Tag: casual

What is grind?

I’ve read an opinion piece about some grind not being a bad thing on Tentonhammer and it made me think: first and foremost, the first example mentioned in the article- Wildstar’s early attunement process for raids – that’s not a grind, and if/when you became attuned, you haven’t accomplished anything- what you did was unlocking a game feature.

Locking game features behind “grind” or another lengthy process of doing stuff in game is not a good idea in a genre whose audience gets older fast. See, we might want to raid, and we want to do it as soon as possible- making us play 200 hours before allowing us to do what we deem fun is not good game design. “Being able to access raids” is not an ingame goal- “being ready to tackle raids” might be- and for the last one, it can take a couple of hours.

Black Desert Online will release in little more than a week- and i’ll be able to log in in a week’s time. “The Grind” seems to be something a portion of the playerbase is worried about- and that’s the part where i agree with the opinion piece linked above- “Grind” is not a thing that has me worried- see, if i’m having fun killing and skinning wolves, for example, i will at some point in my career kill 1000 of them to get the 100 wolf furs i need to make the beige blanket for that giant in the hill to gain reputation with him to be able to buy his recipe for a fast-growth-elixir. It can also provide a goal to aim for. Sure, sometimes the amount needed to achieve something seems to be high and can suck the fun out of a game, but in my experience, this is mostly because one of the following reasons:

  1. this is your current goal and the only one you follow. Therefore, it get’s highly repetetive and annoying
  2. all of the goals are achieved in a similar manner
  3. there are no other similar goals provided
Using ArcheAge screens here as i have none from BDO yet
These fields used to be planted by identical trees at some point- everyone who had a farming spot would grow them to achieve the same goal as their neighbour. (AA screens, as i have none from BDO yet)

I’ve found that, in general, the pacing of a game is a huge factor in determining my own enjoyment- i need to be able to take it slow and take in the world, or maybe even simply hang out; i need to be able and ramp things up and maybe run a group dungeon and so on. If a game offers one pace only- Wildstar would be one example for that, and Lotro & FF14 might be examples of the slow extreme- it gets boring quickly. Lotro is the one game i refer to as a “quest grinder”- there’s not much else to do than quest. It’s entirely possible that this is just my subjective way of looking at things in Lotro- but i’ve always felt this game is just a very long chain of quests. So if Black Desert doesn’t provide (much) quest xp, we know this is not really an issue because you can gain contribution points to spend on houses and the like. Likewise, simply grinding out mobs will give you “knowledge”. So, to me, it seems as if there’s something provided for different paces of gameplay. Without fast travel, i’m pretty sure exploration will also be a big part of the game, and then there’s crafting, trading, fishing and so on- all providing different gameplay mechanics and speeds.

MMOs nowadays also have to provide goals to set out for in different dimensions: i need to get something noteworthy done in 30 minutes, 2 hours, a day, a week, a month and if the designers are ambitious, even in a year. So maybe that giant could also take handkerchiefs made out of 2 wolf furs you could reasonably get by killing 20 wolves to raise reputation accordingly. Maybe a boat doesn’t have to be built at once, but by combining 4-5 parts that you can – or have to- create before assembling them to one. Here’s also where the usual mention of sandboxes not being for casuals comes from- what serves some players as a goal for a week, it serves others as a goal for a session. For instance, this week i’d like to finally finish off Grahtwood in Elder Scrolls Online- there are a few Skyshards and Delves left and i want to explore a place that was pointed out on a map i’ve found on a mob. This might take, all in all, one session of maybe 3-4 hours, and i’m sure someone would be able to do it in an hour. When each session gets shorter- maybe i’ll do only one skyshard and one delve in each, this could take even longer. But i can still achieve something in 30 minutes (one delve or one skyshard) and will feel as if i had accomplished something in that session. I really don’t care if it’ll take me a year to construct a boat- if i can work towards it in short sessions, as well.

If we're all doing the same anyway, there's no need for a game to be an MMO.
If we’re all doing the same anyway, there’s no need for a game to be an MMO.

I don’t really know how good or bad Black Desert does in this regard, but i do hope they had something like this in mind when creating the game, but since i’ve read somewhere that setting things up this way is basically MMORPG creation 101, i’m sure they did. Then again- why do so many games still get it wrong?

As a sidenote: i think both of these points are what makes me so happy with ESO right now- disregarding the inventory management minigame that takes away at least 15 minutes of each of my sessions, i can set a pace and goals for each session, hour and week (i don’t have the insight into the game for even longer term goals yet) that fits in my playstyle and current mood.

