When expectations change

Tobold wrote about a week ago about players and their sense of entitlement. Do players have a right to feel entitled to easy levelling, easy loot, and accessible raiding, or is it just as much a sense of entitlement if the hardcore feel entitled to always be a quantum leap ahead of the rest?

The word entitlement implies a sense of  rights. For example,  I have statutory rights as an employee, as a consumer, and as a British citizen. Those rights are enshrined in (local) law. So as a consumer, I’m entitled to buy items that are fit for purpose – and if they aren’t, I can go argue my case in court and the state will back me up if I’m right.

In a computer game, we don’t  have rights in the same sense.  No one is entitled to anything beyond their standard consumer rights when they buy a game. What we do have, however, is a sense of expectation. If I buy a book and I don’t like it, my consumer rights aren’t breached because the book being fit for purpose doesn’t guarantee that it’s going to be a cult classic. It just means that it has pages with words/ pictures on them and can be read (note: insert legal definition of book here if you are feeling pedantic). If the book radically fails to  fit the description on the jacket then maybe, just maybe, I have a case. But if my expectations are shattered then I won’t buy another book by the same author (unless they are shattered in a good way.)

But what expectation do players have from MMOs? The box and advertising will tell you a lot about what it is possible to do in the game, but cannot guarantee that you will be able to do those things, because many of them require the cooperation of other players. That’s  the one thing that no one can sell you, unless the box specifically states, “bring some friends.”

So maybe you go in, sold on the idea that you can create a character of your own to explore and adventure in the virtual world, and meet other people. Those are reasonable expectations. Everyone will be able to do that. But what then? Will the game allow you to finish all of its content, or will some be locked to specific groups of people or need commitments of time or money? If you see someone wearing a cool outfit, will your character also be able to get one? If you read about something fun that another player did, will you be able to do that also?

In a single player game, the answer may well be ‘yes,’ depending on the difficulty and time required. In an MMO, it may also be ‘yes,’ depending on the difficulty, time required, and other players required. But the ‘other players may be required’ is part and parcel of having massive games.

Still, where do the expectations come from of:

  1. Hardcore raiders will become the nobility of the game?
  2. All players will be able to do everything?

The answer is, those expectations come from within the game itself. No one went into their first MMO with any assumptions beyond, “Cool! I can create a character and go explore this virtual world with other people in it.” The assumption that people who put more work into their virtual characters will become more powerful in the virtual world is just a case of people mirroring real world assumptions – that’s not really surprising in itself, but it is the game play that determines what forms of  ‘virtual work’ are most valuable in the game. In a strongly social game, that would mean time and effort spent in politicking and socialising. In a WoW-type MMO it could mean hardcore raiding, or beating the economy.

Expectations can change, or be changed. In Warcraft, each patch has changed the expectations of the player base for the future of the game. If casual players feel more entitled to raids, loot, and achievements, that’s because Blizzard has indicated that this is how the game is now played. It isn’t a sense of entitlement that came out of nowhere. Back in the days of Vanilla WoW there were complaints about raid inaccessibility, but I don’t recall anyone ever expecting that the majority of the player base should or could raid. Similarly, if the hardcore players feel a sense of entitlement, that didn’t come out of nowhere either. The first few years of the game indicated that Blizzard intended a class based playerbase with hardcore at the top. They put dedicated hours into the game on that understanding. Both parties have good reasons for their expectations, but they cannot both be met at the same time.

The developers decide what players are or aren’t entitled to. So when a game changes to the extent that Warcraft has, it isn’t surprising that everyone is on edge. No one knows what their assumptions should be any more. People cling to the last patch as either an aberration that will be fixed in the future, or the shape of things to come. And so we pick apart the discarded musings of the blue posters (official Blizzard posters) as if we could divine the future from their entrails. Our rights in the game may depend upon it.

