There are a lot of free-roam or open world games out there, and many of them are nearly impossible to play without a walkthrough or a cheat mod. Even those with some kind of hint system require way too much waiting and clicking to get to the content the player is looking for. While some of these games have gorgeous art, witty and effective writing, and compelling characters, it often feels like the play time is artificially inflated by substituting grind for content.
Now, on a co-op looter shooter, for example, grinding the same mission over and over again has value because of the loot drops. If you get lucky, you can get something good. In adult games, however, the grind can be as bad as the same interaction over and over again with exactly the same dialogue and no progression until you’ve either had the conversation several times, like in Man Of The House. Personally, one of the worst offenders is Cure My Addiction; I’m told there’s a way to make it off the ship and onto an island, but I get way too bored of the whole mechanics of the game to stick it out until that point. With games like these, there’s no random reward to look forward to, there’s no benefit to the grind. It’s just a delaying tactic to make the game seem longer, or rather, boring and interminable.
There are ways to make the grind interesting, though. The first way is, of course, to make every “grind” action different. That may defeat the object of reducing the amount of work for the developer, but there are so many ways to fit several different conversations into the same artwork. There’s also the option of skipping the grind after a certain amount of effort, meaning that things like working to earn money in-game can be done automatically after reaching a threshold.
Another way to make grind interesting is to have multiple repeatable actions instead of just one, and let the player decide which action they will repeat to gain the necessary points. This has the benefit of giving the player another layer of agency, and helps to make the experience more varied.
In addition to making the grind more interesting, the actions have to be easy to find. If a player has to resort to a walkthrough, then the game as it stands is neither well written nor well developed. When you look at professional open-world games, they all have one thing in common: quest markers. While a couple of free-roam games have implemented something like that in their games, it’s far too uncommon right now, and while hint systems help, they don’t go far enough. What’s the point of making so much content that the player will never get to because they’ve given up or gotten bored? The worst offenders leave a player to click randomly through every location just in case something might be happening there, and that’s a shortcut to a bored player who won’t want to play anymore.
So yes, add content, make the grind interesting, and make it easier to find. Keep your players engaged and looking forward to the next stage in the quest, rather than frustrating them with having to do the same thing over and over again, because a bored player isn’t one that’s going to come back.