In their latest conference call, Activision-Blizzard announced that World of Warcraft ( or WoW) subscribers lost 1.3 million subscribers. At the end of the previous quarter, subscribers were at 9.6 million. So only 3 months later, the game has gone down to 8.3 million. Some will say it is because free-to-play is taking over, but I do not believe that. I think it is because of the daily grind.
Now, some may not consider World of Warcraft to have grind. Compared to earlier MMORPGs like Everquest and Ultima Online, that would definitely be true, but I go by a more standard definition of grind:
grind (graɪnd) n. – requiring the player to repeat content long after it has become boring.
To me some amount of grind is essential to the authenticity of the game. It makes sense that a faction in the game will not immediately give you all the best items. You have to help them, build up a relationship, and then maybe they will welcome you.
Simply looking at non-MMOs it is easy to see the difference when it comes to grind. Non-MMOs just do not have any grind. Some of them, such as games in the Elder Scrolls series, can have grindy things like having to travel vast distances for more realism, but they also have “fast travel” systems in case you get tired of it. World of Warcraft (like most MMOs) is still stuck in the past when it comes to this.
Sometimes it makes sense for content to need to be repeated. If you start a new character, that makes sense. You are going to need to level them up and gear them up to do endgame content. Blizzard has even added some convenience to this with mounts and pets being account-wide. However, daily quests in WoW are an artificial grind.
It is interesting when it comes to daily quests. When they were first put in the game, the intent was for them to be the casual player’s way to keep up with the hardcore player. The hardcore player could farm monsters for hours to get the necessary gold and reputation for endgame group content. The casual player had a hard time doing this without daily quests.
Over the years though, I have come to believe that daily quests, in fact, make it harder for casual players to catch up. Take one week off of the game, and you are now one week behind everyone else. You are not able to do a daily quest seven times to make up for the seven days you missed. This is a fundamental problem in the game for casual players.
We should be able to play when we want to play. We should not be forced to login every day. Say a particular reputation takes 50 hours to grind to Exalted. The player should be able to split up those 50 hours however they want. Logging in daily should not be the only option. We are not casual because we have no free time; we are casual because our play time is sporadic. One day we have all the time in the world while the next day we have no free time at all.
Maybe this month I am really busy and cannot play at all, but next month I have 30 hours of free time per week to put into the game. With daily quests I am a month behind everyone else. Most times I sit down to play game, I am in it for the long haul. I have 4 hours to play, I want to make a lot of progress, but dailies restrict me to only 1 hour of progress per day. There are days when I think of the fun I had in WoW and want to return, but every time my thoughts come back to this needless daily grind.
There is an easy solution to this problem. For reputation daily quests, just add small reputation gains for killing monsters. You would still want to do the dailies for the best reputation gain per hour but also would have the the ability to grind monsters. Grind itself is not bad; it is these artificial limitations that turn players off. For daily quests that give out tokens, add a repeatable quest that gives a token for every X mobs killed.
The player now has more control over the grind. They are playing the game on their terms. They are empowered. They are having a positive experience. They will stay in the game.