That grind in many ways is built into games operating under the free-to-play model. Unlike EVE, where I chose to do an insane standings grind for something I could basically get by joining faction warfare, a pretty intense grind is standard for F2P games. If the grind is hard enough, players invested enough in the game will bypass the grind by spending money. Depending on the articles available for purchase, some players will designate the game pay-to-win (P2W).
That subject, how to avoid the P2W trap, is a subject of a presentation that Cryptic Studios CEO Jack Emmert will give at GDC Next the first week of November. Massively pointed out this part of the description of the talk...
"With an F2P business, developers must carefully weigh business needs against game balance. Typically, players immediately question whether a game is actually pay-to-win and not truly free-to-play. This session tracks how Cryptic Studios has tackled this very difficult question in each of their current MMOs, and provides a method to address both concerns."Commenters over at Massively are not buying the premise that Emmert knows how to do this. One even pointed out that weighing "business needs against game balance" isn't a good thing for game designers to do. Game companies always have to consider the business implications of what they design. I think players wouldn't object too much if told they can't have a feature because it costs too much to implement, if given a good technical reason why it costs so much. Yes, I'm thinking of CCP trying to fix all the legacy systems like Crimewatch. But when that reaches down to what will drop from mobs in order to make the cash shop more attractive, players start drawing the line.
As so happens, I'm currently playing a Cryptic game, Neverwinter. So far, unlike all the other games I've played with a cash shop except EVE Online1, I've managed to not purchase anything from the cash store. I admit I'm only level 27, but I've easily resisted the temptation to purchase a mount for $35 or $40. Actually, once I found out the prices for a mount and took a look at the cash shop, I almost quit the game. The cash shop definitely killed my desire to join a guild and become immersed in the world of Neverwinter, despite how much I like some of the game play and the systems.
So now I have a challenge. Can I reach max level and get really cool things and not spend any real life money? If I can, then I think Neverwinter isn't really P2W. The only real roadblocks I see might come at end game, but I'm not an end game raider. When I hit the level cap that usually means I'm about to quit a game anyway.
The experiment will probably take a long time to conduct. EVE still takes precedence and I'm looking forward to the opening of EQNext Landmark this winter (hopefully in November or December). And then after that is spring and Wildstar, which will probably kick Neverwinter to the curb. But maybe I'll have something to report in a few months. Because as we all know, we should judge game developers by their actions and not by their words.2
1. I haven't purchased anything from the Nex Store, but I have purchased Fanfest streams, tickets, and in a couple of weeks character transfers.
2. See also Warhammer Online.