Monday, November 27, 2006
Guild management in World of Warcraft
Managing a guild in any MMORPG, whether as guild leader or officer, is hard work, can be pretty stressful, and is often a rather thankless task. Since burning out on a guild leader job in Dark Age of Camelot, which basically ruined the game for me, I have kept my head low and prefer to avoid the responsability. But having been in several guilds in World of Warcraft, I have observed some typical modes of behavior of guild leadership, and I think WoW guilds are somewhat different from guilds in other games.
Over the years, playing so many different MMORPG, I've seen a lot of different guilds and types of guilds. And one type that was slowly developing out of the fact that there are so many more games to play now was the multi-game guild. I've been in an American multi-game guild, which was very nice, and only the inevitable problems of living in different time zones prompted me to leave. I joined an European multi-game guild, just to see it run into major problems with World of Warcraft. And I think the issue here is the underlying purpose of guilds in WoW and other games. Especially with multi-game guilds the purpose of a guild is playing together with friends. It is a lot nicer to move to a new game with a bunch of people you already played with, than to start every time again with a group of strangers. You then can expand your circle of friends and invite some new people, but the people who knew each other the longest form the core of the guild, and are often the guild leaders and officers.
In World of Warcraft the purpose of a guild is a different one: progressing together in the raid circuit. Many casual guilds either develop towards raiding, or have constant problems losing guild members to raiding guilds. Guilds start measuring their success in terms of what the most difficult boss is they can kill. Is your guild "only" killing Venoxis in Zul'Gurub, or are you killing Ragnaros, Nefarian, or even Kel'Thuzad? The original purpose of "playing with friends" becomes lost, and you start valueing people more for playing the right class in the right way than for being nice persons. In previous games to get recruited into a guild I often had to play with them for a while, to see whether I was a good guy and friendly character. In WoW most guilds have some restriction to recruitment based simply on your character class, and tend to ask more questions about what gear you have and what dungeons you are attuned to than verifying whether you are a decent chap.
It is somewhat ironic that World of Warcraft is a game where it is a lot easier to solo to the maximum level, but there are more people guilded in WoW than in other games. Guilds are considered a necessity to advance in the endgame, not an option to play with people you like.
What remains the same is that the guild management is often done by a small group of friends, some inner core of the guild. Guild size is more dictated by the number of people you need for a raid than by social concepts like the Dunbar number. The number of friendly relationships you have is often smaller than the number of people in the guild, so you consider some guild members your friends, while others are just a necessary addition for raiding.
Very often the guild's inner circle is the people that play the most, the people who are at the front of the raiding effort, and most advanced on the raiding circuit. Unsurprisingly loot rules often favor these frequent raiders, so they are also the best equipped. And with the very purpose of the guild being raid advancement, what is "good for the guild" is defined in how it pushes forward the progress of guild raids.
The big downside of that is that people who join the guild later, and are less far advanced than the average guild member, often have a hard time to get integrated. They might be required to have a certain level of equipment or certain attunement quests done to participate in the guild raid events, but at the same time the guild is too busy with the top end howthey *they* got their starting equipment and attunement quests by playing together, and how much harder it is to do the same in pickup groups. The same thing applies to learning how to raid well. When the top raiders of a guild tackled Zul'Gurub or Molten Core for the first time, there was a lot of discussion and learning how to raid together well. Later a newcomer might be able to join a MC raid where the dungeon is cleared out in record time, but without anyone explaining him the tactics. He'll have a better chance to get epic loot, provided everybody else already has most gear from there, but as a learning experience of good raiding that isn't so good. Besides being shouted at when he does something wrong, such a raid is more confusing than teaching him much.
I've seen that again and again how guilds are so concentrated of pushing the front forward that they basically forget about the stragglers coming behind. The worst uber guilds just kick out the people that fall behind. But even the better guilds basically let the newbies fight for themselves, or think that by letting them have an epic from MC they helped them more than enough. But purple loot can't replace the feeling of being part of a community, and new players having to endure pickup groups while the guild is raiding BWL probably don't feel much friendship towards the others. By the time they arrive at being able to raid Zul'Gurub, the guild has probably just decided to not give out any DKP for ZG raids any more, because no officer can be bothered to join these "low level" raids. The gap between players even inside the same guild is growing. And if everything is organized by guild officers that are the guild's top raiders, it is logical that not much thought is spent on the problems of the "lesser" guild members. I've seen some cases where the guild leaders evolved so far ahead of the rest of the guild, that they ended up quitting and leaving the bulk of the guild behind. Or they burned out and quit, with nobody left to take over guild leadership.
My hope is that the Burning Crusade fixes some of these issues. On the one side the smaller number of players per raid should make smaller, more casual guilds viable for raiding. It is a lot easier to know everybody and integrate everybody in a raid guild that only needs 25 people to attend each raid, than if you need 40 of them. For existing guilds, the fact that the Burning Crusade loot easily replaces the previous raid epics makes it possible to close the gap between players and let people newer to the guild catch up with the top raiders and guild officers.
Of course that won't be an easy process. There are a multitude of risks, things that could be managed badly. One very likely problem is that most guilds will keep their loot distribution and DKP system, which is in many cases heavily loaded against newer players. So on their first level 70 raid guilds might end up giving most loot to people who raided the most level 60 dungeons, although the link between having raided level 60 dungeons a lot and contributing to the success of level 70 dungeons is somewhat strenuous. With everybody wearing gear acquired from BC quests and dungeons, why should somebody have priority on level 70 raid loot, just because he went to Molten Core a hundred times? Another probable problem is that level 70 raids could easily be oversubscribed, because the 40 people who raided MC/BWL/AQ40/Naxx together all show up, and only 25 people can raid together now.
A difficult period will be the first weeks after the Burning Crusade comes out. Guilds that used to raid every night will have to somehow replace these large scale guild events with organizing lots of small scale 5-man groups. There is a danger of everybody soloing, and the guild not having any purpose or events left at all, with people drifting apart. And then not everybody will level up at the same rate, with the first level 70s impatiently tapping their feet while waiting for enough others in the guild to level up for raiding.
So I don't envy all these guild leaders and officers, they have a difficult time ahead, managing these massive changes to the previously established guild routines. Some guilds will probably not survive the transition, break up, and reform. But if that ends up grouping more similar people together, maybe that is not such a bad thing. Maybe the current World of Warcraft guilds, operating under the special 40-man raid constraint, are just too big for their own good.