Declaring my independence

Maybe if I post this on a weekend, and a holiday weekend in the US to boot, nobody will notice and my rant can slip by unnoticed while still satisfying my need to get this off my chest.

(Post-publish edit: my rants seem to work better than I expect. A lot of this is tongue-in-cheek — I’m usually very much a compromise, negotiate, see-the-other-side type person, but that kind of thing makes for boring ranting. I’ll do a nice rational post later this week, honest. Apologies also to those whose posts I use as springboards — they’re just idea-bouncers. I’m not implying any of you are bastages or asshats or indeed anything but interesting, although our opinions may differ. If I didn’t find em interesting and thought-provoking, I wouldn’t be reading your blogs.)

Various people have done some fascinating posts about guilds — here most recently, and here and of course a fair few of my own (I guess I write about this a lot: here and here too) — as well as some very intense and interesting posts about grouping and soloing (Spinks has two I particularly liked: this and that) and I’m seeing an interesting but disturbing trend. “Solo is bad, group is good,” and “guilds are for groups.” Corollaries to this are: “solo lacks social-skills” and “solo is only solo because a) they don’t know what’s good for them and b) they don’t know how to make friends and/or how to play,” and finally “guilds are for raiding.”

None of these are entirely true. I remain deeply puzzled and saddened by the fact that players who prefer to group sweep my kind of play under the rug and refuse to even attempt to understand that their preconceptions may not be entirely accurate. Do I think all grouping players are wannabe Sergeant major activity-fascists who want to tell me what to do every second of the playing day? (Only when I’m ranting.)

Now, I don’t actually want to just rant. I want, one last (I promise) time, to try to foster some kind of understanding. You may not LIKE how I play, but I really would be grateful if you could at least try to see it from my point of view and not assume it’s bad. Just once. It’ll do you good, like grouping.

Here’s why I mostly play solo.

1. I play at odd, usually early-morning hours when there aren’t many other people around. This actually started when I played in the UK and most of my online friends were either working (UK) or still asleep (US) — I’ve almost always worked from home and that’s just how my schedule pans out. In the afternoons I’m usually working and in the evenings I’m usually doing something with friends and/or other halves. Yes, I do have them.

2. I’ve got a lot of distractions. Work is one — as I said, I work from home, which means I’m prone to getting work calls and/or having to deal with work emails and stuff like that. I’ve also got pets who distract me (in a good way) and housing stuff that also distracts me (in a less good way — laundry, cooking, bills, all that happy crappy). I don’t compartmentalise my playing and my non-playing into discrete and utterly separate chunks because I’ve never had to, nor do I feel the need to. What it does mean, however, is that I go AFK a lot — not always for very long, but usually unpredictably… and sometimes I don’t come back at all for a couple of hours. That’s murder on any kind of group activity and it’s not something I impose on anyone else unless I know them well. When I group, it’s with people who understand that and can work around it — by carrying on without me for instance.

3. I have a very limited combat-type play reservoir, especially when it involves lots of separate people. After an hour or two at most, I start to get input-overload and if I don’t stop and do something else, I’ll get cranky and want only one thing: to log the hell off. Blame my neurology or whatever — it is what it is. I can’t do 4-hour dungeon crawls: I’ll be chewing the walls to get away from it about 90 minutes in. It’s not a boredom thing, it’s an overwhelm thing, and it just is. No, I don’t want to change it; yes, I’ve tried. Not all of us are wired the same when it comes to what we like doing and for how long we like doing it.

I don’t really hate raiding, I’m just not interested in it.  It epitomises what I can’t do in games: a large time-block commitment with lots of visual and mental input (do this, go there, fire this, watch out!) in order to obtain gear to get better gear down the line. Since I don’t give a stuff about gear for the most part, that’s just not enough of an inducement to get me to bear with the input-overload of doing raid-type combat activity for several hours running. I also am not interested enough in the combat game to enjoy having to work out exactly what sequence of buttons to hit when — I realise many people do, but it’s just not my thing. Why does that seem to be so hard to grasp?

Does that mean I want raids to be taken away from games? Not at all. Does it mean I think I should just be handed said gear without having to put the effort into it that raiders do? Please — that’s specious and facile. Of course I don’t. As I said, I don’t give a shit about said gear in the first place, but if I did, I certainly wouldn’t expect there to be an easy way to get it and a hard way to get it. That’s not fair and besides, it’s stupid.

So, onto guilds. By most guild=group=raiding accounts, I shouldn’t need or want a guild, and most guilds should keep me away with the longest bargepole they can find because I’m just no use to them.

That’s just wrong. It’s also pretty bigoted, don’t you think?

As it’s been designed in our MMOs, raiding pretty much requires guilds because it’s the most efficient way of organising people, assigning roles, and allocating loot (or looting rights). Guilds were one of the first MMO social systems to have their own global chat channel, so using them to organise large-scale combat events is a no-brainer as well as a decade-old legacy. That doesn’t mean, however, that guilds require or even exist purely to facilitate raiding, and it’s blinkered to see it that way now.

Guilds are social systems. They are not just glorified, extended LFG interfaces, and they’re not just convenient name-lists for organising DKP. I understand how useful they are for that; I just wish the raiding/grouping players would, for one short second, allow themselves to see that that’s not ALL they do. I’d also like for them to see that different playstyles are acceptable, though by now I”m resigned to being told, in various ways, that MMOs are multi-player games and that multi-player means “constant grouping.” Oh, they qualify their statements and say “Well, I don’t think we should group ALL the time, but I do think we should group most of the time” — by which they almost always really mean “YOU should group when I need you to, you solitary bitch! Can’t you see I’m not having fun?”

Well, my sympathy is all used up and I’m going to turn my empathy off too. I’ve walked in your shoes and I’m damned if I’m doing it again until ONE lousy raiding/grouping/you non-groupers suck-type player demonstrates that they can walk in mine. This isn’t hyperbole — all I’ve seen so far is justification and explanation and qualification, but not one shred of real understanding. For grouping players, soloing is just plain wrong and will always be wrong and must be exterminated or electroshocked into conformity through stringent game design. By all means, show me differently.

