At the center of almost every MMO’s gameplay is this idea that players will/should find their way into a specific group of players that they almost exclusively associate with, aka a Guild. It has become the foundation for content design in that most content is designed for a static group of people to work at and overcome. I’m not going to say that all pick-up-groups are unable to function on the level of a guild, but I think that most of you would agree with me when I say that guilds are able to accomplish more in today’s MMO’s.
In the past it was a little bit different. Guilds were more of a social gathering and more of an outward identification of who you are as a player. Your guild name identified you as an individual rather than your playstyle. Guilds were also less important for content and games were not designed specifically around them. EQ, at least during the best years (Launch – Velious) wasn’t so much about the guild you were in but who you knew and how you played. Your guild might identify you as someone with certain values and that would determine how you are perceived. Raids would form to venture into the Plane of Hate and it was almost never a guild only thing when it first originated. Going back further in time, The Realm featured a very unique world where people socialized and associated themselves based on where in the world their character spent most time. There was the crowd that would always hang out in the tavern or outside the potion shop or even outside of town ’1 right 1 down’. Nothing about the game catered to or depended upon the development of guilds.
I like how in Star Wars Galaxies my guild meant very little to how the game played out for me. I was apart of a small guild of perhaps 5 or 6 people and I still have no idea why we formed one in the first place. My character was the main thing that I had to focus on. The absolute greatest accomplishments in the game did not require me to have a guild. Players were able to find the most satisfying enjoyment that the game had to offer by way of interacting with the world and the entire server; not with a guild. I never felt bad or like I was missing out on something because I was not in a guild.
Guilds are obviously a source of great joy but they’re also a source of horrendous disappointment. I’ve often recounted the numerous times that a guild, not the game itself, drove me away. The fact that a guild can become something so important to the point that without it your character and its accomplishments are meaningless is just not right. In World of Warcraft it’s very difficult to come across a decent guild. If your character has some nice stuff but otherwise is just an average character then you can’t honestly expect to find a good group anytime soon to help you progress. If you do, chances are they have safeguarded their internal core from new players. It’s the same story in almost every new MMO.
Think about what kinds of things you could do in a MMO and how it could be designed without the existence of guilds. While it closes a lot of doors, mostly to the idea of raid content, it certainly opens many others and prevents a lot of problems. I have this idea of a MMO world in my head where guilds do not exist and players rely on their neighbors or those geographically close to them. The game world itself dictates who, how, and why you need other players. It’s certainly more of a ‘virtual world’ feel than we see today and it lends itself nicely to the ideological saying that you’re living in the world rather than playing in it.
I really don’t have a solution to provide or a fix; if a fix is even needed for something that is only a problem for some from a certain point of view. The side of me that is constantly trying to envision how new massively multiplayer RPG’s can be made is cranking out this idea that a single individual is once again the center of the player’s attention and the game world’s community is the guild rather than the server community being truncated into these autonomous communities. Right now it’s almost unfathomable that a game is not designed to be played with a guild and I think that’s really sad. The identity of the individual is lost almost entirely.
This may be one of those cases where only the people who played a game like The Realm, EverQuest, or SWG can understand where I’m coming from. If you have no clue what I’m talking about then all I ask is for you to imagine the possibilities of a game that wasn’t about group content or about the things your guild can do, but what you can accomplish by ‘living’ the experience with a world of other players. Regardless of whether or not you’re able to remember how things were in older games so that you can see my vision, think about how they are now and see if you get what I’m saying about guilds becoming too important to players and developers.