Tobold's Blog
Friday, September 04, 2009
The power of social structures

World of Warcraft is a great anthropological example of why people tend to organize themselves into social structures like families, tribes, or nations: The social structure is more powerful than the sum of its parts. Everybody in WoW knows that a guild group is more likely to succeed at any given dungeon or raid than a pickup group. Some people think that this is because in pickup groups there is a higher concentration of exceptionally bad players. But if you have a look, you'll find that almost always everybody in the pickup group has a guild tag, and they'd all succeed if they were in a group with their guild mates. If you take 10 successful 10-man Naxxramas guild raids groups, and reorganize them into 10 pickup raids with one guy from each of the 10 guilds in each raid, you'd get 10 far less successful groups. In spite of that being exactly the same pool of people.

The little bit of extra trust the common guild tag gives everyone, the knowledge that you'll probably play together with the same people again, makes everyone in a guild group perform better, and be a lot less likely to give up. Being in a guild group makes people succeed in dungeons and raids which they couldn't have done in a pickup group.

The only disadvantage is that the added power of a guild is usually quite focused on whatever step of the raid circuit the guild is at. There are theories that the number of stable social relationships an individual can have is limited by the size of the neocortex in that species, and that this Dunbar's number for humans is about 150, which has been linked to the maximum size of guilds in MMORPGs. Whether that is true, or whether guilds simply tend towards a size at which during prime time there are enough people online to form one raid, fact is that guilds rarely get to a size where they would be able to organize several raids to different locations in parallel. My guild is doing Ulduar raids, with 10 or 25 raiders depending on numbers present, but Naxxramas raids aren't on the official schedule any more. They sometimes form spontaneously on off-raid nights, but they don't benefit from the same degree of scheduling and organization than the Ulduar raids. Which is why my warrior is pretty much stuck where he is, at pre-raid gear level, with not much hope of getting into a good Naxxramas raid. I once tried to get into a pickup raid, but was asked to link the [Epic] achievement to get an invite. Listen, buddy, if I had the complete set of Naxxramas gear I'd need for the [Epic] achievement, I wouldn't be asking for a group to go there!

So I was wondering if MMORPGs will one day evolve to offer more than the simple social structure of the guild. Wouldn't it be great to have some social structures that would allow a similar degree of cooperation and success as a guild, but also for alts? Some people suggested allowing people to have multiple guild tags, which would be one step. Another idea would be to have one main guild, but an optional additional membership to some other social structure for alts, for example a club of alts who want to do Naxxramas or heroics. How can we harness the power of social structures for our alts, instead of exposing them to the horrors of the pickup raid?
A "main guild" would be an absolute horror to upkeep - similar to the horrors of coding and keeping track of multiple guild tags.

If the people you play with are really that much more confident due to a difference in a few letters above someone's head - which half the time they won't be able to see due to obstructions in vision and the sheer fact that a guild tag doesn't give you meaningful combat information - you might as well add to your LFG "must be willing to join our guild temporarily". Change in guild tag != change in results for competent people.

Not that gear actually matters, but if you're really having trouble gearing up an alt character, you need to run more heroics. Gear is easier to get now than ever before; if anyone is having a problem along the lines of "I can't raid naxx because I don't have better gear from TotC/triumph emblems/champion's seals", I really don't know what to tell them.
How about having your alts in the same guild as your mains?
So, what's stopping you from having your alt(s) in another guild?
I wonder if the reason guild groups do better is just because people know each other and therefore make allowances. It isn't because people necessarily play better with people they know, but because you know how to compensate.

And the only way to build up those kinds of relationships is to effectively play with the same people a lot. Not PUG can overcome that really.
The problem with belonging in multiple social structures in most MMOs is that you can contribute only when you're attending. If you're busy doing an instance with group A, then you're not helping group B with their PvP efforts. Lockouts just make it worse: You'll have to dedicate yourself to a single group until the lockout expires.

Multi-group participation works in the Internet because the majority of participation is asynchronous: A blog post here, a wiki edit there and so on. You can choose freely when you interact, and your contribution will continue to have an effect even when you're doing something else.

But what would an asynchronous MMO look like? The economy is the easy part, and many MMOs have already solved that problem with auction houses and market orders, and offline crafting seems to be next in line. Territory control can be done to an extent with managing NPCs, and an RTS-style fire-and-forget resource gathering could be used for raw materials. But combat is the tough one, and even Eve has the dreaded alarm-clock ops. But sport management games, Final Fantasy 12 and the upcoming Gratuitous Space Battles and AI Wars could provide a solution: user-definable tactics built from individual gambits.
On my server in Everquest 2 there was a very well known and hardcore guild called Rebirth. They started up a sub-guild, just for their alts, called Prebirth. Worked quite well :)
I always wondered about the popularity of guilds...I for one don't seek structure, organization, scheduling, commitment and strict focus when playing a game. Although im much of a "free agent" in my professional life too, these concepts are (of course) of critical importance there, together with total commitment to producing concrete results, on time every time, and within budget. Maybe that's why i try to keep away from these things during leisure activities..

