MMO Rant #12: The Grind

Why do I have to spend so much time and effort to progress? What’s with the repetitive, uninteresting gameplay? Why can’t they come up with anything but kill quests? Familiar words to many of you, I’m sure. I’ve read those words. I’ve said those words. Why does every MMO in existence have a grind? Why don’t they just get rid of it so I can get down to having fun?

Because you have fun grinding. Yeah, I said it. You enjoy grinding, whether you like it or not.

Any game that involves progression has a grind. What do all MMOs (worth a damn) have? Progression. Of any sort. No, not just levels. Not just skills. Not just items. Not just money. Anything that can be unlocked in any way. Removing levels and skills and gear and money from the game wouldn’t even get rid of the grind, unless the game is completely one-dimensional and boring (yes, I am oversimplifying things for the sake of my own rant. Deal with it).

The point is, what the heck do you expect developers to do? I’m sure many people who complain about “the grind” are simply talking about the time it takes to gain levels. Okay, so you make levels go faster. But you can still grind them. Grinding is self-imposed. It’s almost masochistic for some people. And, for almost every person who has ever complained about the grind, it’s inevitable.

So let’s go back to making levels go faster. How fast? How about 20 hours of play time to the max level? Okay, cool. Note: What follows is a dramatization performed in the head of one game designer. Use caution when reading.

Man, how long does it take to level in this stupid game? */ooc Hey noobs how long until I’m capped if I don’t suck like you?* Oh, well that’s cool, I guess. Just 20 hours. I’m gonna play 10 hours a day and grind those levels out.

The very next day… Wait, son of a b%&#@, I’m grinding! Take the grind out of this game! Damnit, this sucks. Can’t they come up with something better to do than give me a treadmill to run on or are these designers complete nincompoops?

Man, it takes so much effort to kill these things too. DING! Awww jyeeeah baby. Level 50. I’m halfway there. Wait, what’s this new ability I see here? “Death Touch.” Swiggity sweeeeet! Oh look a mob, die. Oh look, a DIE. Oh DIE DIE DIE. Yeaaaah. Man this is the best ability.

DING 75! New ability again. YES. “Gain Level.” Man this is the best ability evar. Genius devs. DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING. Level 100! Phew, I made it after two hard days of grinding. Stupid devs.

Okay, I’m capped, now what? Wait, you want me to earn reputation with a bunch of different factions? GRIND!!1!1one! Screw this. Oh, okay, I only have to do like three quests to max that out. Hold the phone, what’s with these raids? I have to go through one to get to another? I have to get good enough gear to defeat the tougher ones? This is ridiculous! Oh, okay, I just have to solo one at a time and I will get fully geared out each time. I guess that’s cool. Even better! I can just summon the raid mobs to me and kill them all at once. I heart my AoE Death Touch I got at 60.

I wonder what other players are selling. I’ll head to the bazaar. You want HOW MUCH for that stupid cloak?! 8,000,000 Pomegranates?! Oh, okay, I just have to kill a couple mobs and I should be able to afford that. Alright cool. Man this game is way better than any MMO I’ve played, and I’ve played them all. There’s no grind at all, I can just get right into the fun.

2 days later… What. The. Deuce?! How many kill quests are there? How many stupid raid mobs are there? This is completely stupid. I already have all the best damn gear, why do you want me to keep killing all this other stuff? I’m max faction with everyone and their mother now and I give out loans to God on a regular basis. Do you seriously want me to defend your hapless village against Drilgars (which are obviously just copies of orcs, because they are humanoid, buff, and icky looking. Uncreative idiots)? I just defeated a dragon. By myself. With. My. Thumb.

This game is stupid. Seriously, there’s nothing cool to do. I’ve seen it all. I’m maxed out, I’m tired of the idiots in out-of-character chat, and the developers are uncreative dolts. I saw maybe like 50 pretty unique quests and then they all became repetitive. I bet my dog could come up with better quests than these guys, and he’s a lab. Screw you MMO Game Developer 01, I’m done with your game.

How do I log onto the forums? Username: leetsauce007. Password: leeroyjenkins. Nice. What’s the most popular forum? I’m posting there because people will want to read this. I must be heard. Okay, New Topic. Here we go. Subject: “Farewell Everyone”

First, a quick background. I have played more than a dozen MMO games in my gaming career, including all of the major ones. I’ve spent countless hours learning the ins and outs of the games I play, and have an intimate understanding of the mechanics and the implementation requirements for content, art, code, sound, and various other pipelines. I hope the devs read this, because I have been a long time fan of this game and have been posting on fansites for more than 3 years. Also, I am a scientist.

I just wanted to let everyone know that I am going to be quitting this game. I’ve been playing since launch, and there just isn’t anything fun left for me to do. The endless grind finally got to me. It has been more than four days now, coming up on five, and I just don’t see where any of this is going. The lack of creativity in the content and glaring bugs like mispelling “demolition” are just annoying at this point.

