Grinding is bad, reaching goals is not

For the past couple of weeks, ever since I hit Concordance on my main hunter’s artifact and hit level 40 on my Artifact Research, I have taken a vacation from BS and World Quests. Just haven’t done them. Grinding out hundreds of millions of AP for a marginal increase in power simply is not worth the effort, in my opinion. I am close to the one billion mark for getting the next level, and that number just makes my head explode. I took the AP bar off my UI because I can’t stand to see myself getting, say, 9 million AP and having the bar progress less than the width of a human hair. It’s too demoralizing.

This effect, of course, is more or less what Blizz said their goal was. They actually want us to think it is not worth the effort. In fact, they have jiggered the AP accumulation rate and Concordance costs so that it is not just difficult but impossible to max out one’s artifact traits.

Think about that for a minute, and you will see what a remarkable move this is. For almost the entire history of this game, character progression has been primarily based on two mechanics: racking up achievements and getting gear. Sometimes the two are even combined — remember that sense of satisfaction each expansion when you get the achievement for all blue gear or all purple gear?

Getting “that” weapon used to be one of the highlights of an expansion. Remember when you got that cool heirloom weapon after downing Garrosh in Siege of Orgrimmar? Hunters, remember when you finally got that awesome bow from Deathwing? (I loved that bow, still use it a lot for transmog.)

The esteemed Game Director, Ion Hazzikostas, has lectured us many times on the evils of “grinding” — it is no fun™, he has said repeatedly, to “grind” for gear, to build up tokens if you know within a certain amount of time you will be able to get the gear you desire. No, people! That is not fun™ at all, it is much more fun™ to be surprised when you win the gear lottery, or even better to be unlucky enough to never win it at all! Whee!

And yet, Legion’s artifact weapons are the antithesis of even this supposedly baseline design philosophy. You are given them via a small quest line when you reach level 100 (removing at least one piece of gear from the normal “getting gear” game pillar), and then you spend the rest of the expansion upgrading them, by grinding for AP (violating the “grinding is evil” pillar). Mind, you are not grinding for cool new weapons, no indeed, you are grinding knowing you will never get another weapon in Legion, all you can do is get some incremental increases in the one you have. Furthermore, after a certain point, it is mathematically impossible to grind enough AP to get even a small upgrade. So what the “grinding is evil” group at Blizz has done is implement a mechanic that is not only a pure expansion-long grind, but one with no end goal.

The mind boggles.

Which brings up the question: what exactly constitutes a “grind” in the game? It’s a term each of us understands perfectly, yet which I suspect few of us would agree on. (It’s like “content” that way.)

To me, a grind is a process in which I spend a period of time doing certain activities not for their own enjoyment, but for the purpose of achieveing some other desired end. The activities themselves are usually boring and tedious, but they are worth it to me because the goal is something I really want. The grind is made tolerable by the fact that the goal is great, and by the knowledge that each time I crank out a few more of the boring activities I am closer to my desired goal. So, for example, I did the endless dailies in Mists because I wanted the rep that would give me the profession recipes and gear I wanted. I did those uninspired weeklies in BS because I wanted to open up the hunter mount quest line.

So the grind itself is almost always not fun, but reaching your goal is fun. This is a basic truth that is apparently beyond the grasp of Ion Hazzikostas. Yes, nearly everyone hates grinding, but nearly everyone likes knowing that if they just stick with it, they will get what they have set out to get. The root of much of the dissatisfaction with Legion’s eternal AP grind is pretty much that it is the grind without the reward. Yeah, I know, you get some small increases in your weapon power, but realistically the rewards are not enough to justify the grind in many people’s minds. We are all Sisyphus, doomed to keep pushing that boulder up the hill, knowing we will never be allowed to reach the top with it.

WoW has conditioned us to chase achievements and gear/mounts/pets/whatever. It is true that we play the game in the big picture for relaxation and fun, but in the micro picture once we are playing we keep doing so for the tangible rewards. Very few people would keep playing the game if all it consisted of was a series of quests that gave no “things” as rewards. We all yammer on about the fun of raiding, for example, because of the satisfaction we get from a team effort, but would any of us keep doing it if there were no gear or achievement rewards also? Seems doubtful.

So for Blizz to introduce a mechanic like the artifact weapon and all its peripheral mechanics just flies in the face of everything they have established as game motivation since the beginning, and it seems to violate the very philosophies they espouse as fundamental to their game design.

Time for another weekend.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

6 Responses to Grinding is bad, reaching goals is not

  1. Marathal says:

    That is my basic fundamental problem with Legion. There is no completion. Even Reputations are endless. Exalted +10,000, get one, and the next achievement is for 10, Legendary gear? They want us to have multiple piece to swap around. You covered the weapon quite well. It is never done, there is no way to raise the level of your weapon, unless you get Relics, and how hard is it to put in a higher level bad one, over a lower good one. The expansion has a great deal of stuff, but it’s like the I Love Lucy where the chocolates are coming down the conveyor. At some point it’s beyond impolitely.

    • Fiannor says:

      I had forgotten about the reputation mechanic — yup, same annoying mechanic. Grind with no end state. It really just blows my mind to have Hazzikostas blizzsplain to us how evil grinding is, then go on to tout the virtues of an expansion that is nothing but endless grinding.

  2. ScryersHecubus says:

    I’ve got a different take on the weapon then you do. I view Concordance as the final piece. Everything else afterwards is just a bonus. It’s something that people who want some token reward for continually running content to get a bit more powerful. The power isn’t significant enough that most of the community should feel “forced” to run it. Indeed they set it up to be impossible. If Blizzard set up a final weapon goal/trait that was attainable there would be social or personal pressure to attain that goal. This set up seems to be Blizzard’s attempt to protect the player base from themselves.

    Conversely, if they set up the final weapon trait as being easily attainable, people would complain about Blizz catering to noobs. It would allow the completionists a chance to finish but then the forums would be filled with complaints about lack of content. Or if you could finish it but late in the expansion they’d complain about getting a fancy weapon and not being able to use it.

    I think it’s a damned if they do and damned if they don’t sort of thing. They’re trying to find a middle ground and it’s never an easy task.

    • Fiannor says:

      You are definitely right about Blizz never being able to win on lots of these decisions. No matter what they do there is almost always some loudmouth like myself ready to excoriate them for it. In fairness to them, they have indeed laid out that their goal with traits and AP is to have people think about it exactly as you indicated you do.

      That said, I am still unhappy with what I see as a trend for Blizz to use never-ending pursuits like AP and — as mentioned in a comment above — endless faction reputation and pass them off as “content”. Of course, the entire game is a never-ending pursuit. (My husband is fond of asking me if I have “won” the game yet. 🙄) But this “extend everything forever” just seems to cheapen achievements, to take away the sense of satisfaction you get when you reach a goal in an expansion. Specifically in Legion, it contributes to my sense that I can no longer complete goals I normally set for myself — even when I think I may have completed something, it can turn out to to be not so because Blizz added a bunch more on.

      In Legion, the chase for AP is one of the main motivators to keep running Mythic+ dungeons and doing WQs. Absent that motivator, these pursuits lose some of their attraction, especially at higher ilevels, and that once again hits Blizz where it hurts: Monthly Active User metrics. I just object to instituting a pointless and eternal chase as a motivator to keep playing. It makes me feel used and manipulated, like poor Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football. Which is why I have for all practical purposes stopped doing dailies on my main and am concentrating on having fun with some alts.

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