Thought of the Day: How we define challenge

I’ve read a few bloggers recently commenting about how challenges change in MMOs. Tobold joked that hunters were changing to FPS gameplay, as a way of talking about how WoW is tending towards twitch based challenge and away from knowledge/ puzzle solving — granted it wasn’t ever very puzzle based but it’s clear that designers now assume everyone will look the strategies up and are trying to find other ways to challenge players.

Gevlon has been thinking about why hardcore players complain about nerfs. Looking at the marathon example, the hardcore don’t ever have to be in contact with the casuals so why would it matter what they do? Again, it’s to do with the perception of the challenge and people being concerned that their previous achievements will be less ‘valuable,’ especially in a game where people often define their self-worth by what challenges they have beaten. (Sure, there are other reasons to complain about nerfs, I remember being sad when Ulduar was first nerfed because I was enjoying the original difficulty.)

This all reminded me of a wise comment I read recently on a bboard. From an rpg.net post by David J Prokopetz:

The ready availability of strategy guides and online FAQs seems to have lead many hardcore gamers to conclude that the only “real” challenges are those that test your reflexes, and those that test your patience.

Exploration-based challenges are deemed worthless because you can just look up where to go next; likewise reasoning-based challenges, because you can look up the solution; resource-based challenges are out because you can look up the optimal distributions; strategy and tactics disdained because you can look up an algorithm and apply it by rote; and so forth.

Ultimately, any challenge that doesn’t boil down to pure twitch or interminable grind will be dismissed out of hand.

So maybe it all does come down to spoilers in the end. But it speaks to something in player mentality where someone who levels naked (in game) or beats Ulduar in blue gear will be widely respected, whereas a group who go into a raid instance ‘blind’ so that they can figure out the strategy themselves will be mocked for not looking it up like everyone else. The player base values some challenges more than others.

It doesn’t look good for the non-achievers or people who prefer puzzle based play to twitch. But at least we still have single player games. And of course social players face the biggest challenges of all: running a successful guild or raid group.

And because it’s still being great, here’s the obligatory Torchlight screenie. My vanquisher at level 12 with a new gun. Why is it that I hate the thigh boots and miniskirt look in Aion but really like it here, I wonder?

Vanquisher with gun

Saturday Links: Interesting Reading

  1. There’s no drama like RP drama. So when players decided to select one Aion server as their unofficial RP home it was guaranteed to become a dramafest, right? Of course right. Aionic Thoughts is at ground zero to report.
  2. Dickie@Rainbow MMO wonders if the lifetime subscription scheme is viable in the long run. Is it possible that LOTRO just has too many lifetime subs, meaning they’re going to have to find more ways to add extra charges?
  3. Is Champions Online actually a step backwards from City of Heroes? Trembling Hand thinks so, at least when it comes to teaming up.
  4. Hawley (yay, he’s back!) writes about his experience with leaving his raid community and joining another one. But the invite came before the quit, and suddenly his ‘casual’ raid group were acting as though he was “ worse than Hitler” for abandoning ship.
  5. wow.com is one of many sites that reports on a study showing that playing in a guild actually lowers your stress. I’d rephrase that as ‘playing with friends’ lowers your stress, or ‘interacting with a friendly  and supportive community’ which might rule some guilds out from the start.
  6. Green Armadillo notices how little shelf space in games shops is given over to PC games these days (I’ve noticed that here also), and asks if this is the end of retail PC gaming and what that might mean.
  7. Tamarind tells a heartwarming story of a guy in a sissy robe and the little pet that found its way home. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. Even I was in tears by the end.
  8. Brian Crecente at Kotaku writes a thoughtful piece using Beatles Rock Band as a starting point to wonder about the use of reality in games, and whether designers have a responsibility to represent reality wisely.
  9. Klepsacovic wonders how you can reward exploration in games without punishing non exploration. He also reminisces about some of WoW’s less obviously located quests. (For me, that water elemental guy who gave the MC quests just took the biscuit.)
  10. Oakstout was chatting in CO about his favourite abilities and found himself inundated with theorycraft and advice about what he should take instead. Does theorycrafting make us happier? Can we have too much information?

