Kev's thoughts on Grinding and Mmo.vs.Mmo

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Kev's thoughts on Grinding and Mmo.vs.Mmo

Post  Kevlar on Wed Jan 19, 2011 5:31 pm

So having oddly nothing to do, I decided to hunt up some more obscure articles about the old republic and came upon this interview.

GDC Online 2010: Star Wars: The Old Republic designer Damion Schubert examines how and why fantasy MMORPG-style grinding gameplay has infected social and console games.

Who was there: Damion Schubert, principal lead systems designer on Star Wars: The Old Republic at BioWare Austin. He previously worked on Shadowbane and Meridian 59.

What they talked about: Schubert began by defining the grind, or the treadmill that designers implement to extend the life of their games. It's asking players to do something they don't want to do, usually when they'd prefer to be doing something else.

Look for creative use of the grind in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Grinding doesn't just imply leveling up or getting experience points, he noted. It's a version of grinding almost any time the player asks why they have to do something, such as get to a certain level of the tech tree in Civilization before they can drop nukes, or play through single-player in a racing game to unlock all the tracks for multiplayer. Having made massively multiplayer online role-playing games for 15 years, Schubert said he's well acquainted with the grind, as it bears a specific stigma on the genre he's made a career in.

Schubert acknowledged there are good reasons for designers to implement grinding in their games, such as extending the life of the experience and giving a reason to purchase the game instead of rent it. However, players generally don't care about those reasons. For them, grinding isn't intrinsically rewarding, Schubert said.

Fun in games is all about players being introduced to a pattern, learning it, beating it, and moving on to the next pattern. Grinding takes place in that bit of the loop after players have beaten the pattern and aren't interested in it any longer, but the designer won't let them move on to the next pattern.

Despite the complaints about grinding, players like the payoff they get from going through it. Schubert said the first time the Old Republic team ever had somebody complain about grinding in the game was when they dropped items that were too high level in the newbie area. At the same time, when those players did reach the prerequisite level for the item, they liked that they got instant and substantial rewards in being able to use that equipment. Additionally, grinding gives players a little bit of direction to get them started in the world.

Grinding is a matter of perception, Schubert said. For the people who play World of Warcraft with the intent of running high-end arenas or seeing the end game, the leveling up is a grind. But to more casual World of Warcraft players who never aspire to those things, the leveling up is the reward. It's about the journey for those gamers, not the destination.

For MMOGs specifically, replay adds greatly to the grind factor. The first time a player goes through and maxes a character level, Schubert said it's still a novel experience. But going through the same content with a second or third character makes it a grind. For The Old Republic, Schubert said the developers made sure every class had its own advancement path to keep things fresh for players going through the game with a second character.

In a moment of blunt honesty, Schubert also admitted that the grind is cheap and robust. Handcrafted content can be devoured by players much faster than it can be created, and for MMOGs or Facebook games, developers need to keep giving people new content as a reason to log in and play.

While there's often a good reason for using the grind, Schubert said it's an assumption that should always be challenged. However, a little novelty can go a long way, Schubert stressed. Developers can break up the grind with humor, interesting interactions, new game mechanics, or, in the case of a licensed game, new bits of content referencing the source material. He also stressed that randomly generated content doesn't necessarily equal novelty. Randomly generated content has to present something that players care about.

Schubert also said that not all grinds are created equal. He pointed to a graph showing how much time it took players to grind to the next level in World of Warcraft, showing that the leveling pace accelerated as players reached thresholds, like getting a mount at level 40.

In the original test of The Old Republic, Schubert said the team had structured quests much like in other games, where players would arrive in a new area and collect quests in rapid-fire succession. However, they found players were quickly overwhelmed by the abundance of story and conversations, such that even the handcrafted content was starting to feel grindlike to the players. As a result, the team decided to space out the "gold standard" quests, supplementing them in places with bonus mini-quests that are delivered midmission.

After a brief warning and a plea to the press not to misconstrue his comments, Schubert said developers have to slow down the pace at which they give rewards. He pointed to MMOGs that spread out the advancement, such that the first 30 levels proceed at one cadence, with the later levels going much slower. He stressed that developers should keep the cadence consistent, or players will feel like they're slogging through molasses as soon as they hit the slower rewards schedule.