For the last time: solo /= anti-social or anti-guild. Hell, group does not equal social; because if it does, then I guess all the grunting, monosyllabic morons I’ve met in groups, the ones who can neither say hello nor learn simple grouping techniques (like, don’t pull the entire fucking zone every damn time!) or loot courtesy — those guys must have just been having a bad day. Riiiiiight.

As I said, guilds are social systems. Some of us use guild chat to, you know, just chat with people. I have no problems at all making friends, thank you very much, and I’ve made hundreds in the last 10 years of MMO play — hell, I married one of them. Many of the friends I’ve made over the years are STILL friends even though we don’t play together anymore. If I wanted to group, I’d have no problem doing it and I’d have no problem fitting into the group mentality. What galls me is the assumption on the part of some players and commentators that I should HAVE to want to because they want me to, and that if I don’t, it’s because I’m a maladjusted borderline whacko sitting in the dark unable to make connections with people. Seriously. Do I seem unable to make connections? I don’t group not because I’m not capable of it, but because it doesn’t usualy suit my damn playstyle. How hard is that to grasp?

I’ve said elsewhere what players like me use guilds for: to keep in touch, to help, to advise, to provide gear/support/comfort, to laugh until we fall off our chairs, and to bitch about life in general. Aside from the base use, which is to get together and do stuff — but is it that hard to see that “doing stuff” isn’t just hitting “Invite X and Y and Z” and going off to fill out quests and kill shit and do a raid?

Who’s blind, here?

I understand that group-oriented players need other group-oriented players in order to have fun. But guys, that does NOT give you the right to decide that my playstyle is wrong. Nor does it give you the right to pontificate that I’m not playing MMOs the way they were designed to be played — bullshit. Any game can be played alone if that’s what you want, even Monopoly. It most certainly doesn’t mean that soloers have to be lobotomised into understanding that what they really want to do is toe the grouping line — if that were the case, due to RL stuff and the way my brain is wired, I’d have to stop playing MMOs. Thanks for that idea. Really, thanks. And it certainly also doesn’t mean that MMOs have to be lobotomised to only provide group content.

What it means from where I’m standing, is that you raiding, grouping people who so love to blame all MMO social woes on soloers need to learn how to make new friends. Sound fair?

About as fair as what you say, right. So. Suck it up. I’m done here.



I was going to write “ding” but for one thing, people announcing that every 5 seconds in games kind of gets on my tits, and for another thing, it’s only a crafting max level so I’m not sure it really counts. (No, I’m not so curmudgeonly that I hate people who announce their levels, not at all. But Ding 1! — Ding 2! — Ding 3! — and so on just seems a little narcissistic to me, especially when it’s from people who then also get really pissy if the entire universe doesn’t shout instant and sincere congratulations. I love congratulating people; I just don’t like it when it’s forced down my throat. Anyway, moving on…)

Fairuza, my EQ2 Fury/Provisioner hit 80 a few days ago. It was oddly anticlimactic — I wasn’t expecting it, being busy throwing out crafting writs here and there whenever I could manage a few minutes online, and I hadn’t really been tracking my progress. It meant I wasn’t prepared to take the spiffy “hey! lookit my sparklies!” screenie most people seem to manage when they max-level a char in something; at least I remembered to record the moment for posterity, even if it’s not well-framed and a little over-exposed. Posterity, or until I next change my hard drive and forget to port my pictures.


I hit 60 (crafting) when that was the max, then 70 when that became the max in EQ2, so it’s not actually the first time. Given my crafting-hoishness, it’ll probably be more noteworthy if I ever hit adventuring max level. Don’t hold your breath.

That said, Fairuza has also gone from 38 to 43 (adventuring) in the last couple of days, which I’m rather proud of since that’s the highest combat level I’ve ever managed in EQ2. I’m sort of an accidental tourist as far as levelling in MMOs goes: when I level, it’s usually because I need to do so in order to be able to harvest or craft or do something else not really combat-related (like clear critters from harvester drop-sites in SWG). And as in most MMOs, raw materials often end up costing more in EQ2 than the finished product — all hail the grindy nature of craft levelling — so buying what I need for the rest of the Army of Craftness (who range from 40 to 61) isn’t really an option. I don’t mind spending money in games, but I do mind being ripped off for raw materials, or indeed anything else. Besides, I’m strange and I actively enjoy harvesting — I just need to be able to do it a little more safely in some of the higher-level zones.

Back in 2006, my swashbuckler was going to be my primary adventuring/harvesting char, but after a glorious run into the 30s, she seemed to become harder and harder to play — or rather, squishier and squishier, and picking up where I left off was tough. I’m sure a lot of that is having forgotten how to play her, and I should probably upgrade her gear, spells, achievement stuffs and whatnot… but playing the Fury again was like getting into old, comfy clothes (gear and spells or no gear and spells), so Fairuza is currently my “main” in all the traditional senses of the word, since she’s the highest-level all round.

As some of you may remember, I was going to fess up about alts and resubbing the old account when I’d solemnly sworn that I wouldn’t. I should have known myself a little better; in any game where a single character can’t explore most of the offered crafting (or to a lesser extent adventuring content), I will end up with alts, just so I can try everything out. I like to make stuff, and the more chars to make stuff the better.

Right now the new account has three characters on it, one of whom is probably destined for the delete bin sooner or later. The other two, however, I’ve been playing with the spousal unit. The first is a Warden (mirror of the Fury only more defensive), paired with hubby’s ranger, both of whom are now 30; I don’t enjoy the warden nearly as much as the fury, sadly, but I’ll carry on with her for now. The other char is a Troubador that’s paired with hubby’s new Illusionist. Thanks to this last weekend’s xp-extravaganza in some of the old-world zones and to the refer-a-friend xp’o’rama — which, with rest xp, added up to something like 400+% xp per kill — they went from 1 to 20 in just a few short hours. The troub is fun, as I expected, since I already have a dirge on the old account. I’d mentor down on some of the existing characters, but that extra xp bonus from the friend-referred accounts is just too tempting right now. That’ll go away in a few weeks anyway; I believe it only lasts 90 days, so sooner or later we’ll be back to plain old normal xp and then I’ll be happier mixing and matching with the old account. Until then, god knows I need all the adventuring xp bonuses I can get!