A Warhammer Special

Warhammer Online reached its first anniversary this week.

Jeff Hickman spoke at GDC about what he thought were Warhammer’s three biggest mistakes. He puts a lot of it down to PvE being too easy, which wouldn’t even have made my top ten, to be honest. But I do think it shows that without any ‘community’ specialists on the team, they really don’t know why their community didn’t gel. I guess blaming PvE is as good a way to go as any.

Syncaine notes pithily that you can’t blame PvE for the failure of a game that was all about RvR.

Syp chimes in with his comments and suggestions for three major mistakes, which seems nearer the mark to me. He also lists his 10 great successes for Warhammer. Dude, by the time you include “Um, Snafzg is playing it”, you are really reaching :) Also, he missed out the red blobs of awesome, the friendly/unfriendly targets that were beloved of all healers, being able to pour boiling oil onto people’s heads, and scenarios. Apart from that, it’s a good read!

In any case, it’s a game with which I had a lot of fun and my personal view is that their biggest mistake was not trying to go for a single virtual server (a la champions online). I don’t think they realised how many players they’d need active to keep all their PvP zones, PQs, and PvE instances busy.

I was going to use the title “Happy Birthday (WAR is over)” which tied in neatly with both Warhammer and The Beatles, but truth is, I hope very much that WAR is not over. I had a lot of fun with it and I hope that Mythic are plotting even now about how to lure people back from Aion (or grab the Aion tourists in a month or two when they’re disillusioned with it.)

Also, Shana Tovah, mateys.

The Tourist Trap

I think it was Syncaine who coined the expression ‘a WoW tourist’ to mean someone who tries a new game for a month, doesn’t like it because it isn’t WoW, and goes back to WoW. I love the expression, it carries the implication that you’re just slumming it for a month. As if to say, “Yeah, I’ll just go check out this crappy new game to see how the other half live. Haha, they really pay for THAT? OK, back to Ogrimmar now for some real civilisation. Damn I missed those Violet Hold PUGs and Sons of Hodir dailies.”

I’ve done this several times myself, except I often stayed for more than a month. I’m just a tourist who tends to overstay on their visa.

I’m intrigued by the tourist metaphor because it implies that there are two types of player. Those who are resident in a virtual world, and others who are just itinerant visitors who don’t put down roots. I think there’s something in this. And I think it also relates to a different angle on the hardcore/ casual divide in MMOs. A hardcore player makes a big investment of time and energy into a game, so maybe in a way they do settle down. They’re rewarded with gear and progression for their character, all things that help to root them in the setting.

A casual player is more of  a tourist, they’re there for laughs, to hang out in the cool nightspots, and to see the sights. Permanent progression is fun but it’s not really their main goal, after all they’re not intending to put down roots. They don’t really care about the consequences of what they do in game, or planning rep grinds that might give their character a small advantage in 6 months time. They don’t think of themselves as permanent residents.

In a new game, we’re all tourists

I’m not sure I really buy the WoW tourist specifically because when a new game comes out, all the players are tourists. Sure, you can take a leap of faith and buy a long subscription and aim to put roots down right from the start. But it is a leap of faith because you might not even like it there. I’m remembering my guild master from LOTRO who started a guild in beta, bought a lifetime sub, and … discovered later that he didn’t really like the game.

Compared to that, it seems fairly sensible to sub for a month and see how it goes first. Check out the sights, see the dancing girls, lounge on the beach, soak up the atmosphere. And decide after that if you want to stay for longer.

For me personally, I know I’m thinking about staying if I go look for a guild. For me, that’s a commitment and if I’m spending time to hang out with strangers and get to know them, it’s a sure sign that I’m planning to stay for more than a month. I simply wouldn’t bother otherwise.

