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For a long time I always thought the idea of a grindy RPG made after the 80s was just a myth, just something from old games that stuck in people's mind even after the genre continued to grow.

Now that I'm attempting to make an RPG of my own, I wanted to do some 'research' to get an idea of what people in general like and don't like about the genre both by reading various forums and reading a lot of reviews for some modern rpgs, most notably Dragon Quest XI (I never realized how contentious this series was for a lot of people until recently). I've begun thinking maybe I was the one in the wrong, that I just didn't know what people meant by grinding.

I think most people can agree on a definition of "going out of your way for the specific purpose of gaining levels," but people have different views on what counts as going out of your way. For me, it was always the idea of running around in circles to get in random encounters. Not progressing toward in particular place, just screeching to a halt and picking one place to run around in circles because you believe the only way to progress is to get more levels. There aren't many games I've done this in from the SNES era onward so I figured grindy RPGs were dead.

In Dragon Quest VIII the world was massive and gorgeous. I wanted to poke every nook and cranny in it and find all the treasures, as a result I steamrolled most dungeons because I gained so much experiences from just enjoying the world. Was I grinding when I did this even though I wasn't really looking to gain levels when I was doing it? According to some people, yes, I was. To these people, Dragon Quest VIII is every bit a grindy RPG.

I've seen the phrase 'incidental grinding' thrown around to describe this. One reviewer for DQXI called himself a 'golden path' player. He sticks to the story path as he dislikes wasting time. Anything that's not the shortest path between two story points is considered wasting the player's time therefore levels gained via straying from the path are grinding. The phrase 'incidental grinding' is also used a lot to describe the levels you gain on the way to objectives as if everything that's not a story boss is just grinding for the story boss. Encounters can't just be interesting threats in your way. It feels like making a game that's just a boss rush is the only way to please this group.

Interestingly, I never see this mindset thrown at action-driven games despite having boring encounters a lot of the time too. In Zelda games there's tons of normal encounters spread all through the map that aren't worth fighting half the time and yet no one cares about them. I remember a conversation with a friend where he was talking about watching his roommate play Link to the Past and how his roommate just ran through groups of enemies without fighting them like this was baffling to him. My response was "yea, I do that too. They don't give experience so what's the point?" There's those blue knights that take three hits to defeat, but if you hit them once they get knocked back and have a few frames of hitstun before charging at you again. Just hitting them once neutralizes any threat they posed and you can just keep going. A lot of the time, it would put you in more risk to stay and fight them. Getting through a maze-like cave in Dragon Warrior III with random turn based battles feels a lot more threatening and interesting to me, yet so many people say the normal enemies in an action game are interesting threats along the way but are just bags of exp and loot in an RPG. I think any combat system no matter if it's action or menu-driven can get monotonous with a large enough dose of non-threatening encounters, I'm apparently in the minority.

Somehow, when you ditch random encounters for touch encounters, things get even messier. Now you have the problem that people run from everything and then get upset when they can't beat the boss and have to go back to grind. It's frustrating because you know if the game had random encounters instead then these exact same people would complain about how archaic and crusty it is (and yes, I know there's been attempts to make random battles more palatable like threat meters or Wild Arm's exclamation marks - people still complain though). At the same time, I can't blame them for running from all touch encounters. Once you give the player an option to move around something threatening them, of course the natural instinct is to avoid it.

With touch encounters it can feel like trying to read the developers' mind regarding how many encounters you should throw yourself into. I think some people would say "you should fight every touch encounter, the game's probably balanced around it" but that flies in the face of the fact that I can move around the encounter in the first place, and many game don't feel like they're balance around it. Sure, some feel balance for it (Xenosaga, Earthbound, etc.) but then there's Dragon Quest XI and all three Xenoblades which have giant maps with monsters everywhere, there's no way the developers intended for you to kill everything that moves, and if you do, you become grossly over leveled.

And then there are games that allow means to dispatch a threat on the field before entering a battle. Radiant Historia had a melee attack that would put enemies to sleep and then you could easily run passed them. Harder enemies took multiple hits to put to sleep. Then you start to question "should I always strive to do this and just fight the monsters I miss? What if I get good at it and hardly ever fail putting a monster to sleep? Should I still fight one of every new thing that I see?" It feels like the developers playing mind games. There's no industry standard on how touch encounters are balanced. I don't think there should be, but a game's got do something to tell me how it's handling it.

Perhaps the most balanced method is Mystic Quest and Chrono Trigger's way of set encounters on places in the map that are difficult or impossible to move beyond. This might be the easiest way to sell normal encounters as worthwhile threats on their own to a general audience. I find myself not enjoying this very much though. I don't like the idea of nearly every battle being mandatory. There's a part of me that does like how DQXI and Xenoblade are basically giant playgrounds to enjoy the battle system at my own leisure with monsters scattered everywhere. I like fighting monsters for the fun of it, and I like having a mix of non-hostile monsters where the attack is entirely on my part.