In WOW i only did PUGS (regular dungeons, no raids of course), and in my experience they are not a horrible experience per se. At least they are totally unpredictable, sometimes a total joy (when it all works like the smoothest engine or one of the players proves to be quite a comedian), sometimes a failure (but only when measured against the goal of completing the dungeon).

There must be more gamers who enjoy MMOs but are totally unsuited for life in a guild. Or not?
The solution is simple: join your alt another guild without telling you have a main.
Well people still go to Naxx after they don't need it for Badges, Fun, achievements, and to help gear up others. As other users have said, you can actually get the epicced via 5 man and Heroic Trial of the Champion, and badge gear - Item Level 226 Tier 8.5 gear can be acquired easily now with a small number of badges of conquest which drop from any heroic.
In ATITD you can join multiple guilds, but I don't think it is the golden hammer to all social and organisational problems in WoW.
Ive always thought that people should be able to join as many guilds as they want. You could have social guilds, crafting guilds, pvp guilds, and even guilds for specific dungeons or battlegrounds like say one specifically for Naxx. Once someone no longer needs to run Naxx they can leave the guild. And when Blizzard adds their guild progress stuff each different type of guild could have different progressions. A social guild might unlock new emotes for its members while a crafting guild might reduce the amount of inputs needed for an item.
I don't know if you can do this in WoW (haven't tried) but in some MMO's players have the ability to create semi-permanent private chat channels (you sign up and get accepted/rejected by the channel creator). You could have all guild members with all their alts in the same guild but have people sign up for the private chat channels based on their needs. ie) Classic alts, PvP, BC Alts, naxx raiding, ulduar raiding ... etc. So no matter what alt you are playing you get the general /g guild chat but you also get chat from whatever private chat channels you have been accepted into/signed up for. The old SWG had this functionality. In WoW, maybe this could be a feature to guilds that have attained a certain level ...

ATITD has the ability for an avatar to sign up for as many guilds as you want. So all the guilds you belong to are different tabs in the chat window. I like this system best. On the surface it sounds quite unwieldly but you only see the chat for the tab that you currently have selected. The other tabs keep storing the chat for the day until you decide to browse them, or ignore them, hehe.

I used to think like you about people asking for the [Epic] achievement but next time try linking what the RL asked.

Must probably he/she was trying to know:
a) How many 213+ ilevel items you have/ever had to gauge if you at least made an effort to gear yourself in other ways or as a comparison between you and a similar player trying to go with them
b) If you will /roll against him or a friend on a selected slot.

So, what's stopping you from having your alt(s) in another guild?

Basically the same problem that I have when I want to play an alt of the other faction: I'm excluded from the guild chat channel of the main guild. For spontaneous guild activities it would be better to be able to listen to the chat of all of your social organizations, not just one at a time.
Interestingly, many of my best MMO friends were NOT in my guild but in many different guilds.

I think it is raid planning and all that that forces people to focus on their guild.

I find it interesting that I often had no real relation to up to 80% of my guild mates in WoW.
So, what's stopping you from having your alt(s) in another guild?

Basically the same problem that I have when I want to play an alt of the other faction: I'm excluded from the guild chat channel of the main guild. For spontaneous guild activities it would be better to be able to listen to the chat of all of your social organizations, not just one at a time.

So the problem is really chat, rather than organization.
Making gchat channel available for non-members (e.g. password-protected) would solve that.

Someone mentioned using non-gchat-channels to tie together activity but it doesn't usually really work that well (in wow at least).
You hit on the key point of the matter; and by extension the solution, already in your post:

they don't benefit from the same degree of scheduling and organization than the Ulduar raids

If that's the only reason you aren't getting into them, organise them yourself, or if you know your guildies and the officers well, ask if they want to go on their alts and maybe suggest a time to do the run, and pop it on the calendar so that people know.

The way I see it, the issue isn't that your guild doesn't do it, it's just that no one is taking the initiative to organise the Naxx raids.
This is like reading a foreign language. It's no wonder I don't join guilds any more.

My characters are individuals. They aren't some hydra-headed version of myself. There's no need at all for them to have the same, or even similar, goals or objectives, nor do they need to know the same people or keep the same friends lists. I don't meet people in game as me, the player, but as whichever character I'm playing.

Back when I did join guilds, which went on for several years, I had characters in a number of guilds on several servers. I have never played "main" and "alt" characters, just "characters", so the problem of where to put my "alts" never arose; each character made his or her own decisions, based on who they met and what they wanted to do.

I suppose if you get caught up in the need to progress to the point where all the goals can only be reached through co-operative effort, then you might find it harder to avoid becoming mired in the network of politics and obligation that I find so deeply unattractive about the "end game". So far, though, I've never run out of things I wanted to do below that level before I found myself starting over at the bottom of a new game.

Raiding alliances have been around since EQ (at least) and I suspect since raiding.