I will really miss you guys, and hope to see you in other worlds. As of this posting, I have canceled my account. Goodbye, my friends.

Man they better read that. Refresh. Hmm, I’m getting a drink. Refresh. WTF?! I am NOT a n00b. Reply.

I am NOT a n00b. I will have you know that I have all the best gear, more than 19 Trillion Pomegranates, I have killed every boss, and my faction is maxed with everyone.

Refresh. I am NOT a catass! Reply. LOCKED?! I HATE these devs. I need a beer. Man I would so punch a dev in the face if I ever met one.

1 hour later… I wonder how much I could sell this sword for. Probably a lot. I guess I’ll log in and find out. Hey, I haven’t killed this demon naked yet. I’m gonna totally do that and post a screenshot on the forums. Idiots will probably think it’s a fake. Newbies are so stupid…

6 months later… They made it take SO LONG to get to level 200. Holy cow I can’t even believe I survived that long without breaking my monitor in frustration. Stupid grind. Can’t they come up with other ways to keep us entertained?

The very next month… This fan gathering is going to be the coolest week of my life for sure. I’m gonna get all the girls because I’m maxed out in EVERYTHING now. This will be so great. Man I can’t wait to meet Blackguard so I can punch him in the face. Whoa who are those nerds? Ha, they wish they were as cool as me. Hey that one has on my guild’s shirt too. He’s coming over… what did he say?

“HEY MAN! So awesome to meet you after more than 6 months. That was some awesome stuff in the raid last night man.” What a nerd. Am I really in this guy’s guild? I wonder where the devs are. Oh awesome they have the devs out front signing stuff and meeting people. Names on their shirts. Sweet, I can find Blackguard easy as pie. Time to rock.

“Blackguard! It’s Leetsauce Doubleoseven. You are so cool, I love this game. You are by far my favorite dev. I’ll buy you a drink later–Long Island Iced Tea, right?” Crap, close one. That dude was like eight feet tall. I can’t wait to get on the forums again; I’ll tear him a new one.

1 year later… DING! 400! I am officially so badass that the townsfolk cry tears of blood when I walk by. Yesssssssssssss… (And the saga continues for years to come until Leetsauce Doubleoseven moves on to another, less grindy game).

Note about topics I was going to cover but didn’t because I got carried away with the story of Leetsauce Doubleoseven:

  • Do developers intentionally make things take time? Yes. Is it their fault? No. Players want to play these games for hundreds and even thousands of hours, which means you have to try to give them thousands of hours worth of things to do (or they’ll complain that there isn’t enough to do to keep them interested). It ain’t easy. The fault is when that content is not cohesive and/or sucks.
  • Players will often stick with the familiar. Meaning, if they can either Kill 10 Rats or Search for the Buried Treasure after Discovering the Location of X, they are sometimes more likely to just kill stuff because they know how to do it and know that it’s quick. I firmly believe that MMOs NEED kill quests, and a lot of them, I just don’t think they should be the only quests (or even called “quests” for that matter).
  • Most games do have a crapload of interesting things to do, there’s just less of it than what a lot of people call boring. It doesn’t take long to drop 25 mobs in the world. It does take long to create a scripted event. So, there will be some scripted events that are awesome, but a lot of mobs that just use their normal AI. If we just had the compelling content in the game, players would complain about the game having no content because resources are finite (and they’d kinda be right).
  • What I and many other people REALLY complain about when referring to the grind is that we don’t have as much time as the next guy, or that we have wives and lives that prevent us from playing more than an hour a day and we can’t progress as quickly as we want. As I said in the post, grinding is usually self-imposed. You CAN play an MMO casually as long as you don’t expect yourself to advance quickly–you have to set realistic goals and expectations or the game will absolutely feel like a grind.

There it is, my commentary on The Grind. It’s one of the four-letter words of massively multiplayer games, and I’m pretty sure my stance on it is going to be controversial. Luckily, I don’t care.

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36 Responses to "MMO Rant #12: The Grind"

  1. I was a bit surprised when I realized that I actually pick grinding quests over other types of quests when leveling an alt. Although I do remember where every quest item and boss mob is, I simply found out that doing a grinding quest is the most efficient use of my time.

  2. I like grinding when it’s with people fun to be with. I hate grinding when done for its own sake.

    Giving players fun things to do at every stage makes grinds shorter… sure, you can grind from 1-70 in WoW, but if you just grind to 15 (or whatever, it’s been long since I played), you can go to Deadmines and be blown away by how fun it is. And when ya get bored with that, it’s just a small grind to the next bit of fun. Nice, easy pieces, and heck, you can just do away with the level grind and grind honor in battlegrounds!

  3. robusticus

    Heh. Nice. You forgot tho the part about making 7 figures selling bot software and having the publisher’s thugs show up at the door in the wee hours of Saturday morning threatening to take everything you have and everything you will ever have in the future. Though you might believe the “we have no knowledge of that” and think it must’ve been some other crazy bunch of fans that did that, yet the countersuit was exactly what was described was going to occur in that little “meeting”.

