It seems to me that Shamus of Twenty Sided and I share many tastes when it comes to games, especially MMOs. His latest Escapist article neatly summarizes many things that I’ve written about more than once:
In short, he notes that “grind” can broadly be thought of as anything that the player has to do before getting to the “good part”. Devs seem to want to steer players through game elements with their own assumption of what “the good part” is, which leads to some conflicts of interest.
As I note in my comment over at his blog, I lay a lot of blame for this sort of design on the business model. When you directly monetize time to access and play the game (not even time played, though that also leads to the same conclusion), the design impetus is to include things that take a lot of time. Players spending time directly translates to them spending more money.
It’s the dark, stinky underbelly of the subscription model, something those who constantly complain about the Item Shop model conveniently ignore in their headlong rush to condemn design decisions those games make to monetize players. True, many of those decisions are also stupid, but sub games are not saints. In all cases, the business model affects game design; you just have to pick your poison.
I find it interesting that consumer patterns track well across different purchases, too. I don’t rent cars, I buy used ones, paid in full, no financing. I don’t rent movies, I borrow or buy. Ditto for games, though I’ll usually buy when there’s a sale or used.
So I’m cheap. I call it thrifty.
Borrowing from Shamus’ playground analogy, I either take my kids to the local public parks or maybe buy a swingset. (We’re looking for one on sale.) We don’t go to the local theme park (Lagoon, in this case) to blow $70 or more on a single day of waiting in lines for a few minutes of fun. We certainly don’t buy season tickets.
To be sure, those offer great value to some people, but not to everyone. That’s what I keep trying to illustrate.
When those value equations sort out differently for different people, the game design itself is naturally pulled in different directions. The playground just doesn’t work the same for everyone… and that’s OK. There’s a natural tension between that variability and the “one size fits all” monetization schemes, though, and when the game is trying to appeal to all sorts of different players, well, it’s only natural that there will be tensions on the business side, too.