Like almost every cultural import from Japan, when games featuring grinding dynamics first appeared on American shores, content developers almost universally thought it was a stupid idea that would never catch on. The thought that American audiences would be willing to repeatedly play the same content over and over for tiny gains and random drops would never work here the way it did “over there”.
Then came the social game explosion. Led by Farmville, it proved that there were armies of players willing to interact with single level content over and over again until they had gathered the goods necessary to make a tiny expansion of their personal empire.
Those early Facebook games were abandoned years ago, but their impact lives on in almost every aspect of the modern gaming ecosystem.
Less than a decade after Final Fantasy XIV and Monster Hunter were considered laughably foreign to US audiences, hardcore gamers spend untold hours a day grinding out drops in Bungie’s Destiny. They’re desperately replaying levels until they are totally numbed out, hoping to get that elusive drop that will give them the power they need to unlock the next drop of content that will let them spend more hours questing for the next meaningless piece of virtual loot.
Meanwhile, e-sports players focus with laser-like intensity on single arenas, until they have discovered nuances that most of us are unable to comprehend.
Not so long ago it was content that was king, but more and more it’s clear that arenas we play in are now what define the next generation of gaming experiences.