Guilds are simply too important

The Realm catered to the identify of the individual and their place in the world.

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.

  • I suspect the next step forward will be to move away from the one-to-many mapping between guilds and characters, towards a many-to-many mapping between “groups” and characters. “Guilds” will become more like Facebook groups, etc., where you can join a number of them. Your character might be in a raiding group, a PvP group, a group with your personal friends, a roleplaying group, etc.

  • This reminds me of raids in DAOC consisting of 80+ players, representing a dozen or so guilds and including unguilded characters. One guild might “host” the raid, but the guilds themselves were really more like clothing (change it every day) than family (you’ve got one).

    I gave up WoW a year ago to catch up on single-player games and FPSes and haven’t gone back. It’s interesting that team-based shooters (TF2, BF:BC2) engender the same sort of anonymous “we’re all in this together” sort of teamwork described here. I don’t care what your clan tag is, as long as you play for the team. Somehow, to me it seems less social but more friendly.

  • Yes! Great example Informis. DAOC was definitely a game where guilds had importance yet the game did not revolve around the specific guild. You nailed the PvE aspect, but it also applied to RvR.

    The guild I was in was rather large and we dominated much of the frontier, but anything we did consisted of a dozen other guilds. Guilds that had maybe 10 people would claim a keep and the realm would come together and support them.

  • I remember guilds and guild alliances fondly from DaoC as well.

    This made me feel vaguely sad. I don’t think you are wrong.

  • […] Keen has a revolutionary take on how MMOs and guilds have evolved. He hates the tyranny of guilds and thinks they have become far too key. He also comments on how often guild drama or breakups chase people away from games. I’m sure that I am not the only person who ever left a game after a guild broke up – I was so invested in my old TBC raid guild that I had no energy left to start again after they split. (At least not for at least 6 months.) […]

  • I do see where you are coming from but oddly enough my SWG guilds were very close-knit. I think because we pvp-ed a lot and that one extra gun really helped win fights.

    I’m not supposed to call it a guild but my Eve corp is a bit like those old school guilds. I mainly do my own thing while the rest of them mine but if someone wants some help or if our coalition is being attacked I’ll become social and go help. If I feel like it. Or carry on doing my own thing if I’d prefer to do that. It’s very relaxed.

    Some game mechanics really help establish guilds as organisations you can join without committing to a schedule. In Eve there’s tax so having some bod that no one ever sees is still useful since if he does a mission you’ll get some money. In AoC there are guild rankings based on activity separated out into crafting, pve and pvp so it’s always nice to have active players of any level as they help your guild progress.

  • I agree with the comments about DAoC, you had your guild but the guilds interacted, even outside of the alliances… usually.

    Then in WoW, each guild works as an insular unit unless its too small for the raid content, but with 10 and 25 man raid content, there isn’t really that need anymore.

    I’ve been gaming with the same core of people for years. I’ve moved between guilds now and then based on politics or changes in guild leadership, but most of the people I play MMOs with, I’ve been playing with for upwards of 8-10 years. Scary thought that.

    Its lead to many games being played long past their fun point for the pure social aspect, and other games that were [still] fun abandoned because the guild moved on.

  • I’m loving Carson’s idea, being part of multiple guilds is actually a great way to emphasise individuality.I like it.

  • Either remove fast travel, make it esoteric (fixers in Anarchy Online), or make it limited (like portals in Asheron’s Call). This will encourage people to work with people near them rather than wait for their guild member to run for an hour or track down someone who can get them there. Reducing the importance of quests in leveling would aid in forming instant groups in non-instanced content.

  • I haven’t been in an active guild for nearly five years now. I began MMOs with Everquest, where I never joined a guild at all for the first two years I played. Then I moved to DAoC at launch and joined a guild in the first week.

    From 2001 to 2006 I was very actively involved in guilds in DAoC, back in EQ1 again and then in EQ2. A lot of that was fun, but more of it wasn’t. Guilds can be supportive and enabling, but they can also be greedy, demanding, argumentative and plain nasty.

    For the last five years, neither Mrs Bhagpuss nor I have bothered with guilds. We generally have one of our own with just the two of us in, if the game can be finessed to allow it. We do that to get the obvious practical perks like guild banks, guild housing, guild chat etc but also because havign a guild tag under your name cuts dowmn on the endless spam guild invites you get if you have a high level unguilded character.

    I can’t say I miss being in a guild at all. The freedom of action I get from not being guilded heavily outweighs the occasional lack of support on the few things I want to do that can’t be done in a duo. There’s no drama. I get all the conversation and virtual socialising I need through chat channels, which give me all the social benefits of guilds with none of the obligations and responsibilities.