Schubert also said developers need to avoid absurd quests like asking players to kill 5,000 goblins. Players are good optimizers, he said, so they'll just find the easiest place to kill goblins and stay there until it's done. That means an abundance of repetition, and repetition is the devil.

Developers can use the grind to their advantage, Schubert said. By overlapping grinds, developers can give players a variety of rewards at different paces. He pointed to Civilization as an example of a wealth of grinds, from the Golden Age meter, to each city's growth and production progress. That means players are never far from making progress somewhere, so the game doesn't feel so much like a grind.

Players hate the grind so much that developers can give them experience or resource points for logging back in, and players will react favorably. In Civilization, players can cash in a great person to bypass the grind and instantly research a technology or build a wonder. In Mafia Wars, players can pay money to bypass the grind, and they will.

There are added complications when designing a grind. Schubert mentioned again that players are great at finding the optimal path through a developer's maze to find the cheese. Significant death penalties in games can also create grindlike behavior, as it encourages players to stop taking chances or exploring. It just persuades them to return to patterns they already know they can beat. Schubert wants players to try more things, so he advocated lower death penalties.

Social grinds are also a problem for Schubert. The idea of needing to find a group to advance is limiting, Schubert said, and it's one MMOGs have often bypassed. However, social games embrace grouping, because players can either pay to bypass that grind or enlist friends to help, at which point the social game gets free promotion.

Schubert said competitive grinds are secretly scary, pointing to leaderboards as an example. It may drive people to kill more enemies and top the leaderboards, but only one person can be at the top, and the rest will either fail or decide they'll never be at the top and not try for it. That's a good reason to wipe leaderboards on a regular basis, Schubert said.

Grinding to keep items or property from decaying also drives players away, Schubert said. While it can be good to keep them coming back at first, as soon as they go on vacation and miss their upkeep window, losing that item or property serves as a great reason to never play the game again.

To address the issues, Schubert said designers should be kind. Maybe they don't need to offer 500-hour play cycles or require players to log on every single day. He also stressed the importance of being inclusive, giving the players rewards and letting them be valuable to their teams from the outset instead of locking the great content away behind too much playtime.

Then there's what Schubert called "the slutty design." If a competitor's game has a grind that players don't like at all, it's a tremendous opportunity for developers to make a "sluttier" game and give the milk away for free. For example, The Sims Online locked some of the house customization content away, but players weren't willing to endure it when they could always fire up The Sims and enter in a free money cheat to do basically the same thing. That's why death penalties are less harsh, and lots of genres are getting easier over time.

Quote: "Why do we make people kill 10 rats? Because it never, ever, ever ****ing breaks."

Takeaway: Players generally perceive the grind as being bad, but there are good reasons for developers to invoke it. The key is that they implement it intelligently and do their best to keep it from feeling transparently grindlike.

It got me thinking, it is true that almost all mmo's that I've thus played so far featured EXTENSIVE grinding.

Unlike Schubert, I've always classed grinding as a trivial/pointless errand given to the player which is of no interest. But regardless the player has to carry out in order to gain some type of reward or to advance further in the game.

But after reading this article I find the Bioware dev does make some sense, it is almost IMPOSSIBLE to make an mmo without some form of grinding. Because as he said, it is a insanely cheap way to extend content. By effectively making you go over the same content multiple times before introducing new content.
It is a fair tactic if you think about it, it takes many man-hours of labor to create ten minutes of detailed content in game. So it only makes sense to 'reuse' (for a lack of a better term) content where possible.

I guess where most mmo's fail at in the whole 'grind-fest' aspect is that they fail to make the grind fun. Where the player is not actually paying attention to the game, rather it's become a chore, something they must muddle through in order to get the reward/advance.

Afterall, (although I can think of precise examples of this.) heaps of single player games manage to make FUN grinds all the time. FPS's, RPG's, RTS's...
I mean take FPS's for example, the majority of fps's is the same thing. Shooting thousands of people in the face consecutively for hours at a time. Yet they still manage to 'convince' the player that they are not in a grind.
RPG's take pretty much masses of clones of the standard mob/variants and throw them at you constantly. You manage to slaughter through hours of this using pretty much a relatively meager selection of weapons or attacks without feeling that its a 'grind'
RTS's are king of the hidden grind. Almost every level you go through the same routine of setting up your base, training up your troops, fending off the enemies attack, out teching your enemy then rushing them. Only to go through the same thing almost exactly again the next map. Yet most of the time it doesn't feel like a grind.