I’m glad I don’t know how to 2-box and probably couldn’t do it on a single machine — certainly not this 3+ year-old rig — because otherwise I’m sure I’d be pretty tempted. As I’ve said elsewhere, 2-boxing doesn’t particularly bother me, and it enables the ever-more common couple or friends-duo to tackle stuff that’s normally reserved for bigger groups; it’s 4 or 5 or 6-boxing that really irks me, because usually the only reason it’s done is to exploit, farm gold, or otherwise do stuff I tend to feel runs counter to the spirit of MMOs. (Yeah, we all have different opinions of that “spirit” — whatever floats your boat. Me, I’ll continue to be irked by conga-lines of 5 chars slavishly following the one in the lead.) I still don’t get how anyone can successfully run two active chars at the same time when I have enough trouble hitting all the right buttons for just one — or does the second char just follow along? That’s always puzzled me.

Knowing me and the spousal unit, we’ll be mulling over more alts sooner or later, and as usual I’m totally torn on what to pick. I’m going to try not to remake classes I already have, but that still leaves a ton of choices and when everything is equally tasty it usually takes me forever to make up my mind. Maybe I’ll just jab a pen at the char creation screen and see where it lands…

As I said a few weeks back, the Halasian Empire guild is a wonderful home for anyone on Lucan DLere looking for a casual, grown up, supportive but not smothering atmosphere. It’s not a very big guild, so if you need to see 26 people online every time you log on, it’s probably not for you — but I know many of you out there with similar play- and social-styles to mine, so if you’re on LDL or planning to try out EQ2, give us a shout!

I died and went to MMO heaven…

… at least for a month or two; after that, the way I’ve been game hopping, who knows.

But for now, I’ve been firmly grabbed by the crafting jibblies by EQ2, and by the sheer coolness of finding a guild that’s just like the ones Mort and I used to make, only with more — and more active — people. (This is the guild leader’s graphics site, by the way. And her blog. A little plugging never hurt anyone!) 

I waxed lyrical about guild halls last week, but this week I actually got to be part of a working one and to discover some of the stuff that’s been added to EQ2 in the years I’ve been away. In an MMO-purist way, some of these changes are tantamount to heresy… but the less time I have on my hands, the more I’m starting to appreciate that there’s a point past which purism just becomes dogma. 

The original, heavily interdependent, very heavily subcomponent-dependent EQ2 crafting system has been almost totally overhauled. That shocked me a little at first, and it’s weird to be able to make a bow without first having to make staves, strings, dowels, and lord knows what all else first — but on the other hand, it means you can actually get something done without pulling your hair out over the million little details. Note that I’m not saying interdependency is bad, but that it requires a fully-fledged support system including, at the very least, a way to place purchase orders.

If I can have some jobbing crafter make my bow-subs that’s fine; if I can request 1,000 masticated oils to use in woodworking, for which I’m willing to pay X amount, that’s good too. Waiting on people to be online, trying to haggle with folks who have plenty of other crap to be getting on with, and trying to do business via in-game mail when you have 18 million subs made by 9 different tradeskills is just stupid. So much so, in fact, that most “serious” crafters in most games that have “serious” crafting end up making crafting alts because it’s a damn sight easier to log in an alt to get what you need than to wait who knows how long for someone to show up who can make it for you. And no, I don’t mean auction houses — that’s supply. What I’m talking about is being able to set a demand. There’s a differece, and it’s essential to a real crafting system — but I’ll get off my soap-box for now since interdependency and player-crafted economies aren’t really what I want to talk about here.

Yes, EQ2 crafting is now most grossly independent — shame, heresy, burn the witches. On the bright side, it’s a lot more fun. 

Another thing that was added in my absence was “timed writs.” Writs are like crafting orders given by NPCS — get the writ, make the stuff, turn it in for some money, xp, status and faction points. Back in 2006, writs were mostly something you did to help level up your guild or get personal status points (for shiny stuff like fancy houses, clothes, etc); one thing you didn’t really do them for was to make a living, because they barely paid enough to cover the cost of making the item (each recipe requires a certain amount of a certain kind of fuel, and fuel gets more expensive as you level up). Now, especially with timed writs, you not only get your fuel costs back — about damn time! — but you also get a reasonable chunk of change: my 70-ish provisioner (chef) is making 6 gold or so per writ, and since they’re timed they’re guaranteed to take 8 minutes or less. Sure, there’s the cost of the resources, but when you’re a harvesting ho like me it’s actually quite nice to have something to do with all those resources; there’s only so much Exploding Head Iced Tea any server population can buy. Which is another eternal crafting problem: crafters usually love making stuff, but there’s generally far less demand than what I like to make. Writs keep me busy, suck up resources — always a good idea in an MMO — and make me feel productive on both a personal (xp & money) and a social (guild xp) level. What'[s not to like?

But wait, there’s more! Now, if I craft in the guild hall, I don’t have to cart all my resources around on me, oh no! The guild has a marvellous “harvesting depot” which can hold quite large amounts of resources, and if you’ve got the doohickey enabled, recipes you make using the guild hall crafting stations just grab what they need from the stores in the depot. I’ve already dumped a bunch of stuff in there to somewhat make up for all the stuff I sucked up today levelling from 70 to 73, and I think the whole “resource dump box” idea is brilliant in all respects. (Yes, you have to trust your guild members, but that’s nothing new.)

Have I mentioned that this Halasian Empire guild hall has a full-service basement with bank, broker, merchant, writ-NPCs, and even a pet badger called — what else? — Mushroom wandering around upstairs? There’s a piano lounge, a practice area with target dummies you can practice your skills on (and I don’t mean me), an ice room, an indoor garden, and a Hall of Phat Teleportation that can take you pretty much anywhere you need to go in EQ2. This would be another of those heresies: the removal of tedious travel. Meaningful travel I’m all for, but I don’t think it’s possible in a non-scripted, non-tabletop type game — what we’ve been doing for a decade instead has been tedious travel, for various reasons I’ve explored before. So now I say hurrah for 15-minute guild recall timers, and hurrah for magic doors that can take me from my house straight into the guild hall (especially in a game like EQ2 that’s nothing but zones, zones, zones — anything that cuts down on the number of loading screens I have to see is A Good Thing).

