Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Grinding and unhappiness and clue #5

I’ve been playing some World Of tanks. I’ve played before in the beta, now I’ve started for real. I haven’t spent any money on it yet. For those unaware, WOT is a free + microtransactions game. You earn gold and experience in the game to buy and research better tanks and crew, or you can just go and buy them with real money.

I don’t play normal MMO games any more because of my dislike of the tedium of ‘grinding’. To me, grinding is a failure of design. It’s an admission that the actual game isn’t very fun, so you need to stretch it out as slowly as possible so people pay a lot in subscription fees to you before you run out of content. It’s cynical. Imagine any other medium of ‘entertainment’ introducing a grind. Imagine a crime novel where you had to read through 12 almost identical chapters of the detective interviewing a witness before you could ‘level up’ and get rewarded by a chapter with a new clue. It’s just silly. We don’t do it in TV, Movies, or Plays, but in games, making the player do a tedious job to earn the next bit of entertainment is considered fine.

I found when playing WOT last night that I wasn’t having any fun at all. I wanted a better tank than the tractor with a pistol that you start with, and It seemed I got points for just being ‘in’ a battle and spotting an enemy tank before I died, so I played 10 quick battles where I just hurtled towards the enemy and died, to get the points. No fun for me, or them. No entertainment was had. And yet, at the same time, people whizz past me in better tanks, not because they are better at the game, but because they have more free time, or more money. I could sense that as a player, this subtly makes me unhappy, frustrated and jealous. This is not fun.

In Gratuitous Space Battles you sometimes get a player-designed challenge with faster ships, but that speed has come at a tradeoff. The player had the same points and the same components as you, they just re-arranged them differently using their own judgement and skill. That is what games should be about. A level playing field, and instant fun with no grind. I sadly accept I’m in the minority on this :(

Anyway, time for another clue. Nobody had a clue what clue#4 was did you? I’m dissapointed in you :D It’s  a very very specific form of art, from a very specific point in history.


Clue #5


18 thoughts on Grinding and unhappiness and clue #5

  1. Your complaints sound a lot like David Sirlin’s, and mine.

    I’d love to see you and Sirlin collaborate some day- either for the spectacular game or spectacular murder trial. You guys really share the same philosophy.

    The free MMO’s are the worst. One game that comes to mind was something called Exteel, which was an NCSoft game that got cancelled. In the beta, it was a spectacularlly fun game, with giant robots blasting each other and lots of variety. Then, they added the MMO grind- and the game grinded to a halt.

    I’ve learned my lesson and now avoid all MMOs like the plague

  2. Someone once convinced me to play Metin2, and that game is made of grind once you’re past about level 10. You basically get one or two quests per level which give you almost no XP, and beyond that you just have to hang around for months (literally at the higher levels) just killing the local wildlife over and over again. Between that and other questionable design choices, I gave it up quickly.

    On the other hand, I’ve found LOTR Online to be surprisingly absent of grinding. I’m level 30 at the moment and have never ran out of side-quests. In fact, at many points I had more side-quests available than I could have active at one time (which is up to 40). Not only that, but the main storyline is absolutely massive. The game is free plus microtransactions and/or optional subscription. Best of all, you can buy a month’s subscription (£9.95) and when it expires you still have almost all of the free gaming restrictions removed.

  3. Another game was DarkOrbit. Great game at the start (flying around in a spaceship and vaping aliens), however the buyuable currency was needed for almost everything good. Granted, NPCs dropped some of the special currency, but it was insane trying to grind for such a long time. It didn’t help when the devs for the game added more and more expensive features, which in my opinion ruined the game completely. Nowadays, to be “the best,” you have to spend $300+ dollars (unless you want to spend months or even YEARS of grinding).

  4. There’s your idea of “grind” and there’s everyone else’s idea of “grind”…

    I played WoW for years, did everything it offered and never felt it was a “grind”. Obviously I eventually reached the point it was unavoidable – so I quit – but I had a tonne of fun before that.

    This “I resent that he’s got better gear because he has more time” is a common attitude but it’s childish and snarky IMO. Everyone has the same time – 24 hours in the day – it’s just some chose to spend it doing something you don’t want to and yet you feel that shouldn’t give them an advantage for some reason??

    Who are you to lay down the law of the parameters within which people play a game?

    Why shouldn’t outright effort count for something – are you saying that ONLY outright skill should prevail?

    “Grind” is prevalent in games which offer a persistent world – in fact I can’t think of one where it’s not there – perhaps it’s only mirroring reality, that a ‘world’ has to contain “humdrum” in order to contain “wonder”?

    Anyway , surely the massive successes that are WoW, Eve et al suggest that some players actually enjoy “grind” and as a game designer, you should bear that in mind???

