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Fixing Gaming – Grinding vs. Farming

FIXING GAMING: EPISODE ONE

GRINDING VS. FARMING – A PRIMER

What is Grinding?

Say you’re playing an RPG. You’re about to go up against some high level mobs (bad dudes that kill you), and you want to be stronger in order to have a better chance of totally ‘pwning’ (destroying) them. You decide the best way to do this is by going to an area with a bunch of things you can kill, massacre them, and level up a few times. Now those dudes giving you trouble are easier to handle. This, my fellow gamers, is grinding: the act of repeating a task over and over again to become stronger.

Well, then, what’s farming?

Say you’re playing an RPG. You’re about to go up against some high level mobs (bad dudes that kill you), and you want to be stronger in order to have a better chance of totally ‘pwning’ (destroying) them. You go to an area where a certain awesome weapon can be obtained (albeit, rarely) from killing some dudes. You kill the dudes for a while, and eventually the epic awesome weapon drops. You pick it up, and you can now face the high level dudes with minimal threat. This is farming: the act of repeating a task over and over again to gain items that make you stronger.

Dude… that’s the same thing, right? You’re doing something to get stronger and become UBER-L33T H4X0Rs. That’s how games work.

WRONG!

The difference is almost imperceptible when looking at it from a ‘problem-solution’ viewpoint. But where most people get caught up is the reason the mechanics are there in the first place.

Take grinding: the reason you grind is because you want to get strong enough to defeat tougher things. You’re actively gaining stronger from each level you gain and each thing you do. You’re practicing your reflexes, or your strategy. Grinding has a strength in this aspect. You start out kind of wimpy, and slowly get stronger over time. Watch this graph: 

 See, you get this linear increase of power. Also, this simplistic graph has no real labelling.... get over it.
See, you get this linear increase of power. Also, this simplistic graph has no real labelling…. get over it.

If I gain enough levels, I’ll be strong enough to continue!

— Some 4th Level Barbarian.

This is good game design, as you continually increase in your ability to fight. By the end of the game, the huge things that used to destroy you should be easy to fight, while their bosses should step in to be the new challenge. The mindset is different, too: if I gain enough power from killing these little guys, soon I can be strong enough to beat the big baddies


Now, let’s view farming: with farming, getting stronger isn’t the end goal. The end goal is to make an item or obtain an item that makes you capable of continuing. You see some bad guys, and you hear about an extremely rare weapon that can completely destroy them. So, you go out and kill enough dudes that have a 1% chance of dropping the item, thereby receiving the ‘+5 Sword of Slaughter’. Well, how many dudes do you have to kill to obtain the sword? I mean, logically, you’d kill one hundred bad guys, right (1 percent times 100 equals 100 percent)? This works in ‘logical world’, but remember, percentage doesn’t stack. So, you could kill one guy and get the really epic sword, or you could kill one hundred THOUSAND guys and still not have it. Graph time:

 Yeah, I get it... this graph is devoid of reason... but you get the picture.
Yeah, I get it… this graph is devoid of reason… but you get the picture.

If I just kill enough enemies, Gjallarhorn will be mine! Sure the drop rate of exotic and legendary weapons are slim, but eventually I’ll get it!

— Some First-Year Destiny Titan

With farming, you reach kind of a shelf after each bump of enemy strength when you have to go back and kill weaker stuff before you proceed. Sure, you have a bit of a setback with grinding, but you’re still watching a number go up over time. With farming, the killing is static, unchanging, where the only end is the random number generator giving you what you need.

The thought process of a farmer would be: If I kill enough bad dudes, I’ll eventually receive a weapon/item that will give me an edge over the baddies.


SO, WHICH ONE IS BAD?

Imagine grinding as a job. You go in, complete your tasks, and you know you’ll get a paycheck. So even though it occasionally gets boring, the pay is decent, and eventually you’ll get promoted.

Farming, on the other hand, is a lottery. You go in, complete the task, and at the end of the day, a man comes up and reads off a number. If he reads off your number, you’re good and get to proceed. If he doesn’t, you have to come back the next day and try again.

Essentially, Grinding offers an ensured reward after x amount of time. Farming doesn’t. But that doesn’t make either one better. Grinding should be minimal in order to reduce the boring repetitiveness of killing mobs until you gain a level, and farming should be used as a bonus of sorts, where it’s not required to ‘win the lottery’ in order to proceed. This balance is where most games fuck up.

ONE LAST EXAMPLE:

Destiny

You spend the first half of the game grinding out levels by completing missions and Strikes (repeatable dungeons). Once you get strong enough, the second half of the games opens up almost immediately and without remorse. You go from getting stronger by levelling up to getting stronger by unlocking better gear. This rapid shift is what kills Destiny, and it’s because of two parts: the system and the community. The levels don’t really matter when you reach the top. Levels are absolutely meaningless once you get your first full set of legendary gear. So, all the grinding of the first half of the game could have been skipped. But then, you are stuck with the lottery of getting good enough gear to play in the big leagues, the Raids. That’s the system’s fault.

The other problem is the community itself. When the farming becomes the only way to become stronger, you don’t have time to help weaker players get their shit. So the community is sectioned off into the “HAVES” and the “HAVE NOTS”. Thus, newer players will struggle to catch up, unless the Random Number Generator allows them to enter the race. And that’s a problem, because there’s animosity whenever the developers give people free stuff. It’s unfair for the old players. Therefore, they call new people shitty nicknames that put them down for being less experienced. Well, when a game is primarily designed around luck-based advancement, there is a certain hollowness to “Kinder-Guardians”.

 I won’t try to shun the game too much, but essentially, Farming should be used as a bonus in this system, where everyone is capable of doing everything, and by doing everything we occasionally get really good drops. No game, especially multiplayer/competitive games should rely on luck to make you strong enough to play.

Conclusion

Well, that just about wraps up this episode of Fixing Gaming, where I point out flaws in game design and attempt to fix them for the future. Tune in next week, and we’ll tackle another big issue with the gaming as it is, now. If you’re viewing this from the Tumblrverse or Twittersphere, head on over to The Reviewers’ Legacy for more awesome content!