The only real downside to these guild halls, as far as I’ve seen, is that they are so cool I can’t see why most people would ever bother leaving them. That said, the addition of a couple or three new capital cities probably doesn’t help as far as diluting the player pool goes, and the weird partitioned design of Qeynos and Freeport ends up making both cities feel pretty fragmented anyway. On the other hand, I’ve never been a fan of Ironforge-like crushes of people strutting, swearing, spitting, scratching, shouting, spamming, and doing whatever else crushes of people do in WoW.

There are a host of other little changes that have had me going NOWAI!!! at regular intervals in the past few days, but I’m desperately trying to keep my post wordage under 1000 (y’all have stupidly short attention spans, according to the internetz) and I’m already over by several hundred more. Maybe for the next post I’ll remember to take some more pictures, and I plan to fess up on how my “no alts! one focus!” vows held up for all of about 5 seconds and how I reactivated my old account when I said I almost certainly wouldn’t (which is how I have a level 70 crafter — nobody unbotted levels that fast in under a week).

Progression, brass rings, and horizontality

Muckbeast recently reworked his original article on Quest-Based Advancement in MMOs, this time on Bright Hub, and I’ve been pondering the questions it raises since the first “edition.” I have a whole lot of opinions on advancement in MMOs in general and quest-heavy advancement in particular, but many of them are either shared by so many it’s almost pointless to express them, or too formless for proper articulation. Nonetheless, before the whole discussion slides back under the swampy murk of the Blog of Eternal Stench (hey, that’s not a bad name), I thought I’d have a stab at a little articulation.

One thing in particular that has bothered me for a long time is the current most common (in my experience, anyway) model of MMO content-progression: upward, ever upward. Given that this principle is embedded in the D&D-type pen-and-paper RPGs that form the basic inspiration for many MMOs — the primordial ooze, to tickle that metaphor a little more — it’s nt entirely surprising, but it isn’t necessarily the best thing for the long-term health of games. (For one thing, content-progression in PnP games tended to be a great deal slower, given the nature of offline gaming.)


I’m not entirely certain of this, but it seems to me that WoW formalised the next logical step in that design principle: “end-game content.” As many of you know, it’s a concept I dislike, for many reasons, one of them being that the brass-ring model ends up with slogans (and design to match) such as “The game begins at 60!” No, wait, it’s 70. I mean, 80. And there’s the rub. If the end-game is the primary thing a game’s design encourages players to strive for, then sooner or later you’re going to have to move that brass ring upward. And again, and again after that; and even some of the most dedicated WoW players are starting to opine that raising the level cap isn’t really much of an expansion, since all it offers is more of what went previously, just with bigger numbers. (You also run into issues like gear obsolescence which, in a game like WoW where obtaining gear is a primary reason for experiencing some of the content, then makes a whole bunch of content obsolete too.) This relates to quest-heavy advancement because that particular model is probably the most efficient way to ensure that players experience the content you’re creating, that they experience it in a certain way (that is then easier to control and plan for), and that they get the kinds of rewards you’d expect, which should encourage them to try the “central” content — which in WoW and other games is raiding, instance dungeons, and so on.

What I’m not saying is that this is a conspiracy, or even wilful laziness. Most of the time we design based on what we know, and it can take a while for some of the flaws of a given design to become apparent — one of those, to my mind, is that the upward-only progression model demands more and more upward content to keep your players happy, which means you’re so busy designing circuses that you forget about the uses of bread. In other words, horizontal progression. I’m quite sure Blizzard never intended to create a treadmill quite as intense as WoW’s is now — they just wanted to make a great game and, if possible, make pots of cash; and it was a great game, think of it what you will, though in my opinion it’s not aging as well as it might. Which is not, one should add, an issue WoW is alone in facing.

Most combat-based MMOs have a certain amount of horizontal progression: crafting (to some extent), reputation building, exploration (little xp-handouts for finding new places)… I’m sure there are many more possible ways of building horizontal content players would enjoy, but MMOs are like anything else and are created with finite resources, even WoW, and there’s only so much you can do with a given amount of money, time and manpower. Besides, it’s probably “easier” in many ways to keep designing upward-progression, because at least the rails are clear, for both designers and players.

Changing the way “progression” is defined and designed in MMOs is going to take time, if it can happen at all. Many MMO players are perfectly happy with the “brass ring” progression, with its associated quest-driven advancement — and if they’re not, it’s usually expressed only as a certain kind of unease (often called “burnout”) where what they’re doing isn’t quite as fulfiling as they expect, but they don’t really know what would be. We’ve become accustomed to a certain kind of playstyle and it’s very likely that if that brass ring stops being dangled, or isn’t quite as LOOK-AT-ME! shiny, we won’t feel as though we’re “achieving” anything.

There’s a lot of talk along the lines of “going back to basics” (or the “good old days”) and doing things like “making travel more meaningful,” but the problem with that is that there’s often no proposed alternative, just a string of grievances, and when there are alternatives they don’t always end up providing a better or more immersive playing experience. I don’t think the speed of travel, for instance, really has anything to do with a game’s basic enjoyment, but it does mesh with a whole load of other elements — finding groups, getting to “interesting” places, meeting up with friends, etc — that do have a great deal of impact on enjoyment. Teleporting isn’t a problem in itself, if it supports other elements of the game’s design; similarly, slow travel isn’t necessarily a problem either, if the game doesn’t require you to cross continents at a snail’s pace just so you can meet up with a friend when both of you only have a half hour to play. It’s about time games and players accept that the 8-hour marathon sessions aren’t the norm now, and probably never really were — we fit games into whatever time we can claw back from work, kids, grocery shopping and figuring out how the hell we’re going to pay the next utilities bill.

