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Editorial: The daily grind is a daily bore

May 23, 2010

The concept of grinding should be familiar to RPG players: killing monsters to get money so they could to get better items or to become stronger to tackle bigger baddies. In moderation, it’s a nice way of giving the player the option to do a little more outside of the main game.

But what happens when that is taken to an extreme?

Recently, I’ve been playing through Final Fantasy XIII, which Square has been quite pleased with, and while it’s quite a pretty game with a nice spin on the old active time battle system, to try and get anything done in the later chapters of the game, I had to fight a lot of enemies — including the monster seen in the photo above.

The choice was to either bulk up or be beaten down rather quickly by enemies with inflated HP levels. This meant hanging around and slaughtering whatever I could until the enemies weren’t as threatening anymore.

When it came to making weapons stronger, that required trying to get a lot of money together, which is no easy feat in Final Fantasy XIII, breaking the RPG staple of having enemies drop money. What they do drop is usually worth a drop in the bucket to some of the inflated prices in the in-game stores.

I was no longer having fun with the title and, as much as I wanted to see it through to the end, it would mean doing the grind, which drained the fun out of playing it. It was no longer about enjoyment; it was playing for survival in the next area.

This hasn’t been a phenomena exclusive to RPGs, as the idea has been seeping into some recent action titles. Capcom’s Devil May Cry 4 requires the player to farm for tens of thousands of orbs and souls to upgrade Dante’s and Nero’s skills and weaponry, and Sega’s Sonic Unleashed had an upgrade system that required defeating enemies or purchasing food items to make the blue hedgehog faster, or to bulk up his nighttime werehog form.

What’s the joy in making the player do this at such a tedious level? Are game developers becoming so strapped for ideas that artificial lengthening of a title through required grinding is becoming feasible? Forcing the average player into a position where they need to stop advancing through a game just to build up destroys the flow of the title.

Strengthening up should come naturally along the course of the game to allow more enjoyment. When I get a game, I expect for it to be an enjoyable and entertaining experience, not to go through the monotonous chore of killing more enemies or get more money to even stand a chance on the next area. That just jars me out of the whole experience.

For players who are fine with hanging around and grinding, offer up extra rewards for taking the initiative, akin to how Nintendo’s Pokemon series handles it. Through the regular part of the game, the player makes some decent money and levels up at a good enough pace that the next gym shouldn’t be beyond their means.

However, for players more interested, a “meta-game” involving breeding and specific training of a pokemon exists to create super strong pokemon. It’s purely up to the player’s discretion if they want in on this, keeping the way for people who just want to casually enjoy a title to cruise on by.

The game industry needs to reconsider artificial lengthening extensively as all it does is alienate potential players outside of the hardcore fans. Yes, there’s the notion that with the higher price games carry,  longer game play will balance out the cost.

However, hearing a game will last around 70 hours usually means that some form of fetch quest (where the player must go to a location to get or kill something for an NPC) or grinding is in there. It may be a necessary evil in some titles, but over-relying on it will only detract from the experience.

The game industry should shy away from the practice in genres outside of the RPG while minimizing its necessity within it. Titles like Pokemon show there’s a way to please both grind-loving players and ordinary players through an optional meta-game, which is a system that should be considered more.

Now excuse me, I need to go kill some dogs on the plains for more money to pay that NPC on how to open the path to the next area.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 23, 2010 6:24 pm

    This is what the expectations of the modern console market have done, unfortunately. Ever since Metal Gear Solid was criticised for being an 8-hour experience (imagine that criticism just 5 years prior!), developers have needed to actively manage how much time players are spending with their games.

    The problem is as follows: players won’t move on to the next £40 game if they feel that they should finish something they already have. On the other hand, if players finish too quickly there will be adverse press and internet reaction. Dealing with this isn’t easy. Making a game more difficult is frowned upon these days, and if they got any easier you’d be having the buttons pressed for you. Besides, no two players have the same abilities. Clearly, changing the skill level isn’t an option.

    Level up systems transfer the development of skill away from the player to the player’s avatar. Unlike real skill, developers can control how quickly it is accumulated, and the rate is the same for all players. The only variable is how committed a player is – they’ll only finish a game in a week if they cram the required grind time into that week. Bad players can eventually pass difficult sections by powering up their characters, while good players will have to grind when they run up against a wall where stats mean more than skill.

    I don’t like this system, but we’ve brought it upon ourselves. How? By accepting (and praising) long grindfests over other games for nearly a decade and a half.

  2. May 23, 2010 6:52 pm

    And it’s sad that this will continue to become the norm at the rate it’s going. At the same time, the industry is also dawning that people aren’t home as much as they used to be, so portables are becoming more appealing. We’ve already seen a few portable titles trying to promise tons of hours of game play from Konami and Square but would that even be a good idea to pursue?

    Probably better saved as a future editorial, since that’s moving into another direction.

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