I have occasionally taken out a long sub for a new game or found a guild before the game went live. But only when I had a chance to play it in beta – I think this is why the PR beta ‘tests’ are important. If they can convince just a few tourists to plan for a long stay (i.e. more than a month) then they have the basis for a community. But if the beta impressed me and (especially) if I like the idea of what they are doing, I’ll take a risk on a longer subscription, if only to support games that I like.

Coming back to the hardcore/ casual divide, you’ll often see the guys who decided to put roots down very early on become the first wave of hardcore players. Because they’re already committed, they’ve put in the time to learn the game lore and mechanics, they’re getting their heads down and levelling fast because they don’t need to smell the flowers. They already know they plan to stay.

So naturally the hardcore feel superior to the tourists, even though the tourists are taking a much more sensible approach to parting with their hard earned cash.

Are WoW players different?

The difficulty with attracting WoW players to settle in a new game is exactly the same problem that Mac face with getting people to switch from PCs and that every RPG publisher faces with getting people to switch from D&D.  (Feel free to insert your own metaphor here.)

Yes, many WoW players have no interest in playing other games. That’s fine, they aren’t your tourists anyway because they wouldn’t even try it for a month unless under duress from friends. They are not the people who swamp your game in its first month and then abandon it.

However, if you get a load of people and persuade them to learn some complex system for doing things, they will be resistant to change. After all, they’ve already sunk a lot of time into learning how their favourite computer/MMO/ruleset works so what is the new guy going to offer that makes it worth the extra effort?

Brief anecdote: Back in the MUSH days, a new platform was released called MUX (I know, they’re not really very catchy names). Coders adored it, it was much cleaner code and easier to work with. I never figured out the details but I do remember that it was technically far superior. Players bitched like crazy when their favourite games were updated to the new platform. Some of their old commands had been changed. Eventually the MUX maintainers put in some aliases so that you could use MUSH commands in MUX. And then people stopped whining and accepted the changes quietly (mostly).

Anecdote 2: Before Word reigned supreme as the queen of word processors, there were several popular word processing programs. I used to work at a company that basically let us use whichever we wanted (ie. Wordstar, Wordperfect, Amipro, whatever). And then a diktat came from above that we had to standardise our word processing software. Even though all of these programs did mostly the same things in similar ways, you cannot imagine the amount of bitching that occurred when people were forced to use a different word processor.

That is the barrier that games need to overcome if they want to lure WoW tourists into becoming residents. But there’s some solutions hidden in the anecdotes also:

  1. Design your game specifically to make it easy for a WoW player to pick up how to play. If that means giving the option for a WoW-like UI, do that. If it means focus testing the starting area to death to make sure that every WoW-player question about how something works gets answered before they ask, do that. It’s not about players being morons or lazy, it’s about making it easy for them to accept other changes. Because as soon as someone stops to think, ‘How do I do X? Oh this sucks, I know how to do it in WoW’ then they’re one step closer to not resubbing.
  2. They’ll play if you force them. Obviously you don’t have a hotline to their boss at work to make them do it, but if there’s some benefit to the game that they really really want, then they’ll do it.
  3. People hate change. There’s no special answer to this. Except that a lot of gamers enjoy change and enjoy new challenges. So your game has to be presented as a challenge they can easily understand. This means not having stupid control mechanisms or non-obvious mechanics thrown at people at the start. But well designed puzzles that players can figure out early on and feel good about themselves – those would be good. Remember, a lot of people feel that WoW lacks challenge. A game that could provide that in a non-frustrating way has a hook.
  4. People hate things that are the same. If people end up saying ‘huh, this is just like WoW’ it’s not going to win them over. Because you might have emulated the things they hated about it as well as the things they liked.

And the other thing is that WoW is a genuinely good game. If people tried your game for a month and didn’t like it, well at least they tried it. What more can you ask? You had your chance to win them over.

The newbie experience vs the tourist experience

A tourist is not actually a newbie. They’ve already played at least one similar game. They’ll be off and rolling as soon as they can figure out how to move, where their hotbars are, and where to find something to kill. A newbie is another matter. They’re a stranger in paradise, probably overwhelmed by the world going on around them. They don’t see an exclamation mark and immediately think ‘that must be a quest.’

