Game Barriers – All Are Not Created Equal

As we discussed recently on episode 6 of the Horde For Life Podcast, most of us recognize and accept that game barriers, that is to say intentional developer placed barriers to a given players advancement, are simply a necessary evil in today’s online gaming world.

Until such time that technology advances to a point where a developmental team can create grind free dynamic content at a pace that equals or exceeds a player ability to consume it, we will be saddled with this methodology to control and throttle the pace at which we advance on the treadmill.

So while we can agree that game barriers are here to stay at least for the foreseeable future, existing and new development teams must realize as we prepare to enter generation 3 of online gaming that grinds and obstacles are a very different means to the same end.

Obstacles will and probably should exist, but grinds… grinds should be stricken from the developer tool bag and from the online gaming worlds lexicon. The very definition of the word grind; laborious, repeating and/or uninteresting work should clearly identify what a blight this often used developer mechanic and methodology is upon the online gaming, MMO world. Simply put anything that is laborious should not be part of any game.

So just how different are obstacles and grinds? Let me give you just a few examples. Accumulating rep with well over 50 factions by wearing a designated tabard and running a dungeon ad nauseam is a grind.  Being forced to kill hundreds of trash mobs to reach a few bosses in a dungeon or raid is a grind. Going to a specific zone, say Sholazar Basin in the World of Warcraft and flying around in a circle for endless hours to gather Saronite is a grind. And not to be outdone, my personal favorite; being forced to acquire a “tier” set of gear to be competitive in either PvE or PvP only to find that by the time the average player acquires said gear, it becomes irrelevant and obsolete because the next tier is announced.

You will notice that many discussions that include the word “grind” also include the word “forced”. Grinds and obstacles may be required at this stage of MMO evolution but if the mechanic is forced, then it will be met with disdain. A common example of a non forced grind would be the option the player has to level via farming level appropriate mobs, often called “grinding out levels”. This is much more acceptable, because it is just one of many options the player has to level, it is not forced.

Obstacles on the other hand are an understandable if not welcomed barrier to pace the player. Obstacles are tolerable tools that developers have at their disposal to throttle the player, something that hinders progress but is generally not forced. A good example of an obstacle would be tougher instances, tougher boss fights, harder quests that yield better rewards or rep or both.

Most players would rather spend their time wiping on a boss encounter, learning the strategy, even if it means a few more wipes, as opposed to spending hours clearing a room from trash mobs.

The good news is that some developers, Blizzard is particular seems to understand this and is enacting change. All it takes to see this work in progress is a trip to Molten Core, the first Warcraft raid created in 2004 or Stratholme a launch dungeon. You will immediately notice the seemingly endless trash mobs. Imagine tackling these encounters at level 60.

Now take a trip to Grim Batol one of the Cataclysm dungeons, here you will notice that the players are presented with a vehicle mechanic where you are set out on top of a set of drakes for a trash mob bombing run. The better job you do at blasting these grind mobs, the fewer of them you have to actually vanquish on the way to the boss encounters. It is not perfect by any means but your enjoyment of the mechanic is not important in the larger view. What is important is the fact that Blizzard “gets it”. Blizzard knows that trash mobs serve no player purpose and is at least exploring options to reduce at least one of the many grinds that are unwanted staples of the online gaming world.

Now if Blizzard would just realize that all the many benefits that adding a wardrobe feature or appearance tab would improve, specifically when discussing another grind; gearing by tiers. But we will save that discussion for another time.

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