Is There Such a Thing As a ‘Fun’ Grind?

Last night, as the post’s featured image above may give away, I gained a promotion in Deep Rock Galactic. It was my first one in the game, achieved on my Gunner. To get there, you need to first reach level 25 on the character you wish to promote. Looking at my ingame stats for the gunner class, I have a played time of 1 day and 40 minutes — basically 25 hours — or roughly an average of 1 hour per level. But as you might imagine this as an average figure is a poor indicator, as the early levels fly by incredibly quickly while the latter ones will take you several missions at the least.

In the grand scheme of things — especially if you consider it in the wider context of MMO leveling — 25 hours to hit max level and unlock the endgame for a given class isn’t really that bad. And possibly as a bit of a precursor to where my conclusion might go — I wouldn’t have called that time spent a ‘grind’ at all because it was fun and enjoyable.

Yep… I might’ve played Gunner just a little more than the others.

If it was just the time alone… Well; we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.

To be clear — Deep Rock Galactic is fun. The missions are a masterclass in game pacing — with moments of calm, just long enough to build the tension for the swarm you know is coming. Then, when you’re done with your objectives, there is a crescendo of activity and tension. For most missions, this takes the form of a mad-dash to the drop pod, which will typically land back in your mission some distance away.

You need to beat the clock navigating back to where the drop pod landed, tackling enemies along the way. There is a real sense of the seconds passing by oh so quickly as you go. And should one of the team fall along the way? Well… It’s time for a tough decision. Do you have the time to get them back up? Can you do it safely? Because sure… Ideally it would be a case of no Dwarf left behind. There’s even survival bonuses for having more of the team alive at the end.

But… If you get yourself killed in the process… Well; then no-one gets anything, do they? If the team wipes — that’s it. No take backs. Mission failed.

In other mission types, you may be expected to hold a given defense point against an ever increasingly irate swarm of alien bugs.

So: Moment to moment gameplay? Major positive. Time to hit max level? Really not too bad.

The problem isn’t really one unique to DRG, not by a long stretch. But essentially DRG has a quest-chain concept known as ‘Assignments’. To unlock… things …you will need to complete anything from 3-10 or so missions.

This includes the promotion.

So you will hit level 25, and be unable to gain any further XP on that character until you promote. At which time you’ll be required to do another 4 missions of specific types in a specific order.

If you play solo — or playing multiplayer, but via joining in progress missions or hosting your own missions on demand for randoms to join — this isn’t going to be any sort of issue at all. If you’re playing with a semi-consistent group of friends, slightly more of an issue. Because the number of times we’ve had overlap on assignment missions, once out of the tutorial, could be counted on one hand.

More typically, everyone will have their own mission type required to move their particular assignment forward.

There are a number of ways to deal with this, and like I said — this isn’t really a problem unique to Deep Rock Galactic. But it is another thing that slows the game down, outside of the moment-to-moment mission play. Those last few levels might approach up to 2 hours of play each (depending on the difficulty of missions you run and how successful you are).

When I finally broke through and hit level 25; discovering I had another 4 missions before unlocking Deep Dives and the Forge (hidden behind promoting your first character), I just wasn’t up for it. And then? After doing it? … Another assignment required to start unlocking the blank cores necessary for the end-game progression system, to build overclocks for your weapons.

This assignment? Ten missions long. TEN!

Now, one of my friends who has been an amazing co-op partner through this, often sacrificing time we spend on his assignment missions in favour of helping me catch-up let me know that it isn’t quite so bad as it may initially look, as the rewards (including blank cores) for doing that assignment are in fact divvied out over the course of the ten missions and not hoarded solely for completion of the final one.

Thinking about it now, it probably didn’t help things that it was pretty late at night when we completed the promotion assignment track. I’d perhaps stayed up a little longer than I should *cough* to blast through the last two missions. To then find I needed another ten was when words like ‘grind’ even started to cross my mind in the context of this game.