    More game, more mods, less grind.

  4. MouseJunior

    Grinding can be ok iff there’s a variety of stuff to grind on. But Vanguard-style “you will now kill these 5 mobs standng over here for the next two levels” style grinding is the best turnoff I know.

  5. VPellen

    For the following rant, I consider “Normal” to be the level cap of your game, seeing as the game usually tends to begin after your character has reached the end of the level cycle.

    Here’s my main problem with the grind: I understand the need for a time-based barrier to entry. That’s fine. “You must wait 40 hours before being normal” is annoying, but acceptable. What isn’t acceptable is “You must spend 40 hours punching yourself in the face before being normal.” I can understand being put through the 40 hours, but why can’t I spend those 40 hours doing whatever the hell I want?

    Let’s suppose you’re making your player kill 1,000 wolves in order to become normal. Okay. Why the hell would you want to make your player do that?

    Is it because you think that if you don’t drown the player in wolves he’s not going to experience the full wolf-hunting joy of your game? If he wants to hunt wolves, he’ll hunt wolves even if you try to stop him from hunting wolves. So what other reasons could you possibly have?

    Is it because you want to educate your player as to the nature of the game? That’s fine, sure, but there are better ways to do it. Throwing the player in the same situation a thousand times only really helps him get better at that particular situation. Once you’ve killed ten different wolves in ten different situations, you’ve killed them all. Move on.

    Is it because your game doesn’t really have much content and you’re trying to stretch it out over a long period? Here’s a tip: stretching ten minutes worth of content over the period of four hours doesn’t actually give you more content. It just waters it down and leaves a bad taste in the player’s mouth.

    Is it because advancement through repetition is the only major form of gameplay you can think of? It is? Good. Get the hell out of my industry.

  6. “Let’s suppose you’re making your player kill 1,000 wolves in order to become normal. Okay. Why the hell would you want to make your player do that?”

    Because if the wolves existed and there were no quests for them, people would bitch that they aren’t being rewarded properly for their effort. So, we attach quests to them in any way we can. The quickest, least complex (from our perspective and the player’s) way to do so is to make a kill quest for them.

  7. “You enjoy grinding, whether you like it or not.”

    Well, many people feel the need to grind, whether they like it or not. But do they really enjoy it? I myself am often in the weird position of finding the grind soothing and brainless for a while, but once I get my fill I drift away from the game entirely, usually never to return.

  8. If I have to grind for too long I find myself falling asleep. I actually enjoy doing quests that send you out to find x treasure in x location. I like reading the lore and finding a reason and a story to be doing what I am doing. I hate when that story is that the quest giver is just too damn lazy to go kill the wolves himself.

    I would rather work on a quest series that has a great storyline and keeps leading to new areas, mobs, people, zones, ect… than kill 10 wolves over and over and over.

  9. In general I have found that if there are two paths a player can follow where one is dull and painful but maximises reward while the second is hugely fun but gives a lesser reward, then players will invariably choose the first.

    I wrote a similar entry from a slightly different perspective only yesterday in fact. Must be something in the water…

  10. VPellen

    “Because if the wolves existed and there were no quests for them, people would bitch that they aren’t being rewarded properly for their effort. So, we attach quests to them in any way we can. The quickest, least complex (from our perspective and the player’s) way to do so is to make a kill quest for them.”

    If your players are complaining about insufficient rewards from hunting wolves, then that tells me one of two things.

    A: Your players are having fun hunting wolves, but they wish they were being rewarded better for it, because they really like hunting wolves. Congratulations: You made wolf hunting fun! Rewarding players for a task is easy. Making the task fun is the hard part.

    B: People are hunting wolves in spite of the fact that they’d really rather not hunt wolves. This means that hunting wolves is either the best way to achieve something, or the only way to achieve something.

    But this is somewhat besides the point. My original question was not “Why would you want to reward the killing of wolves”, it was “Why would you want to force your player to do something that they don’t want to do in order to get to the meat of the game?” My beef isn’t so much with hunting wolves as much as it is being forced to hunt wolves for no real reason.

    To reiterate:

    If you want to create a time-based barrier to entry, then create a time-based barrier to entry, but why on earth would you force the player to do something they don’t want to while they wait?

    Forgive me if any of this sounds badly put together; I’m supposed to be sleeping, so I’m a bit tired.

  11. Ah, well you shouldn’t force players to hunt wolves. Though, I’d argue that in no game do you HAVE to hunt wolves–there’s always other stuff to kill, other quests to do. The presence of a quest does not necessitate its completion. Fundamentally, however, I fully agree with you.

  12. Daven

    If there is a meaningful purpose to grinding”nice quest item etc,key” people will have no problem doing it. Everyone hates on Vanguard but that is the one thing they got right.
    For example: Panther illusion mask
    TeT temple flipping
    Unmarked items in PoA
    All of those are grinds but when I finished them, I was as happy as a little girl.

