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Grind is Ground

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By Nelson Schneider - 06/15/24 at 02:56 PM CT

In a SHOCKING revelation during a recent interview, Rod Fergusson, the General Manager of the ‘Diablo’ series, let slip the STUNNING and UNPREDICTABLE fact that videogame players – even those who ostensibly ‘loved’ “Diablo 2” back on the halcyon days of the early ‘00s – don’t like so-called ‘long-chase grinding.’ The definition of ‘long-chase’ being that it can take YEARS of daily play sessions to acquire a single desired piece of loot as a random drop.

Naturally, the sarcasm dripping off of the preceding paragraph is intentional, since I NEVER actually enjoyed the ‘long-chase’ style of grinding, or, generally, random grinding at all. And it turns out that I was just – as usual – ahead of the curve, with modern Gamers making no bones about the fact that they like a quicker, streamlined grind, preferably with guaranteed rewards for time invested, with capped potential for greater rewards based on more time spent grinding.

I’ve been critical of the Skinner Box model in game design forever, it seems. Way back in 2018, I was willing to heap praise on one of the worst Indie developers ever simply because they came up with a then-novel approach to making the loot grind feel like less of a… grind, and more like a somewhat controllable process. And it turns out that my current favorite Live Service/MMO title, “Warframe,” has a dev team who have been diligently working to minimize the weight of the grindstone and to minimize the feeling of tedium for the entire 11-year lifespan of that particular title, with some of the most recent new items attainable through a short grind that can be completed in a day, rather than the weeks, months, or – sadly – years that Blizzard made into an Industry Standard through the unexpected success of “Diablo 2.”

But why was “Diablo 2” successful, in spite of its soul-crushing levels of end-game grind? Well, it seems that it landed in the right place at the right time, hitting the early Internet as one of the first network-compatible cooperative games that didn’t require a subscription. It became the de-facto go-to for young nerds to hang out with their friends, regardless of if said friends were even attending the same college.

In recent years, there have been gobs of games that have done what “Diablo 2” did, but better in every single way. Thus, when Blizzard recently tried to reintroduce the ‘long-chase’ in “Diablo 4,” the plan, unsurprisingly, backfired terribly. It’s almost like Blizzard was completely unaware of the whole loot box debacle of the 2010s, and the generalized backlash by Gamers against games built entirely around the pursuit of low-probability random rewards. Indeed, even in the “Diablo 2” community, the number of people who actually spent years grinding out hideously-rare loot drops was vanishingly small, with a large majority of players either putting “Diablo 2” away once they finished the main story, or engaging in such VILE and ILLIIT activities as ‘duping’ and ‘hacking’ their way to rare item bliss.

Overall, though, I think the Hack ‘n Slash genre might be on its way to extinction. The MJ Crew has historically enjoyed playing these titles cooperatively, though I, personally, have generally given even the most popular titles middling reviews. However, the last two titles we’ve played in the genre have been so formulaic, so predictable, and so incredibly boring that, even with proper controller support baked into the PC versions – something Blizzard has never quite figured out – we can barely manage to stay awake and focused on the action. And when the side chatter about what we did during the week is more interesting that the gameplay in a cooperative title… that’s a BIG problem.

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