Why are Korean MMOs so grindy?

Korean Massively Multiplayer Online Games have a reputation for being excruciatingly ‘grindy’. What this means is that in order to progress in the game, you have to do a lot of repetitious, tedious actions, before you can get to a point in the game to be decently competitive vs human opponents, or simply versatile enough to do anything that isn’t farming Piglets in Newbie Island for 100 hours.

Now, any ‘free to play’ game is going to be somewhat grindy- if the game has a ‘free’ and ‘subscription’ model, they want to give people an incentive to pay money. The people who pay money are also going to expect a better experience over those who do not pay. But under the Korean free to play MMO model, this is thrown into the extremes:

NavyField is a simple yet addictive naval game. Its above view, and you use historical WWII era warships against other players, customizing the loadout and ship types. The game is technically free, but to get enough experience points/money to buy a ship bigger than a dinghy that gets 1-shotted 5 seconds into the battle takes a considerable amount of time. If you factor that losing a battle only gives you a pittance of exp/money its very long haul. You can pay a one-time subscription fee which considerably boosts this, though even after that its still a pretty long grind. Finally, you can pay a monthly subscription which multiplies it even further (I think it ends up being like 4x the exp rate vs free) which, combined with playing during Holiday/Promotional periods which offer further boosts actually make the game playable because you can level up and accumulate money at a decent rate, even if you die a lot.

Ragnarok Online and MapleStory are MMORPGs that had a pretty painful grind in my memory.

Contrast this with other MMOs: Even if they had a similar free to play model they had some element to offset the grind. In EVE Online if you were a good businessman/liked reading excel spreadsheets you could be financially self-sufficient enough in the game to play for free indefinitely and afford to replace ships destroyed by griefers. You built up your skills over real time passively, so you could research Engineering 5, log off, come back a week later and it would be researched, instead of grinding xp the whole time.

World of Warcraft had a variety of zones to explore at any given level range, and “Rest xp” which would give you +50% (or was it 100%? can’t remember) xp if you hadn’t played for a while.

Planetside 2 is free to play and a level 1 player has access to all of the vehicles and aircraft a level 100 player does. Grinding certification points really only improves a few skills or gives access to a few ‘flavor of the month’ guns. There are plenty of abilities that take hundreds of hours of playtime to earn but offer a negligible benefit (so its not mandatory you waste time to get them). They also do plenty of promotions- last xmas they had a massive discount on gift cards, giving you TRIPLE the ingame ‘money’, on top of a Wal-Mart sale effectively resulting in an 85% discount in all the purchasable things in game.

I played 9 Dragons a while back, which was incredibly grindy, and I had this conversation a few times with some of the Korean players who spoke English. Apparently, even though I found 9D to be far and away more of a grind than anything else I’ve played, the Korean-only servers were reputedly much more so, and the English-speaking server I was on was considered to be for wimps who can’t handle a real game.

It’s a badge of honor. It’s about showing you have True Grit. It’s about demanding serious dedication to the game over a long period of time in order to separate the boys from the men. It’s about having standards that are so high, it actually becomes a feat of physical prowess to be able to devote the time and focus it takes to succeed at the game.

Back when Aion first came out in the US, people claimed that in Korea, rather than being the parent’s-basement-dwelling nerds that are the stereotype of the US MMO player, Koreans mainly played MMOs at internet cafe type places where people paid by the hour and the cafes licensed the games by revenue sharing with the makers of whatever game the person was playing.

Not sure if this is actually true (or possibly was true at one point and later designs just followed as something they were used to), but it sounds good.

That sounds legit, though in addition to a huge grind it sounds like the Korean players pay out the ass for all the time spent grinding. I also wonder if its the developers trying to maximize cost-effectiveness; a grindy game tends to be very repetitive; a big part of the grind is because there are few ways to level/effective builds/variety. So the developer can get away with comparatively less content, since it takes the players so long to slog through it. This also creates more of a temptation to spend money on ‘boosts’ or ‘premium items’, and the ‘free to play’ often becomes ‘pay to win’. With a game with faster progression, there’s more pressure to create additional endgame content to keep the maxed out players busy.

It is definitely true that most Koreans play MMOs at internet cafes. Not quite sure why. I used to play Ragnarok and my brother and I would go to the internet cafes on Sundays for guild raids since we only had one computer at home.

I do remember having to pay to play Ragnarok at home. A monthly fee maybe? It was years ago so can’t remember exactly. You could play for free at the internet cafes but of course you’d have to pay by the hour for the use of the computer itself. Internet cafes have deals where you get a discount for playing 5-6 hours straight.

I enjoyed playing Ragnarok for a while but it was a hell of a grind. It is pretty much impossible to level up a character on your own unless you devote all of your free time to endlessly slaughtering creatures for a tiny trickle of XP. Ragnarok had a party system where party members could share XP regardless of who made the kill, so the easiest way for low level characters to level up would be to team up with a higher level character and then hide in a corner while the higher level character would go out and kill higher level monsters with shit tons of XP. My brother always complained it was easier to play as a girl because boys would give you items for free (girls are not as numerous as boys in the Korean MMO world obviously).

Anyway, games like Ragnarok encouraged people to form guilds, and being in a guild made it more likely that people would keep playing the game rather than get bored and quit early on. That might be one reason why the game was designed to be such a grind.

  1. Pride in playing a “native-made” game.
  2. Skinner Box methods are really damned effective, if skeevy.
  3. Lack of good games in the Korean market.
  4. There’s “value” in being obsessive (see also competitive LoL, Starcraft, etc.)

Was right with you up until this one, and now I’m trying to decide whether I have no idea what you’re trying to say, or whether I should be offended by what I think you’re trying to say. :stuck_out_tongue: Not that I play either of those games, competitively or otherwise, but if you’re talking down to people who find enjoyment in tiny nuances that are only seen after mastery is reached, I would suggest you give some serious thought to your perspective. :stuck_out_tongue:

Don’t a lot of Koreans have internet access? I heard [south] Korea has much more/faster internet access compared to much of the US. If they have a higher proportion of ‘Gamers’ (which I assume so, since E-sports seemed to have been born there) you would get this perfect storm of a huge userbase with the time and resources to test a game to its limits.

If the majority of Korean gamers have the skill, time, and motivation to really excel at a game, then obviously there’s going to be a lot of competitiveness/obsessiveness at the top in order to see who is top dog. But I don’t see this any different than other national pastimes like Soccer, American Football, etc.