  5. “Nowadays, to be “the best,” you have to spend $300+ dollars (unless you want to spend months or even YEARS of grinding).”

    Sadly or not I know many people who have been paying $15 per month to play WoW since its release. Leave out the price to buy the box and the expansions that’s about $1,260 and I bet not all of them “are the best” if they care at all to do any PvP.

    Some have time, some have money and others don’t have either. Can’t expect all games to be enjoyed by every single person on earth.

  6. How many more clues will there be until Game Four is released?

    Also, do you have a tentative release date?

  7. Well, imagine that you keep the battleground level: everyone starts with the same number of points to customize their tanks, always. Now, how do you reward someone for sticking with the game a long time? They won’t increase in skill to a uniform level, some people will ‘get it’, some will take a while, and some never will.

    But imagine if you balance things so that a player with a 20-point tank is matched against two players with 10-point tanks. In a game with up to 20 tanks on each side, you just have to sum each side’s tanks up to 200 points. Now you can level up as much as you want, but your challenge is balanced accordingly. It won’t be exact, so you may have to throw temporary power-ups at the side that is lower on points, but it will get the job done.

  8. World of Tanks can be played with the desire for the next best thing, or you can do like I do and enjoy the various units for what they are. Unlike most free to play games there is zero requirement move up the ladder. I keep a M2 Medium (a tier 2 tank) around because I have a 67% win ratio with it. I got that tank simply by enjoying the tier one tank for what it is (absurdly overpowered if you upgrade it as most people don’t).

    In other words, I find World of Tanks to be far less grindy because I enjoy the game play and when I do get new gear or a new tank, that is nothing but a bonus. I noticed another comment above where the player enjoyed World of Warcraft right up to the point he hit the mandatory grind, which as he points out is something take a casual player years to do.

    The problem lies not in the requirement to grind in these cases, but the self imposed deadline. My family plays DDO with me and it took us over a year to reach 20th level (the cap). We still haven’t run all the content and are looking forward to dipping our toe into the Epic re-runs that are available.

    All done, free to play… because we were in no hurry to be the biggest and baddest in the land. Free to play games subsidies casual players like me by feeding off those unwilling to wait for something.

  9. I have to admit I am surprised that someone mentions Sirlin. But yeah, he’s clever, and usually right.

    It gets worst when people try to play such games competitive. How can anything even be remotely competitive when you do not start out with the same chances? Imagine that anyone who has played more chess than you will have queens instead of bishops. As if that was even necessary!

    That is why I have stopped playing MMOs and most other online games that require micro transactions. Except for Bloodline Champions, which is awesome. Spend 30€ to unlock all you need. You get 17/21 classes and bonus in game currency, and you take more time to learn one class decently than to get enough coins to buy the next one. When you can play half of your 17, you have already bought all. It’s a great game.

    >Why shouldn’t outright effort count for something – are you saying that ONLY outright skill should prevail?
    Yes. Because you know what comes with pouring 300 hours into a game? A ton of skills learned. There is really no need to give someone additional bonuses for effort. Why do people play chess (or Starcraft, or Street FIghter)? To get better at it. Because that is what is the most fun. It’s not about winning, or receiving imaginary items. It’s about becoming a better player.

    Items that give you +20 Strength just give you the (wrong) impression of getting better, but you actually didn’t improve at all.

    Interestingly, some people understand this, some just don’t (want to). But if you ever do, you can never go back. Real enlightenment, so to speak. You’ll also be embarrassed that you actually spent a thousand hours in WoW, and grief for all that time that you could have spent on other things instead.

  10. Addendum: Bloodline Champions does not have any leveling at all. It’s a bit like an old-school shooter in that regard. You can buy more costumes though, which don’t do anything.

  11. @Dave Toulouse – I played WoW and off over 4 years – which means I spent £30*3 (Game + 2 expansions) + £9 a month making a total of somewhere between £300 and £400.

    For that I clocked-up about 6000 hours of playtime – if you use £/hour of fun there’s no game on earth that cheap.

    The other thing about MMOs is that they tend to take-over your gaming time to the exclusion of all else. You stop caring about every new release, you stop seeking out other ways to spend your time.

    In the 2.5 years I was an active WoW player I’d probably have spent at least 2-3 times that much on other games which I just skipped because I clearly didn’t really have time to play them.

    MMOs are a CHEAP way to play games – maybe this is another factor in their success with some people, those who have more time than money???

  12. @Kdansky – you clearly have this deluded idea that YOUR idea of playing games is the only one people should ever have – limited rules, limited world – and this fictional concept of ‘skill’ particularly irks me (because it means nothing).

    In the 1000s of hours I played WoW I explored an amazing world, I met new friends and socialised with them in that context (and since, outside it), I created a fictional (RP) blog for one of my characters, I wrote guides, I organised a couple of guilds/arena teams and I ENJOYED MYSELF – why would I regret that??

