Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Guild advancement in Cataclysm

A reader asked me on my opinion on the announced guild advancement system in Cataclysm. By taking an inherently social entity, and adding rewards to it, guild advancement is potentially a very powerful tool of social engineering. Now some people have jumped to conclusions, and already dismissed it as clone of the suboptimal guild advancement systems that other games already have. But we simply don't know whether that is true yet, and one thing that Blizzard is famous for is stealing the badly executed ideas of others and unleashing their potential, thereby making their version much better than the original.

I recently read a book about management, which proclaimed as golden rule of managing people that "you get what you reward". I was laughing, because that sounded exactly like me talking about social engineering in game design. You get what you reward, and that does apply to guild advancement systems as well. Where previous systems frequently failed was that guild advancement systems more or less automatically rewarded pretty much everyone, as long as he was in a guild. That is still a possibility for the WoW system, but it would be a wasted chance. If three months after release both Ensidia and that pickup guild inviting random strangers both have the same level of guild advancement, then this system will simply fail to do anything. If your actions don't matter, and everybody gets rewarded the same way anyway, there is no effect of guild advancement on behavior. You get what you reward, and if you reward just being in a guild, you get people just being in a guild.

If done right, a guild advancement system can reward two desirable modes of behavior: Collaboration, and loyalty. But the way to there is strewn with pitfalls. For example it is far too easy to design a system where the guild advancement depends on a fixed number of points, and every action of a guild member adds to those points; with the inevitable result that larger guilds have an advantage over smaller guilds. You get what you reward, and in that case you'd get more large guilds, destroying many smaller ones. Another big pitfall is getting the encouragement of loyalty right: You want to reward people for working out difficulties with their guild, and sticking with their friends, instead of guild hopping. But you also don't want to punish them too harshly if ultimately things don't work out, somebody leaves, or gets kicked out, or a guild breaks up completely. Thus deciding what guild advantages a player loses when quitting a guild and joining a different one, and how fast he regains those advantages, is tricky. Too slow, and you lock people into guilds well beyond the point where the guild is still fun; too fast, and you end up encouraging guild hopping to the guild with the higher level of advancement.

So until I've seen the system in detail, and know all the parameters, I simply can't say whether the guild advancement system in Cataclysm will be good, neutral, or bad. Social engineering is a difficult science, and easy to get wrong.
Big guilds getting more profit seems to have been thought of. Only the top twenty achievers of the day are brought into account. This will still benefit the larger guilds but not by as much.

And this system goes two ways. Let's say you were awarded that super recipee you always wanted but it's a guild item. Now you have one extra reason not to leave your guild.

On the other hand, if the rewards are too big you might find people being even more eager to jump the guilds that are lagging behind.

In any case, it's an interesting feature. I'm curious what kind of rewards they'll be handing out. A few I've read were a guild resurection, quick teleportation to an instance... Fun things to have but nothing you can't do without.
Apparently you will only get guild exp for the 20 highest contributors in your guild, so that helps to downplay the size factor. The bigger question is whether the "talents" (no different from EQ2's guild hall reward choices, except that they are on a tree) will cause problems for diverse guilds. If there are too many options that force a choice between endgame group content and leveling alts in PVE content, there's actually a disincentive for that guild to stick together.
At the panel the devs said that only the top 20 contributors for each guild would have their points count for that day. Looks like they also were worried about larger guilds having an unfair advantage.
Regarding your first concern, a bluepost addressed it already; to prevent large guilds from having a significant advantage, only the top 20 most productive members will have an effect on guild leveling.
As long as guild advancement is based on more metrics than just raiding.
One of the things that was most noticeable to me when I left WAR to return to WoW was the lack of Guild advancement.

There is something very cool about working on a “group level”for you and your friends. The rewards were also nice: access to guild inn, special vendors, heraldy features (cloak colors, cloak emblem, standard emblem) and, of course, the deployable Standard which acts like a group buff totem in which the guild leaders choose the buffs.

That said, while this was cool in WAR, I don't see something like a "standard" in WoW being practical because of the heavy emphasis on raiding. The devs would end up needing to design bosses around players having certain "standard" buffs. Or, on the other hand, maybe that falls right into their design plans to limit raid content at certain choke points to guilds that have advanced enough.

In any event, I really enjoyed guild advancement in WAR and it was quite noticeably missing in WoW. I think this is a bit less about stealing ideas and more about catching up to the curve.

One issue I have with how this might impact raiding is it being used as a recruitment tool. It really only inspires loyalty if the guild is already high ranked. Players in the up-and-coming guilds may be more likely to trade-up into a higher rank guild to utilize better guild rewards.
Tobold, your 'hope' for guild advancement pretty much just described guild advancement in WAR, so I'm not sure why you feel it was executed poorly.

Contribution to guild advancement scaled according to the number of members, so a small but highly active guild would advance faster than a huge complacent one. All actions taken by members contributed to advancement, but certain actions such as capturing and claiming a keep for the guild contributed a lot more, thus encouraging guild activities.