    Of course, I have always strongly disliked raiding. In my guilded years I hardly ever raided and when I did I almost always wished I hadn’t. I also strongly dislike long “epic” quest chains and have no interest at all in “gearing up”, so most of the practical benefits of being guilded passed me by anyway. I must have helped dozens of friends and guildmates get their “Epics” in Everquest but I never even bothered to start the quests with my own characters.

    Keen calls this one pretty accurately, I think, in terms of how current game devs choose to design their MMOs. They have a lot of metrics that prove that the financial success of their game will link directly to the level of social obligation it creates in their playerbase. Doesn’t mean that we have can’t enjoy ourselves as individuals and skip all the guild stuff, but it’s true that guildplay becoming more and more “core”.

  • Strange. I joined my first guild in “The Realm” and I’m still with it today. I guess they weren’t required, but they definitely existed. I also remember our arch enemy guild THE MECHS.

  • 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.

    I’m a little surprised that you think guilds were not strong components of EQ; in my experience, that game nearly *required* that players belong to a guild. This is the game that brought us rigid raid schedules, DKP, 24 hour long camping in shifts, dungeon keying… I mean, the whole thing assumes a degree of organization that goes well beyond the ragtag group of adventurers. Sure you could throw together a guild alliance to tackle challenges, but that was in my experience *never* as effective as a single cohesive guild doing the same content.

    Early on – and I mean, VERY early on, right after launch – guilds weren’t all that common, since people didn’t know what the hell they were doing. But as people started leveling up and running up against the realization that (for most classes) groups were required to do most anything, guilds sprung up very quickly.

    Indeed, guilds facilitated everything in EQ; remember that EQ had no notion of cross-zone arbitrary communication channels, and the only channels that could function as such were guild chat and party chat. That was *it*. Guilds were absolutely required for something as basic as communicating with a large number of people.

    So… I’m left scratching my head at what you’re trying to say here. EQ was a game that forced you into groups and forced those groups into guilds. It had design choices which intentionally forced people to play with each other; a stark contrast to WoW, which allows one to solo all the way to the level cap, and now even lets non-guilded players gather into raid groups to tackle high end content.

    In my opinion, WoW has reduced the importance of guilds, and this is good.

  • Yeah I kinda agree with this. I mean where is the adventure of the individual? Not that I don’t want to hang with friends but whatever happened to stumbling out your frontdoor and never knowing where your feet may carry you?

    So far mmorpg’s have lost all magic for me, thankfully there are still some wonderful authors and books out there 🙂

  • The virtual world in wow has been reduced to a kind of lobby where you just run around in what ever main city you belong to or grind something untill you can join your pvp, pve adventure.

    When wow first started there was some(not alot) of pvp hotspots. X-roads in the barrens was a pvp hotspot probably because alliance and horde had to run to the WSG entrance to que up. While waiting what could be more fun than a small raid on the opposing faction.

    You were involved simply because you were there and pvp wasnt something common therefore you did not want to let the opportunity get away.

    What would then happen was someone would get word to orgrimmar and get backup and together they would drive out the foolish alliance and maybe even retaliate with a raid on one of thier cities.

    I remember one time where the whole thing ecalated into a faction wide horde-raid being scheduled and executed.

    Wow never really was meant to have those kind of hotspots aparantly and they “removed” them fast. Tarren Mill and South Shore was another example of such a hotspot.

    Now the only time you even see the world is when you lvl up. Guilds titles and gear are the only things that exist in the world because other players can see them and know what it means that you have them.

    You cant get titles or gear without getting a guild(or can you?) so there can be no “living” in WoW without a guild.

  • I was in a small guild of about 8 people in DAoC. I was one of the first people to clear ToA ML content up to ML9 (I quit before ML10 was released) in albion, running with a combination of big name guilds who I had made friends with. RvR when you had dozens or hundreds of people talking in chat channels to communicate fights, small and big guilds alike claiming keeps, whcih were in turn defended by EVERYone…

    It was a great experience. However elitism as it was called was definitely on the rise back then, with guilds keeping to themselves for the most part. People attempted to recruit me for a long time before realizing I wasn’t leaving my little social guild.

    Now that “elitism” is considered the norm, with guilds having long application processes just to join. I still run with a little social guild though, and have manged to clear all ICC content except for the Lich King.

  • I also remember dragon raids, back before people knew how to kill them with few people… announcements for days before “meet here at this time” and just taking EVERYONE who showed up.

