You’re in the army now!

Ardua at Echoes of Nonsense shares his experiences that players tend to be more organised and disciplined in games with a PvP focus.

I’m guessing he’s never been head to head with a hardcore raid guild, but he has a good point. It doesn’t matter how many organisers you have, if players don’t want that kind of disciplined environment then it won’t happen. And in order for players to choose to spend their leisure time being ordered around, they have to feel that the game is worth the candle. There have to be  rewards in game where organised teamplay gives a strong advantage.

I’m remembering back to the first MMO that I played, which was Dark Age of Camelot. I was an officer in a guild where the majority of other officers didn’t care about raids or guild events and preferred to PvP in small groups (with the occasional largescale guild PvP outing). So they never supported any attempts to organise guild PvE raids. In fact, they would actively boycott them. It was a classic example of a friendly but unfocussed guild which had never set down any guild direction.

The officers assumed, “People who like raids can run them and people who don’t can go and do something else.” They even appointed a PVE coordinator, assuming that he would take care of it all and they could continue ignoring his efforts. There was drama, and because it was a RP guild, it was passionate wall-chewing drama. There was crying and tearing of hair. There were accusations of people ‘betraying’ the officers and being evil snakes in the grass whose only reason for joining the guild was to screw it up (I kid you not, one officer did go off the rails on this tack – I don’t think he’d ever heard of Occam’s Razor).

The bottom line is that in order for people who like team events to get the gameplay  they want, they need a minimum number of others to join in. They need support in drumming people up and motivating them. Whereas the officers could go PvP whenever, and so ‘everyone do what they want’ worked fine for them.

Games provide a number of lures for organised play.

  • As Ardua noted, PvP tends to favour the more organised side. So players who care about winning will be motivated to try to be part of a team. And that doesn’t just mean being the one giving the orders. It also means being the person taking them.
  • PvE raiding is usually designed to need an organised team. That means people join the team, accept orders from a  raid leader, and carry out their part.

There are differences, of course. But the main one is that in PvP, it will seem more like the players’ choice — if you want to win, you want to be in the best team. In a PvE game, it is a more obviously heavyhanded game design forcing people into raid teams.

In either case, the games encourage players to group and guild by providing rewards which are only accessible to organised teams. ie. something that you can’t do alone and can’t do without some kind of continuing commitment to the group.

There are other social reasons to form friendly cliques or guilds, but it’s the lure of winning the game or seeing more content or progression that drives most people into them. Even if it is just to have a pool of friends to draw from so that you can avoid the worst cases of PUGs.

But why does it have to be military?

When we talk about military-style guilds, it’s usually all about the notion of having a badass disciplinarian in charge and players are expected to carry out their orders unquestioningly with precision. There will be lots of shouting. There may be a zero tolerance guildkick policy. People will be disciplined whether they like it or not.

It’s just one style of leadership. But it’s an effective one in games. The idea is that when you join a guild like that, it’s because you really want to be in a highly effective team and whether or not you like the military style, you’re willing to put up with it because the ends are worth the means. It also stands or falls on having a good leader available. These guilds aren’t always cults of personality (a smart guild leader will recruit good officers who are equally capable of leading and share her leadership ethos, but that’s easier said than done) but often without the GL they fall apart.

Although it can sound like a fascist dictatorship, the military is a reasonable metaphor. You join up as a grunt, are trained to be disciplined, and sent off to kill lots of stuff or other characters in a way that makes use of that discipline. And then you are rewarded for it in a fair manner (ie. paid).

People mock the military style guilds because they take themselves so seriously. Because people willingly sign up to spend their free time being  yelled at on Teamspeak. And because to people outside that gaming style, it doesn’t make sense.

But when you’re in a guild like that which runs well, what you see is an organised, disciplined guild which runs like clockwork. You get to spend your time in game  among other people who enjoy the rewards from playing that way and want the same things out of the game.

Other styles of leadership

There are other popular and successful ways to run effective organisations in games. They are equally baffling to less hardcore gamers, in the sense of “why would anyone want to do THAT?”

Just bear in mind that the players who join want to be part of an organised and effective groups and most of them are happy in their guilds.

The Corporate-Style Guild

If your guild leader has ever used the phrase ‘leveraging our synergies’ you may be in a corporate type of guild.

If they often quote management books and read them in their free time, despite being a student in a different discipline with no actual experience of management, you may be in a corporate style guild.

If they try to make you follow written grievance procedures when you have a complaint, you may be in a corporate style guild.

