I'm still playing through Final Fantasy II and enjoying the experience. While playing, something caught my attention in this old JRPG. I was grinding. I was grinding for experience, gear, money, and other loot. I was grinding the way I grind in MMOs. But instead of that listless MMO feeling I was having fun. What's the deal?
I think part of the reason is that I'm playing a game with a definitive ending. I may be grinding, but there's an end in sight. In MMOs it's way too easy to get stuck on the gear treadmill at "endgame" and keep grinding for better gear so that you can clear the next tier of raid so that you can get better gear etc, etc, etc. That's how they keep you playing. But without an ending, without that feeling of conclusion and satisfaction, a videogame loses something.
The end is always time for reflection
MMOs aren't the only culprit. I've invested around 60 hours in Skyrim and have "completed" 2 of the main questlines that might as well have been entire games unto themselves (8+ hours for each). The world and gameplay continue on despite finishing them. Now, this is the nature of an Elder Scrolls game, they design it with open exploration in mind. Nevertheless, Skyrim still loses something by having no true end. There's no final payoff and sense of accomplishment. That moment of sitting back on the couch and just reflecting on everything you've done while the credits roll doesn't exist.
I don't know if this is a problem or not. What I do know is that games that end have a much bigger emotional impact on me than games without end. The narratives and feelings from the game stay with me longer and I think about them more often. So, maybe developers should think twice before deciding to create an open-ended game. They might not be doing themselves a favor.