So. Is it possible for there to be a ‘fun’ grind? It would appear… Possibly yes. Or rather; it might be more accurate for me to say there is certainly scope to enjoy a game very much even despite a grind element. And for all this complaining… I’m quite likely to voluntarily throw myself at it all over again for the engineer class. ;)

(Oh; it’s probably also worthwhile to note that you can promote classes repeatedly. It’s only really for cosmetics and to further the ‘player’ level (you gain a player level for every three character levels gained) though. All guns and gear modifications (other than overclocks, which come post first promotion) are available no later than level 18 for the character. And when you promote; even though the character’s level nominally resets to ‘1’, you don’t lose any of your unlocks in the process. It is just this ‘first’ promotion which uncovers the endgame for the first time.)


This was a post for Blapril 2020, the annual blogging event (albeit usually as Blaugust), brought forward to help bring a sense of community during the challenging time of COVID-19. Blaugust is an event aiming to welcome new blogger blood into the fold and revitalise those who’ve been at it a little longer.

The Blaugust Discord is still available to join in, year round!


Naithin

Gamer, reader, writer, husband and father of two boys. Former WoW and Gaming blogger, making a return to the fold to share my love of all things looty.

13 Responses

  1. Nimgimli says:

    This gave me FF XIV flashbacks, and not in a good way….

    But to the question you pose in the headline, I think “grind” means different things to different people. To me grind means doing the same thing over and over again. Games like Diablo 3, Division 2, Destiny, lots of JRPGS…they all have grinds and I love ’em all.

    So for my definition, at least, yes, grind is in fact OFTEN fun.

    • Naithin says:

      That definition part is key I think, as I sort of alluded to earlier in the post — for me at least if it’s enjoyable it is essentially by definition not a ‘grind’. And if we look at the dictionary definition that forms the basis for ‘grind’ (admittedly though with a much more colloquial use when it comes to gaming), we find, ‘hard dull work’.

      Quite a lot packed into just three words!

      I suppose thinking about it more in the context of how I think ‘grind’ might be more typically understood in the gaming context, I would argue that at the very least something with the property of being grindy is not sustainably fun. It might be tolerable for a while — but if it truly is grindy, where progress is slow and arduous, difficult to reach one ‘reward’ milestone to the next — this might be enjoyable for a time, but with minimal long term enjoyment possible.

      Diablo 3 is an interesting example to call out, because certainly it has repetitive elements which is an element of grind. But the progression and rewards come quick and frequent. Perhaps less so once you’re reaching the upper reaches of a build’s power and you’re looking specifically for god-rolled ancients; but until then at least…

  2. SDWeasel says:

    This is a fairly good point. Grind is typically used to describe time investment that is unenjoyable or excessive. As with all things of a subjective nature, everyone has a slightly different tolerance and threshold.

    Like you, I can think of times where I said that something was “a little grindy,” but still enjoyable. I’ve run into similar issues with MHW. That first victory over a monster is awesome, but the 20 times after that to get “that one thing my build needs” gets really tiresome, yet it may have taken 15 runs for that first victory.

    • Naithin says:

      Monster Hunter World is a pretty good case study for this I think. The difference between the progression fights for your first kill and getting a plate, gem, or other rare material drop (fuggin horns too, depending on the weapon types you can muster!) is a fair bit different.

      Work toward that first kill could hardly be defined as dull work, even though it might indeed be hard. But your reward during that phase comes in skill gain.

      Once you feel that skill gain stop with a given monster (although to be fair to MHW; the ‘real’ skill cap can be quite high if you’re so inclined to push it there) the grindy element can kick in. And I would say that it is very much a love of the game in spite of this, rather than because of it.

  3. Frostilyte says:

    I’d say “no” as a general answer to the question in the title, but I do have a reason for why. There exist gameplay loops that are and aren’t compelling. If they’re compelling we enjoy engaging with them. If they aren’t then we become tired of the tedium. Grind is almost exclusively used to describe when we find a gameplay loop tedious. So going off of the connotation normally associated with the word I’d argue there is no “fun” or “good” grind. If you’re enjoying something I don’t think that it can be a grind. That’s just me being pedantic though.

