I’ve been involved in some pretty good discussions over the past few weeks with gamers from all over the MMO-sphere, and with certain high profile players within Everquest 2. These discussions have almost invariably started to revolve around guilds (or clans, corps, cabals, etc.).
I love talking about guilds, as should be obvious to anyone who follows my postings for any amount of time. Earlier this week, I posted an open Letter to My Guild to discuss the pride I have regarding the work they put in night after night. I’ve spend thousands of dollars over the years travelling to visit guildmates, and on three occasions, I’ve held gatherings at my own home here in the Twin Cities for our members to attend.
I admit that I see guild leaders as a special breed apart. To be a successful guild leader takes, in my mind at least, a person who is part CEO, part coach, and part military officer. At events like FanFaire or Summits, I personally gravitate toward other guild leaders, and almost immediately we begin talking about our guilds like proud parents showing off wallet sized photo albums.
So it should come as little surprise to find out that I spend a lot of my time and what little influence I have trying to make the games I play in more guild friendly. I’ll freely cop to having an agenda when it comes to increasing options for guild leaders and officers, and in working toward ways to increase the relevancy of guilds within games.
However, as I watch MMO’s “evolve” with more and more individual and group options and less and less guild specific content, I find myself wondering if game developers feel that guilds have lost some of their relevancy.
Where are the guild halls in these modern games? The guild flags and banners? The guild banks? Older games have these amenities already. I can go visit my guild or association hall in games like Dark Age of Camelot or even Star Wars Galaxies. So why, then, has it taken nearly 3 years for Blizzard to realize that a guild bank might be a good idea? Why did it take SOE seven releases to finally bring in guild cloaks? Don’t get me started on new titles that have recently released or are coming out.
I love the guild functions in Everquest 2. It’s one of the reasons my guild is still there still. I have more tools and functions available to me in EQ2 than in any other game. For those of you who have never lead a guild, I can’t possibly impress upon you enough the magnitude of relief a good set of guild officer tools brings to your nightly activities. Any officer who’s spent any amount of time in a larger or more successful guild will tell you that running a guild is very nearly a second job unto itself. Tools which make that job easier give the officer more time to …well, actually play.
However, are we the niche minority? Do guilds matter? Are guilds…important?
Now, my obviously biased answer is that guilds are absolutely important. If a system doesn’t exist to form guilds in a game (i.e. Starcraft), then players will still find ways to create and organize guilds. Without guildbanks, guild officers will create mule accounts to store goods. Without in-game rosters, officers simply track membership in spreadsheets and websites. Without guild housing, players simply set up shop in some officers house. Without guild merchants, someone sets up a merchant character anyway.
This list goes on. Where there’s a will, there’s a way…and the way is currently paved with workarounds.
So why the lag in development time? Are guilds seen as a niche playstyle? Why then do the overwhelming majority of players in modern MMO’s belonging to guilds? Maybe there simply aren’t enough developer guild leaders. I don’t blame them if this is the case – guild leadership takes time, effort, and emotional resources that most developers probably don’t have left over after already spending 8-16 hours a day working on the game.
I believe guilds should be easier to run, not harder. I believe guilds should be easier to set up, not harder. I believe there should be more guild specific rewards and gameplay, not less. I believe all of this should exist at launch, not brought in later as an afterthought.
For nearly 2 years leading up to the release of Everquest 2, there were already guilds. You’d go to sites like the (now defunct) EQ2 Lounge or EQII.com and you’d find dozens, if not hundreds of listed guilds already recruiting. The same thing happened for Vanguard, LOTRO, and WoW. It’s happening now for Warhammer Online and Age of Conan as well. Obviously players – especially early adopters – feel that guilds are important. Obviously guild play matters to developers on some level, or we’d never see guild features at all.
However, at what point do we start to see more guild specific content and rewards? With the release of each of Everquest 2’s expansions, you saw increases to guild levels. However, unlike the original 30 guild levels, and certainly different from the adventuring and tradeskilling levels, you didn’t receive rewards at level 32 or 39. You got rewards at 40. Later, you picked up rewards at 50. Then, at 60. There were no “thanks for putting in work to get to level 55” mid-point rewards. It was all or nothing…and even then, the rewards were largely marginal (typically a slightly faster, but much, much more expensive mount, and perhaps access to some new title). The only exception was at level 50, when you first started to see status rewards that could be useful in combat. Even then, the use was limited and the rewards were put in later.
Ruins of Kunark comes with 20 new guild levels. In recent interviews, SOE has alluded to the idea that there will be rewards spread throughout those levels and not merely at 80 (and possibly 70). I hope so. I also hope that the guild recruiting tool is eventually looked at and has some debugging work performed. I hope we eventually see guild halls one day. I hope we eventually see more reasons to actually stay in a guild rather than just jumping guilds. I hope to one day see guild merchants or brokers. I really want to see guild flags planted in certain contested areas. I’d love to see the day where a purple and white banner flies over some tower in Qeynos, proclaiming my own guild as a champion of the city.
Till then, I can only hope that issues such as the near miss on Warg speed (at one point on test, the Warg was up to 50% run speed – effectively as fast as level 60 guild mounts) in Update 34 and the housing issues from Update 35 are simply oversights, and not indicative of some new trend in design philosophy. One of the few areas where EQ2 has dominated other games of its generation was with guild options and tools. I hope that the developers remember that, and try not to forgot us poor niche players who wear guild cloaks and enjoy seeing < Names > over our heads.
Hopefully, we’re still important. 😉