Tobold's Blog
Monday, October 15, 2007
Game design causes guild behavior

Via Sweet Flag I found an older post I had missed over at Mind Bending Puzzles, which then lead me to a post at Hardcore Casual. What these posts have in common is that they are talking about guilds, and especially Syncaine's post on Hardcore Casual about "the sickness that was WoW raiding" is very revealing. I know exactly what he is talking about. Even if my raid schedule was never 7 nights a week, I did the whole MC / Onyxia / BWL thing too ad nauseam.

Recently an anonymous (!) commenter was taunting me saying how funny it was that a guy who gets over 2,000 readers a day on his blog can't even find enough people to guild / group with. That comment, and many other things you can read in various blogs about guilds are all based on the common misconception that it is the quality of the people that determines how good, powerful, and pleasant to play with a guild is. I disagree with that. While there are certainly jerks and immature people who can ruin guild life (see previous post), a major part of guild behavior is determined by game design. If you read 100 stories about World of Warcraft guild dramas, you will find the same problems appearing over and over again. The same "my casual guild broke up because some people wanted to go raiding", the same "we had a great 40-man raid guild going, but now Karazhan 10-man raids are splitting the guild apart". Or as mbp says: "The fact is that WOW's end game destroys guilds. In particular it destroys friendly casual guilds, the kind of guild I want to play with. I still haven't forgiven WOW for that." If you read guild drama stories of games that work different, like EVE, you'll see a set of completely different storeis. The EVE stories resemble each other, but they don't resemble the WoW stories, because different game design causes different guild behavior. There are certainly a couple of exceptional guilds that manage to break the pull of game design, but the average WoW guild follows a path where even the drama is predictable. It just evolves naturally out of a combination of basic human nature (which is eternal) and game design (which depends on the specific game).

We can only hope that future MMORPGs offer more to guilds than just a chat channel and the lure of phat loot from raiding. It would be great to have a system where cooperation was more beneficial to all involved, where helping newbies would be an advantage also to more experienced players, and where a guild could have common projects that didn't involve everyone being online from 8 pm to 2 am, 5 to 7 nights a week. There isn't much hope for values such a loyalty if the game design is such that guild hopping is the most efficient course of action.
I am really suprised at Blizzard for going so long now with WoW as it's flagship game without retuning the guild set up within the game.

Guilds are the one thing that plays can say they created within the game & still there are hardly any benefits that make the guild function better in the game.
Did I say 'game' enough times..doh! :)
There is a harsh choice to be faced here: If my guild and my in-game friendships prove unable to transition from the old endgame to the new endgame, or from casual leveling to endgame, human nature will seek to assign blame. And it is understandably easier to blame Blizzard than to blame my friends and myself.

But one also must come to terms with the fact that there are many successful guilds that have worked through these problems and are successfully raiding TBC content. So it seems reasonable to me that the blame lies somewhere in the middle - there are definitely problems to overcome, and one might charge Blizzard with accountability for these hardships. But in the final analysis the problems can be, and are, regularly overcome by the player base.
I have a nice small, but unable to peform in dungeons because of it, guild. I like it this way. I sometimes wish we had more players, more bodies for 10-mans and pre-mades... but then I remember the drama I've been through with such guilds.

This display of human ego is why I am so excited for a few games out there that stray from the raiding paradigm and instead focus on the need for people to cooperate to succeed... but not scheduled cooperation, and not fighting over who gets what drop.

A few of these that come to mind are Warhammer, Pirates, Spellborn, and Conan. 2 of these still have PvE raids and gear, but they're not the main focus. The focus is on guild/nation/realm competition. Is well designed PvP the answer to the raiding treadmill?
As always, I'm a bit conflicted on the issue. Yes, transitioning from 20-mans and 40-mans to 10-mans and 25-mans broke a lot of guilds. Sure, sometimes the wheat did get separated from the chaff. But even when you had a dream team of ~45-50 players who learn stuff quickly, don't make mistakes, are prepared and never bitch about anything you were screwed at the transition. Through no fault of their own, you had to ditch 10-15 good guildmates.

But that's all in the past now, right?