    When I did ML4, I remember having nearly 160 people show up, it was the first “legit” ML4 clear on any server I THINK (at least for Albion), because most people would try to do it on server restarts because the mobs wouldn’t spawn for a bit.

    Good times good times.

  • My Guild in SWG must have been a different breed than what you were able to experience Keen. Not only did we thrive from eachother, we also felt like a family more than anyone on our friends list.

    This came from being in a “Guildie-first” sense of if a cook needed something from a Bio-Engineer, not only did we make it for them, we also went out of our way to do so.

    I also remember reaching the first Jedi on the flurry server being chased non-stop by Imperial thugs. The rest of the server was in awe of such a thing, and my guild was the only ones I could truly rely on. Nothing like spending hours in a Guildhall watching my mini-map circle with blue and red dots of my comrades fighting for my life.

    I guess its a different experience for me, but I am happy with the guilds needing to be something more than a tag. It’s like putting “meeting people” and “making a gaming family” on easy mode whereas being an individual almost made making friends feel like a chore to me. I am aware this might also be my personality type, but I truly believe sanctioning Guilds to just a line of text would be a hindrance to people like me.

    I do however see your point in making the character live out his own experience instead of needing a group to do so. I found this in SWG as well. While the guild meant the world to me, I was known (after my Jedi died via Perma-death 🙁 ) as one of the more ruthless Bounty-Hunters (when they enabled jedi kills via BH system) from the actions I took, and no one else. It even went to the fact that people would send whispers to the Jedi i was hunting and guard them should I poke my head out and say hi.

  • Don’t confuse the awesome “family / community” feel of a guild for the NECESSITY of one based upon the game’s design. Guilds -should- be all about just being associated with people you enjoy being around rather than the added necessity to be in one because you really can’t play the game ‘as it’s meant to be played’ without one.

  • I definitely agree that MMOs have become too focused on guilds. It actually really sucks for the individual. I’ve been playing WoW since a few months before TBC and I’ve *never* been in a raid because I’ve never been in an even halfway decent guild. I recently resubbed to check out WotLK and its been fun but I know I am going to hit a wall with my main (tank), there’s only so much gear you can get running heroics. No pug wants to bring a tank to a raid that hasn’t done the content a million times. Hearing your experience in SWG is interesting, I wish that I could down Lich King solo, that would be something. I’ll probably unsub until Cataclysm comes out because I will never step foot in ICC without 5.2k GS + achievement, so what’s the point?

  • I whole heartedly agree with you on this one Keen.

    As social structures guilds should be important, that guild-chat channel should feel like a home within the game. But your gameplay shouldn’t feel limited because of guild mechanics: IE: Your guild is too small to raid consistently, or so large that you never get a shot at good/first loot.

    This wasn’t a problem in WoW originally, oddly when the content was divided mostly into small team content and larger raids. I used to raid with the Silvermoon Raid Alliance, a raiding group made up of members of many guilds. Outdoor bosses used to be a mish-mash affair especially. Since then thou, just look at who’s been in charge with WoW: Tigole was hired from Raiding Guild leader to Game Designer. WoW is following his vision of guild structure.

    I’d love to see more tools in MMORPGs that support the social aspects of guilds but also encourage rolling with any players of any guild or unguilded (and not necessarily PUGs either). Interfaces for scheduling open raids, that sort of thing. And I’d really like to see raiding design get away from the blight of lockout timers which make rolling with the same group the most desirable. =/

  • good point; thinking back my guild is why i quit wow 2yrs ago. It was early in TBC stages, all maxed and going lots of 5 mans and the guild kept building “perfect” runs to clear bosses for the first time. i got tired of being left out for mages or whomever (rogue) and then rogue epic items would drop, so i was like screw this, im out lol. i had been with them since lv 52, we had been server first for clearing bwl on a server created 6 months before tbc so we had “some” history but i felt it was just too picky and buddy buddy for me to bother staying. sort of like detour is talking about, there was no point so i left and never went back for WotLK.

  • BTW, I love the references to The Realm. I had a few friends that played and it was the first time I’d seen entire families join an online game. The social aspects of that game were pretty legendary.

  • Heh, I read this when you posted it, but made me wonder when today Massively’s tiny micro blog, The Daily Grind, featured a piece published today called “Are Guilds Too Important.” Very short, but same idea. Is this a viral topic or…

    🙂 Enjoyed your article.

  • I was credited with a hyper link in the sentence “some might say too much of a difference.” They did essentially take my thought process for their content though. I don’t like that one bit.