So why has almost all mmo's that I can think of failed so spectacularly at developing a system where by essentially the player is simply repeating content. Yet still managing to convince the player that they are doing something interesting and amusing/fun?



As a side note, I was reading through the comments and I see the ever present comment.

"Omgz, TOR is going to be WoW-killer"
"WoW cannot be killed, blizzard ownz."

Seriously, who gives a sh!t about WoW? I mean I played it for a couple of years, got to 60 with alliance rogue. Was pretty excited when Burning Crusade came out. etc.

Eventually though... it got old...

I mean, most of you know, I'm the last person who beats on old games. In fact I think most older classics are better then the new mainstream crap they are pumping out these days.

However, you don't see me going around saying, OMG... Crysis 2 is going to own Duke3D!!

WoW is 7~8 years old. Get over it.

Secondly, and also. Stop comparing things to it. It's pointless.
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Kevlar


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Re: Kev's thoughts on Grinding and Mmo.vs.Mmo

Post  Rygal Blaqk on Thu Jan 20, 2011 3:56 am

Nothing to do with the grinding topic, I don't mind grinding at all personally.

That happens when you're brought up on asian mmos Wink..

But, I saw this interesting video/blog on guildlaunch last night. (I host/manage/administrate a guild site on it)

Ignore the WoW references, as it can apply to mostly every big MMO, but heres the blog, watch the video, it is.. rather interesting.

http://www.guildlaunch.com/blog/?p=427
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Re: Kev's thoughts on Grinding and Mmo.vs.Mmo

Post  Jasterk Staren on Thu Jan 20, 2011 5:46 am

Most interesting. The thing that makes me get bored of most mmo's is the quest to kill 5,000 goblins.

My time is valuable. Give me a story and give me a quest not a grocery store list, entertain me.


The opportunity cost of me killing 5,000 goblins, is much higher. I can build a model or read a book or work or do other fun things.
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Re: Kev's thoughts on Grinding and Mmo.vs.Mmo

Post  Kevlar on Thu Jan 20, 2011 7:18 am

Didn't I post that TedTalk up on here ages ago? Like last year July or something?

But yeah, it's an interesting thought.
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Kevlar


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Re: Kev's thoughts on Grinding and Mmo.vs.Mmo

Post  Illian Amerond on Thu Jan 20, 2011 12:05 pm

I think the real problem is that in order to break the cycle of grinding the developers would have to come up with some type of community structure to allow for jobs, education and other aspects of the 'leveling' process that becomes a long and drawn out process. I think what they should actually say with regards to the grind process is that they are to shallow and unintuitive to break out of their lazy habits when the sheep (read 60% of the common gamer) do not really give a crap since end game is all they want.

I can see where he really wanted to say 'why develop a fully fleshed MMO with rich and captivating content when over 80% of the players don't read shit and the rest of the 19% have more fun trolling those who do not read to really give a crap about the content at all.' So the real issue becomes why develop the content when the gamer does not deserve it Very Happy Simple logic really.

Any who I love the grind as long as there are different grinds to do, but the same fkn mission over and over again to pop level is really retarded since their dev budget eclipses all other projects to date.
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Re: Kev's thoughts on Grinding and Mmo.vs.Mmo

Post  Rygal Blaqk on Thu Jan 20, 2011 12:35 pm

Kevlar wrote:Didn't I post that TedTalk up on here ages ago? Like last year July or something?

But yeah, it's an interesting thought.

Really?

Shows how much I read YOUR posts Wink
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Re: Kev's thoughts on Grinding and Mmo.vs.Mmo

Post  Kevlar on Thu Jan 20, 2011 12:39 pm

Rygal Blaqk wrote:Really?

Shows how much I read YOUR posts Wink

/Muttermumble

So mean. =\
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Kevlar


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Re: Kev's thoughts on Grinding and Mmo.vs.Mmo

Post  Kevlar on Thu Jan 20, 2011 6:20 pm

Illian Amerond wrote:I can see where he really wanted to say 'why develop a fully fleshed MMO with rich and captivating content when over 80% of the players don't read shit and the rest of the 19% have more fun trolling those who do not read to really give a crap about the content at all.' So the real issue becomes why develop the content when the gamer does not deserve it Very Happy Simple logic really.