Backpacker: Trove, the MMO concentrate

OK, i’ll just come out and admit it: Trove is really, really fun. Since playing the other night, it’s the only game i launch- mainly, because goals are forming up. Where i was wandering around aimlessly earlier, slowly i gain insight in the game mechanics, the crafting and the goals you can set yourself.

This is also the first installment of my Project-Trinity-copout-column, the Backpacker. From time to time i will write a piece about a zone, landscape, village, npcs, a quest chain, game mechanics or, like today about a game i visit. It is aimed to be an “MMO tourist” series of posts in the wider sense- usually, there should be a focus on the “Trinity games”, though.


First, i wanted to follow the “golden path”, or thread or whatever it’s called here to gain those cubits i needed to unlock another class. I don’t know why, but instead of only the knight, i also have had access to the gunslinger from the beginning. By now, i unlocked the Boomeranger and the Ice Sage, as well. Of course i spent money- i always do; even if it’s entirely possible to play for free- and with Trove, it is, it is not my goal to do so. When i see value in a game, i pay. So i went and bought the Power Pack (for 20$), which gives me wings, a fast mount, a boat, a sail, 2 class tokens and some other stuff i don’t really know about.

Trove does feature interesting scenery!
Trove does feature interesting scenery!

Then, i wanted to find some Primordial Flames to craft a Ringcrafting table. I had 1, but needed 5. The flames seem to spawn close to other ore, but it seems to be on a very rare occasion. Turns out they spawn by themselves in the Dragonfire Peaks biome- only have to find one of those, right? It took a while, though. I don’t know whether biomes are somewhat connected to levels, but i had to enter a level 6/7 adventure zone and explore a bit to find one. It turned out fine, though. Dragonfire Peaks seems to be the biome you should look out for when you’re hunting for ore. There was a lot of all kinds of ore i know by now- and there were even some Primordial Flames.

It is a dark biome
It is a dark biome

The next resource i’m trying to gather up is enchanted wood– the best places to gather seem to be found in the medieval highlands, Fae Wilds and Cursed Vale biomes.

And i need to go fishing for the next step in the golden path, not knowing how fishing works, at all.

Free-to-play game design

As you might know, i don’t really care about business models- i’m fine with subs and i’m fine with free-to-play, as well. I know both models influence game design. But i also have to say that some free-to-play and buy-to-play games, especially those designed to follow that model from the ground up, provide fun gameplay without having too many timesinks. There are “pain points” (great term!) to get you to pay, but often, these games do not try to make your sessions longer and play more than you can.

Trove excels in this regard- it is so easy to launch up and just play. Sure, if you are trying to reach some goals it might take you some time. But you can always fire it up, enter an adventure zone and do something- getting there takes about 2 minutes, and that’s including load time.

2015-06-09 071301

When we’re talking business model, i’d like to say that i also had a look at the cash shop- and found it to be reasonably prized (a class for about 5€) and i have to confess that i’d have trouble finding something i’d really like to buy. Classes would be one way to go, but my guess is, once i can build in a club world, that the building blocks would be the most interesting. And they’re dirt cheap- of course they are, since you could also just go out and gather them. I’ve received 2000 blocks of each primal block as part of the power pack, so i might be covered for some time. Other than that, i didn’t see anything that would be an issue. Lockboxes, sure, but honestly, i think they do fit somewhat in this game- it’s a whole different affair when a game is more serious. Still not a friend of lockboxes, though, so i won’t buy any of them.

The MMO concentrate

Now, Ironweakness has a great post covering this already, so i’ll make it short here: Trove includes almost everything an MMO should have (i have to agree on the auction house, though- i’d like to see one)- fun gameplay that’s easy to learn but will get more difficult later on, i’m sure. Lots of crafting options, “housing”- or building stuff, exploration for exploration’s sake and so on. It’s playable in small groups, bigger groups and solo. It can be relaxing and quite involved. You can have your downtime, as well- when building, crafting, exploring or whatever.

I can’t tell you yet if it is a shallow experience, mainly because i still don’t understand half of it- how does the crafting work, what can you build? What should you build and why? I can say, however, that exploring these mechanics is fun and it takes time. I think early on, half of the fun to be had in MMOs was to slowly get a grasp on these games, their worlds, features and mechanics. Nowadays, these things are usually “streamlined” and “made accessible” for the “filthy casual”- Trove shows that you can be one of those streamlined, accessible, casual games while still retaining some of that wonder that is exploring online worlds.

It’s not about grouping

Massively’s Jef Reahard posted another noteworthy soapbox column over on their site, stating that of course he cares what “you” are doing in an MMO. I found it difficult to understand what he was expressing, exactly. The only thing he mentioned directly was “solo questing” and the common saying that “you shouldn’t care what others are doing in an MMO”. Funny enough, i agree to the second part and am what you’d call a solo quester. I wrote about the reasons for that, so i’ll concentrate on the second part of his criticism, the don’t-care-part.

