Is the thrill in the reward or in the hunt? Does it have to be there?
I have a few friends (shocking, I know) who have some very interesting tastes in games. No, not visual novels and their ilk. One such friend isn’t into games like Borderlands or Diablo. Though much debate has yielded reasons like not enjoying the art style of the former or not being enticed by the latter’s isometric perspective, it was interesting how both games are essentially loot-based. It was even more interesting to see him play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. He never went out and tried to explore every inch of the world and gather every piece of Witcher gear out there. Rather, he chose to experience the story first.
The Witcher 3 isn’t a game with grinding by any means – in fact, one could argue what with its leveling system and the amount of experience doled out in side-quests and by fighting enemies that it actively discourages such. The point is that this friend is someone who’s been gaming for years and while not devoting hours and hours to loot or grinding, he has fun.
"And of course, there is Bungie's Destiny, the 10 year project that is frequently mocked as much for its shortage of content and gameplay as it is for its RNG system and addiction of players."
Then there’s the other friend who’s still playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. And no, it’s because of the plentiful mods since he’s on the PS3. He’s someone who’s collected the most powerful armour, completed every quest and yet, he simply likes to explore the world. Only recently had he started a new playthrough. Heck, there are times he’s shocked to discover completely new areas that he hadn’t known of before. There was no grinding per say as much as there was the desire to complete everything but spending years with this one game – even if it was a game as vast as Skyrim – was fun for him.
Nowadays, it’s interesting to note some kind of loot game or the other rising to prominence. The smartphone market is flooded with action RPGs that encourage you to fight and earn greater loot. Assassin’s Creed Unity pushed fans to acquire better loot, though it also wanted you to get every single chest in the game imaginable. Tom Clancy’s The Division recently revealed its leanings towards loot, going as far as to encourage players to betray their friends if necessary just for that sweet new gun. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare threw in Supply Drops, which players eagerly pursued for the chance at Elite weapons (which lead to Advanced Supply Drops that could be purchased for a chance -not a guarantee – but a chance of Elite weapons).
And of course, there is Bungie’s Destiny, the 10 year project that is frequently mocked as much for its shortage of content and gameplay as it is for its RNG system and addiction of players.
"This isn't to say the grind can't be fun. Some players still play Diablo 3 to this day, running Nephalem Rifts and Greater Rifts in attempts to conquer greater challenges and just unlock better gear (if not grow more powerful in the process)."
Games like Destiny have been discussed to death. However, one has to wonder – since when did grinding and trying to get that next big drop really act as a substitute for fun?
Talk to any hardcore Destiny player about the number of hours they’ve put into the game and you’ll come away with stats like 500 to 1000 hours. Some devoted players even have 2000 hours of playtime. But anyone who’s played Destiny will tell you how much of that time was spent just running around in Patrol, completing bounties to grind our Reputation, or grinding the Strike playlist for a chance at either better gear or Vanguard marks for better gear. That’s not counting the amount of time taken running raids or arenas over and over in hopes of getting that one desired Exotic or raid weapon.
By comparison, The Elder Scrolls Online takes a different route. You could try running dungeons or Trials (the game’s equivalent of a raid) or even Realm vs. Realm PvP for a chance at great loot. You could also just, you know, explore the world or attempt to craft equipment. Though elements of grinding are present, it’s not the be-all, end-all of the game. One could even argue that this is the case for World of Warcraft, which gives you guaranteed drops for raids even if you don’t run on the highest difficulty.
This isn’t to say the grind can’t be fun. Some players still play Diablo 3 to this day, running Nephalem Rifts and Greater Rifts in attempts to conquer greater challenges and just unlock better gear (if not grow more powerful in the process).
"Will nostalgia and the memory of fun be enough to revisit a game that won't change? Or will constant new additions of loot and the means to acquire it be the way to go?"
Like any other loot game, the drops are completely random and yet, Diablo 3 just seems to be better at rewarding players at times. Other times, it can just be repetitive and the only thing drawing players in is the desire for that next drop or that next Paragon level or that next Greater Rift stage.
Loot based games won’t be going away any time soon and there’s always going to be some implementation or the other of such into modern games. Developers can only work on so much content to keep players hooked – they need to offer something else, a worthwhile reward for investing one’s time while insuring that more time is invested in one fell swoop.
The continued popularity of single-player experiences like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Batman: Arkham Knight and even of the Uncharted or Halo series shows that the grind hasn’t taken over every gamer. But could the day be far off when each game incorporates RNG loot rather than hooks to keep players coming back? Will nostalgia and the memory of fun be enough to revisit a game that won’t change? Or will constant new additions of loot and the means to acquire it be the way to go?
Either way, developers want your time now more than ever. Playing a game these days can be akin to visiting Vegas. It’s ultimately up to gamers themselves to decide whether they want to spend it all on the slots until that next big hit, embark on drunken adventures up and down the strip that will be remembered for years, or a mixture of both that keeps them coming back to the very culture itself.