Thinking: MMOs and grinding

It’s time to write this! I still don’t know what my suggestions will be, and I bet I’ll have a wild discussion about it, but I can’t let the blog fall because I hold this post too long.

Before I start, I should mention that my MMO-experience is limited to 2 or so years of World of Warcraft, 12 or so hours with Guild Wars and 10 minutes or so with Tibia (then I got bored, killed and quit). But I’ve gotten the impression that WoW is very similar in the grind-aspect to many other MMOs, so I think I have experience enough to talk.

So, Grinding. To repeatedly doing one task over, and over, and over and over. Like killing a monster. Or doing a dungeon. Over and over and over. I really wonder if anyone considers this to be “fun”. Many of us probably don’t think about that it’s just the same thing over and over – just one more level, just one more quest, just this one item – but you tend to think about it when you have no close-by goal.

It’s the later of these I don’t like. At all. To grind without a close-by, clear, goal. Because it gets very dull, and fast. It makes, at least me, bored. And it, in the long term, makes me quit. I really can’t imagine I’m alone at that, and that makes the “unmotivated grind” something to think about for developers. Sure, WoW has millions of players and a grinding-aspect, but do they play because their friends play or because they enjoy the grinding? I think they play despite the grinding, and not because of it.

And this is where it gets difficult for me. What do I think one can do to “solve” this? Firstly, there should be short goals that feels motivated. For example, one lumber jack wants you to cut 10 trees, because he needs to get those sold to get himself food, but he can’t because a bear bit him. Another lumber jack just asks you to cut 100 trees. Which one would be more likely you want to do? Much of the unmotivated grinding today is that second lumber jack.

Another thing is to not repeat the same thing over and over too much in a short time. Take repeatable quests. Yes, these puts up a short clear goal (cut 10 more trees), but then you just move the grinding from the monster to the quest. So why not make variations on this repeatable. One option can be “cut 10 trees south of here” and another “cut 5 oaks south of here” and a third “cut 15 trees north of here” etc. With many variations of the same topic, it could feel more motivated.

Yet another thing, this one concerning dungeons, is to actually set a static goal to get an item instead of the “maybe, maybe not” that is raiding. I know, no-one would do the dungeon after they’ve reached that goal – so make it harder! Increase the difficulty the longer the group comes to their goal, set new phases on bosses or actions to take care of. Say a group of 20 needs 10 badges each to reach their goal. That’s a total of 200 badges. If the group has less then 50 together, the dungeon is quite easy and teaches the fundamentals of the monsters and bosses. When the total reaches 50, it becomes a bit harder, and so again on 100 and 150 and again at 200 – now the same dungeon is very difficult with a lot of things to take care of. It’s still a grind, yes, but at least it’s refreshing. Oh, and stuff bought with those badges still count to the total.

And then there’s the obvious, and incredibly effective, idea of leveling. I think I’ve had a say against leveling earlier, or I’m going to, but it is a really good motivator (if your close to leveling). If the levels are short, you could often feel “not that far to the next level”. Not to long, to give that feeling, but not too short to make a level feel trivial, either.

On in-game money-grinding, I have another suggestion that could be quite controversial: As players spend a lot of time on their game, they have a lot of time to use and perhaps not a time-consuming job to take care to. And those who have a time-consuming job to take care to perhaps has money but scarce time. And, as time is money, let the latter group buy in-game money and design the game around this being allowed. After all, why force those with scarce time to spend it getting gold? Why force those with scare money to spend it on getting gold?

Seems like I had a few suggestions, after all. A few of them got to my head just as I wrote this, but perhaps I’ve been having them but not just think about it.

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