There's also this weird thing where players who don't enjoy the game very much are the ones who will stick to the 'golden path' and end up struggling through boss fights are also the one's who haven't had the patience to understand the systems well enough to fight stuff underleveled because they don't enjoy the game. It puts them in a weird loop where their lack of enjoyment in the game up fronts snowballs into situations that keeps them from liking the game. They walk away saying it was grindy and required no real thinking or strategy regardless of that being true. You try to show them videos or offer tips on how to handle a particular fight underleveled and they don't want to hear it. They've already made up their mind that gaining levels is the only strategy.

On the other side, players who enjoy the game are more likely to seek out optional content and get overleveled despite also being the ones who are more patient about learning the game's systems. These players would delight in the under leveled challenge that the hypothetical players in the above paragraph found themselves in. These players walk away saying they liked the game overall but it was just too easy and tell people there's no grinding required. I'm this type of player. It's like your punished for enjoying the game too much by gaining levels too quickly from optional content in addition to understanding the systems and your punished for not enjoying the game enough by being both underleveled and not understanding the systems.

Then you've got players who just like to grind. Grinding can be cathartic and they enjoy watching their characters slowly accrue power and the numbers go up from performing a relaxing activity. I can't blame them either. The gradual progression of power is a major hook to the genre and I've enjoyed fighting for the sake of it and watching numbers go up as well many times even when I didn't need it. There's a good video on the defense of grinding here that does a good job explaining this perspective (edited out the video - I hadn't watched in a couple months and realized the guy made a very distasteful joke in it, but trust me there's people who really like grinding).

So, how do you balance all of this? I know you can't please everyone but at the same time it seems wrong to shut out all dissenting views to your preferred style. You might miss out on learning something that way. But is it even possible to make a game that appeals to all these views to some extent? Most importantly how do you convince people they don't have to grind (especially when people can't agree on what exactly grinding is)?
The best definition of grinding I've seen is an activity you are forced to overdose on in order to get to the activity you want.

Anyway, one reason for JRPGs receiving a different treatment from action oriented games is probably because battles in JRPGs often just aren't fun. If people complain regardless of wether you use touch encounters or random encounters, maybe the problem is the battles themselves? Do not assume that the actual problem is whatever people are complaining about, most players do not analyze their issues very carefully.

As for touch encounters, you usually find out soon enough what the developers intends as long as they stay consistent. If you fight all of them and a boss becomes too easy, chance is you're not supposed to fight all of them. If you skip a lot and the boss seems too hard, you probably skipped too many. This may very with player skill, but even so, you should find out what works soon enough.

Finally, when it comes to balancing, pick who you want to appeal too. There is no magic solution that fits all. You mentioned player who don't enjoy the game often picking a golden path approach. Well, it seems rather pointless to try to appeal to players who don't enjoy your game. What you may want to ask yourself is how you communicate your intention to the player so that the players you are trying to appeal to are the ones who also try your game.
I think it's one of those things where you will end up with a solution that pleases some but not all. Casual games tend to, by nature, be much easier to progress through the story, and someone who wants to simply get through the story, like the Golden Path player, is an example of a casual gamer. They're not interested in grinding out fights, they just want to topple the next boss and unlock the next episode of the story, and that's fine.

Then there's people like me who are on the grind-heavy side. I enjoy grinding, killing groups of enemies repeatedly, and feeling my characters get stronger. I invest my time and energy into profit, because I am constantly seeing my characters become stronger, find more items, unlock more skills, and I enjoy that. Of course, I wouldn't do any of that unless the combat in the game is designed quite well, with fun skills to play around with.

Personally I think you should head the route you enjoy most, because you always will have dissenting views despite where you land on it. Do you enjoy on-screen encounters? Then I'd use those: have the enemies block your path, chase you, or maybe a little cutscene once in a while which results in a battle. Maybe they reappear onscreen after you leave the area so people who want to grind can get a few more fights in.

I'll use an on-screen style for most of my games, though personally I prefer random encounters because of the constant threat it gives me. I enjoy the whole "poof, you're in a battle!" Especially if I'm two levels deep in a dungeon and debating whether I head down that one long perilous path with the amount of potions I have left. It's a bit more intense to me.

Now, you could go the route of creating both types of encounters and have the players choose at the start of the game (random encounters vs onscreen), but you'll try to please everyone and, more than likely, will burn yourself out on that endeavor.
They told me I was mad when I said I was going to create a spidertable. Who’s laughing now!!!
When I talk about grinding it's generally in the context of "doing a repetitive task to gain more Thing." You can grind for items and the like in addition to levels, after all.

I feel like trying to balance for every player type is a fool's errand, and a dev is much better served if they focus on whatever's best for the kind of audience they want. (Usually however the dev likes to play.)

It's also silly to try to "convince" a player to play a certain way, beyond basic signposting. Some people just want to play how they want to play, and if that breaks the game for them, then it's just not a good fit for them.

