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Why is grinding fun?

Doing something repeatedly in real life is super boring – but it seems like not true in some video games like these. The famous dungeon crawl action RPG games like Diablo II and Path of Exile are known by their item system: a rare equipment can have up to 6 modifiers, each with up to 9 different tiers, selected from hundreds of modifiers. Normally one character can only get bonus from a very small portions of them, not to mention many modifiers are designed to be less effective than others – therefore, it is extremely normal for a player in these games to grind for one set of rare items millions of times. Many developers design this kind of mechanics in games all the time to make players stay longer in the game, and players will often accept it and stay. As a long time, Diablo II and Path of Exile players, I could prove it myself, and I also saw many people shared their fun experience in the forum. Why do players like doing this? Are there any psychological reasons that encourages game developers to make this in their games? In this post I will mainly focus on the games with the randomly generated item drops but will also cover some other games. They are just possible reasons and might not apply to all games:


It gives players a sense of accomplishment. When people get something (physically or mentally), they always feel much better if they have made a huge amount of efforts for it. This also applies to the game items, that players will love to see their result of hard work, especially when the result is so rare. A very good example is the trophy/achievement system in many game platforms. In most games, players need to spend a quite long time to get 100% achievement of a game – either practice infinitely until they can beat some hard level, or farm something 1000 times because the achievement asked for it. The former is still fine because players can feel they become stronger, but the latter, I will say the procedure itself is not fun at all. The only reason players are doing this is for the moment of achieving it. Platforms are also super smart to provide the percentage of players who have got this achievement – if this number is low enough, let’s say, 0.2%, players will feel even better because they are statistically stronger than 99.8% players who played this game.


A special type of the accomplishment is the recognition from the community: all people like to be praised, especially if they had such experience in the games before. In War of Warcraft, at the beginning of each version, all strong guilds will try challenging the most difficult boss of the current version as many times as possible restlessly, just for the honor of “world 1st kill”. Not only these players feel accomplished because of the boss kill, but also other players in this game get to know them and praise them. Many Twitch streamers are also the top-tier players in the games they played, and they must keep getting great result to make their viewers stay. Additionally, I saw many non-tool-assisted speed run videos online that obviously require a long-term practice. They are all excellent players that always trying to go beyond themselves and provide great content for the communities they love and discovering new techniques that no one has ever done.


Players always like to be stronger in the game. In many cases, practice make perfect, and it is also one of the reasons why many players doing speed run; however, what it they have completed every single thing without an issue in a game? When I was planning to find an excellent build to play in Path of Exile, I went to see the characters in ladder – it seems all equipment’s they had were god-like and overpowered for even the hardest content in this game. Many of them were even in SSF (Solo Self-Found, a mode that all players cannot trade anything with other players), but their equipment were better than anything I have found in my entire playing life. I could not imagine how many hours per day they were playing, but I could see they definitely love to grind in this game. Sometimes, only seeing the DPS number increasing is addicting. Average players won’t be like this, but when replacing an old item with a new, stronger one, and then go for the dungeon immediately, it feels so great like the game becomes much easier and I am ready to my next challenge.


A speed run contest of Super Metroid - two players had less than half second difference.


It is a form of gambling. No need to say how many people enjoy gambling and not stop doing it even they have paid so much. In grinding, players instead spend tons of time to bet the drop rate that only slightly higher than winning a jackpot. It is a great stimulator for players to keep grinding: I am sure that every player who have grinded before had thought about “I would definitely get this item in the next run!”, especially when the target item is exclusively dropped by a certain enemy – it is really like the gamblers thinking “I would definitely win this round so I can get all my lost money back!”. So similarly, players do consider sunk costs – the amount of time they have spent – when they are going to determine if they should continue. I think a good game should always have a healthy system that is good enough to fulfill the players expectation, but not make the rewards no value.


Surprise is exciting. In many games, items you get are unidentified – which means they are full of possibility. You won’t know this item will be a treasure or a junk before identifying it in some way. The feeling is just like when a 5-year-old child is about to opening a mysterious gift box from their parents- what if it contains a Nintendo Switch that they wanted for 2 years? Though in most cases, a game won’t give players big surprise all the time, but the longer players feel normal, the better they will enjoy the surprise.

The most valuable currency in Path of Exile, on average 1 drop for 3 days among all players


Some grinding mechanics yield a stable amount of profits. if you played some mobile games or MMORPGs, you should have experienced several types of daily/monthly quests. For example, in World of Warcraft, the daily quests that award reputations or badges, and dungeons that have daily cooldown – many players just do certain amount of these daily quests every day and then log off. These daily chores tend to be easy to complete but have relatively high rewards that stimulate casual players to stay in the game for a long time. Though in my opinion, players only do daily quests are often not enjoying the grinding and likely to leave the game quicker.

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