Why do we grind ? (Not the dance, or the dating app)
Why do we kill trash mob after trash mob to get those levels, those crafting components ? Why do we inflict ourselves with this ?
There are 4 reasons as far as I see it.
1. Because we like it
2. Because we want that reward
3. Because we have to
4. Because we feel like or think we have to
1. Because we like it
Sometimes the grind is fun. There are entire games based around killing monster X , just to get the better gear, to kill bigger and better creatures.
Examples of these would be Monster hunter and Diablo 2 and 3. There is no grinding to get to the gameplay, the gameplay is the grind.
2. Because we want the reward
Sometimes the rewards are worth it, even if the grind is a bit dull. Grinding points in the battle arena to get that omnislash, collecting 20 dragonscales to get that dragon armour,
capturing 10 of each bird, so we can fight some special boss. Killing a 100 dragons to get an achievement. We don't necessarily want the grind, we want what the grind gives us.
3. Because we have to
We just killed the boss of the first dungeon, we're all level 3, but the next area has all enemies at level 7, so grinding we have to do. The boss wipes us in one turn , so a grinding we go.
The recommended level for the next storyquest is 10, but we're at 8 ? You got it, the grind (or badly constructed sidequest time). I have to collect 3 broken keys, but the rats only drop them 1/5th of the time? That's a grinding.
4. Because we feel we have to.
The enemies are kicking our ass? Better start grinding,(instead of learning the game mechanics) no matter that we're already overlevelled for the current area.
I ranked them because I really feel that there is a descending order of desirability here. As we move down the list, we start to remove player choice and enjoyment.
What separates the first 2 for example? The difference between intrinsic and extrtinsic rewards.
An intrinsic one is where we do something for the sake of doing it, an extrinsic one is where we do something because we get something else from it.
It can make the same activity feel vastly different from eachother, just by virtue of why we do it.
It's the difference between playing tennis because I like playing tennis vs playing tennis because I'm trying to lose weight.
The difference between #2 and #3 is one of choice. If I chose to grind for that better sword or whatever, I won't actually feel resentment over it, but if I need that sword to progress, I now HAVE to grind.
If it is possible but hard to finish the quest underlevelled I feel as if I chose or did not choose to grind, and I will feel better doing it if I do it.
Now the distinction between 3 and 4 is one of communication to the player. If the designer really intended me to grind between each main story mission , and is upfront about that, sure, I might be able to stomach that.
But if I grind from level 10 to 15 only to later find out I wasn't supposed to go there yet, or there was some hidden weakness to all these enemies I had no way of finding out on my own, you can be sure I will be pissed off.
Now we have looked at it from the player side, how about we put or developpers hats on , and look at it from our side.
Why and when do we want player or do not want players to grind ? A couple of points and counterpoints:
a. + If we designed our game around it
- Artificially lengthens game time
b. + Each combat is fun to play
- We eventually buttonmash through each combat.
c. + It smoothes out our Difficulty curve
- Can make the game too easy
I feel like each of these sentiments can be classified along 2 axes
A. How much we want to allow the player to grind
B. How necessary it is.
It leads us to 4 situations:
1. We want to allow players to grind, and we require it
2. We don't want to have our players grind, but it is also unnecessary
3. We allow our players to grind, but it is unnecessary
4. We don't want to have our players easily and convenently grind, but it is necessary
Not all of these lead to equally fun gameplay, but I'm going to discuss what a designer might do to facilitate these kind of games.
1. If we require them to grind, and want to enable them, we should make the grind as accessible as possible, and eliminate down time.
A quickly back to town skill/item, a lure skill, some places with intentionally high monster density, some Hard, but very rewarding enemies (think metal slimes).
Maybe have a training arena where the player can just pick an enemy and fight it. Or maybe just an actual arena, like in kingdom hearts. It cut most of the story beats for just a neverending onslaught of enemies in everchanging troop composition.
Have the grind be part of the fun.
Now there are some pitfalls here. I do not advise to make the grind brainless and easy. Convenient? Yes! Easy? No!
My solution to this is simple: have rewards for enemies below the characters level quickly drop off, either with exponential XP curves, or an actual reduced XP recieved if the enemy is too low level.
Maybe even rewards for grinding against higher level enemies.
A big enemy and troop variety is a big must too. If I'm going to be fighting a 100 battles in this area, I want to have at least 8 enemies in at least 25 troops/configurations.
2. If it is not necessary and we want to discourage it, there are multiple solutions.
One is the presence of only a limited number of enemies per level, but this then becomes a game of find all enemies before continueing, making the player grind nonetheless.