In my opinion, the two greatest drama-generation game elements are random drops coupled with one-week lockouts. You end up competing with your guildmates for the very limited raid slots and drops. And thanks to lockouts, you can't just hop on to other guilds' raids while continuing to help your own guild whenever you can. Eventually there's a strong incentive to burn your bridges when that One Last Epic Until The Next One drops and go guild- (or server-) hopping.

One other counterproductive game mechanic is unshared quest item drops. Drakkisath's blood is the most well-known example where you had to bring 15 people so that one person got attuned to Onyxia. Even at low levels, grouping with other players hinders your progress. The time required to complete a gathering quest increased geometrically as the number of players increases. And if they finish their quest before you finish yours, they have a strong incentive to not return the favor and dump you.

In the end, drama always boils down to human nature, but we shouldn't be stuck in the Prisoner's Dilemma. To avoid drama, game mechanics should encourage altruistic behavior, not discourage it. Many of us are good-natured by default, but we do need a nudge towards the right direction every now and then.
The real killer in guilds is that the only thing a guild provides is a way to get your stuff. Go to the forums and the common thread is join a "good" guild and you'll have groups. Either posted by Trolls or people who just got lucky and ended up in one of the 5 percent of the guilds that have awesome leadership that keep things going.

Problem is in most guilds that is only true when the guild first forms and they are trying to get thier members geared up. Once that happens then the, "I got geared up screw you" syndrome kicks in. Having helped lead a guild and having been unlucky enough in my first serious guild to come in on the tail end of the gearing up cycle I understand how guilds self destruct.

When guilds hit that mystical point where enough people are geared they are so tired of getting people ready that they just help thier up and coming members less and less. Then they inevitible personel loss begins to occur. And who can blame people. They join a guild for comraderie and help with thier goals but if they aren't in the first group gearing up they usually get told to "PUG" it.
I pugged a lot and had some great groups but if I have to pug my way to get ready to raid then I'm not gonna have much loyalty built up for my guildies.

I've been on the other side too. When you've been asked to help a guildy run that instance you can run without looking at the screen you just die a little inside. You remember when it was fun 150 runs ago but now you just want to be anywhere else.

I do agree that the biggest problem is game design here. The game feeds the worst parts of human nature and gives no clear reward for building social networks and helping your fellow players.
I think the devs who work at these companies have easy access to coworkers and friends who know they are devs that they forget most people in wow have absolutely no real reason to be loyal to anyone who is not helping them get geared up.
@ Sam your last paragraph is spot on there is no reward or clear meaning in building a trust between players other than it is sometimes a feat to achieve in a MMORPG.

With all the social networking going on at present surely the biggest social experience in gaming, WoW should have a better social interface?!

...ptr patch notes highlight that guilds will get their own banks, two years after release.
I'd have been happy with some sort of guild faction that individual members contributed too. Imagine if your memberships collective faction allowed access to vendors and items that could only be used if you maintained that faction at a certain level. If you leave you lose if enough members leave the whole guild would lose. I think something like that would give guilds a bit of an incentive to work out issues.
The great irony, of course, to a raiding outsider is that it all seems so utterly utterly pointless.

Raid xx many times to get some fractionally better gear so you can raid xx many times somewhere slightly harder to get some fractionally-better-still gear to raid etc etc. Then what? Wave your e-widgets about and notice the only people left to "impress" are fellow raiders who'll invariably have better gear than you?

So many good long-lasting mmorpgs existed - and continue to exist - without this bizarre treadmill concept.

Each to their own, and all that, but the biggest tragedy is when non-raiding "casual" guilds get sucked into - and wrecked - by this cancerous morass.

There can be so much more to mmorpgs than the futile pursuit of purple pixels - and hopefully more titles will recognise this and prosper by offering non-raiding gamers (the vast majority) a rewarding alternative. :(
Ah, this would explain why my guild avoids the endgame in WoW, so to speak (twink guild).
i don't understand your post, i think. basically you are saying a game should be developed by your view of guilds and what your view is of a mmorpg. but isn't that reverse-psychology?

please bear in mind i understand your view and i miss a lot of things in certain mmorpgs as well. but i can't help thinking wow is just wow. they set a couple of goals which is dungeon-running with a group.

is wow really a guild-destroyer, or just because it's a 'golden age' of mmorpgs now and therefor the definition of guilds are being rewritten. which, in a certain view you can 'blame' wow.
btw, basic human nature isn't eternal at all, especially not with the globalization going on at the moment.
we used to live in villages and that was the world, hence you had a natural guild for granted. the village was everything. now with the globalization and egocentric way of living humans are struggling again.
personally i don't give an arse if some dude is being shot, whether it's in my own country or in the usa, still i know someone is shot.

