A lot of people have started discussions about grinding lately, and what would reduce the feeling that the game is overly grindy, or make grinding more tolerable. One of the things that have made the discussions always frustrating for me is that I think people are always blaming the wrong things, and are often suggesting things that will make the game more grindy, not less grindy in the end. Part of this is because we're all as players coming to different expectations of how the game should work, comparing to other games we think work better, or holding grievances about things in the game that annoy us. But I've thought it might be useful if we could actually break down what's happening gameplay to its different parts, so we could discuss them better, and discuss their effect on grinding. This is a basic model of the 'grind cycle' -- First, to define the terms used here. GOAL. This is the initial goal that the player has. This can be really broad and open-ended, but can include things like, - Complete a quest, - Craft a piece of gear, - Get to a certain level of game-play, - Get to a certain level of competitiveness. REQUIREMENT. This is what is needed to complete the goal. It can include things like, - Complete the quest chain, - Collect the crafting ingredients, - Achieve a certain level of XP. ACTIVITY. This is a single activity that has the incentives to complete the requirement. It can include things like, - Go through a series of conversations, - Go to a scene and farm ingredients, - Go to a scene and farm XP. INCENTIVES. These are the incentives the activity gives to complete the requirement. It can include things like, - High raw material yield, - High yield in gear and consumables as rewards, - High XP yield. PROCESS. This is the process of the activity. This may involve, - Fighting, - Harvesting, - Crafting, - Exploring, - Solving puzzles. LIMITERS. These are things that limit your ability to engage in or repeat the activity in some way. It would include things like, - Needs to repair gear, - XP attenuation, - Weight carry limitations, - Food requirements, - Healing requirements, - Gear requirements like arrows, reagents, - Difficulty of combat and penalty to repeatedly dying, - Spawn times, - Activity time requirements, - Travel requirements. Now, in the actual course of game-play, the limiters might become goals themselves, which have their own requirements, so a cycle of game-play might look like this -- To analyze the effect on making a grindy game and ways on ways to reduce this, lets go through each category one by one. GOAL. This has an effect on grinding to the extent that goals that require a lot of activity seem arbitrarily forced by game-play, rather than a product of freedom and choice. So, if you have to be at a certain level of game-play to enjoy content, this forces you into the activity of grinding to get to that level so you can enjoy the game. So, for example, if basic-level quests require you to kill Tier-5 monsters to move on with the story, or if group content in multiplayer seems to force you to go into a Tier-5 zone to find good party activities, or if harvesting for basic crafting requires you to put yourself at risk in a Tier-5 zone. That basically says you have to "grind to continue." REQUIREMENT. This has an effect on grinding if the requirements are too onerous for the benefits of what you're trying to achieve, but not if they're a perfect challenge for those benefits. So, for instance, if you want to craft a sword, and it requires 500 ingots. Or if you want to keep a house, and it has an upkeep of 1,000 gold per day. The amount of the requirement is not a problem if its reasonable for the goal, and this varies for the goal. So, farming a whole field of cotton should be a pain in the butt, but you shouldn't be required to farm a whole field of cotton just to make a cloth hood; you should need to farm a whole field of cotton if you want to make 1,000 cloth hoods. Also, gathering a lot of granite for a town wall isn't a big deal, because a town wall only needs to be completed once, and the need for materials actually creates new goals for you, and more game-play for you. While gathering a lot of ore for a sword is a big deal, because swords have durability and you need to create them over and over when they break. To the degree that a game might exaggerate the importance of adventurer level, skill level, or gear level, this might also feel like an onerous requirement game-play, although its proper that they do have some importance, because that helps create game-play. ACTIVITY. This has an effect on grinding if the activity is very limited in nature, because to the extent that you feel you need to repeat it, you feel you're doing the same thing over and over again. So, small scenes might feel a lot more limited than big scenes because they're extremely confined, and scenes where enemies are easy picking, like picking fruit off the ground, feel a lot more limited than scenes where you have to make some effort to seek out enemies, like picking fruit off a tree. INCENTIVES. This has an effect on grinding if the incentives are very limited to a single activity and not to many activities. So, for example, if one scene is 100x better for earning XP, or 100x better for harvesting wood, than every other scene, you feel forced into the same scene over and over. Ideally, you should have at least more than one scene to go to, and basic (not exotic) goals should be achievable for everyone within their region of the map, so they don't feel they have to trot across the map to get XP or wood. Some regions might be better than others in achieving the basic goals, but as long as its balanced so that staying in the region is advantageous over traveling and going to get a marginally better output, its all fine in the end, because one scene isn't overly incentivized. With more exotic goals, on the other hand, its good that there might be some travel or may be limited to a fewer amount of scenes -- since this might be balanced by participating in the player economy, because playing the economic game after all is an alternative activity to harvesting things yourself, or by PvP, because that's also an alternative activity. The player also shouldn't feel forced into feeling that going out and farming