The decline of the MMO Guild

Guild Leader AldestLately I’ve been immersing myself in the discussions going on regarding the struggle between the pro-solo and pro-group camps of MMO players. The newest bouts of debate have spilled into a few forum discussions and the comments and related articles by Wolfshead. With such a provocative topic I’ve been inspired to write on many different topics. The one I settled on, to begin with, is how this issue affects guilds. It is my contention that by focusing MMOs so heavily on solo content we are producing players ill-equipped to deal with guilds and, ultimately, weakening the need for such organizations.

The concept of player organizations is not a new one. They have existed for many years but, in my eyes, truly grew to a new height with the advent of the raid guild. These organizations are not unlike real world businesses in the fact that they monitor their member’s “hours” and pay them for that labor (DKP). They also have elaborate hierarchies and stringent policies by which someone is hired. This was sometimes taken to an insane degree and these organizations wielded massive amounts of control in EverQuest when it came to what content a player could experience.

To the uninitiated this may have seemed like an insane practice. In reality, however, it was quite the opposite. In those days the other individuals that were in your guild directly affected your experience of the game so it seemed perfectly reasonable to be quite picky. It was also not an experience that you usually repeated. Most of us were “company men.” It took me 11 months to become an official member of Silent Redemption but once I was in it was pretty much for life. I played about four years with them and when I retired I remained a member. It was that loyalty that ensured I had competent people to group and raid with. I was able to experience everything EQ had to offer before any other guild on the server and I made friendships that have lasted nearly 10 years. It was a labor of love so to speak.

Times are quite different these days. Most MMOs not only allow virtually every class to solo to max level they frequently ensure that that is the best way to do it. Grouping is frequently penalized. It is no wonder, then, that guilds have grown far less important. When I retired from high end raiding in EQ2 I moved on to try WoW. It shocked me at how much mobility players exhibited when it came to guilds. If one thing didn’t go their way they were off to a new guild or new server. I was frequently regaled with long histories of every guild someone had been in. It just seemed unnatural.

Initially I believed this decline to be localized to WoW. However, as Sodality has moved through different games I’ve found it to be wide spread. For every decent long term player we recruit we have to sift through ten or more terrible ones. It was confusing at first but the root cause seems all too clear now: MMOs aren’t really designed around mutual cooperation anymore. They’re designed around solo achievement.

The MMO experience is drastically different than it was five years ago. A player can log in, grab a bunch of quests and be lead by the nose to the appropriate location. Other players in the area are just the guys that are “slowing them down.” The games do offer a group option but the amount of content for that play style is on a steady decline and grouping to do solo mobs is inefficient. It quickly teaches the player that everyone else slows their experience and that by working solo they can achieve more. It, in essence, creates a sense of introversion.

This attitude is instilled so early in players that when they reach max level there are a large number of them that end up as terrible group mates. This is where the horrendous stories of PUGs come from. Those stories do more to turn players off to the idea of grouping and the cycle repeats. As players become less inclined to group they also place less value in guilds. What do those organizations offer anyway?

I often find that the answer is “drama” or “too much meddling.” This probably shouldn’t be surprising. If you’re used to doing everything solo, then you’ll have a harder time accepting external control. In addition, players that aren’t accustomed to working with others will have a harder time adjusting to the team environment, where looking out for number one isn’t the best course of action. There are external factors as well. Content is not as gated as it once was. In truth, only the very top end guilds can offer gear and experiences beyond what the average player can do solo or with a PUG raid. All of these factors ultimately lead to a very weak system for guilds to exist in.

There are ways to amend this situation, of course. The first of which is to make grouping viable once more. If players are encouraged to group early in the game they will be better trained to deal with other players later on. This can be achieved with inducements. There should be challenging and interesting content available and rewards to go along with it. I also feel that grouping should be the most effective way to level with solo existing but not necessarily better. I’m sure I’ll hear the usual rabid “forced grouping” shouts but that is truly a myth. If one play style is more effective than another that doesn’t constitute forcing a player to use it. The truth of the matter is grouping takes more effort and players will take the path of least resistance. If grouping is equal or worse than soloing, few people will do it. I must also note that it is imperative that grouping options start immediately, not at max level.

Once players are back in groups they will naturally gravitate towards guild to avoid terrible players and PUGs. They’ll also be more likely to stay in those organizations because they’ll be more adept at dealing with their peers. That would not be enough, however. I would also like to see guilds subsidized by development shops. Long lasting guilds should be rewarded for their stability. Equally so, long term members should be rewarded. There should be a real sense of loss when a player jumps from one guild to the other. I envision a system where guilds level like players and can pick bonuses. The longer the guild exists the more bonuses it will have and the longer a member stays in the guild the more of those bonuses they will get. That will reduce the amount of guild fractures and forming micro-organizations. Players will be forced to deal with each other and work out their differences.