Probably your best bet for addressing the problem of grinding is just make the game fun in other ways, so the grind isn't as painful if a player does feel like they need to go that route. Polishing the battle system and having a good variety of encounters is one pretty good way for that.
I feel like trying to balance for every player type is a fool's errand, and a dev is much better served if they focus on whatever's best for the kind of audience they want. (Usually however the dev likes to play.)

It's also silly to try to "convince" a player to play a certain way, beyond basic signposting. Some people just want to play how they want to play, and if that breaks the game for them, then it's just not a good fit for them.

Words of wisdom spoken right here.
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
I would define grinding as any kind of repetition of tasks you've already completed, regardless of whether or not you go out of your way to do them instead of "progressing." If the game makes you fight the same battle six times before you can continue, that's grinding. If you get the same random battle multiple times, and you don't run away after the first time, that's grinding. You already did it, so doing it again is grinding, regardless of whether the reward is progress toward the next level up, progress toward the next dungeon, or both.

In some games, even fights that are technically against completely different enemies can feel like grinding, because they play out so similarly. It can be the same battle without actually being the same battle, if that makes any sense.

In other games, you might fight the same group of enemies ten times and have wildly different fights each time, due to randomness and complexity, which can lead to it never feeling like grinding. Even though it's the same battle, it's not the same battle. Get it?

I don't dislike grinding if the combat is fun, and the progress is fast and visible. I will sit there and play Chocobo Hot & Cold for five solid hours even though every thirty-second-long game is almost exactly the same as every other game. The slight amount of randomness and the periodic major reward in the form of a chocograph makes it stay fun for a long time.
I find it funny that a good portion of RPG designers lean on the "battles should have tactics" side when in the original Dragon Quest grinding was sort of the main mechanic. You're supposed to grind it out before crossing the bridge etc. Making it not grinding in a reverse galaxy brain way. As far as I know classic western RPGs were more on the DND battle simulator side where you had like 8 characters and everything was convoluted to someone who didn't DM back in the 80s. I'm exaggerating but the point is games like FF made the push to to gravitate more to story oriented content where you get just enough encounters to level you up to fight the boss that progresses you to the next thing. Then it was only natural that battles had more of a purpose to involve 4D chess logic. Nuanced turn based tactics and progression can co-exist though, grinding to me is just a difficulty slider where maybe the intended level isn't suffice for casual players.

I guess it'd be more interesting if RPG dungeons just plopped a boss at the very beginning of the dungeon, you explore past it to find the goodies and run into exp mobs and the goal feels more oriented to getting powerful for its own sake. Progression can often feel tacked on and feels more like its for "oh boy what do I get next" which is fine for some people. One non-RPG example: Breath of the Wild, does not care what you have when going into the Ganon fight. It'll even make the fight longer if you decide not to do the 4 divine beasts (which "feels" mandatory for open world junkies). There are ways to offset it with skill or exploits, but it does paint a picture of how interesting the game's win state is compared to a typical OoT-like game.

To shift gears to games ABOUT grinding (I will use grinding in its purely repetitive context), MMO grinding to be exact. Ragnarok Online is an MMORPG with a bunch of interconnected maps that are just grind spots. Some grind spots are good for some classes others not so much, some grind spots might only be good for items, some grind spots might not have as much monsters but might not be as player populated. The acolyte's heal spell can harm any Undead type monster, "heal bombing" is a form of grinding where you travel to a place with high level undead monsters, bomb some zombs, then sit in a place to regen sp only go go back at it again. Hell you don't even have to be an acolyte to kill some undeads, if you have enough money you can even buy Phoenix Down equivs to bypass being a devout christian. Depending on your class there are many high-risk methods in how or where you can grind. There are also annoying enemies or setups that are designed to make grinding in high risk areas harder. It was interesting to me that picking a new class or which classes you partied with would determine where you went get your precious exp. In other words... RO is a game where you abuse degenerate grinding because everyone else is doing it.

World of Warcraft is a big contrast due to the quests being a stronger more guided game loop (it also ya know, changed MMOs forever). You don't have to stay in a spot for long but the actual method for killing largely remains the same. You pick up objectives that tell you to kill things or escort a thing through things that want to kill you, pick up things near killable things or take things from killable things. The speed grinding of this game is being efficient with how you grab quests, knowing which quests are a waste of time, skipping instance dungeons, having foresight on turning in all your quests at once, and enjoying that sweet rest exp after logging on etc. Even in its most optimal way you're at least getting more variety of the locales but you're ultimately going the same route as everyone else. There is something to the mission based structure of the quests that doesn't feel as repetitive though, but that's when it gets blurry on the "what even is grinding" part. Point is, even MMORPGs changed what it means to grind just a little bit when leveling up your stupid alts.

Half-Minute Hero is a really good example of breaking down what a game about grinding aught to be without being tedious. The goal not being: "get to the next cutscene/boss/thing" and more like "rise above a certain power threshold in whatever way possible" I feel like the sped up nature of the game (or FF12's speed mode for a more conventional RPG) really does reveal how merit-less grinding as a mechanic on its own really is though if we don't want to see most of it play out.