    • Naithin says:

      Hah, well, for what it’s worth — I think we’re pedantic in a very similar way on this then. The conclusion I tentatively reached with the post and has since solidified with the comments is that it’s certainly possible to love a game in spite of a grind element being present — but if you’re describing something as a ‘grind’ then it has by definition entered a space of not being fun (for you).

  4. Krikket says:

    I think most games with repetitive content want that content to be fun; it’s just that they don’t always achieve that goal for EVERY player. One man’s grind is another man’s meditative gaming experience is yet another man’s fun and all that.

    I don’t think anyone puts content in a game with the goal of boring or frustrating their player base.

    • Naithin says:

      By and large, I would agree with that. The major exception I could see is where grindy activities are incorporated into MMOs not with the intention to be fun (or at least; not as the primary intent) but rather to keep players paying for a longer period of time.

      There a balance between what will be tolerated and enforced longevity might be a more pressing priority for the designers in this instance.

      But 100% right on the subjectivity of it all; some people really enjoy grinds I personally couldn’t tolerate — or like you also alluded to; someone might find value in a ‘grind’ OTHER than ‘fun’.

  5. Bhagpuss says:

    This has been debated so many times, not least by me, and it always comes down to definitions, upn which few can agree. It’s a perpetual problem with gaming – many words seem to be in common use with multiple meanings in a way I’m not convinced happens so much in other media. I would tend to agree with you that ” if you’re describing something as a ‘grind’ then it has by definition entered a space of not being fun (for you).” but self-evidently that’s not a universally acceppted definition because you frequently hear people talking about “enjoyable grinds” or saying they like grinding.

    I use “grind” myself out of habit but I try to avoid it if i’m attempting to express myself clearly. I’d rather talk about “repetitive gameplay” or some more specific description of the tasks in question. For me, there’s a huge qualitative difference between gathering materials for crafting, an open-ended, repetetive process that can go on indefinitely and repeatedly running instanced dungeons. Both are “grinds” but I find the first relaxing and pleasant and the second irritating and tedious. Others feel the exact opposite.

    I used to think that a grind in game terms could be defined as a repetetive activity you wouldn’t engage in were it not for the rewards but it occurred to me after a while that that could appy to almost every aspect of every game. From the viewpoint of a non-gamer I’m pretty sure it would all look like “hard, dull work”.

    • Naithin says:

      “a repetetive activity you wouldn’t engage in were it not for the rewards” is probably pretty close to what I would personally put into the grind category, but I take your point too on the fact that even if we agreed on the core definition of ‘grind’ that there is STILL going to be a subjective element as you highlighted with crafting vs. dungeon running.

      Layered over the top of that there is the more transient factors like mood, too.

      Sometimes I’m perfectly happy to grind for mats, other times I’d rather sink my last gold into the Auction House than contemplate running laps around a zone until I hit whatever the magic number of mats is for whatever it happens to be that I’m working on at that point in time.

      And if I’m leveling a trade skill without the benefit of naturally gathering the mats by levelling normally, ugh, forget about it! xD

    • Krikket says:

      Oh, this is so well stated, and I completely get it. Before I stopped playing WoW, I would happily pick flowers for an hour or two a day, not because I really needed the materials, but because It was relaxing for me. Whereas just the thought of running Mythics or Warfronts for upgrades made me want to log off and do pretty much anything else. That’s a big part of why I really appreciate alternative progression paths; what works for me and what works for you might be completely different, but isn’t it great when everyone can succeed doing content they enjoy?

  1. April 21, 2020

    […] since I read Naithin’s post, Is There Such a Thing As a ‘Fun’ Grind?, I’ve been wondering how I personally would define grind and at which point it becomes […]

  2. April 27, 2020

    […] that I too, am of that player subset who really really likes repetitive resource gathering and doesn’t quite consider it a grind to do so (if one is enjoying the process and in nice surroundings), I pulled out a bunch of […]

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