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 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.

37 thoughts on “Social engineering in Cataclysm. Will it make better guilds?

  1. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been a student of political sciences, but I feel compelled to point out that socialism, communism and dictatorships are three different things.

    Mind you, as terms, they’re as much abused in real-life as well. Usually from a dictatorship position with a top-down approach where the two other political landscapes are mimicked and sold to the populace, but the end result is just a dictatorship.

    Just some food for thought. If the threat of a /gkick is true, that’s pretty much the same situation.

    • I know that polsci academics don’t consider the soviet union to have been a true communism. I wonder what term would be best used to describe a guild with a dictatorial guildmaster but who otherwise ran along communist style lines?

      • It’s still a Dictatorship no matter what their philosophy is, IMO. Political labels tend to arise from what you do rather than what you say you do.

        The difference in WoW is you’re free to leave a guild at anytime, and the guildmaster can’t summon death squads to hunt you down. The worst thing they can do is flame you on the forums, and with the advent of name/race/faction/server transfers that is a minor inconvenience.

      • Well, you’re not going to be hunted down. But that doesn’t mean that there are no penalties.

        We know in the past that successful raid guilds have effectively held the key to experiencing high end content. And that’s the rod that aggressive, shouty guild leaders held over their community. There certainly were plenty of people who weren’t happy in their guilds but stayed because the penalty for leaving seemed so high.

  2. Pingback: NecroRogIcon » Political landscapes, large and small

  3. I cannot help, it seems to be achievement system driven bullcrap.

    But as you pointed out, we do not have enough information yet.

  4. “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.”

    That’s nothat’s a totalitarian corporation, essentially a fascist construct. You ‘earn’ DKP to spend on gear with few restrictions, but long-term strategy ist a soviet, that’s a totalitarian corporation, essentially a fascist construct. You ‘earn’ DKP to spend on gear with few restrictions, but long-term strategy is the domain of the GM and Officers.

    Loot Council systems tend to be more socialist in process (‘… to each according to his need’), but even that is something of a stretch. Unless a guild forces all proceeds of your gameplay into the guildbank for redistribution to those who do not or cannot contribute as much it is merely a ‘guild’, which you are free to leave when you want.

    And that is the key point with all guilds, we may see some of them as authoritarian but we’re still free to leave them whenever we want, something not true under the totalitarian regimes they are oft compared to. Hence trying to score points through such comparisons are doomed to failure… or laughter. The latter is, of course, worse.

  5. As in everything, we will have to see how it plays out. Certainly there will be guilds, hardcore guilds, that are going to become even more totalitarian. Will they survive? It depends, but I doubt it.

    There are two types of social contracts that allow totalitarian style governments to exist. The first is the complete and absolute fear for ones life. This is what 99% of TTL regimes run under.

    But there is a second that often gets overlooked – the way of the pirate. No, honestly – stick with me for a minute.

    Back in the day of “arr me maytie” piracy, the captain was allowed to serve only when there was plenty of loot involved. There was a social contract that was followed. The captain was allowed to rule with an iron fist because they were getting results. But when a captain wasn’t getting results (i.e. gold), they were made to walk the plank by the crew, and they elected a new captain by popular consent.

    I think this is really what is going to happen, in the long run. It’s kind of how the WoW guild system is built around – stick with a guild as long as your interests are the same, and there are results. The minute either one of those change, jump ship.

    Endgame content is no longer exclusive, and pretty much is only limited by the amount of time a guild can focus on content, now that the gear (and to some extent skill) have been taken out of the picture. The only thing that any one person would be penalized is guild heirlooms and whatever talents the guild chooses. But I am sure the next guild would have those as well, so no real loss there.

    And casual guilds? They really aren’t going to have the big drama that is seen. My guild has 120ish active accounts (well, maybe 75 after the summer effect, LOL), and we are as close as family. We often share stories, talk about children, weekend activities, hell we help each other out with homework and tutor one another. After a recent officer’s meeting, the only drama we foresee happening is that we really don’t have anyone PvP’ing for the achievements there 🙂

  6. One note about the communist metaphor. With respect to the polsci theorists, communism is an economic as well as a political theory and state ownership of assets (communalism, I guess) is a mainstay of that.

