The End Game game....

Because my blog post is very long and I wanted to post it here, I have only posted the first three paragraphs. The link is below if you care to read the rest. Otherwise, hope we can have a discussion anyway.

I am not trying to start a controversial thread here so hope you will bear with me. I know that the vast majorities of folks here who also play games, especially MMOs, are motivated by the very things that we see in most games, the achievement, the rewards, the progression, etc. However, I want to talk about another way to play an MMO.

Recently, we have seen more games attempt to change the grind that goes along with these games. Crowfall seems to be adapting the passive skill features from Eve Online where players gain skills without actively participating in raising that skill and even when they are offline. When my son drew my attention to a video of Crowfall’s passive skill methods and it made me think….deeply.

So when do you have fun playing a game? Is that early grinding period enjoyable for you? What about the mid-level grinding, when the monsters and NPCs you encounter are more challenging. Or maybe it is when the game puts out the new zone for those who have reached the top so they can start over again…or the next new zone? Or do you prefer the end game, when your character has reached the top and there is nowhere else to go. Is this when you quit the game or is this when you begin to play?

https://teilasblog.com/

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I have fun playing games as I uncover parts of the story. Not just the "story cut-scenes", but the background, the lore, the motivations behind things, etc. I like discovering new things.

Making faster, better, strong characters is OK. But to me it's not the fun part. That's just to enable me to get to new places, uncover new things. I hate grinding. It feels pointless.

Once I've gotten through the story, once I've seen what there is to see, once it's just "get stronger to beat the next boss", I quit. I do this with single player RPG's and adventures. I hardly ever get all the way to the end. It's the journey that is fun. For MMO's I often quit sooner. They seem to fall into the "first area is well thought out, and everything else is just hack and slash" mold. The ones I've stuck with the longest were "Guild Wars" and "Age of Conan" - and the latter only lasted for the first area to around 15-20 hours.

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Outside of instant feedback for achievements, the main value that I can see in grind is expanding available choices over time, and changing the gameplay experience over time through facing different challenges, like new enemy types that only spawn after you've reached a certain level. I don't play MMOs but for multiplayer games in general I prefer them to be either stateless outside of the current play session (like in Counterstrike), or state beeing tied to the lifetime of your character or server wipe-cycle (like in DayZ where it's mostly about the gear you acquire and you can lose everything at any time).

What I do like and think is important to keep players engaged, is having a super high skill-ceiling for actually executing the available strategies in the game most effectively. Like in Dark Souls where I played through the same segment over and over dozens of times just to practice blocking and finally defeat Havel the Rock, that was a much more fun and rewarding experince for me than crafting and enchanting daggers and jewelry in Skyrim for half a day.

The question is, what can your game offer instead of grind, to keep players engaged, and how do you achieve the positive things that grind can accomplish in other ways?

In the old Arma 2 mod days of DayZ, we've had a lot of fun just searching for rare gear and trying to stay alive. Much of the gameplay came down to risk/reward management and outplaying other players. And sometimes it's fun to find something rare, just because it's rare, like a can of Mountain Dew which had an incredibly small droprate compared to other softdrinks (for no good reason other than making one super rare, they were equally valuable/useful in the game).

And related to the examples you give in your article: there need too be enough forms of possible ingame interaction to create emergent forms of play, that were not designed or incentivized by the developers.

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@Teila - I'm interested in your answer to this, too. I don't stick around for MMO end games, usually just playing socially, adventuring in small groups to see new sights and experience new stories.

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To me the whole term “end game” in MMOs is moronic. But then again I’m not a huge gamer. I enjoy the adventure. The whole rushing through leveling and skipping 9/10ths of the world to get to “end game” doesn’t make sense to me. I’m just glad most developers don’t skip developing content for their whole world for those of us who are explorers and enjoy nomadic play styles allowing us to roam and die horrible deaths when we roam into places we don’t belong yet… heheh

At any rate, I kind of went off on a tangent there with the whole “end game” term. Great convo @Teila ! Very interested in this discussion! Following… :slight_smile:

[quote=“TonyLi”, post:4, topic: 666499]
@Teila - I’m interested in your answer to this, too. I don’t stick around for MMO end games, usually just playing socially, adventuring in small groups to see new sights and experience new stories.
[/quote]

That’s me too, @TonyLi ! I don’t even really do raid groups at all. I’m more of a solo adventurer. Occasionally a small group. I enjoy MMOs more for the other social aspects. I’m a crafter in most games I play so I take advantage of the multiplayer aspects more for selling my wares/taking orders for crafted stuff than any sort of “end game” aspects. For me, developing awesome story lines around the communities/sights in a game and developing a solid way for players to be social overall is more important than throwing tons of time into “end game”.