So we're in a group- did it help?


Normally, i’m with Jef on many occasions- i think he’s what you’d call a “core player”, which in this case would mean that he likes his MMORPGs to be “virtual worlds” more than games. But in this case i think that if games would follow that philosophy, you wouldn’t and needn’t to care about other players’ activities in your MMO. The reason this comes up is because themeparks are designed in a way that makes combat just about the only activity “worth” pursuing, and solo questing / solo progression is just the most accessible part of that activity.

I do, however, agree with two sentiments he only scratches at the surface in his opinion piece- one being that we all influence each other, even more so when we are thinking about a free-to-play game with an ingame shop, the other one being that MMORPG design took a wrong turn at some point in their history. But this is not about grouping up, storylines or quests. This, in my opinion, is more about trying to get attention of a wider market (remember: World of Warcraft is so successful because it gained a lot of players who didn’t play MMORPGs before WoW. Also, as a disclaimer: WoW was my first MMO, as well) and a strong focus on combat and loot. MMORPGs can be social without grouping up and doing dungeons.

Guild Wars 2 event

I could just log in and chat with my guildmates while playing solo. I could gather resources and sell them on the market, someone else could use them to craft something- all the while not being in a group but playing by him- or herself. Maybe i stand at a crafting station and get to chat with another player whom i meet at these stations regularly. Also, i would argue that grouping up to do a five-player-dungeon is not really social in a “massive” sense, because, after all, you are only interacting with three, four or five other players. If you are interacting, that is. With dungeon finder tools, “Hello” and “Thanks!” are often the only sentences someone writes to the group mates.

If we wanted MMORPGs to become more social (again?), there’s really no way around the fact that games need to be designed in a way that favors social interaction, friendlist-building and stuff like that. There are a few good ideas out there, like Guild Wars 2’s loot and gathering system (which has its own problems regarding the ingame economy), The Secret World’s time-to-kill and, for instance, Aions open world group zones, where Elite mobs roam the area, so that you are kind of forced to group up to travel these zones comfortably. Nothing really worked in getting us, the players, to play or interact more often. But i think this is the way to go. Add a good gathering/crafting/economy-component to that and forget the notion of instanced content altogether, and you might be on to something.

The Secret World

Of course, there still is the other side of the medal- the players. After adding incentives to group up, play and interact with each others as an option, which is important- it shouldn’t be mandatory, we would still have to do our part.

What i noticed- and i’m surely not alone in this- is that the perception of other players has changed since we took our first steps in whatever our first MMO was. Mine was WoW, and i was amazed- all these other people played the same game. We helped each others out, gave instructions and advice on how to get better in playing the game, we faffed around, doing things that made no sense in regards to progressing our characters. My wife and an ingame friend of her made a tour to see the world bosses in early WoW when they were level 30 or something. It was dangerous, it made no sense and they had lots and lots of fun.

Today, other players- in a more general sense- are players we meet via dungeon finder tools, who generally criticize what we are doing, have no respect for beginners (or, from the other point of view: steal our time by being beginners), hurry through the dungeon and/or become obstacles in progression (“forced grouping”, “gathering node thieves”) or kill our fun by perhaps killing us in world PvP, or hacking, cheating and exploiting their characters to success in a Sandpark of our choice, thereby destroying an economy and a whole feature for those looking for that kind of experience.

The model home was all i got
The model home was all i got

I’m not saying this isn’t true- i made some, if not all those experiences, as well, and i don’t like them, either. But i think we should look at other players in a better way. Because no matter who you are going to ask, everyone, even the hackers/cheaters and gankers, will say that other people ruin their fun in an MMO. Of course they don’t mean everybody, but each group has another group they don’t like: hardcore/casual, crafter/raider, roleplayers/gankers, pve/pvp and so on. So the real problem might not be “not caring” what others do in your MMO, but “caring too much”. They made Wildstar for hardcore raiders and it didn’t work out so well for Carbine. Now they make the game more accessible and the “hardcore” players don’t like the “dumbing down”.

I think, in the end, what i’d want to say is: we should give every player we meet the chance to get in your friends list. I think most players aren’t the monsters we make them out to be.

Also, if your MMORPG is a “real” MMORPG, there’s enough room and stuff to do for all kinds of players.

Another thing would be cash shop purchases, of course, which directly influence what the developers do in the future- you don’t like lock boxes, labor point potions or raid gear? Don’t buy them- not even when/if the publisher “forces” you.