    There was never really any ‘winning’ as such – we did own the serverfirstmobile for a while but I never saw any of it as a competition or a race – it was, first and foremost, FUN.

    I assume you reject the silly idea that “playing games is a waste of time and childish” but you’re holding the arrogant/snobbish attitude that MMOs are in someway “sad” or a poor relation in gaming terms and I don’t get that.

    For the record, a friend of mine has buried FAR more time than I did in to WoW, into CS:S. I’m not knocking it – I’m not a gaming snob – but I’m equally surprised and impressed you can spend that long in what is a far, far more restricted game.

    Each to their own tho eh?

  13. As others have mentionned, this does remind me of a Tiger I’s mantlet ring.

    As for World of Tanks…. I enjoyed that game, but I’ll admit… -god- was starting hard and I nearly gave up the game there. Admitely, it doesn’t help that some of the starter tanks are deceptively weak(being thinly armored and slow). Myself though, I found myself more interested by the starting soviet tank after some upgrades than even some of the “better” tanks of a rank or two above. Though that’s mainly because it’s 37mm gun is… well “okay” at the start. But the second gun you get for it however… probably one of the best guns of the early tank ranks.

    Also, the point John Lopez is a good one. I found myself often verily enjoying the early tank ranks the mosts, because the thin armor and fast speed of the tanks at this “level” feel actually to my much more enjoyable than the slow prodding and sometimes frustrating “slug out” of the heavier tank classes when speed lose most of it’s importance. As such my favored tanks probably still remains the T-18(a very decent tank once fully upgraded, capable of taking on twice it’s size in tank despite being a “starter’s tractor tank”) and, on the german tree, the Panzer(38t)(the 4,7cm gun, ’nuff said >.>; ). Eventually, I got to a point where I went “Oh, cool. I have enough XP to unlock a new tank. That’s nice” even though I wasn’t actively looking to get higher in tank rank.

    My only gripe, would sadly be how the ranked game matchmaking felt skewed at times. Very oftens, in the early weight classes the matchmaking of ranked games would be very even(and when not, a starting tank could still have an impressive effect with just the right gun), but some of the later classes….. well, I won’t get into the pain of having to face a Tiger II when you are yourself…. in a T-34 with the lower velocity gun.(and that’s not talking about being stuck with the even weaker A-20 and having to face earely Tigers and IS tanks…. when note heavier).

  14. @John Peat
    I fully expected to get hit by a “that’s just your opinion” broad side. Note that I am only talking about WoW from a few hundred hours of played onwards.

    You classify your online friends as real friends. I have stopped playing WoW, and I have lost all contact to all but one of them in just a few months. They are not close friends to begin with, they are just acquaintances, nothing more. As soon as the common hobby goes away, the relationship ends. I thought they were real friends, and I was more than a bit surprised at how utterly irrelevant I was to them.

    Games are not a waste of time (any more than anything else but developing a cure to cancer). But MMOs in particular do not have what makes games fun. The fun thing in a game is to get better at the game. The act of learning is a fundamentally rewarding experience. It’s that point where you realize that you can now do something which you failed to in the past. Play 10 hours of any purely skill based game if you do not believe me, like Tetris, Chess, Go, Mario or Golf, or just learn a Language or a dance or an instrument instead.

    But WoW isn’t about that. WoW just pretends to be, by giving you +1 more agility on your items every two months. Your character may have improved, but you have not. If you think owning an item is rewarding, print out your own achievements and items, and pin them to your wall. They are more real than the ones in the game. But you’d just feel silly, because you have not earned it. But WoW cleverly hides the fact that there are very few challenges (Arena PVP, Hard modes) and everything else just pretends to be. Earning an item in WoW is easier than walking to your kitchen and getting yourself a glass of water, it just takes a bit more time.

    What WoW really is, is TV: You can watch it without paying attention, or thinking. If you enjoy TV, you can enjoy WoW. But it’s not the *game* that’s pulling you in.

    And lastly, you make a very good point yourself: You list activities which are not playing the game as being fun, such as creating guides (which is teaching, and teaching is one of the best ways to learn) or writing prose. You don’t need to grind seven hundred skeletons to do these things, they are fun in and of themselves.

    I cannot convince you, I can only teach you what’s going on. There is nothing that I can say that invalidates your opinion. I can only explain to you that you have not thought this through yet. Or have you written “+10 awesome” on your keyboard by now, and felt good about owning it? If owning imaginary +x items were fun, why didn’t you do it? ;)

  15. Steampunk, alternate WW2 timeline.

    This would account for the desire to allow for visually customisable units galore… and goggles, lots and lots of goggles. ;-)

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