@Teila - I don’t mind a grind where it makes sense. I also don’t mind some offline progression to the grind, although I would think offline progression would be MUCH slower or maybe instead of offline progression, do something like what WoW did with inns where it adds a bonus for a period of time that boosts progression when you come back and play for a period of time when you go offline in an inn. That way instead of just giving overall progression, you gain a certain bonus to speed progression of specific abilities dependent on where you chose to camp when exiting the game. For instance if you want a blacksmithing crafting boost, maybe you exit from the game at a forge, foraging you may exit the game at the herbalist shack, slight bonus on everything across the board you might exit from an inn or a campsite. I think I would rather see that type of mechanic than just allow all progression when offline…

Or another option might be some integration of mobile apps similar to what Neverwinter did where you could log in to the mobile app and work on crafting. I think it was crafting at least. Been a while since I played. Maybe have puzzle and crafting quests that can be completed using items in inventory or lore based puzzles that don’t require movement throughout the world to complete that could help progress while “offline” from the main game.

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[quote=“Martin_H”, post:3, topic: 666499]
The question is, what can your game offer instead of grind, to keep players engaged, and how do you achieve the positive things that grind can accomplish in other ways?
[/quote]

What are the positive things that grind can accomplish? My research shows that many people hate the grind. They only do it because that is the only way to progress and progression, is the way everyone plays this sort of game. It is the way it has always been done.

@TonyLi and @BackwoodsGaming both mention that they prefer to run around and see new sights, explore, socialize and experiencing stories. Plenty of people enjoy doing more than just grinding up skills. I realize that Shawn enjoys grinding and even gives other ways to grind…lol…which sort of misses the point. I am advocating no grind but I am not advocating no progression. I just think there could be a way to do it that would be fun, not a “grind”, which really is, according to the dictionary, “hard, dull work”. Is that really fun?

As for how to keep players engaged, I think there are many ways but they definitely depend on the audience of the game. I cannot imagine players who really enjoy the grind, maybe like Shawn, wanting to put it all aside for other things. They might feel it is not a game, not worth their time.

On the other hand, I have discussed this with a number of gamers and developers (which prompted me to write the post) and a majority of these said…“Oh, I hate the grind.” So, those folks play games just to get through the grind but they do not enjoy it. It is simply the hours invested in the grind that keeps them playing the game.

I think the clue to how to engage players would be to look at the folks who play the game and do not grind. Exploring, hanging out with friends, role playing, discovering new places and new adventures, etc. The new Zelda game, while not an MMO, is a good example of how the content is provided and player uses that content in unique ways.

So giving players tools, such as a way to build cities, farms, economic systems, trade routes, businesses, political systems, along with support for thriving communities might appeal to some of the people who hate the grind but love the social side of the game.

Explorers need new places to explore, mysteries, maybe items to collect or discover, deep lore that is actually part of the game rather than a short bit you read if you want to read it. Their findings need a way to become part of the world, through writings, books, art, museums, etc.

And story tellers need a way to tell their stories, through books, through role play, through plots that players can direct, through conflict and drama. Wars, astronomical events, gossip, crime, politics, all make great fodder for stories as long as the players are given the tools to use them. We have already seen that in some games out there, like Elite Dangerous and others. All the stories I have heard from friends are not how they leveled to 50 in bread baking but about cool things they did, an unexpected encounter with the evil guild or the big party someone in the game threw, or a marriage, or when they won a skirmish against the bad orcs. That is the fun, not the grind.

As players take control of the world and as they create relationships with others, they can push the content further. Player created and player driven content can create unlimited things to do. Of course, since most games require so much grinding, you see very few players break through this and actually make the game more than just a huge grindfest to the “end game” even if just a temporary end game.

End game to me is when you are done with the grinding and just want to play as your character, experiencing stories, spending time with friends, and taking advantage of all the cool tools and roles in the game. It is when I really start to play.

