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.

World quests = Dailies with a new name

I have been running quite a few world quests lately, and the more I do them, the more I realize they are just Mists of Pandaria dailies prettied up a bit. There are a few differences and improvements, sure, but basically these are gating mechanisms for rep, which in turn is a gating mechanism for profession advancement, gear (mainly in the form of chasing AP for an artifact), and other end game activities. This, of course, is exactly what Mists dailies were.

There was a good deal of complaining about the Mists dailies, and Blizz did their typical over-reaction in WoD, where for many months we had zero dailies. Now, it seems the pendulum has done another huge arc and we are back to the Mists model. True, I eventually found the Mists dailies to be a grind, but in general I didn’t mind them. At least I knew if I kept at them that I could achieve certain goals — earn tokens to trade for reasonable gear, get a nice mount, eventually get profession recipes I wanted, etc. And, refreshingly, achieving these goals was not dependent on blind random luck, it was a function of how much effort I put into the game. (Effort results in reward, what a concept.) Also, the Mists dailies were an activity I could do on all my alts once they hit max level, no need for them to have a certain gear level, no need for me to have much beyond basic proficiency with them. And they had the added bonus of giving me a quick way to maintain and even improve some of my alt skills without having to take them into time commitments like LFR or actually try to do instances or raids with them.

So when I say that Legion World Quests are essentially a rework of Mists dailies, I don’t mean that in a negative way, I am just pointing out that they are the same game mechanisms. Blizz gave them a new name so as to spare some players the apparent trauma of reminding them of Mists, and they vary them a bit more, but it’s the same activity. And I suspect we will soon see players complain about being forced to grind them every day, there will be whining about “burnout”.

The ultimate success or failure of World Quests will, in large measure, depend on how well Blizz is able vary them, and on how well they will be able to keep them relevant once people have all the profession recipes, artifact power, and rep they need/want. There are a couple of ways they could go about this. One would be to offer paths to new types of rewards — perhaps a token or coin system redeemable for mounts or pets, or maybe a Mythic+ key, or gear enhancements such as unique gems or enchants  (of course, at the risk of enraging crafters who like to sell such items), etc. The other way to keep WQs relevant is less exciting, and merely consists of adding more of the same for rewards — continually adding new profession recipes, even more AP for an ever-expanding artifact tree, a couple new factions that require a whole new set of rep, etc.

One thing I do not expect to see is a continuing relevancy of gear as WQ rewards. There are already huge whines from self-styled “hardcores” deploring the “welfare gear” from WQs, and let’s face it, Blizz has a history of catering to these snivellers. (I have never understood the zero-sum mentality of “If you get decent gear, it takes away from my fantastic awesome achievement in getting lucky in a raid and tragically makes me less of a special snowflake,” but that is another subject entirely.) I have noticed already that the Emissary quest rewards seem to be getting stingier and stingier.

So for now I am dutifully doing my Mists dailies World Quests, and I don’t mind them because I can see progress towards some game goals. But they are becoming a bit grindy, and — absent some pretty significant new incentives — I can see them within a couple of months becoming an alts-only activity for me.