    So when talking about guild ownership of heirloom items and recipes, that’s what I was comparing with.

  7. State ownership of all assets is an aspect of communism, but the non-ownership of any assets is typically the hallmark of extreme libertarianism. The middle-ground, some state-owned assets and some privately owned, ranges from of American Capitalism through to French Socialism.

    Additionally, leaning on the Guild = Corporation rather than Guild = Totalitarianist regime angle, corporations also have their own assets such as company cars, laptops and software license packages. All of these also have to be returned on departure from the company, but their existence doesn’t make the company a socialist one.

  8. …collective decision-making, and public control of productive capital and natural resources… are big differences between a corporation and a socialist society.
    Running a guild this way is possible, but to support all interest and prevent abuse, you need to setup processes to elect and dismiss decisionmakers. Woulld be fine, if games support methods to enforce bad leaders down the plank.

  9. I am all for the guild changes. We still dont know exactly how the Heirloom pieces are going to scale. If it is the same as the ones we have now, no big loss. If they are fillers that will take into account your average item level or some such, then it would hurt a bit more.

    Overall, I think the changes look good.

  10. Funny back in the day I was in a guild called “RAIDS PWN U”

    Our theme was all Russian, red tabard, guild site with communism and russian flags all over the place. The guild came about when we were talking in vent. In Mother Russia you don’t pwn raids, raids pwn you.

    I do believe though like Burning Crusade this expansion will change the server landscape of your guilds, no matter what server you play.

  11. I see this as an opportunity to inflict my own somewhat obscure standards on random players who happen to join my guild.

    Only production is communistic, distribution is subject to the whim of the dictator.

    So in my planned guild officers and guild leader (me!) will get most of the shinies, anyone else will be encouraged to work harder so as to deserve an officer’s spot.

    I see this as a great opportunity to be brutally fascist about things like raid punctuality, people who can’t work their mike, people who quit halfway through a raid and so on.

  12. I don’t think of guilds as political entities really, they are like businesses. You apply to them, and they evaluate you for the position, even doing background checks on you.

    You punch in for each raid because you are judged on attendance, and also production-you can get fired if you are disruptive or poorly skilled at your job, or even if you lie about your qualifications.

    You get paid for your involvement, some even weekly if they have trash drops they sell for the guild bank.

  13. Everything about MMOs speaks to the notion of social engineering. Every aspect of a MMO is a product of this. From the inception of the video game industry designers have always created rewards that incentivize certain desirable behaviors.

    How many people would bother to raid the same dungeon over and over if there was benefit (loot) to doing so?

    Take away the experience and loot and see how fun playing a MMO would be. You already know the answer…

    Blizzard wanted to promote PVP so they could build an e-sports empire. So what do they do? They create the Arena system with lots of ridiculously easy rewards in order to facilitate and promote a PVP culture.

    It’s long overdue that Blizzard has finally started to promote the worth of the guild. Without the social structure of guilds MMOs would cease to exists. I’ve penned numerous articles on this very subject.

    For years Blizzard cavalierly disregarded guilds and instituted changes that wreaked havoc on them. Finally they are doing something to promote guild membership.

    Of course you are right to be concerned and skeptical. The devil is in the details and until we know exactly what Blizzard has planned we are still in the dark. I for one, do not trust Blizzard, so it remains to be seen what they will do.

    For example, at the Blizzcon in 2006 they promised that the Lich King’s sword Frostmourne would be obtainable by playes for defeating him. Well, it was just announced that IT WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE NOW. Wonderful. Great work Blizzard.

    I do agree that guilds that are formed due to social reasons and role-playing guilds will probably be left out in the cold. It’s very clear to me that the concept of “RP” is not very popular at Blizzard with the powers that be. Where was the RP panel at Blizzcon? Where was the events Blizzard designer Kisarani?