It's probably the case that "how do you making leveling up its own nuanced game" starts to distance itself further and further from what people like about oldschool RPGs. If you ask me I "put up with" most caveats of RPGs in favor of hoping it feels like an adventure (however vague that means). It just so happens that a lot of RPG trends incidentally lead to beefcake games. I say this as someone who will probably not beat your game if its longer than 20 hours, but even just knowing that the quest that I'll embark on is going to be vast (or has a optional vastness) has its own weird appeal.
To me, it's only truly grinding when I'm explicitly walking in circles, trying to make number go up.

I'm also a lot more tolerant of grinding when it's to get to some milestone of your personal choosing, be it getting to choose your stat ups or getting points to put into buying new skills. Those immediately feel a million times more impactful than some vague 'some stats went up by some percent' and as a result, feel less a chore to get. I know that learning Spark Blade or being able to subclass in White Magic Lvl 4 is gonna change how things are going to go; having 2% more Attack is nebulous, at best. Can't say I've ever grinded for money, but I guess I just haven't played the wrong RPGs. But even at that, I'd imagine grinding for money would feel preferable to grinding for Exp; buying something is still your decision, and therefore less nebulous.

Touch encounters, at their base, are weird, because they naturally come off as 'you did something wrong' if you bumped into them, even though you're technically 'expected' to do them. The simple addition of making the player get some kind of 'first hit' in, like in Paper Mario, makes all the difference in the world in terms of mindset.

I'd lastly say it's absolutely imperative that you allow SOME form of grinding, because it's wholly possible to put a game in an 'unwinnable' state without it. Especially if, say, you can buy revives, but they're expensive and only restore minimal health. One really bad boss fight and a player could easily blow through massive amounts of their inventory and money, and without any way to replenish it, has no chance at all to make it through the gruelling final dungeon, let alone three forms of the final boss.

More realistically, though, grinding is a sort of self-fixing difficultly slider. If you're 'bad', you'll naturally go slower, get in more battles, and through that, rise above the difficulty, at least for a while. Go fast, you'll be weaker, and eventually have a harder time for it. The tricky part is people can be too stubborn, impatient, feel it's cheating, or in too much of a rush to make the review deadline to slow down and stop the snowballing they themselves started.

A lot of that is human nature, but at least a tiny amount can be controlled by design and consistency. The best example I can give are Final Fantasy I-III versus the later ones. Not having saves or ways to heal in the dungeon in I-III meant it was nigh insanity to try to do a whole dungeon in one setting. So, does it take the player two dives to complete a dungeon? Three? More? It'll depend on player and party configuration, but going multiple dives didn't feel like you were 'bad'. When FF IV+ added saves and camping in dungeons, it no longer became acceptable to do multiple dives, and thus player level was a lot more standardized. It sped things up for good or average players, but the bad ones don't get that allotted time to get the extra levels and skills they need to make it through. Not without it feeling like they're grinding and doing something wrong.
Thanks everyone for your replies! You've all given me much to think about, I'll try to address as much as I can.

Hi, I don't know if I'd entirely agree on the first Dragon Quest. Grinding is more important than most RPGs but there's still an emphasize on finding the right 'counter' to an enemy. I think Final Fantasy conditioned people to never use status effects but they've always been reliable in DQ. A lot of heavy hitters like the golems and the green dragon guarding the princess don't have too much resistance to sleep and magic castors can be shut down with stopspell. It's all very primitive as it's the first JRPG but there's some basic tactics with crowd control and weighing your MP against your survivability to know if it's worth ending a fight sooner with a hurt spell while also conserving just enough MP to use the teleportation spells when needed. There's more to it than just grinding. It's possible to beat the Dragon Lord at level 19 when you finishing learning all the spells despite the various guides that tell you to grind up to level 30. I've personally beaten at level 19.

I say DQ3 is when the series as we know it really started though (DQ2 was made under a time crunch and no one on the dev team could finish a full playthrough before release so we'll ignore it). That was still in the 80s and has quite a bit of strategy. Just look at the encounters you face before even getting to the next landmass away from Alihan. Most enemies have some gimmick that makes you think differently about your strategy. The moths in the tower of Najima can blind you, the anteater things in the cave to Romaly ignore your formation and pile on one party member, the spiked hares have high agility and are likely to attack before all except maybe your fighter, and it keeps going from there. There's just enough going between enemies gimmicks, different enemies arrangements with different synergies between their strengths and gimmicks, and your own party's abilities and individual strengths to get players thinking a little on to who target first, how to spread out your targets based on character speeds, and what spells might be worth using (not to mention spells are useful and fulfill some niche - even weird stuff like ironize/kaclang).

Tactics have always been there to some extent. Not every game should be Divinity: Original Sin, I would hate that, but I do think most RPGs should strive to have a decent level of tactical thinking without being exhausting.

The thing about about MMO-style quests definitely falls into the "what IS grinding?" blurriness. I don't play MMOs but the Xenoblade games are heavily influenced by MMO design. I remember watching my sister play the first Xenoblade and she had a very positive reaction to the sidequests saying they made grinding fun and not really feel like grinding. But then you can find reviews talking about how awful and grindy the side quests were (the Kotaku review is particularly savage).