So perhaps when you log into a starting area, the game could ask whether you’ve played any MMOs before or if this is your first one. That way, the tourists can have the speed tour before being thrown out into the world, and the newbies can have their questions answered at a more reasonable pace. Tourists need to be convinced that they want to stay and settle, newbies need to be eased into the genre.

And just to add, there’s nothing really wrong with being an eternal tourist. It’s not really what the game companies would want but that’s not their call. Life is a game. Why not travel and see as much as possible. Settling down in an MMO usually means grind, possibly endgame, and other mildly tedious activities (much like real life, actually). Being a tourist means simple no strings attached fun.

And after all, when WoW went live, a lot of us were EQ or DaoC tourists at the beginning …

Soloing, going casual, and the tragedy of the commons

People talk about soloing in MMOs as if having the option to solo to the level cap was a recent innovation. Actually I remember playing MUDs mostly solo. As long as there have been virtual worlds, there have been both players who just wanted to quietly get on with their own thing and those who wanted to play with others.

However it’s the players who want to play with others who create the in game community.

MMOs are all about options. You can have soloers, raiders, hardcore, casual, explorers, achievers, et al all playing in the same virtual world. And that means you can play different sides of the game depending on how you feel.  I used to be in a guild with a Finnish guy who occasionally would /gquit for a couple of weeks to get away from the world (including guild chat). He referred to this as ‘going on holiday to his virtual log cabin’. He could have just not logged in but that wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted to be alone in the virtual world.

Sometimes you’ve had a rough day at work and don’t want to be hassled. Other times you really want to be around other people, and I love that the game provides these options.

But, aside from the regular flow of people who switch between soloing and grouping as their mood dictates, there are a lot of players who never have any intention of grouping with anyone they don’t know. I’ve always felt that they were a large but mostly invisible segment of the population. You don’t ‘see’ them because they don’t talk, they don’t join guilds. I remember being surprised when a guy joined our WAR guild and commented that although he’d played MMOs for years, this was the first time he had ever joined a guild. He’d just been playing with friends and never needed nor wanted the guild.

So who needs who, really?

A soloer, or a small group of RL friends who only ever group with each other, is a self contained unit. They don’t need anyone else to play in their preferred way. They don’t really need access to a guild bank or guild crafters because there are Auction Houses and trade channels.

Some may choose to join guilds because they like to be in a friendly atmosphere, and to share information, loot, and skills. But it isn’t really clear what the guild gets from having soloers as members.

Players who like to group, on the other hand, need to be around other social players. You can’t run group content on your own, by definition. And so social players tend to cluster into guilds because they like to be in a friendly atmosphere and to share information, loot, and skills, and also so that they can more easily find people to group with.

There are two types of successful guild, really. One is the very focussed one in which every member wants to do the same type of activity in game. These would be like raiding or endgame guilds. Over time they may ease the focus, let in more alts and social members, and evolve a more casual tier alongside the hardcore centre.

You can have a guild that is focussed on supporting casual members who are mostly soloers. But it’s very difficult to keep that kind of community together unless there’s a core of the guild who is a little less casual than the rest or unless you prearrange set times to play.

The other type is a larger social type of guild which is more of a broad umbrella under which members do what they like. And this kind of guild can carry a few soloers, maybe even a lot, but it absolutely must also have a critical mass of members who like to group because otherwise the guys who want to group won’t be able to find guild groups.

This isn’t just about grouping for instances or raids or PvP. I’ve been in RP guilds where we organised little RP events and were struggling to get people to come to them, while seeing half the guild online but off soloing somewhere else. Those are players who went to the effort of joining a RP guild but then when it actually tried to organise something that they could easily have joined in, they preferred to keep farming. They didn’t really want to be part of the guild or interact in any way beyond the chat channel.