  13. “Ah, well you shouldn’t force players to hunt wolves. Though, I’d argue that in no game do you HAVE to hunt wolves–there’s always other stuff to kill, other quests to do. The presence of a quest does not necessitate its completion. Fundamentally, however, I fully agree with you.” – Ryan

    No, but you have to remember that like electricity, people tend to take the path of least resistance. If you provide little or insufficient rewards through other types of gameplay, then the completion of a quest may very well seem necessary…and merely “seeming” necessary is often enough to actually produce a situation where the perception is the reality.

    There’s a certain amount of sociology and economics that takes place within MMO design.

    To further the earlier argument, if players are grinding through wolves because they want to get to top level and still complaining about the rewards, ask yourself the following question in addition to the previous ones already introduced by VPellen:

    (3) If players feel a need to grind through wolves, why is it they feel a need to be top level in your game? Once you remove the presumed percentage that will want to be top level just because it’s top level, you’re still left with a portion of players who may just be unhappy with the content at their current level. Though this is related to the second question VPellen asks, it’s still an important distinction: Did you design enough rewarding alternate content at level X so that players feel they have enough to do that doesn’t involve grinding wolves?

    When all is said and done, we’re really talking about two things here: quality vs quantity and the value players place upon their time.

    You can produce 200 kill quests…but if they all look and feel like “kill 10 rats”, you’re just producing filler. I’m a firm believer that tutorial activities should end when the tutorial does…and that means kill quests. I shouldn’t still be learning how to snipe bad guys in the 14th mission in Call of Duty 4 and I shouldn’t still be learning how to kill 10 rats at level 75 in Everquest II.

    That’s not expanding gameplay. It’s simply expanding the numbers. It’s a way to put “over 2,000 quests” on the side of a box.

    Sure, I’ll kill those wolves if that’s what I have to do to advance in a game, but don’t tell me it’s because I enjoy doing it. You’ve provided me a means to an end, but given a choice, I guarantee you I wouldn’t be grinding through wolves if I could be doing most anything else.
    Want to talk “fun”? Ask yourself the following when you create a quest in the future: Would I think this quest is “fun” if there were no rewards for completing it? There are activities within MMO’s I’ll perform just for the sake of having fun, and there are activities I perform because it’s a means to an end. Grinding isn’t fun. If there were no rewards for killing wolves, I probably wouldn’t do it at all.

  14. Perception, in many cases, is reality. At least to the player.

    Here’s some solutions and player responses:
    - Remove kill quests from wolves. “Why the hell am I killing these stupid things just for XP?”
    - Remove aggro from wolves. “What’s with all these stupid wolves everywhere?”
    - Remove XP from wolves. “What the hell?! If I kill a wolf I get nothing!”
    - Remove wolves. “This world is not at all realistic. There’s no wildlife!”
    - Only have interesting quests in your game. “This game is an endless grindfest. All I get to do is kill mobs with the odd quest to do. WTF?!”
    - Put collection targets or another objective among the wolves. “These effing wolves are SO annoying. I just want to finish my quest and go!”

    Incidentally, I feel like the last one is the most graceful solution, but that solution itself pisses people off because they aren’t being rewarded for killing the things preventing them from performing their actual task.

    If you focus on quality instead of quality, I guarantee you people would react negatively to the “lack of quests.” If there weren’t MMOs already, that wouldn’t be the case.

    But, since you are used to being rewarded for killing wolves while doing other quests (since you have a quest for them, too), you might react negatively to not being rewarded when it’s customary that you are.

    Further, if we only put the interesting quests in the game, there would be so significantly fewer that people who have played MMOs would think the game had next to no quests, even if all few hundred quests were quite good.

    I have some solutions, but I sure as heck will not offer them up on my blog when I’m putting them in my game. I wish I could say that they won’t be in another MMO before ours comes out, but most of the time good ideas are implemented before you implement them (though I always hope nobody else thinks of it).

  15. VPellen

    - Remove kill quests from wolves. “Why the hell am I killing these stupid things just for XP?”

    Side note: I realize I’m just playing with words here, but technically, the player will never say this. If you have quests for killing bears, but no quests for killing wolves, and the benefit of killing bears and doing bear quests is worth more than simply killing wolves, people won’t be killing wolves and then complaining about how much killing wolves sucks, they’ll just be killing bears and doing the bear quests instead.

    If the player is seeking EXP, he will seek EXP in the most ruthless means possible. He will then complain loudly about how your particular method of EXP gain is a really really repetitive and boring one. The fact that there are other inferior (but more entertaining) methods of EXP gain is more or less irrelevant, because the player isn’t complaining about lack of interesting content, he’s complaining that the optimum (and thus the only viable) method of achieving a goal is incredibly boring and tedious.

    And you know what? He’s probably right.