I don't want to make a game ABOUT grinding. I just want to give that sense of progression, of collecting power. If I start a game playing as the cobbler's daughter fighting rats with a kitchen knife then it'll be all the sweeter when she's taking on eldritch horrors decked out in crystal plate mail.

Hi! You say that players would eventually figure out how many touch encounters they should regularly be getting into, but several reviewers for DQ11 sure didn't. I think just learning that you fought too few encounters can cause enough frustration to make a player want to quit rather than learn to get it right. And in spite of those reviewers feeling they had to go back in grind, you look at forums like Dragon's Den and you see a lot people talking about how 11 is the easiest in the series (which I agree with) and that normal encounters are practically optional.

This is just like with MMO-style sidequests that Darken mentioned. It's difficult to predict just how a player will react to a lot of this stuff. It's wild to me that two players can have such drastically different views on if a game is grindy or not. I understand what Sooz said about it being a fool's errand, but I feel the ideal design would be one that does manage to predict these reactions to make sure the fewest amount of players possible walk away feeling the game is grindy.

I worded my post poorly when I said 'players who don't enjoy the game'. I was thinking more along the lines of people who could enjoy the game but there's something keeping them back, if I could figure out what that was, I could sort it out. Like if the golden-path reviewer was able to have a better understanding of how many touch encounters to battle (like if someone told him to fight one of every new thing) then maybe he would've enjoyed DQ11 more. Which leads me into...

Hello! So, about the convince thing. I've been thinking about the designer of game as being like a host desperately trying to entertain their guests. It's not so much that I want to be all "you're playing it wrong!!" it's more like "oh, your not enjoying that particular activity? Well, don't worry that's just for that one group, we have other fun things you can do over here that might appeal to you more."

What I see often is players who say they feel the need to grind and that the game is too easy - two things that seem contradictory outside a poorly designed game. When I say convince, it's that I want to assure them that the thing they find unfun isn't necessary and help them find a way to do it that is fun for them.

I guess that mostly comes down to play conditioning and placement of touch encounters. However, I worry that just the mere presence of optional content will put a thought in the back of the player's mind that they should be doing more. If they struggle against a boss they'll start thinking "I guess the game WANTED me to do those sidequests" and I want say "N-No! You don't have to do any fighting you don't want to, you can figure out a strategy with the stuff you have!"

Most of you mentioned making the encounters fun and varied. I feel it goes without saying, that's certainly what I hope to achieve. It is somewhat subjective though. There are action games where I don't find fighting common enemies as fun as some turn based battles against normal encounters. Fighting hoards of heartless/unversed in Kingdom Hearts games can sometimes feel like chore, and, like I said, I often do the bare minimum to remove a threat in Zelda games (despite being my favorite series).

I'm sorry if I didn't address you directly, I still read and appreciate your comments. Been a little down lately and feeling indecisive so thanks again to everyone for the replies! Sorry my posts are behemoths, I'll work on cutting down.
These are some long answers..
I would define grinding as a point, where any game stops being an adventure and forces starts to feel like work.
I think most people enjoy a healthy amount of chores if you can pace them right because it is something they're familiar with as they probably had experienced then in their life before they picked up the game.
If you couldn't enjoy repetition, you probably wouldn't play video games and would pick up the newest netflix show instead.
I consider grinding to be repetition of the same task so as to meet an objective(walking in circles and fighting for levels or even mining for miles in Minecraft looking for diamonds)

I would say I am a golden path player, but my reasons for that is life, I used to love finding every side quest, every extra weapon and every single thing a game has to offer but now with work having more responsibility and taking more of my free time I lose interest in a game more quickly so as a compromise I just follow the story path through a game(otherwise I won't complete it)

as far as Im concerned most jrpg style games don't even need leveling. Imagine FF4 for instance without the leveling(and maybe without the RUN command to stop people abusing that) because of the linear nature of the game you would end up getting to the final boss having fought a similar amount of enemies and spent a similar amount of time playing, would it make any difference to the way the game played if there was leveling or if the enemies/bosses were just balanced for a set level?

For me the only reason for levels is on open world games as a means to control game direction. You enter a dungeon and get your ass kicked and you think "I don't think I should be here yet" You may try sneaking into those areas and get yourself some high powered equipment but you know its an area you wont be able to complete until later.

@EtherPenguin: I would say some of DQ1 falls under "random knowledge you gain from trial and error" but a lot of I think comes from navigating the power thresholds to get those spells that allow for flexibility. Also if my foggy memory is correct, I remember getting pretty frustrated in parts in which I probably didn't know certain spells worked that well. Conversely FF1 and Mother 1 have the problem of grinding being actually bad, in that critical strikes and variance in the values means its better to keep speedrunning to the dungeon boss over and over to score lucky hits and get exp that way. Which in a way is its own weird grinding without the "more time you spend the more powerful your characters are" direct benefit.

