Here’s the thing; I’ve run guilds over the past two decades of online gaming, successful and memorable (at least to me) ones. Doing so in Guild Wars 2 is really hard. I’ve read quite a few recent articles, Reddit threads and blog posts about the recent Fractal of the Mist and Ascended gear fiasco. The most interesting one (beyond my own thoughts of course) was one written by Taugrim in which he quoted Dulfy on Reddit (link). I quote Dulfy below;
Before FOTM, all the LFGers are in the same pool. With the FOTM tiered system we have now, [our 500-member dungeon running guild] is divided into…a span of 20-30 small groups that usually don’t interact with each other.
This has very little to do with the basis and chain of thought Taugrim was going after, but it mirrored a sentiment I’ve had since becoming an officer in my own guild Shining Force. I recall logging into the guild over the Thanksgiving day weekend and being shocked at what I saw. Nearly two-thirds of the guild was online, but not ‘representing’ SF. The officer part of me immediately grew frustrated.
A Brief History of Guilds and MMO’s
When I first started playing online games it was back around 1995-1996 on AOL. The graphics were terriawful by today’s standards. The games flourished by the standards of the time, however, because of community. The players “roleplayed” writing virtual novels about their characters, guilds, and interactions with each other. When they logged into games like Neverwinter Nights (AOL) they didn’t spend it farming gold or working towards some crazy legendary pixels. No in those days characters were leveled over a weekend and geared out in the best gear by the following one. Content? That came from the players. That content by today’s standard would be lambasted in the press for providing the players with little to do with their online personality.
Everquest continued the tradition to an extent. The online communities of NWN and other non-graphical MUDs soon found themselves with a world they didn’t need to write about to “picture” it. Instead they found a game where the world was lushly drawn (by the standards of the day). A testament to the community formed during those days is the fact that Everquest still exists to this day THIRTEEN YEARS later. Sure the game had to adapt to the new demands of more modern game design; including expansions and actual content for their players to explore. Yet, despite the new modern demands the community was still an essential aspect to being successful in the game. Everquest was the tipping point in which players were forced together to accomplish a goal. Unique in its day, it was both a point of contention and in my opinion a boon to its success. After all, whats the point of playing an online game if your not forced to interact with others who are also online?
So the notion of a guild (a community) was firmly cemented in Everquest. It had existed before, but games going forward would almost be designed around them. Guilds went from being a place where players generated content for consumption by themselves, to being a place where content was consumed by the organization and provided for by the game creators. The distinction is small to be sure, but the evolution of the guild is where we come full circle back to Guild Wars 2.
Editorial Interuption: I am skipping over the history of games between Everquest and Guild Wars 2 because none of them did anything revolutionary with the idea or philosophy behind Guilds in the interim.
Guild Wars 2
Guild Wars 2 has challenged the status quo of guilds. Whereas previous modern innovations have existed such as Guild levels and perks, Guild Wars 2 ‘evolved’ one step further. Guild Representation. The notion of being able to jump between groups of friends certainly is appealing. You no longer have to have a guild filled with ‘friends of friends’ whom you don’t know. Nor do you have to accept those same ‘friends of friends’ into your elite hardcore raiding guild. Instead you get a happy medium of allowing organizations to pseudo-exist. Everyone can create and be a member of as many guilds as they want. When they want to party with someone they just click ‘Represent’ and they are automatically transferred back into the guild’s presence. Glorious.
Unless your someone like me.
Now your pseudo-guild is populated with a bunch of semi-grayed out guild members who you can happily see are snubbing your organization and are quite online. As a leader I see these players and wonder why one day they are in my organization and the next they aren’t. Now to be fair, my guild has its dedicated members. Many of them were recruited during our guild events; camping the jumping puzzle in the Eternal Battlegrounds or just running Dungeons. Many of my guys I’m proud of to call guild mates. Its the players who aren’t representing though that bother me.
How can a game succeed when the basic premise is play your way and on your own. Their is nothing in this game that requires the coordination of a guild outside of World versus World and I’d even go so far to say that even that statement is pushing it. I’ve seen lots of commanders manage forces comprised of random guilded or un-guilded members into a cohesive force. You don’t even have to party in this game. Nothing requires a party outside of Dungeons (and those can be pugged by random people). Random world events that occur sometimes require larger forces to accomplish but again random players running by could jump in and solve the need to actually organize players for those events.
Problem Specifics & a Solution
So what exactly is leading to this decline in social gaming in the Guild Wars 2 universe? Two primary things;
-Guilds are more psuedo-guilds. They function like transient communities for the players of GW2. Players can hop between any number of guilds/communities without actually leaving them. This leads some guilds to believe they have more members then they actually do. I saw the “500 player dungeon running guild” in Dulfy’s quote and laughed to myself wondering how many of them ever represent it at one time (maybe 50?). Is that really a community I can log in to Ventrilo with and have a conversation with? Its more likely to focus around around that dungeon run and the mechanics of it then anything resembling a ‘community’.
-No activities exist that emphasize the use of Guilds. In World of Warcraft you had at the very least 10 and 25 man raids. This forced players into groups to achieve a goal and created many communities across the net that have existed for years. Try telling me your Karma boosting guild or Dungeon running guild are going to leave a legacy or encourage players to stick around to play your game.
So sure, we’ve identified why Guild Wars 2 might be having some social issues. To bring this all together, i’ll ask the question; Why do you need a community? Its a tough question to answer. In fact, I’m going to leave it unanswered because it could take as much text as i’ve written already just to answer it. Are communities important? A better way to frame the ending of this article is this;
If ArenaNet removed guilds from the game tomorrow, is their any functionality that any players would miss or that could be replaced by another existing function?
In my opinon, no. Thats pretty scary. A few questions about what to do post level 80 surfaced a few months ago and I myself was taken back. What do you do once your in full exotics? Grind for a legendary? WvW (don’t even get me started on this one)? The list is frighteningly short and incomplete. The one thing that could tie your players to the game is a sense of community. Knowing that when I log in tonight I’ll find people online representing my organization would go a long way too.