And let me tell you, when you are trying to organise anything in guild and people flip you off for no real reason other than that they can’t be bothered, even though they are online and not busy, it will quickly put you off trying to organise anything else in future. This is why social guilds need to keep the number of soloers down and the number of social members up.

If the number of social members falls too low, then the rest MUST leave too for a guild with better grouping opportunities or else they’ll be very very miserable. And you can guarantee it’ll be the guys who mostly solo who will be tutting and complaining that people aren’t loyal to their guilds any more these days when they go.

The only guild that truly benefits from soloers is the solo-centric guild, made by and for other soloers. And ironically, most soloers who want to join a guild for the chat channel and crafters are not looking for that kind of guild.

Note: Yes, when I say soloers I mean people who have no intention of ever grouping with anything they don’t know iRL. I don’t have a problem with the playstyle. I still think it’s great that MMOs can cater to all sorts. And I do have friends in my guild who mostly solo because of RL issues, and we love having them around. But don’t join a guild just for its chat channel without telling them that’s all you want.

Just bear in mind that if I want to group, I need to have people around who want to do the same thing. If I want to solo (or play with a partner or fixed group), I don’t need anyone or anything. And a social player can provide all the same things as a soloer, but they’re also helping to build the community.

So why are you soloing in an MMO anyway?

Syp is tired of being asked why he would want to solo in a multi-player game. That’s a fair point, it’s no-one’s business what you do in the game as long as you aren’t harassing anyone (and by definition, soloers are very unlikely to be in this situation).

But he then goes on to explain that soloers may not really want to be alone, and thinks it’s reasonable to join a guild anyway. I beg to differ. It MAY be reasonable to join a guild, if you can find one that it copacetic with your playstyle.

He also comments that solo players may appreciate the support network that other players can provide. And they’ll provide you with this for no return why exactly? How is that not leeching? And why do you need a support network anyway if you are soloing?

But if you join a social guild, every time you are online when someone is trying to organise a guild activity and you could have taken part but you decided not to bother, you are breaking a piece of someone’s heart. But of course, you’re solo, so you’re not interested in being anyone else’s support network. Why should you care? Why should you help to support the guild, you’re only there for the chat channels? Maybe they’re the ones who  should  chill out and remember it’s just a game.

(I’m not convinced that MMOs offer more bang for your buck than single player games, though. I suppose it depends which single player games and which MMOs.)

Relying on the more hardcore

Actually, a lot of players do rely on more hardcore people to provide their player-generated entertainment. A guild leader or raid leader puts much more time and effort into the game than a rank or file member. Both types of player need each other, but one is definitely working harder.

So maybe a casual player wants to not be tied to a schedule, but still be able to log into a friendly guild and find competent groups whenever they want. In order for a guild to provide that, they need to have a core of more hardcore players who will be around more often, will play enough to become competent, and will want to group whenever the casual player logs in.

I don’t think people always see that side of things. In order for me to have my great casual friendly guild, officers and raid leaders need to want to put in a lot more work than I do. It isn’t that I’m not valuable, but I am relying on some people being more hardcore.

So … tragedy of the commons?

What happens if MMOs develop along lines such that most people are soloing most of the time? There’s no downtime built in where you might have to talk to people you didn’t know? There may not be enough of the more hardcore to form all the guilds those people might want to join? The people who would have been running those guilds are all going casual/ solo/ in small groups of RL friends instead?

Would a game like that really have much of a community at all? Is there any support network left for anyone at all?

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.

Scheduling the PvE Week

I think that raid schedules are both the best and the worst thing about raiding.

On the good side: You can slot your hobby neatly into your leisure time. All you have to do is pick a raid guild which raids whatever hours you want to play, make sure you have a bit of spare time to sort out any associated activities (like farming up gold for repair bills and enchants, sorting out consumables etc) and you’re good to go.

Not only that, but when you do log in, you have activities already organised. You know there will be other people around, and what sort of fun you can expect to have. It is predictable.