Can you expect world-humans to be loyal to an artificial guild where you only see an avatar of someone.
to bypass the egocentric nature of people in a virtual world, while in the real world people are being robbed,murdered, teased because they are jealous of other people's riches.
in the real world people are being robbed,murdered, teased because they are jealous of other people's riches

That is actually a good example for my point. The murder rates of Britain, the USA, and South Africa are very different, with Britain having the lowest and South Africa the highest, the USA being in the middle. But it isn't that British people are by nature less jealous of other people's riches. Instead the real world environment is different in each country, with the British environment apparently resulting in less violence.

If that can work in the real world, then why shouldn't it work in virtual worlds, where the power of the virtual government to enforce laws is much more absolute? You just set the right set of conditions, and people suddenly cooperate instead of killing each other.
Tobold all this thinking about Guilds and end game set me thinkning again about Bartle's four player genotypes (Socialites, Killers, Achievers and Explorers). I think that his classification is as true today as it was 11 years ago and I think that WOW's raid centric end game appeals only to achievers. This thought process has helped me to realise that I am not primarily driven by achiever motivation and that this type of gameplay just doesn't suit me. I am currently playing and enjoying Lotro but if Lotro's end game becomes WOW like then this realisation will help me to stop playing and move on.

For what it is worth I scored E(80%)S(53%)A(40%)K(27%) on Guild Cafe's Bartle test. Now apparently I have to sign up to Project Entropia and the Sims online to meet like minded players :(

ok, point taken, however, less violence doesn't mean more tolerance of each other and more team-effort thinking
"Is wow really a guild-destroyer..."

Well, both Tobold and I - and doubtless many others - have seen first-hand the corrosive effect raid mechanics can have on even the most casual of guilds. ;)

An mmorpg end-game solely focused on better loot (ie no housing/crafting or all the other alternatives) means even non-hardcore guilds are reluctantly drawn into the "keep up or fade away" mentality.

From long experience, things start out rosy in these titles as a plethora of little guilds start levelling up to the cap at varying speeds.

The problems begin when players reaching the cap ahead of the pack are faced with a conundrum - stick with their guildmates and "tread water/roll alts" while the rest catch up - or jump ship and join one of the new "uber" guilds offering an infinitely better chance of "end-game" gear.

This inevitably results in many "achievers" being poached/enticed away by the promise of riches elsewhere - cannibalising the smaller guilds and setting back the progress of the slower levellers.

Then, with the hardcore quitting for uberguild X, the remaining casual members find themselves playing alongside fewer and fewer guildies - to the point where they can barely muster a presence to do even small end-game instances.

At that point they either try to form alliances and retain some semblance of what they once stood for or, the worst-case scenario, become delusional about becoming a raiding guild themselves amd open the floodgates of recruitment to other guild's rejects just to make up the numbers.

This process happened constantly in WoW and even began to rear its ugly head (briefly) in LotRO at the very moment the 24-man Helegrod raid instance was announced.

Sure enough, on my server a couple of new "uber" guilds were suddenly created afresh and, you've guessed it, long-standing kinsmen who'd been with guilds/kins since beta suddenly abandoned their "friends" without warning and left for the new guild. At the same time, the forums took a decidedly nasty turn as folk got greedy and public arguments between large kins - and those for and against DKP - broke out for the first time.

Thankfully (for the casual gamers among us) these new "uber" guilds soon burnt out and died, because the game mercifully isn't geared towards the flawed and futile concept of hardcore raiding.

So...I guess the answer to the original point is yes and no. :) WoW-type games create or nurture one type of guild - to the severe detriment of others.