things is necessarily the best and only desirable way to achieve a goal. With this in mind, mechanics for the player-to-player economy could also be improved to increase economic cooperation and a lot of things are good to that end. Regional economies are good for this end. So is encouraging player specialization, because it means there are blacksmiths, bowyers, etc., instead of just "junk vendors" that sell random items. What you want the game to function like is that if you can't find a certain shield you want, you can stop by a player blacksmith, and drop him a note asking him to make you that shield for you. The next time your shield breaks and you stop by, he might even have this shield prepared for you, so you don't have to ask him. Shop advertisement through things like functional bulletin board systems would also help. The point is that making the player-to-player economy function in that worked for the needs of the game-play would reduce the feeling that you have to engage in one activity -- harvesting. It also has the advantage of decreasing the need that you might feel "forced" into going into a PvP zone, might there ever be special things in PvP zones. It would also be good if there were more areas which incentivized grouping between high-level and low-level players. This is a big part of the reason why people like Upper Tears, not necessarily because of the yield or because how fast the res-pawns are. This gives you more options for different types of activities. PvP content that mattered to the game world and yielding things you could get through other means such as farming or playing the market, would also create another activity to achieve the same incentives. PROCESS. This has an effect on grinding if the process is either mindless and boring, or too punishingly difficult. Double-clicking nodes, mobs, or UI repetitively is mindless and boring, and having to scrape your way back from death after jumping 0.5s too late and having your pinky toe touch some lava is too punishingly difficult. Mini-games or some type of interactive game process are preferable to double-clicking nodes, needing tactics in combat are better than just building up skills and mashing keys or double-clicking enemies, seeking out enemies is better than having them just pop up everywhere in front of you, and traps and such that can be managed and avoided with realistic expectations are better than "gotcha" traps that you can't escape from. LIMITERS. These have a negative effect on grinding only if they're more repetitive and more onerous than the activity you're participating in. Otherwise, they can have a positive effect by breaking up repetitive and mindless behavior and creating more variety and options in game-play. An example of a negative effect is if you have to go to town every 5 minutes to repair gear or drop off loot, because that becomes tedious and onerous. But if you have to go to town every 30 to 60 minutes, that actually can get you out of farming the same scene for 2 hours or more, and create more variety in game-play and more interesting game-play. The negative effect is further mitigated and the positive effect is further increased if there are ways to plan ahead and prepare for your game session. So, for example, if you carry a repair kit, it delays the time you need to go to town, or if you carry more than one piece of food, it delays the time you feel you need to go to town. This is good both because it gives you an extra margin of error for your personal needs, but also the aspect of planning and preparation is an interesting aspect of game-play on its own right, rather than being mindless. As far as things that generally slow down farming time, whether it means needing to return to town, or waiting for re-spawns, stress should go on how much more enjoyable it is to go around in a scene and explore it, or go to multiple scenes, if you can; and how whenever one player gets a high yield or spawn time, all the other players also have it, so you end up competing with every other player. This drives prices down, crafting requirements up, increases requirements to compete with players all around. It creates endless pressures to enter more grind cycles, it makes them harder and more tedious because the requirements are higher, and makes the benefits of doing the grind feel smaller. It also removes all incentives to go and do other things, rather than stay in the same scene for two hours. So when people ask for things to be faster, replenish quicker, and to have less player limits, it ends up making the game more grindy, not less grindy. More tedious, not less tedious. I have to stress this, because its often a scapegoat for games being grindy, and I feel its a red herring in so far as improving game design goes, because the effects of what people are asking for are counter-intuitive to what they want. That's not to say these things never are a problem. So, yes, I admitted if they're more too repetitive or onerous than the primary activity, they become a problem. However, they rarely are. You can travel the map in a few minutes, you can fill your backpack with ore for two hours, you can fill your backpack with near weightless repair kits, so you don't have to go back to repair your gear, you can avoid eating food or carrying potions or using reagents all together. And in fact, one of the problems I feel is going on is that they're too optional and easy, which avoids the positive effects from these limiters on grindiness. Of course, there are other problems -- all described above -- which do make the game grindy, and increase the degree that people might feel annoyed by these limiters. You might feel you need to gather ore for 2 hours because its necessary to make a simple sword, or grind for XP days on end just to compete with other players, or might feel there's only a single scene, across the map from where you live, that is suitable for some basic need, or might find it impossible to find some piece of gear from a player vendor so have to grind it out and create it yourself. However, rather than scapegoating these role-playing limitations and focusing attention on things that make the game more varied, more complex, and more interesting, we should fix the actual problems that make the game grindy in the first place.