    Personally I don’t believe that Blizzard in their heart of hearts cares about RP or the social aspect of MMOs. They talk a good game but they have utterly failed to deliver. The people that work at Blizzard are hardcore achievers. They are more at home on the Elitist Jerks forums then they are talking about RP.

    • I think what they’re doing with guilds will work out reasonably well in the long run, and you’re right of course that any system of challenges and rewards is a form of social engineering. This is a start, they’ll be able to tweak it to add more guild content later.

      But it is always difficult when you introduce new rules into a (reasonably) mature community. And people have to decide, what if their established behaviour — which had been considered fine up till now — is not rewarded by the new rules? (In the worst case, what if it’s actually punished?)

      I don’t really trust Blizzard because like you, Im not sure that they get the social side of MMOs. I also wondered why there was no RP or live event panel at Blizzcon; ok I didn’t really wonder, I knew exactly why.

      In some ways I’m glad they’re not trying to reward RP guilds because being Blizzard, they’d try to reward RP mechanically and it’d be likely to backfire. Whereas what you really want is the ability to help organise live events and GM help in dressing scenes and suchlike.

  14. What I’m curious about, is whether this is going to PENALIZE people who choose not to join a guild for whatever reason. A good friend of mine is essentially a solo-pvp-er by virtue of being the mother of two infants and expecting a third. Her snatches of playtime are so limited that she has chosen to play alone for the time being because she doesn’t feel she could get into the social life of even a casual guild in the short segments of time she gets online.

    Likewise, I haven’t joined guilds with any of my horde alts because I can’t commit to playing any of them more than on a whim. I already have a guild on ally side, so whatever I join on horde side won’t be ‘my guild’.

    Will these characters be HURT by the guild changes? I’m not going to want to play alts hordeside if they’re being forced to level slower than my guilded alliance alts. I doubt my friend wants to have an “honor deficit” when compared to other guilded players in battlegrounds. The only good solution I can think of is to start your own ‘bank alt’ guild, just to have something to belong to. I hope it doesn’t come to such blatant abuse of the guild system, but I’m already discussing the possibility.

    Seems grim.

  15. “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.”

    heaven forbid someone that works harder at the game gets rewarded for it… lets drag them all down to our level!

    • No, you misunderstand me. Hardcore guilds get plenty of rewards, they get to complete hardcore content and that’s fine. They deserve all the loot they get, they do work for it.

      But if you’re trying to reward successful guilds then it’s important to realise that there is such a thing as a casual successful guild (ie. stable, drama free guild that keeps its players happy with lots of organised events and so on) and that is just as much work to run as a successful hardcore guild in its own way. So there’s no reason for the casual guild not to be recognised as making a success of running itself.

  16. “But if you’re trying to reward successful guilds then it’s important to realise that there is such a thing as a casual successful guild (ie. stable, drama free guild that keeps its players happy with lots of organised events and so on) and that is just as much work to run as a successful hardcore guild in its own way. So there’s no reason for the casual guild not to be recognised as making a success of running itself.”

    By that same logic, zone PvP objectives reward the horde over the alliance (on most servers). Should they be removed for punishing the horde? Hell, if you think about it, your choice of alliance is a lot more perminant then your guild choice.

    These are rewards, not punishments. Not getting a reward is not a punishment. And handing rewards equally to all is simply damaging to the game. Look at where it’s gotten us? A sense of entitlement to unearned rewards, nerfed content, and a watered down game.

    Rewards aren’t punishment for those who can’t acheive them, they are congradulations for those who can. If guild A gets a reward, and guild B doesn’t, guild B hasn’t LOST anything, they are in the same place they started.

    Not that this is really an issue. Look at the last 3 years of WoW, honestly thinking they are going to do ANYTHING which would affend the ‘causual gamer’ is insane. They have bent over backward for the casual gamer to the point of alienating anyone who enjoys earning their rewards, and I doubt this will be any different.

    An unearned reward given to a spoiled child, and this will be another.