Similarly, if we dial back on quest-heavy advancement (the benefits of which Mr Muckbeast has already gone into), we absolutely must provide some sort of alternative, though the range of options is wider than we tend to think. Raph Koster’s had a lot to say on the subject over the years, including the fact that just sitting and chatting is absolutely a valid way to spend time in games, provided those games work towards encouraging said activity. Or, in the case of quest-driven advancement, provided the game’s basic progression design doesn’t actively discourage said activity.

And that’s the main problem, in my view. Quests are absolutely wonderful things, when they’re not the ONLY thing, or when their presence doesn’t overwhelm other avenues of play and/or progression.

Sure, we can all choose to do different things in games, no matter how the game presents itself to us. I’m not disputing that, and I’d rather not end up debating that in the comments since it should be self-evident. Players certainly can make an effort to break free of playstyles that aren’t as fulfilling as they could be, though it’s not as easy to break habits as we tend to think, even playing habits. The fact is, however, that most players will play the game mostly as it was designed to be played — that’s just basic game and design theory coupled with human nature. We don’t try to play Scrabble on a Monopoly board, though the attempt might be fun once or twice. Design affects use.

{Inspector Columbo} And one more thing — it’s all very well to say it’s the journey that matters (and I agree, it really does matter), but a journey implies a destination. Which isn’t to say we should all be achievement-obsessed, God knows I’m not, but we cannot just ignore the fact that people like to arrive somewhere just as much as they enjoy getting there. Of course, the destination doesn’t have to be max level; one thing games could usefully learn (or relearn) how to do is to include meaningful side-destinations and sub-destinations — not just “Oh look, I hit x0 level, ding, yay, yawn.” A journey with no purpose doesn’t hold players long; it’s too Zen for most people, and I’m not sure my leisure time should be all about the pursuit of Zen in any case, much though I love its basic principles. Gaming should be about FUN, first and foremost; how games are designed, and how we condition ourselves to play them, are a large part of how we perceive fun or the lack of it.

As a last tangent: one of the other downsides of the enormous amount of quests required by a quest-heavy system (which, as Muckbeast points out, leads players to ignore the trees for the forest), especially one in an item-heavy system, is that players will end up cherry-picking quests based not on how good they are (which is hardly noticed these days anyway) but rather on whether the rewards are “worth it” — in other words, whether the quest provides an item the player might actually want. After all, there are a gajillion other quests out there to do, more than any single player could possibly need in order to reach max level, which — along with items — is the ultimate goal. I can see that leading to a quality-loss cycle where quest designers know nobody reads the damned things anyway, so they don’t craft them as lovingly as they used to and instead spend more time wondering what kind of reward-carrot they can slot into it to make players choose to accept it. That’s a shame.

Never the twain

It occurred to me yesterday — after another overly crabby outburst on my part, which for once I can blame not on general curmudgeonliness but on that and the stinking cold that’s currently making me miserable — that there are valid and understandable reasons for the tension that seems to underlie most solo/group discussions.

The group-oriented type of player needs other players. The solo player doesn’t.

Yeah, it’s fairly obvious in hindsight, but sometimes realisations have to smack me in the face before I become fully conscious of them. That basic difference often ends up making the solo player feel like the onus is on them to change what they’re doing or even how they play so that the group-oriented player can have fun, and if the solo player won’t change, the group-oriented player will be frustrated. Solo players don’t really get why group players don’t have fun in a solo setting, and group players don’t really get that solo players aren’t just soloing until someone else shows up — they actively enjoy it. Each side expects the other to understand or adapt, and for the most part none of us are prepared to change our entire playstyle just to suit someone else. We shouldn’t have to, but the fact remains that it’s harder for a group player to have fun unless certain conditions (other people, willing to group) are met. These days, with all of us getting older, busier, having kids, going back to school, and whatever else, it’s certainly a lot easier to be a soloer than a grouper. I’m starting to understand part of why my group-oriented friends are so frustrated with recent game releases: it’s not the games, it’s the fact that we don’t play them together quite as much as we used to.

(To me that’s where the biggest difference lies. It’s not the games — what’s changed is us, our schedules and our lives, and the underlying games are really pretty much the same as they were 10 years ago. But the end result is the same: it’s harder to get together for games and it’s harder to get things done when you do get together because time is limited, kids are yelling, and before you know it it’s time to get to bed or you’ll be a zombie in the morning. Students, of course, don’t care about zombification, but those of us having to make a living have been forced to.

I also think the group/solo divide has become a huge issue because we have more and more games to play and players are spread more and more thinly across them, so that solo players like me (and I’ve always been solitary, it’s not just in games) stand out more and group-based players find it increasingly difficult to have fun. It’s not unusual for a small to medium sized guild to only have 6-10 people on during a weeknight. Factor in level differences, people about to log off, people doing tradeskills or Auction Housing or some other non-adventuring activity, the inevitable perma-AFK person (that’s often me!), and the 12 people that looked so good for the group-oriented player suddenly shrinks to about 2-4 people who still may not necessarily want to or be available, which limits the group player’s options considerably and often means they won’t get the company that, for them, makes the game basically enjoyable.)

This may be a little contentious, but I think I finally get why my group-oriented friends are frustrated with me and why it sometimes seems so personal. In a way, my not wanting to group with them is a rejection. It may be a perfectly valid choice — I happen to think it is, but then again I would — but nonetheless, if you’re a group oriented player and nobody around you ever wants to group anymore, or “Would love to, Joe, but the kids need to be bathed, fed, put to bed,” I bet that sometimes smells rather like rejection-sauce. It’s not intentional on either part, but that doesn’t really matter in terms of bruised egos and frustration.

Maybe that’s partly why the “the M means MULTIplayer, you soloing moron!” topic gets so heated, and why every game coming out that promises to bring back the grouping in games catches so much attention, and almost invariably causes so much disappointment. Because the plain fact of the matter is, you cannot force people to group. If you do, they’ll vote with their feet and their wallets. The very best a game can do, these days, is make grouping as easy as possible and as far-reaching as possible so that folks can group up even with people they don’t know and still have a chance of having fun. (In that respect, I think WAR has done a sterling job with warbands and open groups.)