I understand what you are saying and in many ways I agree. But I think I have a slightly different definition of 'content' when I'm talking about grinding is basically repeating the same content over and again to extend it's life.

I think when you say content, you mean like, the story and the scenery and such.

When I talk about content, I mean like, the models, the animations, the mission types and puzzles/challenges. Grinding to me is repeating 'content' over again in a pattern that provokes boredom or frustration for little or trivial reason/objective.

One of the PRIME examples of grinding in a semi-mmo game was Hellgate London. When it first came out, it was f'ing awesome, me and my friend played online for 12 hours straight.

But then after a couple of days of marathon Hellgate London, we quickly realized that even though ALL the levels were randomly generated. It was generating them out of a very limited preset selection of mobs, environments, mission/challenges. And the skills you get when you leveled were largely variations of the skills you currently possess.

Things very quickly turned into a 'grind' despite every next zone being completely different randomly generated level. It felt trivial and pointless.
We even coined the term. 'Shoe-box to Shoe-box' to describe what was most significantly wrong with the game. Yeah every level is randomly generated, even the side quests. But you were still very aware that you were simply zoning from one randomly generated shoebox to the next randomly generated shoebox. And essentially doing the same thing all over again.

The story itself just wasn't enough to drive us through the whole plot.

That was a grind and just made me and my friend quit playing completely. Hellgate London died 5 months later with the official server closing down. =(
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Re: Kev's thoughts on Grinding and Mmo.vs.Mmo

Post  Jeme'Maer on Thu Jan 20, 2011 10:40 pm

hmm, I believe there are two types of grinds, and just like cholesterol, there is good grind, and bad grind.

Good grind is what most people enjoy, killing a mob, or collecting some items with a twist, or for a good reason. For example, you could get a quest/mission from guy A, who needs you to kill x# of guy B in order to prevent being overrun. To help you, guy A gives you a (insert cool item/vehicle here) in order to help you achieve that quest/mission.

Bad grind is what I personally hate the most -_-. This usually happens whenever a quest/mission giver wants you to collect 50 boar tusks without any help whatsoever, making it a time consuming, wasteful thing to do.

I do agree though that there needs to be grind in the game, most games in general have some form of grind.
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Re: Kev's thoughts on Grinding and Mmo.vs.Mmo

Post  Illian Amerond on Fri Jan 21, 2011 12:18 am

Actually when I discuss content I mean the substance of the game. Take Pillers of Garendall for instance, all though it was only released on the MAC operating system it was a revolutionary game. You could steal anything, do just about anything, every object was a potential weapon/armor of some type and there was little boundaries to the game. Now that was not the lynch pin... NPC's remember your name and fame/infamy, monsters could loose sight of you but track you down because you have not bathed or left a trail of blood... that is the depth and dynamics of the game.

Animations and models and so forth are just lazy artists and budget restrictions. I have seen better substance in a 2D shooter then I have in most all the MMO 3D games in the last decade. The grind comes when you no longer have missions to do or any real objectives until your next level milestone. Then the devs allow you to repeat the game content over and over again until you reach that level milestone. Also grinding is when you have to get x of y drop to make items ect... Grinding only occurs in games with a leveling matrix. In all other games there is no grind per se but training and so forth as there is little to no barrier to you doing any thing in the game save the idea you need to earn it or find it.

Take for instance Dungeon Seige, the game allowed you to use any item/armor you wanted, you may not be skilled to get all the bonuses but you could use it. Also the game has no leveling system, the only grind is to get better at using your weapons, armor or magic and that does not feel like a grind because it is realistic application of real life. We all work to get better at things like sitting on our asses for prolonged periods of time playing games and what not Very Happy We do not however go out into the world and repeat the same tasks over and over again... wait I believe we call that work >.< but you get my point.

With relation to MMO's the grind is only present because they are not intelligent enough to make it work and are to lazy/conceited to want to do otherwise. Yes story is nice and more than 3 different trees would be wonderful but the absence of doing z quest till you nose bleeds to get to y level would be amazing.
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