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How Star Wars: The Old Republic tackles the grind


Star Wars: The Old Republic systems director Damion Schubert hosted a panel at GDC Online 2010 this week about that excruciating aspect of gameplay known as "The Grind," which he defined as any time developers ask players to do something they don't enjoy in order to open up something that they will enjoy.

Most developers use the grind to fill out gameplay content -- handcrafted, "gold standard" content is much tougher to make, whereas grindy content is cheap to put together. But sometimes it comes in handy, said Schubert. While making SWTOR, BioWare actually found that it was putting "too much gold-quality content into the game." Players would be confronted with a Star Destroyer to fight through, a lost Wookiee to save, and a Sith quest to complete; and Schubert said that "we had, by jamming all of this good stuff together, actually made it grindy."

So to fix the issue, BioWare first cut some of the least powerful stories (the lost Wookiee didn't make the cut, Schubert confirmed), and then spaced the rest of them out. Additionally, a feature called "bonus quests" will create optional tiny grinds -- players will be offered extra grind-style goals ("Kill 10 Stormtroopers") while running other quests. That "keeps the activity level up, but lets the gold-standard content breathe," according to Schubert.

He admitted that the grind isn't always a bad thing -- developers sometimes have great reasons to add grinding, and there's a perception factor to consider, as well (one player's maximum effort is another's boring grind). But developers should be able to balance the grind with content and activities that players do care about, Schubert urged, creating a full experience that requires different kinds of efforts for equally different kinds of rewards.

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