Of course, things don’t always go according to plan. Maybe half the raid falls sick and can’t make it. Maybe you log in to find that you’re benched that night. But that’s life.

On the down side: You’re working to someone else’s schedule. You can fake a dreadful illness if you really aren’t in the mood one night, but the whole deal can seem awfully like work. You have hours that you need to keep and other people rely on you being there to do your job.

If you can’t find a raid guild that raids on your preferred times, but still want to raid, then you’ll either be relying on PUG raids or feeling forced to log in when you would have preferred not to. The former is unpredictable (although a dedicated raid leader can build a fairly predictable raid up from PUGs if they don’t mind running them every week at the same time) and less likely to result in success. The latter is going to make you miserable and mess up your work/life/gaming balance.

Predictability per se is not always a good thing, but IF you want to fit a  hobby neatly into your leisure time, it’ll increase your chances of not sitting around all night feeling bored and waiting for something to happen.

In fact, I think the predictability of the PvE raiding week is one of the factors that has made WoW so very successful. People with limited time, who needed to be able to organise their fun in advance were able to turn it into exactly this kind of hobby. Doesn’t work so well in a non-instanced raid model where everyone turns up only to find that some other raid sniped the boss. Doesn’t work so well in a sandbox PvP model when everyone turns up to find that some other guys from your realm already took every keep a few hours earlier.

Don’t get me wrong, unpredictability is tons of fun and will always keep you on your toes. It probably even staves off burnout. But it also makes it way more difficult to control your online experience and schedule it in advance.

So – how do you organise the raid week?

OK, so let’s assume that you have enough raiding for several nights of entertainment for your guild. At least one encounter is still on progression, you haven’t yet completed it so you want to make enough time for several learning attempts. Some of your guys can still use upgrades from the raids that you do have on farm. You know which nights you raid on. So which nights do you schedule in for which raids?

The traditional (logical) approach:  Fit in the farm raids at the beginning of your raiding week. That way, people have the chance of picking up some gear upgrades from old bosses which may help when you do the progression raids. And in a new fight, any edge that you can get can help.

By this logic, you’d schedule your progression raids as late as possible in the week as you can. It gives raiders more time to improve their gear by any means possible before you throw them at the hardest encounter.

Progression is King approach: Focus people on the progression raid and  get them in there while they are still fresh (and not tired or bored). You also want plenty of time for learning wipes. So schedule the new stuff in right at the beginning, and keep going until it’s done. If that means taking more than one night, then you do it. And if that means that there isn’t time to fit in the farming raids too, then so be it.

It’s not ideal to lose a week’s worth of gear upgrades but if people’s gear is basically good enough then some of the more hardcore raid leaders figure that easy laid back runs can be a reward for completing harder content, not a statutory right.

The casual raid approach: Another take on scheduling is that in some casual raid groups, different people can only make specific week nights. So one goal of the raid leaders is to try to let everyone get a chance to fight and kill every boss. That means raids will get switched around in the schedule from week to week. It’s not always easy to do this. It’s an extra complexity that more hardcore guilds don’t have to deal with. But it should mean that even though progress may be slower, more people get to learn the fights and you can schedule the progression raids in whenenever you like.

The motivational approach: Late in the raid cycle when people are getting bored and have most of the gear they want from raids, it’s harder to get them to turn up. In some casual guilds, it’s also harder to get people to turn up to progression raids because a lot of players prefer the guaranteed loot and easy ride of the farmable instances.

So the schedule may not always be announced in advance. Raid nights will be given but the raid leaders might decide which raid to do on the night itself.

I’m never sure how successful it really is to not announce destinations in advance. I think people do like to be able to plan their week around the content they actually wanted to do.

We tend to the more casual approach and raid leaders tie themselves in knots to try to make sure that raids get swapped around so that everyone gets a chance to kill the bosses they need AND see the new content. I honestly can’t imagine how complex a scheduling job that really is. It’s a nightmare and we’re honestly lucky that they’re so dedicated.

How are your raids scheduled?