Do Guilds Bring in More Money?

Posted: July 30, 2009 by Kendricke in General Game Concepts
Tags: ,

For years, I’ve always instinctively felt that MMO players who joined guilds tended to stick around in games longer than those who did not.  Oh sure, I track my own membership numbers, but that only tells me a small part of the overall story.  I never really know what’s going on with other guilds or whether or not players who don’t join a guild are more or less likely to stick around.

So, for years, I’ve rigidly stuck to my assumptions because I could remember hearing about studies that showed guilds were beneficial.  I could recall discussions at conferences and conventions which supported that position.  I could recall seeing occasional posts about the subject.  Sure, it feels logical to me that a player would stay in a game longer if they feel that additional investment to a guild, but that’s not really a fact I can point at with any degree of confidence, now is it?  In any event, it wasn’t something I thought about a great deal during any given week. 

Certainly, MMO studios have likely parsed the millions and millions and lines of logs they have access to to glean the data on whether or not guilds bring in the money, but they’re not likely to share that information publically.  As players, we can only guess at their conclusions when we see games releasing with more and greater guild functions included and when we see existing live games introducing more guild features over time.  However, that’s still largely conjecture as opposed to fact. 

Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who’d wondered about this topic, but it wasn’t till recently when I found out exactly who else was doing the wondering.  It was only this week when I became involved in a rather impassioned discussion regarding whether or not guilds should be better supported in 38 Studios’ eventual Project Copernicus MMO.  At one point in the conversation, one of the participants actually stated:  “The truth is that a more robust guild system is probably a bad target for developer resources…”  Well, that statement really got me to thinking. 

I started looking around for those studies I’d remembered hearing about or reading about.  I wanted to see what the actual facts said.  What I found was surprising to me – not the facts themselves, but the fact that I don’t recall seeing much written about these studies when they came out:

PARC Researchers Seek to Boost the Gaming Experience at PC World
Today @ PC World PARC Researchers Seek to Boost the Gaming Experience

“Another concern for the game owners, who want to keep getting their fees, is how to keep top level players in the game. One important reason for gamers to stay is the social network built up within a guild. Guild kinship, according to Parc, keeps people around. And there are special activities for characters reaching the top level. But researchers tell that game owners seek for even more ways to keep top players longer in the game.”

“Alone together?”: exploring the social dynamics of massively multiplayer online games
“Alone together?”

“Guilds are often cited as another important factor contributing toMMORPG’s popularity. They are the place where most of a player’s important relationships are formed and frame a player’s social experience in the game [9, 17, 24]. ”

“Our data shows that, overall, 66% of WoW’s characters are in a guild. Moreover, this number increases to 90% for characters level 43 and above. This last number is quiteclose to data obtained from earlier games [24]. ”

“Plotting playing time against level by guild involvement shows another interesting trend: playing time is more stable after level 40 for guilded players and fluctuates more fornon-guilded ones (Figure 7).”

“For example, between levels 41-60, characters in a guild are in a group about 43% more often than characters not in a guild, after playing time has been controlled for. Ittherefore seems that being in a guild facilitates finding and forming an ad-hoc quest group.”

“Our observations show that an overwhelming majority ofguilds have 35 members or less (90thpercentile), with a mean of 14.5. The “churn rate” is high, with many members leaving regularly to be replaced by new faces. Moreover,only a small fraction of each guild’s population (about10%) truly engages in joint activities. Overall our data gives the impression that growing a guild to a significant size and sustaining it over time is a difficult task, perhaps more sothan managing groups in other contexts. From a game producer’s standpoint this is clearly problematic since, aswe have seen earlier, guild membership encourages playersto play more and to group more.”

“Considering the above, it is clear that players need more tools to help insure that their guild survive and prosper.”

How Much Do Guilds Matter? by Sanya Weathers for GamerDNA
How much do guilds matter? – Massively

“Still, I found that players in guilds that had regular events, strong communication outside the game, and charismatic leadership typically subscribed for six months longer than players who did not boast such social connections.”

“It’s not just anecdotal evidence, anymore. In WoW, and I think any game built with similar mechanics (which is practically freaking everyone coming down the pike) any guild membership at all increases engagement as measured by time played per week, levels achieved, and leveling speed.”