  16. Interestingly, some people still don’t do quests. Despite the most efficient method of gaining levels in almost any MMO at this point being “harvest quests, go do all of them and kill stuff on the way,” some people don’t even go that far. Instead, they just grind out mobs… and probably complain about it.

    And, I’ve seen people stay in an area for far longer than they should for efficiency’s sake (even people in my own guilds), then complain about pace of leveling or a dearth of quests. Why? My thought is familiarity. They know the zone, they know where the mobs are, where the dangerous parts are. But, they’ve finished all of the major quests in the area and are afraid to move on to different things.

    But, yeah, most of the time players will do whatever they can to get the most experience and the most phat lewt. So, in a game like World of Warcraft, people should really just be repeatedly running instanced dungeons. They are awesome experience and they give better loot than you get from most quests.

    That ends up not being true mostly because it is not the path of least resistance. It isn’t always easy to get a group of people together to do the dungeon, and then it isn’t always easy for the group to work well together. So, instead, the path of least resistance is to kill crap in the same place because you know the camps and aren’t willing to go elsewhere to see if the grass is actually greener somewhere else (and after you’ve done a bulk of the quests, it IS greener elsewhere because there are more quests for you to do).

    What I guess I’m saying is that it doesn’t even necessarily matter if there are other, more entertaining methods of gaining XP and lewtz just as efficiently as how you’re doing it now–what matters most is that you already know how to do what you’re doing, and why risk the change when you’ve already got a good thing going (even though you hate the monotony)?

    It seems like the only way to get someone to stop doing one thing is to make another more rewarding. Specifically, to make it worth more money or give better items/coin. You can remove the fun entirely, and they’ll still go for the more rewarding angle. You can even make two zones equally rewarding, with one possibly even more fun than the other, but the player will most often stay wherever he started because it’s familiar.

    In a way, it’s just a mirror of common behavior in real life, which is to be expected. I have Cable. DirectTV seems to be cheaper for the same things I’m getting, and I’d even be getting HD channels, but do I switch? Of course not, I already have Cable and I know what it’s like.

    Most of this is just theory, but a lot of the theory is based on a stupid amount of observation both as a player and as a developer (watching how players behave without them knowing I’m there).

  17. - Remove kill quests from wolves. “Why the hell am I killing these stupid things just for XP?”

    My viewpoint might be skewed because I’ve only played World of Warcraft extensively, but I think that players are starting to expect that every item, location and mob is there for a reason. If there’s s wolves around, there must be a quest to kill them. If there’s a house in the wolf-infested woods, there’s a quest that involves you going there. If there’s a guy in the house, you either get a quest to kill him or the guy is a questgiver himself. Especially if he has a name.

    Furthermore, players will notice if this is not the case. Searing Gorge and Silithus were pretty barren when WoW was released, and the players kept asking about them. Both got revamped into fully-fledged questing areas, so the players started complaining about Ahn’Qiraj, Zul’Gurub, Tor’watha, Uldum, Gilneas, Kul’Tiras, Emerald Dream, Hyjal, Grim Batol, Varian Wrynn.. the list is endless. Some of those have been revamped, but most haven’t.

    I’m not saying that this phenomenon is a bad thing, though. If you as a developer make stuff that has no value to the players, you’d be better off doing something else.

  18. mrwuss

    I want to login and be given everything with no time investment.

    Then I want to bitch about lack of content. Do not deny me my rights.

  19. Illuminator

    If a grind is needed, the player shouldn’t know he’s doing it. There have been a handful of RPG’s I’ve played where halfway through the game the storyline outpaced my “current level” needed to kill a boss. Forget about my skills: I didn’t have the stats. Those games dropped the ball and I still haven’t finished them.

  20. In all things, moderation, fair developer. Tossing the occasional kill quest into a zone (especially as a beginner quest) is fine. Tossing 50 kill quests into a zone just to say you have “more content” is not.

    That’s the argument between quality and quantity here. Just because players like myself feel that all kill quests all the time is lazy or poor design doesn’t mean kill quests suddenly have no place. We may as well start up discussions between Richard Garriot and Brad McQuaid on instancing – either instance everything or nothing, right?

    Look to your shades of grey. Mix and match quests. Build quest “lines” to be higher quality (especially as you get deeper into the quest). I don’t want to go to Harry the Froglok to have him ask me to kill 10 wolves, then go back to find out he needs me to kill 10 superior black wolves, then to return only to find out that he now needs 10 badgers, and then later to find out that he now needs me to kill an indefinate number of wolves till I get 10 perfect wolf fangs.

    If Harry needs me to kill 10 wolves up front, that’s something I can deal with. If I go back to Harry only to find out that he’s no longer where I thought he should be (quasi-instancing of NPC’s) but Harry’s wife Margaret is there to tell me that Harry was kidnapped while I was out hunting wolves for him, I’m suddenly wrapped up in a story – not just acting as Harry’s errand boy. Speaking to villagers in Harry’s village leads me to believe that others were also abducted. Maybe I choose to ignore the quest. Maybe I find out that Harry was the town’s only tailor and the new cloak he was going to make for me will never be done if I can’t find him and save him (and give him these 10 wolf pelts).