  • I agree with Informis in comment 2 way at the top. If I want the sort of social experience I had back during late beta WoW days, my best bet is to play TF2.

    Playing on a server with a good community gives me a more focused, pleasurable, and congenial experience than any contemporary MMORPG I’ve tried. In addition it’s the only way I’ve found to get that lost feeling of “I just met this dude, but we’re going to try to overcome this bitch of a problem together right now.” or “This crazy bastard wants to (Raid Goldshire Have everyone go Medic on Turbine), sounds like a blast!”

    I play mostly on the Control Point Podcast server (which I highly recommend), and even though I don’t feel the need to wear their tag, people know me, I know all the regulars, and we all still get to meet new people every day. It feels much closer to what I was drawn to during the WoW beta days than anything you can do in the current post-Wrath game (which does have a lot of other great features).

    Note for people unfamiliar with the sort of silliness that went down in WoW Beta: Basically ridiculous stuff like 100 person raids on level 20 towns (the level cap was like 30 at the time, so Horde would generally hit Astranaar). Another time we spent about 90 minutes, swimming around an impassable mountain range (in the ocean, often risking drowning in the impassable water or agro’ing high level mobs), just to get to the Alliance starting area, so we could try to start fights. We were all like level 18-22 at the time, so we weren’t trying to beat up lowbies, just decided to be silly.

    None of this was done with IRL friends or anything, just random people I ran into in the world.

  • I have played many MMO’s over the years and each one was unique in the way guilds worked and how I was involved in them. The key to selecting a guild for me is, are they hardcore or just another form of social networking. I like the hardcore guilds that are focused on gaming instead of talking about the latest movie.

    In DAOC I rarely grouped with guild members in PvE but grouped daily with them in RvR. In SWG we grouped constantly in PvE and rarely in PvP unless our fort was being attacked. Back in those days our beepers would go off and we would all log in to defend.

    I curremtly play LOTRO and I group with the guild members all the time for PvE but rarely for PvP. I also have a large friends list, mostly from PvP play, that I group with and use to fill groups, raids etc…

    The bottom line its about having the ability to communicate with your guild and other players outside the guild. The ability to talk with players while grouped in LOTRO without using TS or Vent is just awesome.

    Any game in the future should give you the ability to speak with a grouped members without having to use TS or Vent.

    Solo players miss out on content by not being in a guild. They greatly reducing their ability to complete end game content by not being in a guild or having a large friends list.

    In the past Vent and TS passwords were top secret. Not so much today.

    I think in the future, gaming sites like MMORPG, Ten Ton Hammer, etc… and maybe even Keen and Graev’s will have TS or Vent, so we can voice our views to other players instead of typing what we think.

  • This isn’t guilds you are really talking about though, it’s like you said, endgame raiding.

    Guilds became more prominent in games where group activities required more coordination and dedication than pickups could often do. In most games you are fine levelling up solo or pickup. What you really want is endgame raids to be diminished to be able to be accomplished by people in pickups, so they don’t need to make endgame a guild-only thing.

    Ironically this already has happened. In Champions Online you can do everything pickup, and supergroups aren’t important. You join them mostly to hang out, but its pretty easy to be sg-less and do everything the game has to offer. That’s because the game isn’t hard enough or loot-centric enough where organized guilds are a necessity. Don’t know if its any better though, at 40 people get bored.

  • IMO, once you have Raids that need 20+ people to complete, you remove the ability for PUGs to reliably do that level of content. Even small guilds (about a dozen players) are shut out since they would most likely have to fill out that raid roster with mostly unknowns.

    As such, now the “uber-guilds” take over, and you have to jump though hoops just to get a slot on one their raid rosters.

    However for things like world building, and PvP doing things on the guild scale is good. Building a city should should be a large scale effort of many players. Though having only one guild be the defining aspect can make it bit more exclusive.

    I would like to see more Guild-Alliance structure where you have a collection of guilds. That way at a social level you have your guild, but for large scale endeavors you do have some known contacts within your alliance.

    Also I think multi-guilding may be beneficial as well. Being tagged as a member of multiple social circles can help eliminate much of the uncertainty of PUGs.

  • One more thought….with chat channels and personal Vent/TS servers, a player can maintain membership in an unofficial social guild and a more practical raiding guild at the same time. When I was playing WoW, I was in guild chat, a custom channel for former guildies and real-life friends, and on non-raid nights a separate Vent server for friends.

    So, from a certain perspective, one could argue that the social guild still exists, it’s just decoupled from the actual day-to-day logistical operation of a raiding guild.