I don’t have an easy solution for the group-oriented players. I wish I did. But the option to just “group when you play” isn’t an easy solution if it’s not enjoyable for all the players involved. Group-oriented players need to understand that this isn’t personal rejection and that soloing is a valid playstyle, not just an undersidable alternative. Solo-oriented players need to get that playing by ourselves can seem like a bitter rejection of the people asking for company, especially when it’s done in a guild setting. (I imagine there are pretty clear correlations between part of what group players expect from guilds — groups — and what solo players expect from them — social interaction; that, too, often causes frustration and recriminations and drama.) Ultimately, for the group-based player to get what they want in a game without a high enough population to support their playstyle, the solo player has to not get what they want; or vice-versa of course, where the group player ends up playing alone and not having much fun at all.

On a more positive note — do set-time group sessions help? I know several groups and sub-groups who try to run regular(ish) play-together sessions, but I don’t know how well it works out for the group-oriented player. I would imagine the solo players have fun but don’t mind when they don’t happen, whereas to the group player, that kind of occasional grouping might still be frustrating because it’s so infrequent.

I don’t like soliciting comments but I’m really interested to hear from the group-oriented players who read this. I think I can name a few of you, and I’m sure there are more hiding in the woodwork. I get the solo perspective, being one of them, but I’d like to better understand the group player’s perspective. That underlying tension isn’t going away because neither side is going to change their spots for the other, but as far as I’m concerned understanding never hurts. Do scheduled group sessions help? Great, now I sound like a therapist.

Players and guilds

This might be something of a biased topic, but I’m going to pursue it anyway in the wake of last week’s guild and player type posts.

In MMOs as they are structured now, what’s your preferred kind of guild to join? I’m thinking the divisions are more or less small/medium/large (and none, of course), and laid-back/focused. I prefer that last to casual/hardcore but even with different terms, a laid-back kind of guild can of course be very focused in achieving certain goals and a focused guild isn’t incapable of being laid-back.

This whole hardcore/casual thing gives me a headache. If you ask me, it’s time to put those terms out to pasture and start using descriptors that relate to activities and not to behaviours. I can be hardcore about some things and I’m entirely casual about others… or be hardcore and casual about the same thing at different times. Maybe we can use the Bartle descriptors instead — they’re labels like anything else, but at least they’re a little more flexible and yet less ambiguous.

So for instance, I tend to prefer social/explorer type guilds and I’m not too fussed about the size because mostly I go about my business in game on my own, so a small guild can fulfil my social interaction needs probably just as well as a large guild; I’m not interested in raiding or gear and I’m only incidentally interested in leveling, so the achievement-factor I look for in a guild can be very low; similarly, I don’t PvP much which means I don’t really care about the killer factor either. This is what I was groping towards last week — whether our player-types affect our choices for guild types. It’s pretty clear that they do, I just wonder how strong the influence is. Do we stay in a guild that doesn’t match our playstyle because we’re fond of the people in it? How long for? Or do we eventually move on because no matter how good the people are, if we’re not playing in ways we find enjoyable the whole MMO exercise becomes a little pointless?

The other thing that influences player/guild relations seems to be how a player is biased in terms of solo or group. Group-oriented players, as far as I can tell, seem to want achievement-oriented guilds, and tend to become (understandably) very unhappy when they end up in one that isn’t as achievement-based as they thought. (I also find it interesting that we tend to project what we want onto guilds we want to join, though it’s a common RL phenomenon too.) I can say from personal experience that solo players caught in a grouping/achievement oriented guild can get pretty unhappy too — it’s as bad to be constantly pestered to join people as it is to never be able to find someone else to play with.

If anything, I’m starting to think that guilds should examine their general grouping attitudes and advertise that as a selling point, because a new member’s biggest source of disappointment in most of the casual guilds I’ve been in (as usual I can’t speak for raiding/focused guilds) seems to end up being the grouping, or lack of it, depending on player type. Groupers tend to assume the guilds they join are full of people who also group, and if in fact a guild is mostly made up of soloers, than the grouper-oriented player is going to get frustrated, understandably so; if you play to play physically (well, pixelishly) with other people, then seeing 10 people online and having none of them interested in what’s a central aspect of play to you is going to stink. I think most guilds aren’t even aware of their grouping attitude, and maybe they should be.

I’m also interested in whether one’s grouping preference relates more to the social side of the Bartle descriptors or to the achievement side. Maybe both — the social grouper just likes to do stuff with others, while the achievement grouper looks for groups because it’s a more efficient way to achieve? You social achievers out there, what do you think? There must be killer-groupers out there too, and maybe explorer-groupers too. So is the explorer/solo more closely related to explorers out there, or to solo players out there?

Like all labels, even the Bartle ones can’t really encapsulate everything players can possibly be, especially since we’re not limited to one type of behaviour all the time. However, it’s useful to derive some kind of common descriptive terminology that fits relatively accurately (if loosely) because it lets us then use that as a frame of reference in discussions.

* * *

As a final tangent, I need to get a mini-rant off my chest. Why is it that I can happily tolerate other people’s playstyles (unless it’s griefing) whether I group or not, but most groupers/achievers I meet a) absolutely cannot conceive why I wouldn’t want to be achieving and grouping every second of the day and b) feel the need to alternately berate and cajole me about it. For one thing, it’s a little self-serving — I get whined at about how I play because THEY need me to be grouping with them so THEY can achieve what they want to achieve. Secondly, it’s intolerant — there are many ways to enjoy a game and no, grouping and dungeoning isn’t the only one, nor is it the best one for everyone. I have good reasons for preferring not to group most of the time (not that I should even have to give reasons — it’s my bloody $15 a month). And I don’t like dungeons and probably never will, no matter a) how often I’m forced to run through them or b) how much you tell me I’d love them if only I ran them enough.

Really, and seriously. I have my own style and I do have fun in games, even if my fun isn’t at all your idea of fun. Please respect that and stop telling me I’d come to see the light if only I’d play like you do for long enough. I’m getting pretty tired of it and you don’t hear me telling you that you should solo and explore all day.

Come be a WoW-CoW

wowcowBoom chicken CoW-WoW, as they say. (Somewhere. I’m sure they say that somewhere.) Subtitle: because the world needs another guild recruitment post.