    Speaking to one of the villagers leads me to check with some hermit at the edge of town that ends up being some sort of twisted wolf cult member. He attacks me and I’m forced to defend myself. The guy has a key of some sort on him that leads me to check a lockbox by his bed and I find a strange map of sorts (would be a great game that just showed a picture of the map when I clicked on it, wouldn’t it?).

    When I do follow the map, I find an old barn in the woods I’ve passed a dozen times. I enter and find out that there’s a hidden door in the floor I never noticed before (because I wasn’t on this quest then). I enter and find a small mini-dungeon (just a few twists and turns really) and fight a few more wolf cult guards.

    Eventually I find Harry and save him, maybe he’s in a room (instanced?) surrounded by members of a strange wolf cult. In order to save him, I have to run a slightly instanced event where I have to clear out waves of these cultists till a named cult leader spawns. Harry and the cult leader exchange some choice words. I’m called on to help out before the cult leader moves in make some froglok stew out of Harry, Bob’s your uncle, and suddenly Harry’s super excited to be home with the missus.

    Is it ridiculously epic in scale? Not likely. Would instancing a quest NPC be difficult? Perhaps, perhaps not. But it’s a new way of doing things that suddenly (and dynamically) pulls me into the thread of the storyline.

    Would there be players who hate this sort of thing? Likely as not, yes. Of course, build in the right rewards and you provide incentive for players to give it a go.

    How many times have any of us run dinner table style RPG’s? I can’t count the number of times I’d built a miniadventure like the above scenario only to find out that the players of my game completely missed the clues or just didn’t care enough about the “Harry” character to go risking life and limb for some random stranger. They’d cut their losses and move on to the next town.

    So yes, I fully understand that sometimes players just don’t use the content that’s there. That doesn’t mean I stopped building those types of encounters, mind you. It just meant that I got better at making those type of encounters sound more compelling or fun for my players. I got to the point where I was able to help provide motivation or encouragement without forcing anyone’s hand. Sure, they still skipped the adventures from time to time and I got to silently curse the hours I’d spent working on the encounter, but at least I understood that the idea was for the players to have a good time – even if it ended up meaning that they didn’t always play through every inch of content I’d laid out.

    Players won’t want to go to every zone you create. But they’ll want the option to turn it down, at least.

    If you provide only kill quests – or at least so many that the perception is that this is what the game is about, you’ve effectively shown the players that this is the preferred playstyle. This leads back to the idea of moderation. You can’t just infuse dozens of kill quests for every other type of quest. You have to make them a true option or alternative. If all you provide for is a 10:1 or 5:1 or even just a 2:1 kill quest to other type of quest ratio, you’re going to gain a reputation as a “kill 10 rats” developer.

  21. I’ll read your entire comment when I get home, Kendricke. I don’t have an hour to read it at work. However, I will say that ranting with shades of grey in mind makes it a lot less fun to read and argue about. I demand you speak in black and white.

  22. Tim

    Good post Kendricke, I found your “how to make kill 10 wolves interesting” treatment interesting. My only question is how one makes it work in an MMO. Single player game, no problem. But what do you do if when you get to the barn there are already 5 others there also searching? Or the hermit is already dead? Does it work to wait a few minutes for him to respawn?

  23. Croddam

    My solution to grinding is to just skip it. Personally every time I’ve had to grind in a game it was to either get to max level to catch up to my guildmates or grind on a new char to get caught up to my friends, so with that in mind why not let me just have the level I want seeing as I’m paying $10-$15 a month to live my fantasy on your servers. The perfect solution to me would be a code you can purchase from the game maker that lets me match my friend’s characters level and to a lesser extent gear (for instance if they have a full set of the highest tier give me the full set of the tier two color’s lower so as not to be completely useless and have nothing) Now with this code if it normally takes say 6 months to reach the level your friend is at make the new person have to pay 3 month’s subscription to get access which makes it worthwhile for the company while letting the new player jump right into the game with their friend who’ll explain the in’s and out’s that people normally learn coming up through the whole game.
    Even without having a friend in the game if the reason I’m playing your game is because I heard the End Game is the greatest thing since sliced bread and all I really want to do it try that LET ME! I don’t have time anymore to put in the 400-1000 hours it always takes me to reach the cap in whatever MMO I’m paying to enjoy. Now if you let me start at (using WoW as an example) levels 45, 65, 70, or 70 geared with the first tier raid drops but maybe have there be a 5% stat reduction to people jumping in at the end as a bonus/reward to the players that do go from level 1 to the end.
    I’m sure this is sacrilage to everyone but it’s what I’d love to see and if I ever make a game it’s probably how I’d do it.

