Grinding Is Poisoning the Videogame Industry

It can make you feel just like grinding in reality. Not fun.

Life is a daily grind. We commute, go to work or school, and do things such as chores, homework, and other projects almost every day of our lives. You would think that in our free time away from all of this grinding, we would do something relaxing and fun that removes us from the tedious activities we perform on a regular basis. However, this is becoming quite the opposite case with videogames. Grinding is becoming a norm when it comes to designing a money-maker, and this philosophy is slowly beginning to poison the industry.

Now grinding isn’t always a bad thing in games. It provides a challenge and gives players a sense of accomplishment when they complete their objective at the end of all the work. It can be a nice feature, but it really shouldn’t be one of the main factors when it comes to design. Historically, developers and publishers have kept to this philosophy. But since the massively successful rise of World of Warcraft, industry studios have all seemed to look at the MMO’s heavy use of grinding and determined that doing the same will generate longevity and replayability for their games.

It seems now that almost every game with an online component, especially FPS games, are creating systems that will lure players into grinding hours away into the game monotonously in order to gain a certain sense of high status in the community. This increase in grinding isn’t entirely the fault of the players. Humans are naturally driven to grind in order to gain a sense of accomplishment, importance, and belonging. We have been raised with the knowledge that grinding is simply a part of human nature and survival. Even I have fallen susceptible to this many-a-time in games. It is not the fault of people to fall victim to this basic instinct.

The blame for the most part falls upon the developers and publishers. They see grinding as a way to hook players into their product and know that human nature will drive their players to grind. They exploit this fact, whether they are aware of it or not, in order to obtain the largest profit possible. But studios need to know that they have to, for the sake of the future health of the industry, stop taking this path or it will ruin games in the long run.

Take Modern Warfare 2, for example. With exception to WoW, this is the current pinnacle of coercing players to grind their lives away into a game. Their multiplayer system makes players compete in games for hours upon hours in order to gain levels for respect and unlock superior weapons, equipment, and perks. Players who really want to get the high-end weapons will even have to start completing challenges that they otherwise would not want to try or attempt if not for the desire to be on a fairer playing field or have an advantage on other players.

The biggest problem in MW2‘s system is the prestige mode. When players max out their levels at 70, they are left with two options. You can either stop leveling and be left in the dust from the community, or you can prestige by re-leveling a new tier and forfeiting every single unlocked item you have earned to this point. This is essentially a lose-lose dilemma that makes you feel like your grinding has been almost worthless.

If more games continue in the way that MW2 has, grinding will continue to poison the industry until players become as upset and stressed over grinding in games as they are in reality. If there’s no fun to be had in games, players won’t play them. Without players playing the games, the industry will bottom-up and fall apart. Even RPGs and MMOs shouldn’t feel themselves immune. Now that grinding has become mainstream and is seen in full for what it can do, not even these genres will be spared when the possible backlash comes.

Studios need to stop thinking about how to make a bigger profit margin when it comes to design and remind themselves that they are trying to entertain their customers. Design your game in ways that can get them to enjoy it without the monotonous rigors of grinding. Only by doing this can the industry progress in a healthy and truly prosperous manner.

Fortunately, some studios have already tried to do this or are in the process of figuring out ways to combat the increasing presence of grinding. Gearbox put an emphasis on co-op and produced a surprisingly fun game with Borderlands. There were no hours of killing things because you needed the experience or items, just killing things because it was a fun thing to do with friends.

Upcoming MMOs like All Points Bulletin from Realtime Worlds and Guild Wars 2 from ArenaNet are looking to take emphasis off of the genre’s reliance on grinding as well. APB simply puts players in a sandbox of changing gametypes and lets players go at it with one another in what is looking to become an incredibly fun package. Guild Wars 2 is creating a system that will bring adventure to the players in an event system, instead of players going out for quests. It will also encourage all players to work together to protect the world with everyone getting equal rewards as opposed to hogging enemies for your own grinding gains.

Grinding is most definitely spreading through this industry like a poison. It is not a poison that needs to be removed, simply one that needs to be contained. It should remain a factor in design for games where it makes sense, but it should be a removed as a major feature and placed as a secondary one. It’s a feature that needs to be regulated and controlled. Without it, games can become less of a challenge and just not interesting. But if it continues along its current path, people will no longer see the point of spending their free time doing the same boring chores they perform in their normal lives.


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Author: Mike Murphy View all posts by
Mike has been playing games for over two decades. His earliest memories are of shooting ducks and stomping goombas on NES, and over the years, the hobby became one of his biggest passions. Mike has worked with GamerNode as a writer and editor since 2009, giving you news, reviews, previews, a voice on the VS Node Podcast, and much more.

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