A slightly better solution is to only give a slight boost per level gained, combined with a steep xp curve. If it is not worth it, they will quickly stop doing it.
Having the enemies level along with the player certainly discourages levelling ( looking at you FFVIII!), this will often lead to player frustration.
A good solution, if used in moderation is to have regular enemis give very little xp, and the boss then give a very large amount. If the enemies give 5xp, but the boss gives 500 xp, I'm not going to waste my time.
A slightly different solution is to have a time limit to your quests.
A clean solution is to just have the player quickly reach maximum level (like in guildwars), or gate level progress behind game progress(FF XIII style).
Whatever you do in this situation , you have to be fair to the player. If you don't want him to grind, then he should be able to beat your game without grinding.
3. If grinding is unnecessary, but you still want to allow the players to do it, you have mainly the same things as in situation 1.
But, there is a question. If they do not have to, why would a player grind in your game ?
One reason is that they want to choose their own difficulty in the game.
Why don't they just lower the difficulty then ? There is player pride : I beat the game on hard! (after overgrinding each area, untill the game was as easy as it was on normal)!. It is the reason I stopped picking the harder difficulties in persona. The only thing they make me do is grind more. Instead I just play on normal, but avoid overlevelling. My experience is better then going on very hard and just grinding.
It is also often the result of locking achievements or good endings behind a difficulty level barrier.
A good reason I find are optional bosses. The ultima and omega weapons of final fantasy, the elizabeth/margaret/twins of persona, the high level hunts in FF XII/XIII, the battle arena in FFX.
If the player makes the main game too easy on himself by grinding, but he still knows where to find a challenge when he wants one, thats better.
Another fine one might be comsetics. I did not have to grind for that teddy bear armour, or the pink armour paint, but I wanted to.
In short, If grinding isn't needed, but you still want to reward the player for it, give them a nice reward to go for.
Final fantasy often falls into this camp? I dont have to grind to finish the main game, but the grind is there if I want it.
4. The grind is/looks necessary, but I don't want the player to do it easily.
This is a weird case of it either being intentional, or the result of bad gamedesign. Let's split the 2 cases.
a. I did this intentionally.
Sometimes, grinding makes a character way stronger, and is necessary to progress, but you don't want the player to have an easy time doing it.
This often results in the game directly fighting the player, trying to kill him. The most known example I could give are roguelikes, where each enemy you fight could be your last, but you still have to level up to fight the final boss.
A nice example of the oppressive system this entails is seen in darkest dungeon. A game where you have to level your heroes, but each one also has permadeath, and even if you don't die, you might wind up paranoid, sadistic, or suicidal permanently.
b. Oops, an accident
This is mostly caused by wrong playtesting, or just wrong design decisions.
You limited the encounters in an area, but the boss is actually unbeatable at the level you can get, because of a last minute xp per enemy change.
You make the enemies level along with the player, but you also insert random chance based "collect 10 bear asses that drop 10 % of the time" quests in there.
You have weapon durability, but encounters don't cover the repair costs
But whatever you choose, make sure you gave it some thought. Do I care if the player grinds, do I want him to, what happens if he does ?
In my current game, I'm going for the grinding optional, but if you do, I want to make it as easy on you as possible.
I'll have the hunt/safari/battle royal skills, that spawn 1/5/10 random encounters in a row, with rewards if you finish them all, but no healing/resting in between, so grinding is convenient if you want to.
I combine this with a custom xp curve that takes a heavy jump after each chapter end, so players can grind a bit, but are still doing the final dungeon of each chapter at the desired difficulty. for example, lv 8 to 9 costs 90 xp, lvl 9 to 10 costs 100 xp, but 10 to 11 costs 150 xp and 11 to 12 costs 200, 12 to 13 is 300 xp. The xp per enemy has equivalent jumps. Level 9 enemies might give 5 xp, but lvl 12 enemies give 20 xp. So staying at the right level is actually the best way to level up.
This combined with an ever flattening power curve means that every level is worth less than the one after it, percentage wise. level 1 to 2 sees you getting from strength 1 to strength 4, increasing your damage 4 fold. level 20 to 21 increases the same stat from 400 to 441, a 10 % increase in stat, and a 20 % increase in damage. At level 50 this is 2500 to 2600, and a damage increase of 8%.
For clarity, my stats are level(+/-1)², and damage is about att²/defense, so against an equal level enemy, this amounts to damage=attack stat (or lvl²).
This means that I can have a tight control over player progression in the beginning, but later on I can allow the game to open up, and to have a bit of non linearity.
Leveling will also only get you so far. The customisation options for the characters are locked behind dungeon completion, and not raw levelling.
Anyway, opinions ?