  17. Who’s the spoiled child here exactly? It’s hard work running any kind of successful guild. Guild levelling rewards aren’t intended to be a badge of hardcore-ness, if you’re looking for that then you’re missing the point.

  18. Don’t get defensive during a discussion, it’s childish. I didn’t call you a spoiled child, I said wanting unearned rewards is.

    Running a guild is a bitch (a raiding guild more so), something I wouldn’t do again. However, being IN a guild isn’t difficult. Would you suggest the rewards only apply to the leadership?

    • *sigh* I’m not being personally defensive. I just don’t see casual players being particularly more like spoiled brats than hardcore raiders in this respect. But I don’t think that being in a hardcore guild is any harder than being in a casual guild – because you assume that the hardcore player would have been hardcore anyway and the casual player would also have been casual anyway. And actually, being a good guildie and helping to support a good guild is worth rewarding whether you run raids five times a week or not.

      My point is that they’re trying to reward guilds for activity and stability. And it doesn’t really matter whether that activity is killing raid bosses or helping newbies in low level instances. Being hardcore has its own rewards in terms of loot and achievement.

  19. You see no difference between the effort put in by someone who dedicates their playtime to progression, spending night after night wiping on new bosses in an attempt to master them for little or no reward… then others who either run the same heroics every day or less?

    I generally level up in casual guilds just to meet people, and I can assure you there are no requirements to be in these guilds save not spamming obsenitys in chat. And in some that’s optional.

    I disagree with your statement that these two methods of gameplay are deserving of equal rewards.

    However, as I had said, the point is irrelevent. Blizzard has continually, through both action and statement, moved toward casual players. Long gone are 40 man raids, or purple equipment having any meaning. Everyone gets the same toys, regardless of the time, thought, or effort they put into the game.

    I don’t expect most to agree with me, as most are casual players. And I respect the need for the majority of content to be geared toward casual players due to that. There are however some of us who would rather get our rewards through effort. Give me 40 people fighting weeks for a single peice of loot over a server full of soloists getting them for dalies.

    And ‘being hardcore’ has few rewards now. All content is being pug’d as rapidly as the hardcores can crack the solution for them. Why be part of the progression, when you can simply wait a few weeks… or for that matter get nearly equal gear without setting foot in anything difficult in the first place.

    That’s my rant anyway, and as I said, everyone has their opinions on it. The guild system they’re refering to will doubtlessly cater to quests completed, dailies in some way, and possibly an acheivement style collection. None will be left out, and any guild capable of getting a bank will have them.

    • Sure I do. But the hardcore guys get lots of extra rewards for completing cutting edge content.

      The guild rewards are simply there to reward guilds for being active, nothing more. That’s why only the top 20 guild rep earners per day/ week will count. They’re trying to encourage people to join solid guilds that support their playing style.

      I don’t know what else I can say to you. I’m not talking about any other kind of rewards that may or may not be available in game. I’m just saying that if you’re trying to reward guilds with active players, then don’t favour one playstyle above others for this specific set of rewards. Maybe you’ve never been in a casual guild that was more than a chat channel. I have, is all.

      By all means reward hardcore players with lots of other extra stuff. But their guilds are NOT better than any other successful guild with a different focus.

  20. “By all means reward hardcore players with lots of other extra stuff. But their guilds are NOT better than any other successful guild with a different focus.”

    Totally opinion. You seem to have a bad impression of raiding guilds. I’d say a guild who is both stable, friendly, works together, has fun, and in addition also does hard content is more deserving of a reward then one who is just stable, friendly, works together, and has fun.

    Bah, this is pointless anyway. Bottom line, they average player is going to be rewarded, and the average player is an acheivement hunting, pet gathering, quest running, casual player. That’s where the reward will lay. (and no, that’s not ment as an offence)

    Going to drop it here, my hoping on some random forum that the will to earn will be revived in wow is about as pointless as our opinions on the system they will use, as they will simply put in what works best for most people.

    • Fair enough, we can agree to disagree. I would say you only need to get rewarded for doing the hard content once. Asking to keep being rewarded for it again and again is just double dipping.

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