  24. Monotreme

    One of the worst implementations of kill quests I’ve seen is in WoW. The ones where there is a chain of kill quests, each for a slightly more dangerous version of , which once complete then unlock the actual fun quest at the end. The mundane, boring and grindy kill quests are enforced if you want to do the fun one at the end.

    You want to do Deadmines? Ok, sure … go grind these kill quests.

  25. Tim, as I mentioned: instancing. Used in moderation, instancing can be a powerful storytelling tool.

    Don’t just use it for instancing locations, either. I’ve seen SOE use instancing to create quest items (an item appears on the ground if I’m on a quest, but the guy next to me who isn’t on the quest can’t see it). Why not use the same basic technology to create instanced NPC’s?

    Perhaps Harry the Froglok disappears for me (and only me) the moment I kill that 10th wolf. Perhaps his wife only appears (for me) when Harry disappears. Sure, I show up and there’s 3 other guys there…but I just set up the engine so I can’t see or hear their conversation with Harry (the one I can’t see but they can). They have their story they’re working on…and I have mine.

    In that way players share the same world, and can experience the same stories, even if they experience the stories in their own time and pace.

  26. Finally read your comment, Kendricke. That actually exists to some extent in games already. There are plenty of objects that either don’t highlight unless you meet specific criteria or simply don’t appear. And, in FFXI, there were times during important quests when you would see things happening that others didn’t (like a member of the royal family would show up and talk to you even though nobody else could see them).

    I think both are great ideas. The difficulty I’ve had with drawing the line is, well, where is the line? At what point would it be detrimental to others. For example, if only you could see some special orc and fight it, what would other people see? It would look extremely weird if you kept passing people fighting air.

    One solution is to make Captain Grundik just appear as “an orc” to other people (with the same visuals and name as a normal orc), so you are still fighting something, others just don’t realize it’s an important quest NPC (because to them it wouldn’t be).

    Anyway, I think it’s something worth exploring further for sure. Great comment.

  27. Very interesting discussion here! :grin:

    I agree that in making a game with 100′s of hours of gamplay that developers have to put in filler as it where. Sure some will see it as grinding. For myself what I see as grinding is doing the same thing over and over again for the same or similar reward. Raiding is like that. You finally take down some named dungeon npc and get rewarded with the BP of uberness. Now you only have to do this 23 more times so that everyone gets something. You probably have to do it even more as you often have to have a larger guild to consistently get 24 players for a raid.

    For myself I don’t really dislike kill quests. I mean considering I am going to have to kill thousands of mobs to level any way why not get some bonus exp I would not have by doing a quest and killing 10 mobs? Or killing X mobs until I find the 10 items required for the quest? The problem is its a mechanical level that you have taught the player to pull and thus be rewarded and its one they will pull over and over again especially if its the most convient or fastest way to level. However it is mechanical and does not advance the story line or experience for the player other then to be a means to an end.

    Where I would like to see mmorpg’s go however is more class, race specific quests. When you make your new level why get your new abilities automatically or go and buy them from your class trainer in town? What a missed opportunity to have the person learn more about their class and complete quests to obtain the next level of spells, arts or abilities from thier trainer.

    Here is the chance for the devlopers to create the lore and the feel for the players that they are an evil ShadowKnight or a virtious Paladin. To make them have a completely different experience playing the game then if they had played another class. To often I start another character to complete the exact same quests and do the exact same things I did with every other character I started. I realize that doing this would require more effort for the developer to implement. However think of the replay ability of your game for doing so? Sure the game has the same background setting but by making your quests/story unique for each class every time you start a new character you would have a completely different experience and add greatly to the replayability of your game.

    So I guess what I am saying is that quests should be used to help tell more unique stories for the characters of the game and while the story unfolds your killing mobs and gaining levels and thus it does not feel like your grinding but instead progressing through your own unique story/adventure within the game world.

    I am not suggesting that these be the only quests as there needs to be larger scale stories / quest lines as well. I just feel that right now MMORPG really drop the ball when it comes to providing more personal and unique quest lines for the classes never mind individuals. When they finally can do this type of thing then you will hear less and less about grinding because everyone will be to busy expanding and experiencing their own unique stories.

  28. I fully agree on making more class/race/etc. focused quests in games. But, you have to realize the amount of work that goes in and the reach each has.

    Using World of Warcraft terms, let’s say you have a Class quest every 10 levels. That means:

    9 (classes) * 7 (quests per class) = 63 (quests)
    63 (quests) * 2 (sides) = 126 (quests)
    20 hours (to make a decent quest, if not more) * 126 (quests) = 2520 hours of dev time

    Then you consider reach. For some classes, it will be huge, for other classes, it will be small. It all depends on how many people play each. Let’s just assume that the average class quests reaches 11% of players (100% / 9 classes).

    So that is 280 hours of development time (conservative) to reach 11% of the population, on average, by making 7 cool class quests for each class, or 2520 hours total dev time.

    Now let’s consider equal effort per quest for an entire alignment, Alliance or Horde.