If they are really really big on ‘being professional’ then you may be in a corporate style guild.

The Sports Team Style Guild

The guild leader sees themselves as a coach and motivator. They expect other players to be equally motivated. They will often speak in sports metaphors. They tend to be very hardnosed about recruiting, feeling that players ought to move on and up when they’re not happy with their current guilds. Just like professional sportsmen would. If someone is underperforming consistently, they’ll get dropped from the team. Nothing personal, but everyone has to make the grade.

Some guild leaders veer more towards the coaching side and will take a lot of time to sit with people who are underperforming. Others like to motivate their team via lots of shouting on voice chat and bitching people out in public. But all of them will eye performance meters with interest. They expect the team to come first for everyone. They tend to talk about ‘my team’ a lot. Even more than the military style guild, a sports team tends to be a cult of personality around the coach/raid leader.

The sports team metaphor works very well for gaming. It involves people voluntarily spending their spare time on a hobby, with a strong emphasis on team play.

The Professional Style Guild

Top guilds have the luxury of being able to pick and choose recruits. Some pick only highly motivated and skilled raiders. Once you are in that kind of atmosphere, you can run as a professional style group where leadership is more of a ‘first among equals’ arrangement.

Everyone is there because they want to be there. People don’t need to be reminded to try hard, they come from a self selecting subset of players who would do that anyway. All they need is a bit of direction and someone to advise on strategies. They tend to compete with each other, and often will coach each other too.

This type of guild is all about the recruitment, and being able to convince skilled, motivated players that they’ll be able to raid with others who feel exactly the same way that they do. And no one will have to shout or treat them like grunts or nobodies. No BS about sports teams. Just an effective bunch of hardcore gamers who want to beat content.

It is a type of corporate guild, but maps more to managing professionals in a partnership than it does to a standard company.

Other Styles

One thing you get from  these leadership styles is that they’re appealing to people who like the idea of playing at being in the army, or being in a successful sports team, or being part of a successful business. As well as having some success in game, the style of organisation itself is a draw.

There are other ways to run effective groups in game. But most of them will require some kind of continuing commitment from members.

Although some casual players balk at the idea any kind of commitment, without it there would be no community at all. And even in casual guilds, you’ll miss out on a lot of the community if you don’t log in occasionally to chat, whether or not you have a minimum specified attendance in your guild charter.

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10 thoughts on “You’re in the army now!

  1. Great post!

    My main /puzzled with regard to some military-style guild is that people put up with abuse and humiliation (which puzzles me in RL military issues as well). The military isn’t *about* abuse, it’s about discipline, and you can very easily have the latter without resorting to the former.

    Your post is interestingly synchronous — just the other day I read a Time article about army recruiters (particularly here in Texas) committing suicide in far higher numbers than is even remotely acceptable; as it turned out, they were working in an environment were buillying and humiliation from higher-ups (not to mention obligatory 15-hour days and “mandatory fun”) was the main mode of operation.

    I’m a firm believer in positive over negative reinforcement — and smart army types are too. Or corporate, for that matter. As for personality cults… I stay as far away from those as I can. It never ends well. ;)

    • You’re right! I mean, in a game if you feel bullied then you can just gquit or log out. But it might be that what you (or I) might see as abuse or humiliation (and tbh theres a limited amount of actual abuse you can do to someone online) other people see as a valid way to forge a group of undisciplined or inexperienced recruits into a badass disciplined fighting/ raid unit.

      So if people feel it’s going to help them get what they want, they’ll do it. But if you routinedly abused people unfairly or for no reason, I presume they’d vote with their feet. Unless they felt it was their only way to raid.

      More accessible raids will probably blow these guild models wide open, is my guess. But who knows?

  2. I’ve been a member of just about every type of guild you mentioned, and before my most recent hardcore raid guild in WoW, I’d say I preferred the military style the most. I got yelled (though very rarely) and I saw others get yelled at. They either quit or got better *shrugs* When you’re playing a game to not only see / do everything, but contend with others on the server / in the world that want to be first, you have to have the discipline to not only show up, but also not make mistakes.

