RPG and MMO players: What does Grinding mean to you?

One of the more charged terms in the lexicon of gamers is GRINDING.

MMO players almost universally hate grinding, though there’s a certain breed of single-player RPG gamer that enjoys it. But what exactly IS grinding?

I think it means different things to different people and I think that leads to some confusion when we’re talking about games. So I’m hoping we can have a discussion about this. Let’s hear what YOUR definition of grinding is.

I’ll get things rolling:

To me, grinding is when a game forces you to kill the same mobs in the same place over and over again in order to progress. In the worst sort of grinding, there’s no quest or other reward involved: you just need to kill the same monsters over and over again to get combat experience to take you to the next level (or until a mob drops a required item) in order to move on. So kill, wait for respawn, kill, wait for respawn.

Substitute in similar monotonous tasks for grinding in crafting.

The best (worst?) example of grinding to me is any circa-2005 Asian MMO where you’d get 1 quest every few levels and in between you’d have exactly 1 type on monster that you’d have to kill at each level and no way to move forward except sitting there and killing that 1 mob every time it popped.

Conversely, if a game gives you a series of quests that require you to kill the same mobs, I see that as the ‘best’ kind of grinding since the monotony is broken up by returning for quest rewards that hopefully make you stronger. If there are alternate quests you can do instead, I don’t even consider this grinding (or maybe grindy) since you have other options that will let you move forward.

So that’s my long-winded definition. What’s yours?

9 thoughts on “RPG and MMO players: What does Grinding mean to you?

  1. At Double Cluepon, we live somewhat in that space you mention as the sweet spot. However, we have elected for it to be a bit more on the optional side. Especially if you’re say….a merchant. Merchants should not have to tank or melee in order to be successful. Merchants moving goods between say city A and city B…perhaps they could hire escorts? Take on a band of folks for commod transfer?

    Emerald Kingdom will have a few other options for increasing your skills, and upping your power to do damage…or whatever it is you do. As we’re not doing forward facing numerics, and are instead going with ratings…we have a bit more flexibility in this area. Yes, you can “grind”…if you want to swing a melee weapon, we certainly will reward you for that…but if you work out that strength and skill doing something *other* than grinding away at mobs, we will also reward you.

    Grinding should be, on many levels and optional activity you choose to indulge in. A person here in Chicago can learn how to sword fight without going into the forest preserve and hacking deer. Why would we expect people to go out and kill 5000 deer to increase a sword skill in a game? It’s absurd. =)

  2. I’d agree with your definitions but not limit it to just one type of mob. If I can chronologically reach a set of quests before being of a high enough level to do them, I have to grind. That can be killing any group of mobs, running instances I’ve already done before, crafting or anything else that will raise my level outside the main questline. If it’s “optional” but your pacing still forces me to do it, I call that grind.

  3. /strokesgoatee

    All games ask us to do things over and over again, whether it’s killing or traveling or running or jumping or collecting. GRIND, to me, is when whatever it is they’re asking you to do suddenly switches from “OK, let’s do this!” to “this is taking too long”.

    When you have 5 quests, and each quest is to kill X creatures and/or bring back Y items, I firmly believe that there’s a BALANCE that can be achieved that makes this either NOT, or LESS, grindy than it would seem on it’s face. Normally, if someone says “5 kill quests” or “5 fetch quests”, people might groan because they think that it’s going to be “kill 10 of each, and they’re going to be spread all over the fumoggin landscape, meaning I have to run all over the place, compete with others, and the spawns aren’t going to pop often enough.” or the same as above, with the added “and they’ll only drop what I need once every 5 kills, so I have to kill 5 times what’s needed!”

    But when the mobs pop frequently, when you can complete one quest AND another in the same engagement, or when they don’t overwhelm you with numerical requirements (just kill or collect 3 instead of 10), I can deal with it…even enjoy it! Using required numbers as a break on progression is the WORST offence a designer can make in this case, IMO. Instead, make the creatures JUSt a bit harder to kill instead of making them trash mobs and upping the body count.

    Of course, this takes a firm hand at the rudder, and a LOT of playtesting, but some games have accomplished this.