I'm sure Blizzard will do a great job of stealing and refining WAR guild advancement, but that hardly means it sucked to begin with.
Here's my issue. Who's to say that Ensidia actually is a better guild than the one that picks people from LFG to run instances. What if the second guild is a really successful social/RP guild and just happens not to have a lot of members who are focussed on being hardcore?

By rewarding certain types of behaviour, they run the risk of defining what a good guild is. When in fact a good guild is one that fits the needs of the individual player. Sure you can add more to that -- needs to be stable, active, etc. But still.
By rewarding certain types of behaviour, they run the risk of defining what a good guild is.

While I agree with the sentiment, I must say that this "defining what a good guild is" by handing out rewards for specific behavior happened years ago. Because up to now raid progress is the only measure of guild advancement, the thought that the guild that advances furthest and fastest is "better" than the social and friendly guild is far too established. There are successful WoW blogs out there which do nothing but deride "socials" in every post, you know which one I'm thinking of.

Even with a guild advancement system and the best of intentions, it is probably impossible to reward guilds for being very nice, or for being good roleplayers, because those are things which are impossible to measure. The best we can hope for is a system which doesn't unfairly penalize such guilds.
From the details I've seen, guild levelling will be based on the top twenty producers (production equalling boss kills, rep, xp, etc) regardless of guild size. It also tracks drops for members. Guild performance earns achievements & talents (buffs).

It seems to encourage competition among guilds as well as pressure to produce within the guild. Plus, with the management tracking, one can see who directly benefits from participation.

It seems to be mostly suited to raiding guilds rather than rp, levelling, or social guilds.

Things still missing - guild halls & guild rankings.
So clearly the way to scam the system is to pad the top 20 contributors, eh? That will be a fun little sub game. Have a prot paladin gather up a hundred enemies while ungrouped healers toss him heals or something equally lame to game the system.

And that doesn't protect small guilds very much anyway; who is more likely to have 20 people with sizable contributions; the little guild that is lucky to get 10 people on at a time, and will want to use that time to raid or something, or the guild that has to handle turning people away from 25 man raids. The little guild is going to fall way behind and stay there.

The top 20 thing sounds like it will keep the big guilds from leaving the small guilds in the dust but it won't actually do too much. Color me surprised.
My hopes for guild advancement are that we will see a variety of paths for a guild to advance beyond raiding. This would allow players to more freely choose their preferred style of play in the knowledge that they may still contribute to the guild. Such a scheme would require the game to keep track of individual contributions in each area and provide the guild master with a more sophisticated method of managing guild ranks.

Examples include:

Potential Benefits: Guild recipes, bonus bank tabs for materials, access to new vendors, a limited and weekly free (or cheap) supply of profession-related materials, extra procs, recipe improvements, recipe material discounts, bonuses that unlock faster profession leveling paths for other members etc…
Paths to Unlock: Having several members reaching highest rank, several members having a particular profession specialization, collecting ingredients, crafting an item several times etc…

Potential Benefits: Guild members acquire reputation with a certain faction faster, members have alternative methods to collect reputation (e.g. championing), faction vendors unlock new items for sale based on guild reputation
Paths to Unlock: Having several members reach exalted reputation with the faction, new guild quests/dailies that increase guild reputation

World Event Achievements
Potential Benefits: Fun event related benefits every time a world event begins such instant access to a broom mount on Hallow’s End etc…
Paths to Unlock: Several players in the guild having completed the related achievements

Potential Benefits: Unlock extra bosses/zones, group teleports, special buffs
Paths to Unlock: Defeating the dungeon with guild only runs several times, completing all the achievements in the dungeon with at least X players etc…

Potential Benefits: Cheaper repairs, reduced vendor prices, unlock new vendors
Paths to Unlock: Collecting gold for the guild

While it's true that a larger guild would benefit by having many of its members work on different things simultaneously, such benefits would also be applicable to a dedicated smaller guild
I remember in EQ2 how SOE tried to account for big guilds vs small guilds. They eventually had to abandon the practice. Just from what I heard from listening to the 2 The Instance podcasts from Blizzcon I think Blizzard may fall into some of the same practices that players hated in EQ2. But the expansion is months away so any mention of guild advancement mechanics is subject to massive change.
They are gating - their words, not mine - a lot of the new stuff coming via Cataclysm. As numerous commentators already stated, only the top 20 producers will count towards the XP gain. On top of that they plan on having a cap on what you can gain per week.

Arenas and Rated BGs are supposed to be under the same plan. Overall, they plan to make WoW "a lot less grindy."

If you want more details for the guild details, allow me a little shameless self promotion:
I just hope that this time around, Blizzard realizes the axiom Tobold talked about in his post: that you get what you reward. Someone should carve that into all the Blizzard designer's mirrors. This guild advancement system sounds so fun, but has so much potential for twisting the game into something much uglier (like the achievement system has done).
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