Leftovers has been around on Silver Hand since the MC days and each year we have gotten larger and better. Our point system has been more or less stable since BC and we are around 100,000 loots dropped.

Last I looked we had 1800 characters generate about 1800 loots in about 100 raids a week. We have a 250 or so person vent server and lucked into some programmers who are willing to support our site: we have a forum, a raid calendar and a points system, all elegantly handled.

We have charters (what would be a raiding guild) covering all levels of content from Naxx to the latest and greatest. Last count I had was around 20 25 man charters and about the same in 10s.

LO, I think, is the largest open raiding organization in WoW. The most basic thing a raid alliance needs is a chat channel in game.

You raid within the organization, any points you earn in 10 man content going with you into any other 10 man content. The same goes for 25 man. Points are reset when the level cap changes.

Look for your open raiding alliance on your server. You probably have one. I am sure they are used to under geared alts of experienced raiders showing up.

If you're in a 10 man guild like me. Ventrilo really is the way to go. When we don't raid there's 2-10 people one vent almost all the time so you can easily keep up with what your guildmates are doing even if you're on a crossfaction alt or playing a different realm or different mmo.

It gets harder if you are more people than 10 though.

Can't you have xfire do something like that? Then again you got to get loads of people to start use xFire.
I would like to note that Final Fantasy XI allows (or at least used to allow) players to belong to more than one Linkshell, which I thought was a great idea. I played in a casual LS at the time, so we weren't very organized but were all good buds and helped each other as much as we could. When the achiever types reached max level and wanted to raid, they simple found a raid LS that they liked to work with but kept our LS for socializing. I always thought that was the best of both worlds: dedication to one guild for raiding/other end game content and dedication to your social circles.

Long story short, I guess I am reminding folks that this has been done before, and I thought to good effect. Others may disagree, of course.
WoW raiding is all number and stratagy. If you got the numbers(gear), and know the boss fight you are almost asured victory. PUG, or guild, 25 people that meet these requirements and you win.

The problem with PUGs, is that there is always a few people not on the same page. My guild is smaller and we always pug about 5-10 people for Naxx 25. Last night we had a rogue pulling 800 dps, and not paying attention to his sign during the thaddius fight. This is why most PUGs gear check/acheive check, but in today's day and age I figure most people already know this sheet.
Without inventing any kind of new mechanic to add to wow the best way to solve your problem is to create a chat channel. In original wow we created a channel on our server for those of us that were in raiding guilds but still enjoyed pvp. We would talk in the channel and organize pvp groups even though the people in the channel spanned maybe 10 different guilds. While ours was a pvp community, I am sure the same principle could be applied to any group dynamic.
You are assuming that just because someone is in a guild... that within their good they are a better player? There are plenty of bad players in the game and having a guild tag over their head doesn't exclude them from being bad.

There may be other alternatives then joining another guild. I raid regularly with a group of people and we are all in seperate guilds. Would we be more successful united under the same banner? Perhaps but I don't think so. Our seperate guilds are mostly friends and family. This allows the more hardcore of us to raid while our friends don't feel excluded. We take the best people from similar guilds and have done fairly well especially our 10 mans.

We PuG quite a few people especially for our 25 man's and we do so without the "link epic" rules. I haven't seen the inside of Naxx since the second week of Ulduar thanks to them.
I think what needs to be done in this case is to have a clear and precise understanding of what the word "guild" means as it applies to whichever game you are currently talking about.

A guild in UO is vastly different than a WoW guild, and it goes to show how the game design elements affect how the social structures (that you talk about in your post) form around the gameplay.

The concepts you describe arent that far removed from cultural hegemony, where like minded individuals tend to come together under the leadership of players who prove, or have proven their ability to effectively lead and unite a group for a common purpose. This allows them to behave and function on a much higher level when the goals are more specific, unlike other groups who arent as specialized or focused.

The key to how these groups attain success is through the use of effective communication. Whether it be a chat channel or a private Ventrilo server, the ability to "keep it all in one place" is critical to success.

Some players just simply overwhelm themselves with trying to do too much, or too many things at once, and I'm of the impression that the more successful players choose to be good at one thing(such as raiding or PvP), rather than mediocre at many things as a majority of players are.
you can use


to fake achievement links ;)
Tobold, that's not right-I have done just as well with pickups as not. The culture of the players in the MMO is what matters, and how entrenched guilds are in it.

If anything guilds need to die. Guilds let players segregate themselves from the rest of the community and do everything in-house, and that chokes off the newbies and pickup people. It also makes your game experience totally dependent on how good your guild is.

It would help if devs would also design content for the pickup experience better, taking into account ninja lotting,and the need for multiple levels of gear/skill or retries.
A bit off-topic, you can gear a character of any type for Ulduar or ToC content without raiding by just farming heroics these days. Between the drops in the ToC 5-man and elmblem items getting geared enough for Ulduar isn't difficult anymore. In fact, you'll find a different problem when you get there. You'll find fewer upgrades than you had hoped.
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