Time to retire guilds?

A lot of bloggers spend a lot of time talking about how the mechanics of MMOs need to be refreshed. The level grind, the loot systems, the payment model, whatever… basically a lot of thought is put into how these games might be improved by the enthusiasts who play them.

I wonder if its time we look at the social aspects. Particularly, guilds. Depending on the MMO, being in a guild can range from pretty helpful to crucial. And on the face of it, guilds seem like a good thing, right? A way to meet people and make friends.

But the flip side is the guild drama. In the past few weeks I’ve heard from several different friends about guild drama implosions in each of their (different) guilds. In all cases this has created a lot of bad feelings for the people involved. In each case, these have been guilds of mature, lucid people who I know to be good-hearted individuals. And yet their guilds fractured amid much drama.

Why do these games try to force us into large guilds? Such groupings aren’t natural. We live in a culture of small, liquid groups. Outside of our jobs, what other activities do we, as adults, partake in that requires us to bind ourselves with large groups of people to work shoulder to shoulder with them? The only think I can think of are team sports, and those are generally small groups of people.

Outside of a game, when’s the last time you gathered in a group of 25-100 people to the extent of labeling yourself as a Member of this group and interacting directly with all members of that group. I’m not talking about “joining” a gym or a church. In instances like those, you aren’t directly interacting with all members of that group.

Guilds were a fine idea when we were all 15 or 20 and had endless time for playing games and no other pressures on us. But as the gaming population gets older, we by nature get less flexible as the matrix of our lives grows more complex. Free time grows more precious to us. Political views solidify. We develop Ideals.

The idea that I can find a group of 25-150 people that I can get along with day to day in a specific leisure-time activity is, frankly, ludicrous. I’d feel really really fortunate to find a dozen such people. I’m not saying there aren’t 150 people I can get along with in my social circles. I’m saying there aren’t that many people doing the specific activity (ie, game) in the specific place (ie, server) that I am.

I’m not talking about abolishing grouping or raiding. But I think a better system would involve allowing players to form small-scale long term groups (essentially friend-lists on steroids) and then allow those “micro-guilds” to come together for the purpose of accomplishing a specific task, then going their separate ways.

I realize nothing prevents this from happening now. But game developers could build in better tools for aiding this kind of short-term aggregation. It might be as easy as re-working the “looking for group” into a “forming a raid” system where you could list your group in the window and a raid leader could build a raid by inviting a selection of groups that fit the raid’s needs.

I admit I’m pretty biased in this, as I’m not very social to begin with. But it bothers me to see my friends being upset because of guild drama/implosions, and I don’t think we’d have this kind of drama if games weren’t developed in such a way as to favor large guilds over small ones. Let people form Friendships based on, well, LIKING each other’s company rather than on needing more warm bodies to fill out a raid.

Let’s place the value on the strength of the relationships between players, rather than on numbers alone.

10 thoughts on “Time to retire guilds?

  1. Doesn’t EVE Online have something like this? Your guild is your own circle of friends, but you are part of a larger alliance of which your guild may be a part that acts as its own political entity.

  2. My first guild in EQ started small, but grew. It was when it got fairly large that the drama began. In the end, I left. The ‘core’ that remained of the guild has moved from game to game together, waxing and waning in size, but other than one or two people, I don’t miss it.

    I moved from them to a much smaller guild, and when I went to EQ2 I created that small guild again — we currently have ~8 active players. I would like to get to the 15-20 range to provide more grouping options for those who want it, but we’re a good size as it stands for socializing. I agree that once a guild gets beyond the 20-25 member range or so, it is no longer a group of friends who all know and like each other — instead it become several small cliques who just happen to have a name/chat/bank in common…..

    I’m sure there are exceptions, but I doubt they are the majority. Still — it seems to me that very large guilds are in and of themselves a minority, it is simply that due to their size, they get noticed.

  3. I think WAR has done a good job with this as they not only make having a guild an interactive experience with having it level up, provide rewards for such (done originally by EQ2) and allowing you to have alliances with other guilds. That way, if your guild is small, you can ask alliance members to help out for instance runs and whatnot, without having to field a huge guild.

    Being a part of a guild where most of the members USED to be hardcore raiders, but now play more casually, this works out nice. We have an alliance with some of the more hardcore guilds so if we want to do runs, they’re there.

    I think this helps get rid of the stigma that only uber guilds can run the high end stuff. While PUGs traditionally have a bad connotation associated with them, if you take alliance members, whether you know them or not, it’s better than PUGing.

    Anywho … the idea of having a place where the people you game with and you can come together to accomplish things in the game isn’t a bad idea and I don’t think guilds need to go away, but I think the idea that you need a 150-200 member guild to accomplish the highest things in the game needs to be dealt with.

  4. Actually, I think the parallel between guilds and organizations like churches is closer than you think. How many members of your guild are you actually “interacting” with on a regular basis? If /g chat counts, then so does opening the floor for announcements and coffee hour after church – everyone doesn’t necessarily go every week, but everyone doesn’t go to every guild raid either. Both types of groups have large memberships with diverse interests, commonly held stuff that needs to be managed by leadership, and (hopefully) a common purpose that brings them all together in the first place. At the moment, the Episcopal church in the US is dealing with parishes splitting over gay marriage in a way that’s much like an angry /gquit. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s not entirely off either.