But yeah I don't really mean "Hey make your game about grinding" as some kind of suggestion, more of a thought experiment to address the what if grinding was taken to the extreme to at think about tailoring grinding to the experience and even make it invisible. Because I do think the RPG genre as it is has its weird contradictions.

If you look at the "mission structure" or "stuff/steps the player has to do" just about every game has some sort of set of repetitive tasks to keep things going. Sure there's new concepts to hopefully learn on the way but I feel like a lot of designers tend to only focus on that stuff as their game's core when in reality it'll probably prolong development if you try to make everything not feel repetitive. It seems the trend buster with games like The Witcher 3 is to make all the side content or "stuff you do" contextually interesting as possible. Even if the gameplay becomes redundant due to some factors you can still enjoy navigating the world.

I've been thinking a lot lately in what content actually is in games, and the optional component of that is that some people will find ways to make their own content out of things if the game lets them or makes it even marginally viable. I also think it depends on personality being a huge factor though.

This is a funny anecdote, but the tldw or spoiler is: Designers made an advanced ecology system for programming simulation fetish reasons that allowed animals to breed and procreate somewhat realistically and players just killed everything in sight. There was no exp gain or real benefit to it, players just did it because it was an early era where people were more naive and interested in the goalless aspects of things. I remember a video critiquing Legend of Zelda in all of its obtuse ways, but I think the reason people cherished that game wasn't its dungeon key design or anything. Just that you could walk around freely and stab things was enough to keep peoples attention those days. Getting addicted to shopping list driven games is sort of a curse that correlates activity with a reward. Once games became better at purposing, and players got better at acknowledging them, I think the rabbit hole becomes evident.

The cop-out answer to the grinding dilemma is to probably rethink how accomplishments are done or how an entire game is structured. The caveat though is that most audiences will be very confused when things aren't setup the way they're used to.
They told me I was mad when I said I was going to create a spidertable. Who’s laughing now!!!
I find it funny that a good portion of RPG designers lean on the "battles should have tactics" side when in the original Dragon Quest grinding was sort of the main mechanic.

You know, you're right, it IS weird that a good portion of designers lean on "games should have good graphics" when the original games had garishly colored squares that kind of looked like something if you squinted!

Like, the reason battles should have tactics is that tactics are significantly more fun than "keep using the strongest attack until someone dies."

Hello! So, about the convince thing. I've been thinking about the designer of game as being like a host desperately trying to entertain their guests. It's not so much that I want to be all "you're playing it wrong!!" it's more like "oh, your not enjoying that particular activity? Well, don't worry that's just for that one group, we have other fun things you can do over here that might appeal to you more."

Yeah but even in your metaphor here, that leads to the same problem of "guests" who assume they NEED to do this or that, or who stubbornly insist on continuing to do their own thing because, ultimately, players are idiot assholes. I say this as an idiot asshole player.

IMO it's more helpful to design for a particular brand of idiot asshole player and make it very clear in your marketing and description what kind of houseguest you're inviting.

What I see often is players who say they feel the need to grind and that the game is too easy - two things that seem contradictory outside a poorly designed game. When I say convince, it's that I want to assure them that the thing they find unfun isn't necessary and help them find a way to do it that is fun for them.

Thing here is whether that's the same player, or different populations.

In the case of the same person, "too easy" generally translates to "there's only one or two optimal strategies/builds in normal gameplay." The play itself may or may not be "easy," but they've found a way to play that, to their mind, is really the only best option.

I guess that mostly comes down to play conditioning and placement of touch encounters. However, I worry that just the mere presence of optional content will put a thought in the back of the player's mind that they should be doing more. If they struggle against a boss they'll start thinking "I guess the game WANTED me to do those sidequests" and I want say "N-No! You don't have to do any fighting you don't want to, you can figure out a strategy with the stuff you have!"

I mean, you really can't control for idiot assholes. Especially idiot assholes who try to read your mind. And sometimes people are just plain bad at video games.

Again, by focusing on your preferred player type, you can limit how much you NEED to control for the idiot asshole, because there are particular types within the various genres of gameplay that one can expect to encounter.

It's impossible to make a game that's free of criticism. It's impossible to make a perfectly balanced game, to perfectly communicate to every player. Because a lot of humans are stubborn and short-sighted, you're just going to have to accept the fact that sometimes, no matter what you do, someone will approach your game, play it in an objectively wrong way, and be mad because it wasn't the game they thought they were playing.

Think of it like people who read Harry Potter and were CONVINCED that Harry and Hermione were going to end up together, or the people who watched Sherlock and got it into their heads that the show was gearing up for a secret episode that would make all its weird storytelling decisions make sense (and also make HolmesxWatson canon).

Yes I do approach everything through the lens of shippers you wanna fight about it
You know, you're right, it IS weird that a good portion of designers lean on "games should have good graphics" when the original games had garishly colored squares that kind of looked like something if you squinted!