  4. My definition is more or less the same as yours, or at least I agree with the specifics of your text. For me though, at any point in any level where I’m consciously staring at the bar and willing it to change over to the next level as I do whatever monotonous task — at that point, I’m grinding. When I’m having a great time doing whatever I’m doing and I’m NOT conscious of my skill bar or level bar or whatever the case might be — then I’m immersed and pleasured and not grinding. But honestly, those moments could just as easily fit your definition, I’m most likely killing the same mobs I’ve been killing or creating the gazillionth pair of uber l33t gloves. So I guess that’s a round-about way of saying that for me its as much a head game as it is the mechanics.

  5. For me, “grinding” is when the game pretty much forces you to do any one given in-game activity many, many times to progress. Now, taken abstractly, that’s almost the definition of an RPG or MMO, but in practice, most games break it up by changing venue, changing tactics, that sort of thing. There’s a threshold of repetition of the *same content* that is where I look at something as grinding.

    Alternatively, there are the points in single player RPGs where you’re stuck behind a leveling curve that I consider to be grindy points. Specifically, I hit a wall in FFXII where my team is at level 27, but most walkthroughs suggest I should have them at level 42 or so. I can feel it as I get my team killed repeatedly against bog-level standard foes in the new area the story took me to. That 15 level gap is what I look at as a grind, since to make up for my team’s weakness, I’d have to go back to content I’ve played through and play it again and again to level up sufficiently. Sure, I can go almost anywhere old or just keep trying to kill tough enemies, so there’s choice, but the story has stalled, and only by *grinding* through levels will I be allowed to proceed.

    As such, it’s largely a pacing issue for me. If I have to go “do my homework” to qualify to proceed with the story or questlines, it’s grinding. …and I don’t like it in any game. As much as I like single player RPGs, I gave up on FFXII for that. (Incidentally, Chrono Cross does marvelous things with pacing, and I’ve not seen any game do the same thing since.)

  6. That was pretty much my definition until I broadened it to mean “The time until I reach max level.” especially if it means that I have to “grind out” tons of quests to get there.

  7. As several others have stated, for me it becomes a grind when I’m watching the experience bar (or equivalent) instead of just playing the game. This happens most often when there are new “story” quests, be they main or side, to be done.

    The biggest example of this I’ve seen was with my best friend and the early days of City of Heroes. He hit level 37 with his main character and ran completely out of contacts with missions. No new missions would be available until level 40. For several reasons he mostly solo’d, so it seems that the game was balanced more for team play. He sent 3 levels just going from roof top to roof top in Brickstown (I think it was called) just killing mobs. I think that if it wasn’t for alts, he would have quit the game at that point, as he would do some grinding, then switch to another character.

    For myself, I want some reason for what I’m asked to do, so I really dislike the generic “go kill” missions, as they seem like the worst type of filler. Give me a quest to eliminate the pests overrunning a famers fields however and I’m happy. So I have to agree with Gwyn, most of it is in my head.

    Love,

    Cassandra

  8. This happens most often when there are new “story” quests, be they main or side, to be done.

    Oops, I meant when there are NO new “story” quests…..

    Silly me.

  9. For me, on the one hand I still associate it with the original “grinding mobs” aspect. But in later years I also associate it with pretty much any repetitive activity that gains a negative connotation to it. It can be grinding mobs for progression or grinding quests or dailies. There’s some (in)tangible “something” at the end of that rope, but the only way to climb it is through a specific repetitive pattern and the enjoyment left the building some time ago.

    LOTRO’s Deed system is a major grind. As are any type of “kill N” where N ends up with multiple digits. STO had Diplomacy (now expanded into all Commendation categories) which was a grind (now moreso), or grinding daily missions for Dilithium. Borderlands’ “Claptrap’s New Robot Revolution” DLC had a few achievements that were 100% grind to gather all the collectibles for them; people would set up their Xboxes with the game running then just leave so friends could join the game to grind that stuff out…

    So for me it isn’t the repetitive nature per se — all games have some sort of repetition, after all — it’s when it induces negative emotions or a negative experience. The activity becomes almost a punishment we willingly endure to get to the final reward we seek.

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