Why MMORPG is grindy: economics

Discussion in 'MMO Design and Virtual Worlds' started by SW, Apr 3, 2009.

  1. SW

    SW Active Member

    Simple economics determins that MMORPG is a grindy genre:

    Layman's explanation is at the bottom, the above part is just formal micro-economic reasoning:

    The goal of the developer:
    1. Minimize Costs, which is mainly developer time.

    2. Maximize Revenue, which is the same as Time spend in subscription games.

    Now lets add in a set of assumptions:

    3. Players are motivated by two different factors. One would be the fun and skill factor that has immediate effects, and the other is the "world" effect of status and such. The player would play when the sum of both factor exceed a threshold value.

    4. Short term "fun" is related to developer time investment, and declines with additional player time spent in the game.

    With this in mind, one thing is certain:
    1. For a game with finite developer investment, at some point the player would get bored, or the "fun" factor falls under the threshold value, and the player is motivated partly or completely by status/long term goal reasons. This is the grind stage of the game where there isn't much fun.

    2. Assuming law of diminishing return applies for both the short term fun factor and long term "status" factor, there is a crossover point where the developer would spend equal marginal effort on both. This means that the developer would always have long term goals in mind.

    Layman's explanation
    MMORPG revenue is dependent on player time spend in game, where longer = better. To make the most money out of the system, the developer should actually dilute the fun parts of the game over long period of time. They also establish long term goals in experience points and items because it is a low cost way of making players play longer. Because the idea is to make people play the longest time possible, it is best to keep the player at the very margin of "not-quite-quitting" where there is just enough fun and long term goals to keep playing but not more.

    A developer that tries the "no grind" approach would run out of content much faster than a competitor (and lose players because of that) and lose money in competition. Most MMO games are played for far longer amounts of time than singular or pickup equivalents both in absolute terms and in terms of ratio of developer time investment to player time spent.

    This is completely a result of the payment plans in MMORPG games. In a single player game that is pay once for endless plays, there is no incentive to drag things out. It does result in some very well crafted experiences that is the result of a lot of work to make but last only 10~20 hours.
  2. pictish

    pictish Member

    I am wondering if anyone didn't know that grinding made players play for longer.

    Anyway, the grind model loses out to a competitor that doesn't feel the need to insult their playerbase with an enforced time investment to enjoy content, with players that can appreciate that system. Guild wars did alright (and introduced entirely aesthetic grindy stuff in the title system, as far as I'm aware) and they had no subscription fee. Just make the MMO deep enough that the combat system or something lasts a really long time.
  3. SW

    SW Active Member

    Given the existence of both long and short term motivations, there is always a point that the long term motivation is the driving factor.

    Actually, if you offer them infinite progression, than ANY FINITE content would result in boredom at some point. There is aways a point where the finite content is traversed and further play is invested for "grind" purposes. The only real way to prevent grind is to limit progression at some point and "self terminate" the game and pretty much stop the players from playing it! (and lose potential revenue)

    That is difficult and expensive. Otherwise why isn't ALL games deep, balanced, and can be played for a long time? Besides, even for the deepest game, many players may not be interested in the detailed mechanics need to play that well, and they'll end up grinding. It is one thing to think of games from a player perspective, but another from a dev perspective.

    There is no way you can make infinite content with finite money. Given finite content, long/infinite progression (which leads to grinding) optimalize revenue given the subscription model. This is a simple inequality that no change in the actual content would effect.
    In a competitive environment for developers, the money do go somewhere. It goes back to reinforce the quality and content of the game. However, as said before, players naturally "overplay the game to the point of boredom" anyways given that a long term goal exists.

    Now that I think about it: What really happens is here.

    The grinders subsidizes the game for other players that play for fun, as the fun players they get more content for their input. The large scale also means economy of scale so more "fun" value is actually generated out of the entire enterprise, at the cost of some grinders.
    Considering the fact that players actually choose to grind, it can be said that gameplay at those points have positive value even if not particularly high. I don't see why "ejecting those players" and those motivated by longer term rewards as necessarily a good thing.

    Guild wars works like that because it doesn't work on subscriptions, which has its own set of problems for a developer.
  4. nifboy

    nifboy Member

    Just a quick point; if you're running on a subscription or games-as-a-service model, you absolutely do not want players to run out of stuff to do. This can be accomplished in several ways, such as meaningful PvP* or regular new batches of PvE content. Even once an end-game WoW raider has killed all the bosses and gotten a full set of best-in-slot gear, it's unlikely a whole guild will ever be fully kitted in preparation for the next set of PvE content.

    *: Note that PvP success is relative while PvE success is more absolute, the implications of which are left as an exercise for the reader
  5. Majidah

    Majidah Well-Known Member

    The best way to do this would be to do a single release and then not provide long-term support. And yet no successful MMO has ever done this.

    The majority of MMOS on the market are payment optional. Either fully free to play, micropayments or pay for perks. Others use an expansion based system. Even among subscription games business models differ. EVE is subscription only, WoW sells expansions and subscriptions. There seems to be at best a minor correlation between a game's success and its use of the subscription model. This correlation may be exclusively historical.

    1. Most MMOs have at least 10-20 hours of solid RPG-like play in them. They also tend to cost less than single player games and provide an optional social networking factor. Thus, why not simply buy an MMO, play it until your bored and then abandon it? The only one who's forcing themselves to grind is you.

    2. MMOs provide ways for players to add content to the game. Thus content based fun and developer time are not required to be connected.

    My feeling is you've played a limited cannon of MMOs. I recommend sampling a few of the more avante-garde titles, like Second Life, Ryzom, A tale in the Desert, Dreamlords and Puzzle Pirates.
  6. STCAB

    STCAB New Member

    MMO's are all sucky and are scamming people out of their money by acting like they're facebook.
    Are you a bad enough dude to save the genre?

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