As for positive things grind can do, I suppose one might use that flash of dopamine when one accomplishes something. Well, I can get that through becoming the most famous baker in town, or by having a positive role play session with a friend, or by becoming mayor of a town, building a cool house, or discovering a shorter trade route. Progression does not have to be a grind. It can be discovery, experiences, and community as well.

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I can see that in a single player game. But the journey in an MMO does not have to be about leveling up to 150 and waiting for a new zone. It can be about being part of a community and putting your stamp on the world, whether as the hero who saved the town or the guy who is the most famous armorsmith in town.

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Oh I agree, I'm just giving my motivations. I couldn't care less about those things, or about community. Even in an MMO, I want the story to be about me (and the occasional sidekicks that help me out). :)

I missed this. Instant feedback can be from many sources. Not all gamers have the same level of satisfaction from the same stimuli. Choices can expand without grind. If you are gaining levels while offline or even while in-game but engaging in questing or social activities, you will still be expanding your choices and your game experiences will still change. The only difference is no grind. :) And lots of folks hate grind. lol

So for you, the MMO is a single player experience with NPC or maybe strangers you meet along the way replacing the companions/sidekicks in a single player game.

Since that is all you want from the game, then the rest of the experience in any game, even the ones you may have played, really are not important. Even in game with no grind, you can still adventure and go on quests with your sidekicks. Your rewards will be real though. You find loot off the bandit you killed and that loot gives you money to buy in-game stuff. You quest and experience your adventures.

The grind really is only a small part of the experience and it is the least fun part as well. :)

I kind of wonder if players really hate the grind as much as they claim. After all, they still play, don't they? Maybe there's something of value in the grind, even if it's mixed with some frustrating features, too.

When it comes to more places to explore and more stories to experience, player-generated content is going to be the key. The writers on Skotos.net posted a lot of good thoughts on player-generated content, such as these general thoughts about the topic, and these very specific thoughts on how in-game economy can make or break player-generated content.

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Okay, so you spend months and months grinding to get to level whatever. Do you want to quit the game now after all the work you put into it? I honestly believe these methods are just that, a way to keep the player from leaving the game. I remember the same exact feeling when quitting games....all that work gone. Usually I kept paying the subscription for several months until finally I stopped paying. I was never sure if I would come back.

Thanks for the link. :) SWG was a prime example of a player economy worked until the developers decided to make the game easier, dumb it down, and cater to those who wanted better loot drops. Adding that faucet completely ruined it. Prior to that, the economy did well, adjusting to the players reactions to prices. Everything was made and sold by players.

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That game might have much lore, but when I played it, it felt like a super shallow grindfest. I'd imagine many people who enjoy Elite Dangerous also enjoy Euro Truck Simulator, like Yahtzee hinted at in his review. Not sure how it's balanced at the moment, but it used to be over hundred hours of grind till you have a "lategame ship", unless you want to min/max an effective trade-route and do a few days of the most mind-numbing grind I could imagine. I'd rather dig for Diamonds in Minecraft.

I just had an idea, what if an MMO offered classes not in the warrior/healer/mage sense, but losely based on bartle types? One class that has traditional combat grind with leveling and unlocks, one class that each day they log in gets a few randomly chosen abilities only for that day (based on "ingame star alignment" or a similar lore reason), one class that has progression focused on gear they find and craft, which is inaccessible to other classes, and one "diplomate" class that has no stats progression, very low offensive abilities, very high defensive abilities, and unique abilities to interact with NPCs. Their progression could be gaining social influence in the world.
Just a thought, I don't play MMOs, so it might not work out in an actual game.


I agree, it's one of the worst pro grind/xp arguments. I should have explained that better.

When I played Wurm Online, that was how I played it. I was doing blacksmithing and carpentry for my friends, plus raising trees for various kinds of wood.

However, there can be a soothing enjoyment to the "grind". I can load up Rift, run around and do some quests, kill some monsters for their skins, gather some nodes, and have enjoyed myself. The play certainly requires less mental effort than some other games or hobbies of mine, but just like mindlessly doing some crocheting can be relaxing for some, mindlessly finishing a few quests can be relaxing too.

For me, it doesn't start to be "grind" until I feel like the game has put up artificial barriers blocking my way. Not just, "You have to earn a million experience points to reach level 100," but more along the lines of adding in, "And we're going to make the monsters worth so little experience that you'll take 40 hours to gain just one level so that we can keep you playing." The other type of "grind" I hate along those lines is things like, "Go collect a ridiculous amount of resource X so that you can do thing Y because we want you to play for another 50 hours or so just to get this." That's when I get annoyed and lose interest.