Like, the reason battles should have tactics is that tactics are significantly more fun than "keep using the strongest attack until someone dies."

Except a better analogy would be if in an alternate universe the Mario series became more about power ups and projectiles than being a game about jumping because "who wants to play a game where all you do is jump over and over?" (this is facetious btw). It's not a mystery to me why innovating in the battle simulation side of things was more appealing to do, it's just that RPG as a starting point was pretty shakey compared to other genre developments because the very act of raising the numbers up to abnormal degree can potentially remove the point of designing strategic encounters in the first place.

A game like Wine & Roses almost disregards leveling up completely in favor of just the RPG battles on their own (though there are some optional power gains). A lot of advice when it comes to game design is to make your games central to just one thing and do that one thing well. It's easier to balance and satisfies the strategic itch. Of course you won't scratch the grinding itch people have or have that difficulty slider. The flipside of course is to make a game about leveling up as its own metagame (in which I cited several examples). So again the two pillars sometimes contradict each other, it's just that one of them gained more of a focus as the trends went on.

Obviously I agree with the notion of just "embrace the chaos" if your game has so many moving parts that may or may not invalidate each other then at least try to make those contradictions interesting.
why would i heal when i could equip a morningstar
i read about half of this one day, closed it without having any coherent thought to add, then opened it again today to see Wine & Roses mentioned. yay darken!

i don't like grinding. i'm currently making a game with an emphasis on hitting gold and xp targets, but trying to make enough content where the grind will only exist if you choose -- but that it will also definitely be rewarding. a few things i'm doing:

1) to raise each guild member's level cap by 5-10-15-20, you must max their xp and then go on a date with them. this is also when they learn new abilities, making it a marked and dramatic increase in power. and, because it's more story, i expect a lot of players will be excited to hit the next threshold.

2) in dungeons, everything is one-and-done. however, there's only a few dungeons. most area are repeatable "monster zones" that offer a KILL KOUNT. every fight you complete in a row raises your xp, gold, and drop rates by 10% while also encouraging more and stronger enemies to spawn.

3) also, you can only get the rarest monsters to appear by hitting high kill kounts, which can be pretty difficult due to limited Energy (MP) and consumables. (you don't buy consumables, they refill up to a cap when you rest. again, limiting grinding-per-session to support better tacticz.) BUT, killing those rare monsters ALWAYS drops a trophy that can be turned in to the local hunting lodge -- rack up Hunting Score to get unique and powerful gear!

4) trying to create enough quest content to push story motivations for getting enough experience in the field, literally and figuratively. worldbuilding ho!

okay bye
I would say it's purposely doing the same action over and over to repeatedly cash in on some reward you've already gotten. Or, in cases where doing something gives you only a chance to get that reward, repeating the quest until you get said reward. Like in games where enemies have a % chance to drop an item, you grind the level until you get the item(I hate this, but I can't stop playing PSU). All in a way that does not progress the game, therefore making the grind infinite.

In LockeZ's example, fighting the same random encounter while progressing a dungeon(i.e. not running circles for the purpose of getting said encounters) and then leaving the dungeon to continue on with the game. That's not grinding. That's playing the game.

Gamers are the worst kind of audience to try and cater too. Especially with such saturation of the market. I tend to make games for myself, how I would want to play it. Then I would program some kind of logic to help steer players into my intended path. Like, if you are beyond a certain level enemies give less xp. Make that particular grinding less effective to coerce the player to move on with the game, and outright prevent making bosses too easy.

I don't think player grinding is anything a game should strive to have, regardless of how many people enjoy grinding. It's a waste of time. People enjoy smoking, doesn't mean it's good for them. Whatever the rewards are from grinding, should be able to be delivered to the player in a more interesting way. If people are grinding for more exp, create an arena with random generated groups. Or an optional dungeon with 100 floors. Some outlet that gives the same rewards, or better, in a way that keeps it fresh. Take control of the grind and use it to your advantage.

The future of gaming will be an AI monitoring your progress and altering the game based on your actions. Creating it's own monsters with diff skillsets and varied groupings in response to you repeating the same battles. Listening to your daily conversations and creating game elements to creep you the fuck out. Making enemy attack patterns literally impossible to beat. I can't wait.
I'm pretty guilty of making a lot of RPG's I play redundant because of my bad habits, one of those being grinding excessively. However, other times I prefer purposefully nerfing the game via doing the opposite, as in, getting into fights sparingly and being underlevel constantly. And now that I think my experiences with both sides, that's a problem.
Sometimes you can be either overleveled and have no fun with the game cause you win too easily or underleveled and have no fun with the game cause you loose too much. But that mostly depends on the game in question and the playstyle of the person playing it. A lot of games fall in 2 categories. Either very forgiving on their leveling system, allowing players to never have to grind to be strong enough to defeat enemies. Or being super dupity unforgiving, essentially forcing the player to grind in order to progress. Of the two I prefer the first, mostly because when I tolerate grinding it's because I want to grind. And forcing the player to do so is kinda cheap, it doesn't make the game harder, it just makes it frustrating.
Some games have managed to go around this dilemma, such as removing a level system entirely, not letting the player grind at all, or punishing you for grinding in the first place. Games that do this can be hit or miss. I personally like games that limit your battles and in turn limit your exp. Mostly because leveling up just all around feels good and removing it kinda bums (some games do this very very well though). And in some games a stagnant level usually indicates intense INTENSE difficulty, and an overall feeling of "oh crap I can't make this any easier can I?".
But as the final word about the situation I guess I can say it depends on the game your making. If you want to focus on story, don't make grinding an attractive option. Mostly cause of situations like "huh, so that's what we have to do? nvm imma go mass murder some slimes to become op." or, "oh no I cant beat this boss he's too hard, welp gotta slay half his army to get exp so I can beat him.". And removing grinding or levels is effective only if the tone calls for it, and/or it is used cleverly. So really the best solution is testing ya game and playing it in it's full to see if it flows smoothly.