(with due apologies for the lengthy ramble)
Karazhan the root of all evil ;)

Supposedly helping smaller and casual guilds to get an entry in the "endgame", it became the Guilddestroyer number one.

I still do not get, why there was this abomination of a Raiding instance put at the start of TBC-Raiding.

The "Hardcore-Raiders" adapted fast and had no big problem to get through this and allready planned ahhead for Gruul, Mag, SSC, TK and just used Karazhan for gearing up a bit faster.

The so called casual raiders had to adopt to going to 10 man raiding from 40 man raiding (guilds split, or in case of smaller guilds the former alliances broke apart) Karazhan groups need an insane class balance if people have not mostly outgeared the instance. Shackle on moreoes, seeds of corruption on Illhoof, banish and fear for Aran.

Not only do you need the holy trinity (1 tank, 1 offtank, 3 healers, 5 DPS), but you also need certain classes, or you are screwed.

As soon as you are in the upper level of Kara you need to think about Gruul and other 25 man instances. But your 2 Karazhan groups are not enough, as you need 25 people now.

Next in the line will be Zul'Aman, again a 10-man instance, but at least this one will only have a 3 day lockout and will not require a linear clearing as far as i know, so you can concentrate on different bosses on different days but the Raid-ID's are blank again. Maybe Blizzard has learned here from Karazhan.

I think Karazhan should have had a 3 day lockout and the instance should have been split in to two parts. Gaining access to the upper part could have been handled like the "heroic Keys" or with a Quest requirement. "Get the key from the back of the Opera Stage"

Why do i have to clean up Moroes and Opera everytime i want to go to the upper level?

On my server one "old Guild" after another is breaking apart. Established names, whioch have been there since Launch are vanishing.
I've seen all the guild drama too.

It just boils down to one simple thing. Human beings are by nature selfish. In the real world we have consequences to deal with if we let that aspect of our nature run wild. We lose our friends, our coworkers shun us and in the extreme we go to jail.

There is nothing in games like wow to punish these negative tendencies. Therefore they run rampant. I think there are two things that need to be added. Some sort of punishment, even if its minor like a drop in faction loss of access to vendors etc. And just as importantly there needs to be positive reinforcement in the system. Titles, vendor rewards or some other such rewards.

Societies that are stable and successful are that way because the reward for being a good member of society is much better and easier to obtain than being part of the criminal element. In game social structures need to recognize human nature and add rewards and punishments for loyalty or lack of to guilds.
It's interesting... our guild got around all these problems by being enormous. Back in the spring, we had about a dozen Karazhan runs going at once. These days it's a handful, with the higher level raiders split between 2.5 (we have some cross-guild collaboration) SSC/Eye raids, and one Maulgar/Gruul run a week.

People always laughed at the unmanageable size of huge guilds in vanilla WoW, but they've really shined in tBC, for many of the same reasons you outlined.
Please don't take this as a criticism as absolutely none is intended, but in the response "our guild got around all these problems by being enormous" you pinpoint the exact CAUSE of the overall problem.

Did all these eleventy-million players start out with you in the newbie zones - or did they start flocking to you and dumping guildmates they'd played alongside for 60+ levels once recruitment posts highlighting what you could achieve/offer hit the forums?

I'll stress again - this, in the eyes of a long-term casual mmorpg fan, is an abomination and the fault of the game mechanics, not the individuals involved.

With so many poeple in the guild, was it even remotely rewarding given that presumably you'd barely know a fraction of your guild and had presumably spoken 1:1 with even fewer?

I'm genuinely curious as to what people get out of these games if it doesn't relate to the social side and the banter shared with people they play alongside regularly.
"Recently an anonymous (!) commenter was taunting me saying how funny it was that a guy who gets over 2,000 readers a day on his blog can't even find enough people to guild / group with."

Hi its me, Mr. Anonymous Commenter. I was responding to this statement,

"In short I had a MMORPG, but I didn't have a tribe. You can't just join a 3-year old game [EQ2 Faydwer], find a guild, and expect people of your level to be around to play with you."

You were starting anew in a game and lamenting the fact that there's no one around. Yet you're surrounded by tons of readers / fans / possible friends... who think you're an interesting guy. Invite us over to play. :)
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