Read the linked articles.  Dig into them.  The more I rooted about, the more I felt as if my eyes were opening wider to a great untapped resource.  Suddenly, I wasn’t even as concerned about the discussion I’d previously been involved in.  Now, I was actually finding myself incredulous as I realized how little actual guild support is out there in most MMOs.

In short, I realized very quickly that these studies showed that for all intents and purposes, guilds equal money…and apparently lots of it. 

Why aren’t more studios catching on?  Why aren’t we seeing more guild support then we already are?

As more games release, I believe we’ll see guilds becoming even more dominant as the social hubs for players.  We’ll see more guilds straddling multiple games and we’ll see more demand for guild related services – both in-game and out.  There’s a distinct market here for the studios or entreprenuers looking to capitalize on it.

I think on some of the things I’d love to see as a guildmaster and I have to wonder why we’re not seeing some of these things. 

For example, why am I still collecting real world donations for my guildsite through Paypal to cover the expenses on my web hosting, url fee, forum support, etc. Why hasn’t anyone provided a close enough alternative to these things?  Sure, SOE has their various EQ2players type sites, but the forums on those sites are horrid and the site itself tends to be painfully slow and cluttered. 

To be fair to SOE, they have provided more guild functionality than anyone else out there (likely a very large part of the reason my guild is still in Everquest II right now).  Other games continue to launch which seem to treat guilds as a secondary afterthought – a requirement to appease players who like guilding (“See, we’ve got a guild system…what more do you want?”).  The notable exception recently was Warhammer Online with their “living guild” idea.  Age of Conan didn’t even pretend to like guilds at launch  – you were practically punished for daring to try to form a guild. 

Part of me admits that no system will ever live up to my ever rising expectations of what I want from a game regarding guild mechanics.  However, I still don’t think that’s a excuse for studios to phone it in regarding guild systems.  The world is changing and customers are becoming more saavy every day. 

Studios need to fight to keep the customers they already have since monthly churn can be so punishing.  The studies show that players who stick around at least two months have the best chances at converting into longer term subscribers and that guilds account for a dramatic percentage of all players above certain levels within the games. 

Regardless of the business model, studios want to keep customers in their worlds playing and subscribing and buying widgets from their virtual token stores.  The more we play, the more we pay and the studies show that guilded players play more often and longer than unguilded players. 

For studios, the question shouldn’t be whether or not including guild support is important.  The only real question is how best to encourage the guilds to maintain a presence within one game over another. 

Guild tools are one method.  Really, this should be the given.  It shouldn’t take years to implement such basic amenities as points tracking, attendance tracking, custom ranks, custom heraldry/uniforms, guild rewards, guild halls, guild banks, guild calendars, etc.  Most importantly should be basic guild recruiting/matching tools, though.

New players should be exposed to the guild systems early on.  Mention guilds in opening tutorials.  Present guild halls right off in starting towns and cities.  Give guilds more than a name over their heads and let them put heraldry and iconography on their shields, cloaks, tabards, mount barding, banners – you name it.  People should be excited and curious about guilds right away in the first 20 minutes of a game…and they should be presented with an intuitive way to find a guild that matches their needs right then.

It should be as easy to find a guild to match your wants and needs as it is to find a resturaunt on City Search. 

Seriously, I want a method by which a player, such as yourself, can open a UI window and check off boxes to indicate your preferred guild features. Maybe you’re not quite interested in raiding, so you leave that box unchecked. You are interested in regular groups, so you check that. You’re interested in questing, but not tradeskilling, so you make sure to note that. In the appropriate areas, you point out that you’re looking for a guild with a more open guildchat (as opposed to strictly family friendly), that roleplaying isn’t necessarily important to you, and that you’re based in the GMT-5 time zone. The game automatically notes that you’re a level 60 rogue.
When you click the “find a guild” button, the system automatically filters through the heavy roleplay guilds, the heavy raiding guilds, the guilds which have minimum level requirements you don’t meet, and the guilds which aren’t looking for rogues. It sorts out the remaining selections in order of relevance for you, and let’s you look through some relevant stats that include everything from total guild size, average nightly activity levels, most active nights, least active nights, rosters, leaderboards – you name it.

From a guild standpoint, guild leaders have set up similar filters on their end to help weed through potential applicants who might be looking for a guild in the first place. Generally speaking, the system is set up in such a way to allow players looking for guilds and guilds open to new players a way to find each other in the first place. From there, an actual application window might open up (which has its own system/criteria backing it).