    Now, my most recent hardcore raid guild was #1 on the server and among the top 10 in the world for WoW. They were very much NOT military and in fact I only had to log in 2-3 days a week. In the beginning of new content, yea it’s 4-6 days a week, but that quickly goes away when you can clear an instance in 3 hours. The more skill you have, the less time it takes, so I think people have a misconception from that as far as hardcore guilds go. They think they *HAVE* to raid 7 days a week, when in reality, we do that for maybe a week or two until we figure out the bosses and can nail the instance in 1-2 days. Then we’re lucky to want to log in 1-2 times a week :P

    • Even so, the idea of “having” to log on is one I just can’t wrap my head around. I know it’s no different from “having” to go to the gym but…

      /boggle

      (Which is why I don’t do it, of course. ;) Horses for courses etc etc.)

    • Actually, that sounds awesome :) I remember reading posts on a lj community during TBC written by a woman who raided with Nihilum and she said much the same thing about their raid times.

      My raiding history is that I used to raid with a fairly hardcore guild who ended up as server 2nd or 3rd at the end of vanilla WoW. We raided about 4 days a week, I was a class officer, it was hard work and pretty stressy, and I loved it. It was kind of military style, but that didn’t stop it being a friendly guild, and we had fun. So I’m not down on hardcore raid guilds at all. (At least, I hope not, it isn’t my intention).

      I do think that for every guild that’s capable of busts of intense learning and then settling down to a lightweight ‘farm week’, there are loads which raid heavy schedules for months, with lots of shouting and frustration. And I expect there are a lot of people who aren’t all that happy with it.

  3. So basically — as with so many other things — it’s about attitude. Giving up 5 nights a week to something is no sacrifice if it’s fun (however one defines that).

    I’m still not sure I can “get” wanting to be humiliated (no goodies are worth being yelled at by someone cruel), though I do get wanting a disciplined environment that’s STILL fun.

    Clearly I am much more dom than sub. :D

  4. What about the easy to get in, hard to hit the top style guild? My guild has one of the largest populations on the server, sporting ~30 actives primetime, and at least 10 at any time. We’re casual in recruiting, and take just about anyone. However, the majority of the guild sits in recruit status, until they start to try.

    Our top level players are all T4 with at least one toon in lesser wards, use vent, post in our forums, and run organized warbands everywhere. Not to mention, they rock anything that we throw them against. Oh, and they roll out alts to play with the lower ranked/casual guildies too.

    Basically, if people wanna get on and dick around, thats cool. If they want something SO much more, we have that as well. Casual players convert when they see pwnage up close and personal.

    • You tell, me Grimnir? :) How do you organise your PvE side?

      I think WAR is always going to be a bit different because of the PvP emphasis. So there’s plenty for people to do in a more casual way if they don’t want to get really hardcore. I know I’ve had a lot of fun running warbands in the past, and the level of organisation you need to make it work isn’t crazily high. And the other big thing is that people who have levelled into T4 should have enough experience in scenarios and PvP to be able to follow simple instructions, so you can be a useful part of the warband without spending hours honing your gaming skills.

      So there’s room in your guild for people who want to dick around and there’s plenty for them to do also. They can sign up for casual warbands and go romp around ORvR. I think that’s one of the big strengths of WAR as a game. It’s just a super game for casual players, especially if they have access to a guild with some more dedicated guys/ gals who’ll be around to run the warbands.

      Your guild sounds fun. But I think it’s the nature of the game itself that doesn’t demand hardcore organisation for people to experience the content and have fun.

  5. We actually don’t do raids :p

    After three months of hardcore raiding through Bastion, Warpblade, LV, and IC sieges every couple days, a lot of our members were fed up. Most of the T4 we have started to play the game for the RvR, and PvE was just not getting em off.

    I’ll adjust the statement a bit. We do offer raids, through our alliance. Pretty much any given time, there’s some group in /a that is running one of many different PvE instances. We encourage people to jump into their groups, shut up and follow their lead.

    Our top level organized groups tend to go into enemy T4 PvE zones and roam around scouting for kills (6-12 man groups), or hide at choke points in RvR lakes and ambush. We’re a nasty lot, not really interested in Keeps or BO’s (but we take em if they’re nearby), and love watching our enemies scatter to the winds.

  6. This is a really great post! I can see how the different group styles could come together (my guild is more the casual leveling sort, so I can’t really apply it to myself just yet). I also like how it’s easy to apply it to other games.

    My brother’s an EVE-aholic, and his corp is run (shockingly) corporate style. They are very much a hierarchical group with a few “head honchos” and a whole lot of “peons” following chain of command. But it’s not militarily enforced it all, it’s a very businesslike structure. As time goes on and the individual strengths of the group members become more apparent they are working toward a situation where everyone leads where they’re most able and follows otherwise. I like that setup… their leaders delegate and everybody wins.

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