often that sense of agency is taken away. when there are demands to do certain things that aren’t characteristic it can make you conflicted.

One big issue I’ve come into is the gating of content or items behind specific tasks and activities. Having to do one, or a handful of specific kill/collect quest styles that bear no relation to my usual play is not good gameplay. That is not to say there shouldn’t be some filler as it’s good to feel like you have earned things but there needs to be a range of activities in many different areas variability in play that you can do in order to unlock these things. I think I big part of my enjoyment in Firefall is that I’m not just stuck with a single map or area doing the same actions. I regularly use T but I do so in different locales, monster spawns are more random, and the difficulty is changeable as well; then there is the fact each and every activity is still rewarding in ways that help you in your goals. In GW2 I’m stuck doing a checklist of things that are prescribed to me.

Seeking the Shiny

Need can relate to this sense of control but is a very tricky subject as everyone’s definition of what they need is highly personal. How much you may need to do something can come from a number of factors, not just about gear and all of these can add up to having a sense of obligation to attain these things. Jeromai at Why I Game had a nice post recently exploring that sense of obligation to a game as well as an interesting quote from are researcher, when a person feel obligated to do something this can lead to a loss of autonomy. A sense that you are no longer in control of your fate eventually either leads to an urge for change, then burnout.

Now I don’t think it is entirely up to the players to avoid this sense of obligation as the developers have a big part to play in designing these mechanics. You might have to do certain activities in order to get to the stuff you do like be it content or that new shiny piece, regardless of the motive the activity is often an end to a means. Many mmo’s encourage that sense of always trying to be more powerful and aspire to bigger numbers, it is a rather influential tactic which has a large population compelled to repeat content and stay on an ever-moving treadmill to the top. Then there is how it seems to be developed as a competition with others wherein you need to constantly “keep up with the Jones’s”, how players are constantly comparing themselves to others. Also, if you add a feature there is a good chance players will just do it because it’s there, whether they like it or not.

A Challenging Chore

The amount of grind plays a big part as well and as usual a bad amount of grind really comes back to personal opinion, an excessive amount to one will not be to others. I believe the one part that really irritates people is repetition, players can and do manage with grind far better when it is variable and they have a certain choice in how they go about the grind. Even just different style or locations of the same kill quest can make it more interesting. Grind isn’t a bad thing, items you have gained, crafted or won feel more meaningful if you have taken effort to get them but I do believe that everything should be achievable by the average player in a reasonable amount of time.

I also don’t really like the idea of time gated grind in the slightest… logging in frequently is a huge responsibility and players have varying schedules that will often conflict with such a thing and if this happens players feel like they are missing out. Players play on different days and in varying batches so a more flexible system would be better for everyone. Instead of dailies it should be a weekly, or even more… if you have them at all. Players should also be able to play more in order to gain more, that really should be a given. Who cares if they gain more than someone playing less, shouldn’t they? And is it any worse to have an advantage this one than someone who can log in every day. Also bringing it back to less time gated content means regular or new players can catch up easier when they do have the time. Gating by a time grind also places a huge obligation on players too, one they are often not happy with.

I’m sure there are many other important parts in this equation, big and small regarding players motivations and it’s interplay between mmo mechanics. I don’t think we are at a point yet were they have got this right, in fact I think in recent times with all this experimentation on mechanics and gameplay because of the use of psychologists and walls of data that it has actually gotten worse. It has become a science around compulsion rather than a design around experiences, this may result in more advanced systems that better accommodate players in the future but they seem to be taking the data as gospel rather than just another theory to integrate with others. Players are diverse people and a mean, effect size and standard deviation do not/ can not explain it all.

There will always be grind, In the end it comes down to finding the grind you enjoy.