  5. Guilds are the only non-static part of an MMO. I think they are important. And not every guild is plagued with drama. There are plenty of friends & family type guilds that are based solely around liking one another. My guild has rejected quite a few applicants because their personality was in conflict (usually becuase they were solely achiever oriented — applying solely because they saw one of our guild members got his Mythical, or heard we were making inroads into some tier 2 ROK zones they needed, etc. — those are the players who cause the drama you talk about).

    And you don’t need to be in a guild to raid. People frequently form PUG raids, and I’ve seen several cross-server raiding organizations set up over time that have people from small guilds and non-guilded all banding together to get the bodies without forcing anyone to give up their guilds (or join one).

  6. “I’m not talking about “joining” a gym or a church. In instances like those, you aren’t directly interacting with all members of that group.”

    As a church-going guy, I’d have to disagree here — there’s quite a few similarities to how guilds are set up in terms of social structure and function. With guilds, you aren’t always interacting with everybody, even if they’re online at the same time. You know some people better than others, but you all “belong” to the same unit. In church, we all see ourselves as an extended family, with some people that know me better than others, but we all get together at the same time and we all “belong” together. There’s common purpose, common activities and mutual support.

    Maybe your experiences and/or knowledge might be limited in this area, but that was a quickly dismissive comment when you had the possibility to make a good correlation. I think there are many social groups that function very similar to guilds in real life — guilds aren’t as unique or different as you make them out to be. They’re just natural extensions of what we do every day in life.

    Then again, your ultimate point was more about numbers, and here I’ll agree — any time a group reaches a certain number, it becomes impossible to know everybody and cliques start to form.

  7. @Syp:
    “I think there are many social groups that function very similar to guilds in real life — guilds aren’t as unique or different as you make them out to be. They’re just natural extensions of what we do every day in life.”

    Well, two people have challenged me on the guilds vs church membership thing, so I guess I’ll have to admit I was wrong. When I was a church goer, many many years ago, belonging to a church meant showing up on Sunday, listening to a sermon, and going home. Or going alone just to have some private time to worship.

    While I was a member of a large group called the congregation, nothing I did really required anyone other than the man at the front of the room to be talking, and me to be listening. I don’t recall ever doing something that required X people to attend before it would work. But maybe churches have changed, or maybe my parents just kept me away from these other activities.

    Anyway I stand corrected on that point.

    But in a larger sense, maybe this is just an issue with some people. I really couldn’t think of any social groups that function similar to guilds in real life, but I’m not much of a joiner, either. When you say “They’re just natural extensions of what we do every day in life.” I have to disagree vehemently. They’re not even remotely extensions of anything I do every day in life. But I’ll grant you that they’re an extension of what you do.

    Which gives me a lot to think about, really. To me, guilds have always been a necessary evil in MMOs, and one which have always led to bad feelings eventually, so I don’t like them at all (and when I say “guild” I really mean “large guilds” as opposed to small, intimate groups of people who legitimately are friends). But I lead a pretty solitary life. Perhaps for people who lead social lives, guilds feel very much like a good thing.

    Maybe I should go back to arguing that we should keep levels and loot treadmills!! 🙂

  8. Most any organization or group you join in real life is like a guild. Your employer, a student radio station in college, something you find on Meetup.com, the “Your State” Libertarian/Democrat/Republican Alliance, it’s all a guild.

    I guess the main difference between a guild ingame and “real life”, is that in real life, I belong to dozens of guilds. However, in game, I can only join one. That seems rather artificial.

  9. See, I don’t agree with that *at all.* Well, your employer, yes.. I said as much in the original post. But few of us go to work because that’s where we prefer to be.

    As for the rest, you’re saying being a member of a group = being a member of a guild, but I think a guild is much more. Let’s see, how can I say this… y’know when you’re in some kind of team building exercise at work and the person running it says “OK, now everyone form up in groups of 4.” and everyone groans?

    That”s life in a guild. Every day of being in a guild is one of those irksome “team building” exercises where you end up on a team with the creepy guy from accounting who keeps a personal diary of what kinds of drinks show up on the female employees expense reports.

    And conversely, where your worth is determined by your talent (class) and clothing (gear) rather than your willingness to learn or enthusiasm for the project. Again, I’m talking about large guilds, not small guilds of friends.

    And lastly, the leader of most guilds is the person who happened to form it, not the person best qualified to lead people.

    These aren’t qualities I ascribe to most social groups outside of games. But maybe my experience has differed from that of most people.

  10. As for the rest, you’re saying being a member of a group = being a member of a guild, but I think a guild is much more.

    But it isn’t. Perhaps a guild *should* be more, but for the past decade guilds have been little more than a chat channel whose members share a common name and promote inbred loyalty for completing game content. The end.

    I’ve been in great guilds, I’ve been in horrible guilds. The definition would be personal and apply only to me, however. Nowadays, I don’t login to an MMO and immediately seek out a guild. I do my own thing solo or in PUGs while I get a feel for the game and its community. If I decide I’m ready for a guild, I often look at forums. I know what kind of gamer I am, and more importantly I’ve been in enough varieties of guilds to know what type of guild I want to participate in. So I actively seek out only that type of guild. It’s almost like online dating. Just because your spreadsheet profiles mesh doesn’t guarantee you and the guild with actually be a match for each other. Just like any real life social group, in fact. You have to be willing to try, but you also have to be willing to leave one group that turns out to not be “for you” and seek another. If at first you don’t succeed and all that…

Comments are closed.