Social engineering in Cataclysm. Will it make better guilds?

Tobold writes about the Guild Advancement system that Blizzard plans to introduce into WoW with the next expansion. You will be able to earn ‘guild xp’ for your guild by activities such as completing quests, earning reputation, killing raid bosses, PvP, and so on. As your guild increases in guild level, up to a max of level 20, it will gain more bonuses for members. Also there will be some kind of guild talent system where officers can decide on which bonuses would best fit the guild, and guild achievements. More controversially, there was also mention of guild crafting recipes and heirloom items which could be given to guild members but would revert to the guild if they /gquit.

Scott Andrews writes a thoughtful column at wow.com about how he thinks this might affect existing guilds. Elnia@The Pink Pigtail Inn worries that the whole expansion sees the triumph of the social player, and wonders what will happen to soloers if everyone is being nudged towards joining a guild.

In any case, two things are clear:

  1. Blizzard wants to make guilds front and centre of the expansion. The game so far has been heavily achievement oriented – can they add more social appeal too?
  2. We don’t have enough hard details yet to make solid predictions. But changes will affect the community, and that may mean upheaval.

Until we know more, people will be nervous about how Blizzard will choose to reward guilds and to which activities they will award points. They’re right to be nervous. Social engineering in MMOs has the capacity to cause massive trauma in the player base. Players are nothing if not adaptable, but we design our communities to beat the game we know, not the one that might be here next year. If the game changes or the challenges change or the rewards change, then who knows what might happen?

Blizzard in particular know this. At the beginning of TBC, when 40 man raids were phased out, all the raid guilds who had been organised around 40 man raids were thrown into turmoil. Some survived. Others did not. I know my old guild had a messy breakup that left a lot of players burned out after a couple of months in TBC, and I left WoW for about 6 months to clear my head of it. I doubt any raider who played at the time survived completely unscathed.

This will not be as bad. The sky is not falling.

If you look at the list of activities they intend to reward with guild xp, you’ll see that it covers a wide range of play styles. Even if some are rewarded more than others, all guilds with minimal activity will eventually get to level 20 and I think that’s the goal. If the system rewards hardcore guilds more than casual ones in the long run, then it’s broken. Those guilds are already rewarded by being able to run hardcore content.

No, what Blizzard really need to do is to reward the behaviour they would like to see from guilds. That means rewarding activity of any sort. It means rewarding stability as well. A successful social guild is just as good as a successful hardcore guild, even though they measure their success in different ways. If they both keep their members happy and occupied and are able to organise activities that their members enjoy, then they’re both good guilds.

The system as described so far would do this. The hardcore guild gets xp from raid boss kills. The social guild gets xp from people levelling alts, levelling tradeskills and gaining reputation – all things which can be done solo or casually. It won’t matter if they don’t gain xp at exactly the same rate, they’ll both get there in the end and will be able to pick guild talents that fit their players’ requirements.

This really leaves two types of guilds out in the wilderness.

  • Large guilds who have players with a wide variety of interests. It might not be easy to pick guild talents if you have one bunch of players who raid and another bunch who PvP.
  • Very social/ roleplaying guilds. If the main activity isn’t something that is specifically rewarded then they might be forced to PvP or PvE for their xp. I think it’s unlikely that there are any guilds in WoW that are so social that they don’t level alts or run instances at all.

There’s also some question about how any of this might relate to guild alliances. While the individual guilds in the alliance will still gain xp (maybe at different rates but in the long run they’ll all get to level 20), they might be shut out of achievements that require 75% of a raid to all belong to a single guild.

Currently there are a lot of successful raid communities on RP servers that give people a chance to raid without having to leave their guild. We’ll just have to see if Blizzard will either change their stance to support alliances, or whether the lure of achievements (and maybe other rewards) will break these comms up.

The march towards communism

The corps is mother, the corps is father.

Psi Corps, Babylon 5

I had notes written up for a post wondering whether despite all the goblins who espouse hardcore capitalism, our MMOs actually run on socialist principles. It was going to be a great post! Just I kept thinking ‘Nah, who’s interested in that?’ and putting it off. (If you’re curious, it was my ponderings about whether devs consider the players to be part of a society and how this affects patches and balance tweaks.)

With the introduction of heirloom items, we will be going one step beyond socialism towards the introduction of communist guilds. Many raid guilds already run along the lines of communist dictatorships – people put in as much effort as they can and are rewarded with loot according to some arcane DKP 5-year plan. There is an expectation that you will put your guild first in all things.

Heirloom items merely formalise the idea that even the loot belongs to the guild. If you leave the guild, you could lose everything. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – and there will be plenty of non-heirloom loot around too – but it gives a great deal of power to guild leaders. A simple /gkick could become quite devastating.

Despite all that, I think the new system might encourage guilds to be active, to run in-guild PvE and PvP events, and to recognise the contributions of soloers (ie. by levelling alts, reps, and tradeskills) to the guild xp. I do think that is Blizzard’s goal here. Maybe it will even make better guilds in WoW, it will be interesting to find out.