However, in case any of you are looking for a home, or a new home, in Warcraft, here’s the skinny.

Casualties of WAR were formed last year shortly before the WAR launch, as a “by and for bloggers” effort, and have expanded into Warcraft. You absolutely don’t have to be a blogger to join, though you may want to be careful, the blogging thing seems to be contagious. I wasn’t a blogger (LJ doesn’t count) and look at me now.

Games have come and gone, but our ambitions have not. Our lives have changed. Where ten hours /played was once just a start, it is now our entire week. As guilds progressed, we blogged. As new dungeons rolled down the line, our sick dog forced us to sit idly by. As our children slept, we played. We now come forth, like-minded and joined. We are the Casualties. (Genda)

We’re on the Rexxar server. The idea for CoW-WoW, where most of us are second-time-arounders in Warcraft, is to stop and smell the roses. We’re not rushing to level. There’s no obligation to log on and when you do, there’s no obligation to do anything in particular. Plenty of us are solitary explorer types, but just as many are more group-oriented and would love a few other folks to do mall dungeon runs with or for long walks on the beach killing naga. Even if you start over you won’t be far behind most, and probably not for long at the rate one can level in WoW these days. We hold CoW-Altohlics meetings every Wednesday evening.

Let me reiterate: we’re casual. We’re mostly NOT level 80 yet. We’re not waiting around to do instances. The above paragraph isn’t the standard blurb that turns out to be bullshit when you actually join the guild. Ca-zu-al, that’s us. If that doesn’t appeal, or if you’re going to get mad because there aren’t instance groups running 24/7, there are plenty of guilds out there who do cater to that playstyle.

Here’s a post telling you how to apply. Read it and, ya know, understand; it’s not difficult, though it does require folks to be able to string together a couple of sentences or three. In a guild founded by bloggers? Perish the thought.

Here’s the forum where you actually apply. Start a thread, do yer thing. If the gods deem you worthy ($10 PayPal donations really help here*), your original pallid white forum name will mutate to orange and you’ll be CoWed for good.

As a social network, you can’t beat Casualties of WAR. As a harcore raiding guild — yeah ok, we won’t be getting the oscar on that this year. Or probably next year.

I’m an ESAK and an altoholic and I approve this post.

* That’s a joke. Really. Must… not…. insert…. link….

Who are you?

In 10 words or less. You have 15 seconds — come on, chop chop! “Sensitive literary snob gourmand likes people but not too close.” But hey, who cares? What I want to know about is you as a gamer, specifically as an MMO gamer. I’ve had a couple of days to think about this, and I’m going to try it this way.

3 things you love doing/experiencing in MMOs, 3 things you can take or leave, and 3 things you dislike in MMOs. Yes, these things tend to change somewhat over time and depending on circumstance, but I’m going to try to tease out the essentials of the experiences. I’m hoping it’ll give us a broad picture of what we’re like as gamers. It may not, and I may have to resort to sniffling pathetically or even handing out free T-shirts, but we’re not there yet. Feel free to explain your classifications; I could have limited the terms to use in order to get more “real data” but I’m partly trying to demonstrate that we’re all individuals playing these games, and besides there are plenty of much better classification sites out there (like Bartle’s well-known gamer type test, of course).

3 things I like: socialising* — harvesting — fluff**

3 things I can take or leave: crafting (it really depends on the system) — PvP/RvR — grouping

3 things I dislike: big dungeons (especially indoor ones) — zones — pillar-to-post quests***

* While I like to play solo, I don’t always like to play in a social vacuum. Good social systems (chat, friends lists, tell/online notification, etc) make a big difference in my enjoyment of a game over time. I try not to confuse sociable with group-centric — they really aren’t the same thing.

** That’s a huge category by itself and includes many things like non-combat appearance outfits, housing/decorating, mounts, companion pets, and so on.

*** You know the ones — where Bob sends you to A to do one thing, then you go back to him and he sends you back to A to do something you could have done the first time around, but you do it anyway and go back to Bob who sends you back to A again (or nearby), by which time what you really want to do is just kill Bob and be done with it. Basic quest-archetyping requires a giver and a return to the giver for the most part, but somehow some quests will make you grind your teeth while others will seem okay. The ones that make you grind your teeth as you trot back to Bob for the 15th time are the ones I’m talking about.

Looking at how many times I’ve had to edit that simple list — to refine a preference, to explain it, to move them around (I moved grouping down to “take or leave” because I don’t really hate it, I just don’t always like it and instead I added “zones” because I really do detest loading screens and every time I see one, my immersion dies a little) — I suspect I won’t be the only one. There seems to be no way to allow folks to edit their comments directly without actually becoming authors on the site, which is way too much foofery all round, so feel free to just add/edit as you see fit — or mail me and I’ll be glad to do it. (Did I just add myself to every p3nile enhancement list out there with that mailto link? Ruh roh.)

In connection with the previous couple of guilds as social systems-related posts (here and here specifically), I’m wondering if what we want from guilds is determined by what we prefer as players; well, I’m reasonably sure it is, but we’ll see. For instance, I suspect achievement-oriented players will be the most uncomfortable with the single char/multiple guild idea, because to them the idea of belonging to more than one in-game group at once (especially with a single character) will imply that allegiances and responsibilities necessarily suffer — in other words, achievement-oriented players may also prefer exclusivity in guild terms, for fairly sensible reasons. Conversely, social-oriented players will tend to prefer any system that promotes more rather than less networking. I’m not sure about killer-oriented types because I score so low in it, but I think it may be related to achievement-orientation in terms of what that player type expects from guilds and in-game social groupings. (If you’re a K, do tell!)

I just took the Bartle test again and, unsurprisingly, it hasn’t really changed much from the first time I took it in 2000, though I think back then the E and S values were swapped; either way there’s only a few percentage points between them.



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?

Guild, game, tribe

This is a topic of great interest to me but it feels huge and amorphous and I’m not sure from what angle to tackle it. So, if I ramble even more than usual, forgive me.