Also now that I think of it, perhaps grinding can be used as a narrative tool... I just haven't seen it being used effectively yet... or being used at all...
I feel like trying to balance for every player type is a fool's errand, and a dev is much better served if they focus on whatever's best for the kind of audience they want. (Usually however the dev likes to play.)

It's also silly to try to "convince" a player to play a certain way, beyond basic signposting. Some people just want to play how they want to play, and if that breaks the game for them, then it's just not a good fit for them.
Words of wisdom spoken right here.

Y'all talked well about grinding is, so I'll leave that. Oh, except one thing. The action grind. Grindy action games will feel empty rather than grindy, me thinks. Seeing how the act of beating things up should be fun in itself. It could also drag on too long.
I am not into most action games, I thought a lot of games in general were padding and filling things needlessly, which can make it feel similar to grindy. Since the only goal there tho is beating the game and not more, grindy is not the best term to use imho.

I will say that if people like the story enough, they are quite willing to grind if they are not getting along with the story, ESPECIALLY for casual gamers (even if some are happy to dip as long as they feel happy and then move on). There's different kinds and the best thing I can describe them as is that they derive joy and play with games in different ways and often outside the box - it's a joy to watch. It's also incredible to witness them struggle so hard and still enjoy the game, rather than "owning the system" and going with it "normally", seriously, that's amazing. I lent Devil Survivor to a school friend way back. She really really struggled with the combat, but she pressed on via grinding and leveling mostly, and eventually beat it. It's pretty amazing cause tactics were a vital part - I saw peeps struggle at a fight with level 30-35 sth characters that I beat with peeps around lvl 18 on a replay. Don't underestimate casual gamers basically, nor the whining of hardcore peeps hehehe.

I haven't had the chance to read all detail (I need sleep), but just wanted to say I respect your wanting to be inclusive to different players. That's great and super fun! If it impedes your process too much though, just stick to your guns.
Would it be fun if you could adjust various things? Say, you could add a "NO EXP FOR OPTIONAL CONTENT" button, but I think these common problems are know to a lot of players too. I am to a large degree, and had been even more of a I NEED TO GET EVERYTHING type of player. Optional quests? If it's listed as a quest I will go do this, sooner or later. Does this mean I often got overleveled to the point of the rest of the game becoming a breeze? Yes. Has it diminished my fun? Sometimes, but I was fully aware it was of my own doing, And that means you can just sit back n relax afterwards either, and that's a different, still fun feeling. Would making the game harder work? Oh hell no, I don't like mechanics forcing ways without telling you. It ain't optional if you can't proceed without extras. Because I am so aware of this, I sometimes adjust to it. And I like using that. I remember playing Radiant Historia and basically avoiding 70-80% of random encounters later on (also, cause, u know, I just felt a bit tired of it and was happy to get more story instead). Still made it work, and that was super fun.

Basically: RPGS are cool since they allow peeps to make up skill if they need it in some way shape or form. (that's why grinding can be annoying, but ultimately a great PLAN B), keep it simple, just communicate what's going on and who you target.
Few peeps expect perfect/near-perfect balancing. Peeps like me ADORE perfect balancing, and even then you can remember "that one spot you had to grind for, but it kinda made sense.". Which, replaying, with a different mindset might not even occur - even as the same player (like getting a specific companion just cause my BF liked it. Proud of it, earned some exp doing it tho).

The good news is : no perfect needed. It's fun that's needed. Battles can be easy and still fun to relax into. Battles can be properly challenging AND FUCKING HELL TO SIT THROUGH OMFG AHHHHHHH, even if you do get the system. Make it fun for you, look at what the fun is, tell people they should play the game if they like this type of fun. Ya can only do one thing at a time, so might as well just go with it, rather than have all kinds of things as alternatives for ALL the stuff. Then again though, most generic RPGs I played basically did the "nothing's all that fancy, but you have a variety of stuff to do So dun worry about it, go fishing!-thing going on. I doubt that's what you are shooting for, but even if u did, that's a shallow relaxed before bed time kind of fun. Just decide on something and then polish it up.
Yer good!
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