How would players know about such a system? Because they’re exposed to it during the game’s tutorial…as well as being exposed to how to create a guild, the benefits (and some common pitfalls) of guilding, and any specific features of this particular game that revolve around guilding (guild halls, keeps, etc.)

Newer players in good guilds will be exposed to self-perpetuating activity/social hubs.  They’ll find more groups this way (especially if there’s some in-game benefit to grouping with younger members).  They’ll find more active players this way.  They’ll be included in an existing community right off this way.  They’ll begin investing and growing within the game faster this way.  Having newer members joining guilds is a way of increasing their chances at hitting that all important 2 month mark. 

Beyond recruiting, modern guilds are going to want to see more benefits outside of games as well.  As more games start to offer up free or freemium benefits, more guilds are going to spread out across multiple games.  For companies like SOE or NCSoft, cross game chat and organization systems should be considered.   Offline tools to create guild logos or heraldry should be looked into.  Robust forum/website tools should be researched. 

The benefits are tangible.  The money is there on the table just waiting to be grabbed.  Guilds equate to money…and lots of it.  The studios that realize this will reap the rewards.

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  2. Xeavn says:

    Well I haven’t really looked for much in the way of hard evidence but from personal experience a guild that I am enjoying being a part of, and have made friends with a large portion of the membership can keep me interested and playing an MMO long after I would normally have given up on it.

    Using EQ2 as an example I have quit and been pulled back into it at least 3 or 4 times now. What keeps bringing me back? Remembering all the good friends and good times I have had with my guild there.

  3. Julian says:

    Someone explain to me how on one hand we can say “The social component is integral to the long life of any MMO” and then turn around and say “But we don’t need guilds”.

    Does not compute.

  4. Iceko says:

    Definitely, Guilds and the relationships it creates are what keeps most “long term” players in. From any game studio’s viewpoint, it should be a major point to focus on.

    From presonnal experience, I can say my Guild kept me playing more than the game itself sometimes. I mean, how often did I log in with an objective in mind, and was completely sidetracked right off the bat by a guildmate needing help, or another needing to chat about personnal stuff?

    Guild leaders and Guild officers need alot ingame tools to help them keep track of various aspects of Guild managing. One thing that guild members keep forgetting sometime (and that Kendricke doesn’t remind them often enough) is that guild managing is a fulltime job in itself sometime, when you are truly dedicated to running a serious Guild.

    The more tools available to automate the tasks, the more time the leaders will play, while still having the same quality of management. And a well managed Guild attracts serious players, creates better member relations, and keep players playing…

  5. Kilanna says:

    I realise this is an old post now …. but for my 2cp worth I can say that guild life is absolutely a key part of the MMO experience for me..

    I have been a part of my guild for some two and a half years now, and I speak often about it – but my guild relationships keep me invested in the game.

    For much of the last three months I have not felt invested at all in game content. This is not to say I have not been having fun because I absolutely have been – but it is my guild life that has kept me logging on. Just last week I arranged a guild gathering out of game with some 15-20 of my guildmates and their significant others. We had a wonderful time having dinner and a few drinks.

    Over the last couple of years, as well as the adventuring side of the game, I have leveled 9 crafters in EQ2 to max level – one character of each crafter class. Why did I do this? So that my guildmates know that they have someone who can help them with most everything they might need.

    I am not the best player in the world. Knowing how to play different character classes well does not come intuitively to me – so my tradeskillers are my contribution to my guild community.

    In life you can only please some of the people some of the time. My experience is that guild life is no different. Guild leadership is certainly not for the faint hearted!.

    To me, a guild is no different in purpose to things such as a Drama Ensemble, sporting team, photography group – it is a collection of different individuals bonded in a similar interest. Different guilds will have different focus – raiding, casual, tradeskilling, questing or whatever. People will come and go. Those who do not “fit” with the aims of any one guild will soon move on.

    The relationships we build within guilds are no less real than any other relationships we have in life – and it is DEFINITELY what keeps me logging back on day after day.

  6. JesDer says:

    Correlation does not imply causation.

    Perhaps people that play more tend to join more guilds. Maybe it is the play time that dictates the likely hood of the person being guilded ?

    It is not that I don’t agree with the claims made, I just feel that it is a much more complex than it is being made out to be.

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