It may be only for a certain type of player, or for a certain age of player; maybe those of us who are old enough to have been round the MMO block a few times, and too old to be all Facebooked and Twittered up all the time, or who don’t like the all-details-all-the-time model those places have. For me, at least (and I fit all those categories), it’s not so much about the games anymore but rather about the people who play them. It’s about the people we play with, even if we’re not literally playing with them. Basically, it’s about people.

Shockingly, I’m by far not the first to think about this. There are many posts floating around about this, but the “Players ARE content” article over on Muckbeast (discovered through Rick’s /random) says a lot of things many of us seem to agree with. I’m mentioning this mostly as a topic to return to — and it caught my interest so I suspect it may catch yours too.

Today, I’m specifically pondering how this has affected the guilds I’ve been in over the years. Guilds have always been, at least ostensibly, about the people in them, building community and social networks, but the big raiding games (EQ originally and then, explosively, WoW) have in a way perverted this. Raiding guilds aren’t necessarily about community first — many of them seem to be quasi-military organisations where each soldier knows his or her place, shows up at predetermined times, and has a very specific role to play within the guild’s main aim, which is to “clear raid content.” Apparently in some of the more extreme guilds it doesn’t matter whether you like your fellow guildies or not, because that’s not at all what the guild is about — put up, shut up, do your bit, or GTFO.

(Yes yes, not all guilds are like that, and I’m sure there are lots of fuzzy-wuzzy raiding guilds out there. Certainly there are more and more “casual raiding” guilds out there, who try not to fall into the drama-trap that seems to await all but the most tightly-run — read: draconian — hardcore raiding guilds. KWSN is a casual raiding guild in WoW, where the idea is to prevent raiding from causing envy, grief and fractures. Thing is, fractures and drama seem to be almost inevitable in a raiding-guild environment, because of the way raid rewards have always been set up with many players competing for few, very hard to get goodies.)

Conversely, many smaller guilds have always been about community first. It’s much easier (usually) in a smaller guild, because everyone knows everyone else, and often members know each other outside the game context as well. These small guilds appear to have done the best job of adapting to something most of us playing around 2000 didn’t expect to see: MMO-hopping. Family-style guilds change games with relatively little trouble, and the core of the network is independent of what game is being played.

Medium-sized or large, non-raiding guilds have a harder time with this. Here’s that Muckbeast again:

It is an incredibly common occurrence on an MMO that people start quitting not because the game is not fun any more, but because all their friends are gone. What a shame and what a failure that is.

And when people quit a game, in the vast majority of cases you end up just losing touch with them. Even today, when keeping in touch over the Internet is easier than scratching your butt.

There are quite a few things games can do to change that, but what interests me, especially with CoW’s recent growing/changing pains, is how social groups (guilds) can adapt. As far as community goes, games and game design can in my opinion only influence, encourage, and facilitate. They certainly can’t sustain community — people do that. I’m not trying to downplay how big an influence a game environment can have, but I do think there’s a point beyond which it’s almost entirely down to the meat puppets.

What sparked this post was the realisation that guilds used to be game-based, but that smart guilds aren’t anymore. We had our EQ or UO or AC guild and then our DAOC or WoW guild and maybe our EQ2 or  SWG guild, and they probably didn’t have the same people in them. The eventual guild-based adaptation to that was to go multi-game, and that’s almost an accepted standard now. But what happens when people stop playing for a while, for whatever reason? Usually, we end up losing touch with them again.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a guild run by smart and sensitive people who realised years ago that you could be a social gaming entity without necessarily playing the same games, or indeed playing games at all. I’ve been in KWSN since 2000 or 2001, I forget, but I haven’t actually played a game with them for any length of time in several years. And yet, I still (and always will) consider myself a member of that guild. A lot of that is down to those guild leaders and the community they built deciding that leaving a game (or all games) didn’t mean you had to leave the social group, and actively encouraging everyone to stay in touch, at least now and then. Granted, some people drop off the map entirely, but there are some who check in  few times a year, and many many members who check in, post, chat, and in all ways *are* a guidie except that they don’t play any games.

It’s time to abandon the idea of guilds being game-based and start embracing the idea of game-related social groupings. I’ve started calling it “tribe,” partly because the term appeals to me, but partly because it’s a more accurate designator (for me) of a loose-yet-close federation of folks who have at least one thing in common: an interest in gaming. It usually ends up going far beyond that, of course.

Casualties of WAR recently went through an adaptation phase when it became evident that Warhammer Online — the game we’d ostensibly all signed up to play together in that guild — turned out to not be holding everyone past the first few months. Some saw this as a sign of guild disintegration, and it’s true that the guild in WAR has gone through some rough times due to falling membership (though that is turning around very nicely now, it seems). For me, however, it was mostly a question of “Let’s make sure we keep in touch, okay?”

Maybe it’s my temperament, maybe it’s my previous experiences, but I never associate a guild with just the game it may have started in. CoW is not just a bloggers’ guild — hell, it moved far beyond that not long after it was created — and similarly, it was never just a WAR guild, at least not to me (and in fact it was the founders’ aim from the start to be a multi-game guild, which is pretty much a given for any but the smallest, most tightly focused guilds these days). It was about getting a group of people together with common interests and to some extent common attitudes.

So why do we as players still tend to have that knee-jerk reaction when someone says they’re going to stop playing a game? “Ah, that’s a shame, we won’t see you anymore!” You won’t see them in-game — that doesn’t mean you have to lose all contact with them.

I’ve met some great people in games over the last not-quite-decade, many of them through CoW in the last half-year, and I don’t intend to lose touch with them. This blog helps, but there’s a feeling of … family, I guess, for want of a better term, that you get in guilds and not so much through blogs. (It can be a small, tight family, but a large, rambling, fractious family is still a family.) So if any of you leave CoW, I will hunt you down! And if any of you aren’t in CoW and would like to be, head over there and apply — it doesn’t have to be for any particular game. Tell ’em I sent you.

This is getting long, so I’ll keep this for tomorrow: why do we still tend to defaut to the “you can only be a member of one guild” idea when in real life we’re part of a zillion social networks, many of whom overlap to a greater or lesser extent?