Grinding in Games: Joyful Progress or Repetitive Nonsense?

Game developers, I hope you’re listening, because this is gonna be a doozy. We all know you have to eat, and to eat you have to get people to play your game (and possibly spend money), but as a general rule, you should really be careful about how you have your players spend their time. Because be honest – and cut the greed here – do you sincerely feel good about yourself when you make players addicted to running around in a circle doing the same task over and over again?

I’d assume not. You’re decent, rational human beings. Well, usually human, but the bottom line is: I assume you wouldn’t want to be doing these horribly repetitive things either. So why not improve it? This article aims to help both players and aspiring developers make good decisions when both choosing games to play and making games for people to play.

But first, why grind in the first place? Grinding in video games is essentially attempting to gain a certain currency, item, or achieving a certain goal by completing certain tasks in a video game. These can be repetitive, they can be distinct, or they can be both. Either way, it tends to be quite time-consuming, and developers usually use these tactics to get players hooked on their product, so that they keep playing, and the player base grows, plus other added benefits. Thus, popularity increases. I could go in-depth about marketing, but you get the point.

But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – sometimes it can be very fun and engaging to work towards something you really want in a video game. Sometimes, it doesn’t even feel like you’re working – rather having fun. Though one aspect of this that should be mentioned: Some players simply grind because they want to shut off their brains, or they do it to relax, among various other reasons. If you want to cater to these types of players, then do something like Wurm Online does: make the tasks extremely easy, and give noticeable progress and increases (such as skills, items that mean something, and/or construction or crafting progress).

However, what about the players that aren’t about zoning out or something along those lines, and want to be more active in a game? What then? Simply put, this is where variety, random generation, and sometimes complicated tasks come in. One example of a wonderful grind is Guild Wars 2. You always want Gold. You can buy practically anything on the market, including even crafting materials to create the best gear in the game. There’s even a Gold-to-Premium-Currency market built into the game. It’s a bit like the stock market, but as more people convert Gold into Gems, the exchange price slowly increases.

But now you’re wondering, how do I get Gold? It’s pretty simple: The fastest way is to do Meta Events (staged area events, somewhat like public dungeons/raids in an open area) with other people, but there are many other ways too. You get tons of treasure chests for each stage of the Meta, which contain unidentified gear, crafting materials, and other items you can directly sell on the market for Gold. So literally playing the game how you like earns you Gold, because you can sell the loot you earn from enemies among other things – and this loot isn’t unbalanced like most MMORPG’s. Sure, you have your junk items, but the equipment you get from drops can be sold for a reasonable chunk – usually at least 1 Silver. Now if you think about it, that isn’t very much, but you also have to consider that there are also crafting materials and other things that go for much higher.

Though another tactic is procedural generation (such as Minecraft). If you give the game a formula, have pre-made assets or building blocks, and random seeds, you can create worlds of interesting environments and whatnot for players to delve into. You can also create different missions and quests for players to do, and scale the rewards and rarity of these quests based on their difficulty. If you want to make it even more convenient (because players like convenience), then you can give the missions a one-use area teleport like Star Wars the Old Republic does with their Daily Heroic missions these days (or at least the last time I played it). To me, as a player who enjoys both variety and something to daze out to, quests like that sound wonderful and very enjoyable.

Something to note is that you don’t want to necessarily alienate players as a general rule. There are solo players, there are group-based players, there are raiders. There are crafters, there are jacks-of-all-trades, there are active grinders, and there are passive grinders. Variety is the spice of life, and if you can have things that cater to everyone in your game (without diluting your game due to people-pleasing – looking at you, Witcher 3) then I’d say that’s a job well-done.

In the comments below: Are you a passive grinder? Are you an active grinder? How do you feel grinding in games (especially MMO’s) can be improved? Any favorite grind-based games? Any favorite music you put on during your grind? I want to hear from you.

Lotsa love. Roxie out.

Roxie Revonae
So… I’m Roxie. To be fair, I’m just some person… girl… thing… on the internet who likes to shout my opinion as loud as I can while also doing it respectfully and trying to come from a place of good intents. I’m an extremely spiritual individual (the legit logic-based para-psychological stuff, not the “woo-woo” nonsense) who has a lot of diverse interests, and spends her time working on herself and trying to get ahead in life. I want to provide my views on topics that would normally be a bit controversial to some in the gaming, sci-fi, tech - whatever you’d call this blog - industry. I play games because I see them as an experience, something to enjoy and get immersed in. My favorite games used to be MMORPG’s but I’m learning to enjoy more single-player experiences as of recently. I’ve felt alone for most of my life, so the ability to interact with other players in games has been something of a comfort to me. Oh and I'm also a heathenous little thing that has to filter myself incessantly just to write these articles.
Share Feedback We Want to Hear From You