I have been advocating for a more rich and feature-filled guild experience for a while now and I think this would be the optimum time to start implementation. These ideas can be brought to existing games and new ones alike. Building out the multi-player experience would not hurt the solo game and might just draw a lot more business as well. After all, once players start making those friendships and long term guild associations they might play long past when they would normally quit due to their sense of community. I know that kept me in both EQs longer than I would have been had I been a lone wolf. Everyone seems to believe the money is in the solo game and that may be true in the short term but isn’t conversion rate the most important aspect of the business?

9 thoughts on “The decline of the MMO Guild

  1. Here here.

    Without the guild I wouldn’t play. Though your right, with WoW, I am leveling much faster soloing, then I ever did in a group.

  2. Absolutely brilliant article! It should be printed out and pinned up in every cubicle at Blizzard’s HQ in Irvine, CA.

    The concept of player guilds in MMORPGs used to be a fundamental underpinning of why they become so popular. Without meaningful guilds back in EverQuest the lead designers of WoW would never have met and WoW would not have even existed.

    The rise of solo gameplay as a device to broaden the demographic in order to make more money is at the root of the problem here. Solo gameplay erodes group gameplay. With less people grouping you have less qualified candidates for guilds. Without guilds you have no warm bodies to populate all of the premium instance content that provides the backdrop and purpose for WoW.

    How long can the middle hold?

    Blizzard is perilously close to the tipping point here. They are throwing the furniture in the fire to heat the house by continually cannibalizing the fundamentals of MMORPGs in order to pump up their subscription numbers. At this rate, it can’t last forever as there will be nothing resembling a MMO as we know it in the near future.

    Blizzard really needs a serious overhaul of guild management tools in WoW. They need to recognize the massive and vital contribution that guildmasters and officers make in their guilds. I’d even go as far as giving a guildmaster free monthly access or a reduced subscription rate depending on how many guild members they have.

    Your ideas for bolstering guilds and providing more features are good. Players need to be more loyal to their guilds instead of the rampant guild hopping that is so prevalent. There should be a special guild loyalty program — the longer you are a member of a guild the more rewards you can purchase at a guild quartermaster which should be in the guild house — still not available in WoW.

    Tobold, commented that I’m grumpy in a recent post of his. I don’t deny it. The reason is after 10 years of having graphical MMOs I’m despondent at how little we’ve progressed.

  3. I agree.

    I loved the days of games where you could not solo unless you were skilled.

    Yes, I played a Bard in EQ. I would solo hundred of mobs at a time, BUT it was a skill I developed, through many trials and errors.

    In Lineage 2, when it first came out. I was the Highest level character on the server with no one even close to me because I had the skills to do it.

    Now he who has the most time, regardless of skill can solo effectively.

    The difference between me and the average MMO player. I know how to solo and how to group, I choose to group mopst often because I like the social aspects, but I have the ability to do it alone if no one is around. THe average MMO player does not even know what a group is.

  4. Fascinating article! I do, however, take issue with the now almost ubiquitous tacit equation of guild with raiding. Raiding is only one of the things guilds are good for — in fact, I’d argue that raiding NEEDS guilds but not necessarily the other way around. Guilds can and do exist for a long time with members who don’t raid and even members who don’t group all that often, but every attempt I’ve made to illustrate that has had people telling me those aren’t real guilds. Therefore, I guess, if it’s not a raiding guild it’s not a guild these days.

    I’m not entirely sure why I still bother trying to argue that the more solitary players like myself are NOT anti-social, poorly-adjusted basement mouth-breathers with no friend-making skills, despite my own many posts on the subject.

    I should really just have kept quiet. 😉 Still, good post!

    1. @Yasharros

      You’re absolutely right on the guild vs raiding situation. I did not intend for them to be a synonym of sorts. That said, I was more taking an EQ perspective when I write about the player organizations. At that time guilds truly were focused heavily on avoiding poor players and raiding. That is not really the case any longer.

      I also hope I did not insinuate that solo players are in some way inferior or terrible. My point is that all players are being trained to see other players as a hindrance and not to work with them. I did a poll in my guild prior to writing this article and asked how they felt if they were doing a solo quest and saw someone they didn’t know killing the same mobs. They were unanimous in stating they felt that person was in the way. When we solo in an MMO we seem to focus far more on “me” and less on “us.” I just don’t want to confuse play style attitudes with personality. They are very different.

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