Who needs the High End?

It wasn’t long ago that right in the middle of a raid my guild mates and I started to discuss what value high end guilds bring to the games that they play. You might imagine that our opinions were very broad and different.

Historically speaking I don’t think you can say that a true modern “uber guild” existed before EverQuest. I am also willing to say that it was in that game that they were the greatest influence. Why would that be the case? What is different now?

EverQuest was a great experiment in gaming. In its development a great risk was taken by mandating a solid computer and connection for the entry point. This, as you can imagine, set the game up as somewhat elitist to begin with. It was also, more or less, the only big kid on the block. It was EQ or nothing. Much like “cake or death” we chose cake if we had the capacity to consume it.

In those days each server had a lead guild. Some were further ahead than others but someone was always in the first position. You also had a few leaders of the leaders. Those would be your Fires of Heaven, Afterlife and the likes. When they put out information the community listened. Some were a bit more flamboyant, obviously.

I was in Silent Redemption myself and we lead Brell by a pretty good margin. People knew who we were and generally strived to achieve what we had. I think this is the key role that the high end guilds filled. We were, in essence, the carrot that kept everyone playing. I’d run by and a cleric who wasn’t yet max level would look and say, “Wow, I’d like to look like that some day.” Obviously that didn’t motivate everyone but I think it is safe to say it did work for a lot. That was the point of EverQuest after all: level up and gear out.

Moving into the more modern period of MMOs has changed things quite a lot. EverQuest II, by virtue of being a sequel, retained much of the same mystique around the high end raiders. On Oasis, where I lead Iniquity, people regularly read our website in mass quantities. Everyone wasn’t as aware of us, however, after almost all the epic encounters went from contested to instanced.  The difference was nobody saw what we were up to and the gear differentiation at the time was woefully bad. In classic EQ2 Ferrel looked unique. By the time Kingdom of Sky came out she looked like every Templar around. The only difference was that she had a prismatic three. This did not exactly inspire players to strive for more. The general attitude was “Why go to all the trouble of joining Iniquity and having all those requirements when I can just do pick up raids and get the same gear?” Sadly, they were right. There were very few worthwhile items we could get that they couldn’t. It was an itemization issue but it really hurt our way of life.

That brings up my next point in a round about way. Players that wouldn’t call themselves “hard core” are now raiding and succeeding in the current tier of content. World of Warcraft is a prime example of this. Other than the top raid zone many casual players can not only raid early zones but also progress fairly high up. The problem is, again, motivation. Why go to all the work if you can do it in a simpler environment without the stress?

That poses the question then, what role does the high end guild serve in our modern community? To be frank, I’m not certain. One of my guild mates seems to think that if we didn’t exist it would be the apocalypse. If there was no carrot no one would play. Two years ago I’d agree completely and wave the party flag. Now, I’m not so sure. People play World of Warcraft just to play, not necessarily to be the best. Look at City of Heroes. That is a great game with a laughable high end. People are there just to enjoy the experience.

Given all this information, my hypothesis is that developers continue to cater to the high end for a few reasons:

1. We’re still very visible. Most of the larger guilds maintain very well done and traffic heavy websites. This website alone is a testament to that. I have always and will always write commentary about the industry and games I play. If something is wrong someone will hear me yelling about it.

2. We’re very loud. We tend to be very passionate about the games we play. We, like developers, take a territorial ownership. If a game has no content for us we start to make torches and order pitchforks. It can be very discouraging to casual players if they hear from the top crowd that “there is nothing to do at max level” or “x is really messed up.”

3. We’re still a carrot for some. We might not be a carrot that is appetizing to the masses but there is a group out there that sees us as a measuring stick. If a game does decently well at differentiating the casual raider from the hard core counterpart I think this is even more true.

In the future I’m not sure we’ll continue to see the same dynamic we do now. The casual community is growing by leaps and bounds and we have to be honest, they pay the bills, not us. We’re a small subset that uses up the most resources at the quickest pace and we don’t pay a dime more. Either way though, I think we’re very important to the community!

I’d love to hear the thoughts that everyone else has regarding this. What role do you think we fill?

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