Ultimately, however, once I reach the maximum level and all there is to do is run the same dungeons over and over, I'm done. I either play a different character or move on to a different game. Even when each monster my character fights has a lot of similarity to some other monster I've fought before, at least it's not following the same hallway through the same monsters over and over and over just to get better gear to kill tougher monsters in a slightly different hallway.

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I think the pleasure of the grind come from the anticipation, doing effort to gain something is in the human nature.

As a designer, I always been wary of linear progression system in social set up, it does matter how big is the cookie jar and how slow you eat, at the end all cookies will be eaten. Refilling the cookie jar is also a problem, in design term it's the "content threadmill", that's expensive production. That create very static gameplay.

From that format I think that a maintenance type of gameplay work best, ie you grow something, but maintaining that state cost something that need to be collected, it create a back and forth between maintaining the state and collecting the resources. That's the model of management game like the sims. It's better if there is many state of diverse usefulness to maintain such as it creates complex economy and that you can't be in many state at the same time. Better if those two phases are mirror of each other, like maintaining one thing allow to collect easier for another state. End game "raid" (I don't mean just combat, but any hi level activity), would be about doing both of that, maintaining a power hi enough to engage in it but the raid being important to obtain consumable for another state. Linear progression would be retain for convenience like bigger gauges for collectibles.

That's basically what they did for the last zelda game, While there is still some cookie jar (koroks seed, shrine trinket, number of quest) everything else is consumable, progression are actually there to augment convenience in collecting the consumable (bigger inventory, bigger stamina and health), and even then you still can't maximize stamina and health at the same time, but you can respec them, it encourage to improvise and can change a similar encounter by having stakes emerging dynamically. They have an armor system that emphasis variation and trade off instead of linear progression, you can't be maximize stealth and have max fire resistance at the same time, and area emphasize different state so traversing them mean shifting and adapting, heavy armor is great protection but great hazard when it start raining with thunder looming over, which is a random event... Situation create the content.

In MMO it would create organic specialization not tied to class but on equipment. For example, what if inventory is limited and shared by all items, having health potion take the place of the stealth pant you could have, it means that you can distribute role by having a healer having all potion, and the tank all heavy equipment, instead of having given class, just trading the role base on requirement of a situation. And instead of having content to expend the game, the designer would focus on diverse situation, ie different mix of elements that create different stakes to resolve. To go further, I would have handcraft content, but also random events some procedural area to keep some unpredictability. Orc raid for example can be random, but also can be manipulated either through preparation (maintaining a fortified place, which require constant works) or through action (going into their fort depleting supplies so they don't have the mean of attacking, of course doing so deplete some of your resources and is not easy task), if on top of that you have events that perturb maintenance of your fort (harsh winter) it can lead to memorable situation.

But the danger is to create systemic dead end, where a character is on a slippery slope and can't recover from a low state, growing and maintenance should always be easy toward a middle state and hard on the extreme end. This would push for constant accomplishment. And since we have the state of each player and area, we can play on them to spawning events that match the current state in interesting way, either by challenging them or reward them.

/opinion

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I don't recall saying anywhere that I enjoy grinding. I guess I just see grinding as playing a game where you have to work for something and it isn't handed to you. I guess it would help put a definition on what you call grinding. Having to repeat content over and over again is a type of grinding that I despise. But it taking me a week or more to get through a level? I'm fine with that as long as I have new places to explore, options of where I can hunt and quest, and not being restricted to where I can go.

I think about the only way to achieve this would be to eliminate leveling and scale damage/exp earned/resistance/defense/etc for a mob based on player experience or player experience averaged between players within a group. Eliminate "end game" and have the whole game play through that way. That was what I was hoping to do if I can ever get back to my game. Without doing something like that, "end gamers" will always complain about grind unless you do like Blizzard and just give them a max level character when they buy expansions. All that accomplishes is more people complaining there isn't enough end game content, meanwhile the people actually trying to fully enjoy your world get neglected because 90% of your new content is always geared towards people too impatient to actually play through the game.

