In most games, having a single character be a member of more than one guild is currently not only impossible, but probably a little distasteful to many of the players. Systems support for multiple single-char membership aside, the idea of multiple allegiances strikes folks as, at worst, rather treacherous, and at best somewhat uncommitted. If people are a little unsure about the idea of multiple out-of-game guild/tribe/network memberships, they’re even less sure about the concept in-game. (Let’s assume one-char/many-guilds is implementable — I’m not interested in discussing why it can’t be done because it’s not available, especially since it already is available in some games, such as A Tale In The Desert. It’s not MMO-coding science-fiction.)

Those aren’t entirely unjustified doubts.  If you could join multiple guilds you could steal from one to give to the other, or be unable to fulfil your commitments to one because of stuff you said you’d do for the other. But that’s a problem guilds face now and always have, even in the one-character/one-guild model; maybe we just think it makes it easier if you limit how many guild memberships a single character can have, because we’re used to the concept and because it seems simpler. After all, if I have Fred in MegaGuild and my alt Bob in MyOwnGuild, I can steal from MegaGuild just as easily as if Fred were in both. The only way to prevent that is to prevent trading between characters, and that’s not going to happen. Even in Asheron’s Call, where there was no mail system, you could either just drop stuff on the ground and log over (hopefully before it got deleted by the sweeper-mechanism), dump it in your house chest (no such worries) or pass it to a third party to hold while you do the char-swapping. Where there’s a will in MMOs, there’s almost always a way; in other words, if someone is a thief they’ll be a thief no matter how many or how few guilds they can join.

As for commitment issues: again, those aren’t new, and they’ll exist either way. I was going to say we older gamers have more calls on our time, but that’s neither fair nor true — even younger people have commitments, be it only to get to the dinner table before Mum blows a gasket; more seriously there’s school, homework, friends, and later on school, homework, work, friends, sick or not sick kids, pets… and other games. So again, whether I’m not as available as I should be because I’m nursing Jane Jr. through a cold or because I’m off doing stuff with another guild — is there really a difference?

Yeah, there is, but I think it’s more of a nuance than a real chasm. Just like with theft, being committed to one’s allegiance(s) isn’t something we generally turn off and on. People just tend to be more understanding of sick kids than they are of wanting to do stuff with another group in the same game, though the end result (player not available) is the same.

Thinking about it though, the idea that Fred might say “Sorry, I’m not going to do XYZ with you guys tonight but rather ABC with these guys tonight” does feel a little off. What, aren’t we good enough for you? Rationally though, if Fred isn’t blowing off any previously-made commitments to us for that evening, and if Fred is generally reliable about doing what he says he’ll do when he says he’ll do it, does it matter? If Fred chose to bimble about on his own all evening, nobody would care (well some might, but that’s another topic). If Fred chooses to tell us he’s doing stuff with someone else though, suddenly it’s guildultery and we get a little pissy.

I’m not arguing that unreliable people should be given free passes — I’m talking about honest, non-thieving, mostly reliable people like… well, like most of us. Part of the problem with multiple allegiances and groupings and friendships is how we react to them and not necessarily how much trouble they really cause.

For the most part, guilds aren’t really in competition with each other (in the MMOs I play, anyway — enlighten me if there are other examples). Even where there are guild leveling type systems, raising guild A has no impact whatsoever on guild B’s leveling, so it’s not like being in more than one would actively harm the others. There aren’t many infractions you could commit with a one-char/multi-guild system that you can’t already commit with the one-char/one-guild model we have now, so what, exactly, would it hurt if we could join more than one in-game group at a time with any given character?

Even in a game where you really could damage one guild through the actions of another (competitive land-grabbing, limited guild-available resources, etc — I’m thinking Shadowbane-type games?) you could probably still work multiple guild support, just with tighter rules — for instance, a character can only join another guild that’s in the same faction / kingdom / guild-alliance / whatever. I do think the benefits outweigh the possible risks, since we already face those risks using the current system.

The main benefit of multi-guilding is that we could create tighter, more focused interest-oriented guilds, or even time-limited guilds with specific aims like event-organising or whatnot. We could have a normal “we’re one big family” guild but also a “crafters” sub-guild, or even a “specific-craft” subguild. A character could be a member of a fighting-oriented guild and a member of a crafting or mercantile guild, or a member of a crafting guild and a mercantile guild… and so on. My impression is that resistence to that concept is more a matter of subjective discomfort (a mental “he likes them more than us!” reaction) than of objective difficulties, certainly not difficulties that don’t already exist.

Interestingly, one reason MMO designers might resist the idea is that it would give single characters access to a lot more storage space. One vault per guild, char is in four guilds (if the game allows it), so suddenly that char has access to four times as much vault space. As far as I’m concerned, however, the whole inventory management so-called minigame is a way to limit how much inventory has to be tracked per character — there are very few players I know who feel bag management is fun, much less a thrilling mini-game (or subgame or whatever they’re called). It’s only called a feature to make it palatable to players, and is just as much of a con as saying that slow travel shows how big the world is. (Yes, faster travel does tend to make the world feel smaller, but you’re slowing me down because you don’t want me going through stuff too fast, not because you care about me appreciating the landscape — let’s not be disingenuous.) So that space issue is really only an issue if you want to limit how much people own; and while that is most certainly based on data-storage requirements, you’ve got to wonder how valid that is since after all, most everything you can own is probably not much more than a database ID reference, and disk space isn’t exactly expensive these days, even on a grand scale. (Yeah, there’s more to it than that, but not that much, is there? If there is… again, enlighten me.)

(Some games are different — SWG for instance, where resources change all the time, are always unique, and where most items have their own unique ID… and yet SWG offers vastly more storage than your average fantasy MMO. We don’t pretend to carry all our belongings on our backs like fantasy heroes anymore, so let’s stop pretending we need such an artificially low limit on what we own, okay? /slight tangent off)

While reviewing this, it occurs to me that *I* am making a slew of assumptions myself when discussing guilds and multi-guild memberships. What a guild provides, tangibly, is what? These days the main guild perks are vault space, a name tag, and a guild channel, all of which could be accessible in games through other means. I’m not sure it’s worth making those benefits optional since they seem pretty central to the general idea of “a group of people doing stuff together,” but if there were a longer list of benefits (teleporting to a central location, access to certain areas, goodies, skills/spells, and so on) maybe an à la carte guild-options system might be useful.

So, guildultery — where do you stand? Monogamy, free love, or somewhere in between?

Actually, while we’re here, what would the opposite system be like? One account, ONE guild membership — as in, all your alts can join a guild, but they must all join the same guild if they join one at all. Would there be benefits to a system like that?