    2 (sides) * 7 (quests per side) = 14 (quests)
    20 hours (to make a decent quest, if not more) = 280 hours of dev time

    Again we consider reach. Let’s just assume a 50/50 split. You reach 50% of the population of WoW for 140 hours of dev time, and 100% of the population for 280 hours of total dev time for 7 cool alignment quests per side.

    2520 hours (class quests) for the same basic payoff as 280 hours (alignment quests). That’s nearly 1/10th as much development effort to make the same complexity of quests at the same frequency. Remove the alignment requirement and it’s now 1/20th as much effort. Increase the number of classes and it becomes even more logical to abstract the quest from the class level. Etc.

  29. I totally get that the amount of effort required is greater when going for class specific quests compared to alignment quests and the number of player who will get to expeirence the quests/content for the effort.

    One could also make the same argument for raid content versus solo content. Solo content can be experienced by 100% of players versus a high level raid instance that maybe 10 to 20% of players will ever experience. Look at the pay off for hours spent in design versus the actual amount of players who will ever actually see or experience that content. Yet developers still do it.

    I also think your numbers for developement time for each quest is a bit high. The purpose of the class quest is to give flavor/story and class specific rewards for completing the quest. So once you make the quest for one class it could then be modified for each of the other classes so not all work would have to be done from scratch thus cutting down on the developement time. However I will go with your numbers since your the developer and I am just a player :wink:

    I will use EQ2 as an example. Instead of 16 (classes) X 8 (quests per class) = 128 X 2 (sides) = 256 X 20 hrs = 5120 hrs you could do it via archtype. Scout, Mage, Fighter and Priest. Thus its 4 (archtypes) X 8 (quests per archtype) = 32 X 2 (sides )= 64 X 20 hrs/quest = 1280 hrs total. I think most would view this as an acceptible compromise in a effort to make the game more unique based on the class /archtype you picked. The reward for completing these quest could still be based on the actual class/alignment so that players end up with a unique peice of armor that is class/specific.

    Another way to give players a more personal experience and flavor for their character is what Funcom is doing with Age of Conan where for the first 20 levels you basically play a rpg and at level 20 you then start playing the game as a mmorpg. Will it work? I don’t know since I have not played it yet, but any efforts by developers to make the players experience more unique depending on the class they have choosen should be encouraged.

    At the end of the day though I understand that developers have to look at the amount of time to implement things versus the numbers who will actually benefit from the effort.

  30. Indeed. Though slightly modifying the quest per class or doing it at the archetype level removes much of the reason for the quest in the first place (a uniquely flavored quest tailored to your class), it can be better than not doing it at all.

    As for development time, it all depends on what the quest is. If it’s a quest that I would personally consider good enough and epic enough to be a “class quest,” it would be fairly long and non-standard (without much of the “long” being travel time or anything else like that).

    In that case, 20 hours is probably conservative for concept, dialog/journal writing, and implementation. I’d more likely expect closer to 4-5 days for that type of quest, which is why it can quickly become daunting when you want to give all classes/races/alignments/etc. that type of quest, at least occasionally.

  31. Brad

    Kendricke wrote:

    Perhaps Harry the Froglok disappears for me (and only me) the moment I kill that 10th wolf. Perhaps his wife only appears (for me) when Harry disappears. Sure, I show up and there’s 3 other guys there…but I just set up the engine so I can’t see or hear their conversation with Harry (the one I can’t see but they can). They have their story they’re working on…and I have mine.

    Having mobs which only some people can see is one thing, but having the same mob appear differently to two people breaks the immersion and shared environment unless there’s a plausible game-setting explanation. Otherwise, every time an experienced player hears “I’m over by Froglock Bob,” they’ll be reminded of that glitch in their game.
    Unless, of course, they can say, “You can’t see him yet because you don’t have The Invisible Frob yet. Just look over by the hut.”

  32. You know what else breaks immersion for me? The fact that Froglok Bob is standing the same place 24/7. He never closes shop. He never sleeps. He always allows you to just walk into his home…

    I’m sorry, but the immersion argument only goes so far with me. We’re not talking about world simulations here…unless you’d like to discuss taxes, the call of nature, romantic encounters, broken bones (and the need to heal over time), scars, aging – the list goes on.

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  35. tehwalrus

    What I always wonder is if there’s going to be kill quests for pretty much every single mob, why bother handing out the quests each time? Why not just keep track of how many kills the player has on each mob type and show “You’ve killed your nth wolf! You gain XP” at 10, 25, 50, 100 kills and so on. Maybe at 1000 kills you get the recipe for a wolfskin cape, or unlock a quest where the locals druids try and kill you for upsetting the natural balance. Players will still get the same rewards, and you don’t have to bother with the lame quest rationalizations.

  36. [...] and treadmills are my biggest complaints (and the complaint of many, many others) about mmos. It’s what made me play World of Warcraft for less than a month and one of [...]

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