A commenter (David (Talaen)) on the previously mentioned TerraNova thread presented what I felt to be a pretty succinct definition of MMO “grind”:
“Any repetitive activity which is done by the player for the purpose of advancement, but which the player does not consider fun in and of itself.”
The intriguing part of this, for me, is the question of why a player would continue to play a game that they did not find fun.
There are actually multiple possible reasons for such seemingly odd behavior, of course: to support friends and guild mates still enjoying the game; to achieve some predetermined personal goal (accumulating gold to build a house, accumulating XP or faction to gain a desired new ability); reaching a specific level of achievement to become eligible for some new more interesting style of play (the “end-game” phenomenon). Is enumerating these various situations, and addressing them each in turn, helpful in terms of finding solutions which might lessen player resentment over the perception of the “grind”?
For my part, I want to concentrate simply on trying to generate basic gameplay that is involved enough that it can be interesting in itself. No “press A and pray” systems on my agenda, I’m afraid… not that those can’t be entertaining on occasion, but they don’t seem to have the staying power of something a bit more interactive.
I don’t think that having a bit more “personalized storyline” would hurt, either, although it’s the type of challenge on the design side that can cause bleeding from the ears if you contemplate it too long. I’m rather hoping that creating more fine detail will generate additional tools and hooks for personalization at the “campaign/world level”… it’s a phenomenon I saw in pen-and-paper all the time, but I don’t know if it will translate over into MMO design very well.
Eh, well… random thoughts, indeed…