Sorry.. The whole concept of "end game" has been a huge pet peeve of mine for a number of years.. lol I'll step away from my soapbox now.. heheh

I love the idea of player generated content. I enjoyed being able to create my own quests and maps in Neverwinter that people could then play. It gave an alternative way to level and some of the players generating content were really good. The problem I could see is giving the player too much control over what they generate. That could be an economy killer. Neverwinter didn't let us define drops and it randomized based on whatever factors. That wasn't bad, but wasn't the greatest either.

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I would rather craft because I can use that to make in-game money and buy a house or clothes or better armor than for the XP. The soothing enjoyment of collecting the resources or finding another player who can sell you the raw material and then crafting the items...plus working with other players to sell my items, take orders, etc., is more satisfying and rewarding than a bunch of XP and then another grind to the next level.

I would rather kill monsters because they have invaded my village or because they are eating my crops rather than because I get XP.

And I would rather do a quest that has meaning to me. :)

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So in NWN you could stat out your equipment and do whatever you wanted with it, basically created super equipment that destroyed the economy because it brought down the prices of everything else....or so I think that is what you are saying. :)

When I talk about player created content, I do not necessarily mean allowing players the ability to create crafted items without any limits. I am not even talking really about content as items or objects. Content can come in all sorts of forms. Plots that involved players into detailed story lines, player created quests such as another player hiring someone to do something for them, solve a problem, get rid of the wolves that are killing their chickens, gathering many players to build a cathedral, becoming a slum landlord, protesting when the player king raises taxes, etc.

Obviously, I am partial to story driven games rather than games that focus solely on mechanics. Yes, we need those, and there are MANY games that do this. Many that grind, or have linear progression, and that suit players who like to come in and achieve over and over again.

It is not for everyone, and I am not even sure that it is something I want to do but I am seriously exploring this idea that for too long, MMOs have used the same tried and true formula. The fact that a few of them are experimenting with new ideas intrigues me.

I also met a guy at our Unity User group in Tampa who told me about his wife. He is 60 so I would guess his wife is close in age. She plays Lord of the Rings. The reason she plays it is to sit and make music with her online friends. She cares little about the linear progression, the grind, etc.

I found that fascinating. :)

Oh, you did not mind the grind, sorry, I misunderstood. Although, I think if you don't mind it, then it is okay. lol

Exactly. The content is the situation that is created, either through random events or through the players own "role play" or "stories". The raid may not be a spawn of orcs that attack the village, but a group of players that do so. The villagers may find out through espionage or based on past conflicts with these players and build their own fortification. Trade routes can be monitored, supplies stopped, wells poisoned, all creating situations that alter the player's behaviors.

None of these require any real change in the content but only that they are there and the ability to do these things is given to the player.

And while I mentioned a combat situation since I know most prefer that scenario (lol), this could also be true with a shortage of food due to weather that causes the villages to pull together to survive, or an infestation of disease, or even the need to recruit a baker after the village baker retires. Small or big, these situations push players to respond.

Now, this sort of gameplay will not appeal to everyone but then, the days of MMO's trying to throw everything but the kitchen sink really should come to an end anyway. :) We end up with watered down games that are just okay, but never really interesting.

I should say too that this probably won't work in a world with 500k players. Better probably for smaller populations where players have a vested interested in the world.

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I never played Neverwinter Nights. And no, I didn't say anything like that. :p Neverwinter (not to be confused with NWN) allowed you to create quests and layout maps but gave you absolutely no control over what dropped off the mobs within the instance that your quest/map ran in. The game would randomize the items that dropped. Which was good for economy because it didn't let people just create quests/maps that dropped super loot which would destroy the economy. Just wasn't the most ideal for the player hoping to get loot for their character to actually use because drops weren't necessarily geared toward the player's class either.

Yeah.. I think we have talked about this before in one of the skype groups we are in together. I'm pretty sure we are in agreement here. Just probably not wording my responses right. You know me.. heheh Sometimes I sound argumentative even when I'm trying to agree.. heheh

lol.. Again. It depends on what you call a grind. To me, an actual grind is having to kill the same mobs over and over to level. I don't like that at all and to me, that is a flawed game design. What "end gamers" call a grind, actually playing the game through to "end game", I don't mind but I also don't call that a grind. That is part of the adventure. UNLESS, it is full of what my definition of a grind is as I described at beginning of paragraph. Head spinning yet? heheh Sorry.. :p

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