NBI Talkback, a Late Entry on the Relevance of Guilds
I always feel privileged to be a part of initiatives like the NBI, not only because they promote growth of our community, but also because they provide such tasty fodder for conversations as this one.
There have already been a slew of these responses; rather than link each one individually, I’ll direct you to the page that links all the of the shared topics. I’ll be covering the other, armchair game design, on Friday (with a surprise poetical diversion in between, though I guess it won’t be much of a surprise, now).
Surprisingly, despite all my trouble, I like the idea of guilds, but objectively I can say that I believe they’ve outlived their relevance. I’d suggest that the initial concept of guilds came from the need for easy contacts to help you survive. Early MMOs were far more brutal than our more recent offerings, and as a result, having a group was almost a necessity. This undoubtedly came from the design of earlier CRPGs, most of which were party-oriented, which were based on earlier pen and paper RPGs, which were also party-oriented, mostly because those were based on even earlier table-top war games, which of course were party (squad/division/army) oriented.
This long chain of evolution lead us to an design decision that seemed like a good idea at the time, but in the end has become more and more irrelevant. You see, dear reader, in the early MMOs, the availability of easy grouping and communication were vastly less than they are now. Guilds provided both a platform with which to speak to “like minded” (in theory) players as well as a pool of them with which to advance in an vastly more hostile world.
Now, though, new design decisions have replaced these old ones, historically based on completely different types of games. The RealID system has made it possible to communicate, even “converse,” with multiple friends. Cross-realm grouping has made it far easier to group up with people that you’ve enjoyed playing with before. Obviously, LFD and LFR have made strides here, too, though at perhaps too great a cost. VOIP systems have made the communication even easier, with a small buy-in of downloading some software, to allow you to chat with who you want when you want.
What, then, is the current relevancy of guilds? If you’ve got a platform to speak with your “like-minded” friends, can group with them regardless of realm, why then are guilds relevant, and why, regardless of their relevance, do I feel like they are?
Perhaps it’s just habit, both for me and for the genre as a whole. Again, historically, when you played PnP RPGs, you were part of something larger; your works combined with others’ to create a (hopefully) enjoyable story in which you all partook. Maybe guilds, then, are filling the “social” element of play, which may be why there are far more social guilds than any other type.
The problem then occurs when the “social” aspect of guilding runs counter to the “goal-oriented” task of raiding. As many commentators revealed during my recent guild drama, they’ve found that there’s far more problems in “family-style” guilds than in hardcore guilds. I suspect this is because of the cross purposes; why raid with people you only want to socialize with?
This trend may also come from the way we work as adults. Due to time constraints and fatigue combined with spending a lot of time with your coworkers, many of our friends come from where we work. Since raiding is a “work-like” event (though it can be fun and rewarding, but so can work if you end up in a job you like), it makes sense that we’d assume that we’d do so with our “friends.” What we often forget in deciding that, though, is that we also often have nemeses at work, people who are rude or lazy, who increase our workload or try to make us look bad in front of others, and often as a result end up with the same in our guilds.
As guilds have become less relevant, Blizzard has struggled to enforce guilding with their reward system. There is now an “economic” incentive to be in guilds; you get more of most every type of currency for being in one. This may be one of the big draws for me; I want to get all the bonuses I can, of course, but I don’t think that’s my sole reason for still wanting to be guilded.
I’ve written before that I suspect that I’ve become a much more “social” player than I used to be as I’ve slid down the ladder to more “casual” than “hardcore” (and the ladder metaphor isn’t meant to be insulting; it’s safer to be on the ground than up on a ladder – I hate heights). I suspect, too, that this more social nature I’ve developed is what has kept me guilded, even sometimes against my better instinct.
With this most recent round of guildlessness, though, I’ve still been very social. I’m keeping in touch with the few people I really liked in my previous guilds, keeping in touch with blog friends, and still raiding, so I think I may be moving towards an epiphany that I don’t really need to be in a guild. That said, I probably will server hop again and join my other buddy’s guild, nonetheless.
Some may argue that guilds are necessary to raid successfully, but Openraid.us has completely proven that wrong. I’m not saying you can do heroic raids with those groups (I’m not saying you can’t, either, since I haven’t tried), but both my couple friends who had moved to Germany and my buddy and I have been utilizing Openraid to down bosses since 5.4. I think any argument about guilds being necessary for current-tier non-hardcore raiding has been permanently disproven.
So what, then, is the relevance of guilds? Outside of hardcore raiding – and to be frank I’m not even 100% sure about that – which requires a bit more trust and thus a bit more familiarity with the people with whom you raid, I don’t think guilds are relevant any more.
But that doesn’t mean I want to feel that way. It feels a bit like an end of an era to admit that, despite my many problems with them.
Stubborn (and guildless, for the moment)