It came from the PUG: In which I get kicked!

One of the quirks of the WoW dungeon system is that if you leave a group before the end of an instance voluntarily, you have to wait 30 minutes before you can re-queue. For example, if you zone into a random instance and decide it’s one you don’t like so you leave straight away. However, if you get kicked by the other group members, you can re-queue immediately.

This week I figured I’d go on an emblem hunt before the next patch. I picked my druid because a) I haven’t played her in awhile and b) she’s a healer and I find healing very laid back in heroics these days, mostly due to gearing. Because I haven’t played my druid in awhile, she’s mostly in a mix of gear from the last couple of raid tiers prior to ICC. Although I did get lucky on an alt run of ICC 10 and picked up a decent healing mace too. None of this should really matter because I was healing heroics perfectly well a year ago.

So I queue up, instantly get a group, and zone in to Trial of the Champion. “This should be quick and easy”, I think. The tank is a bit undergeared so I run through one and a half mana bars during the first fight. One guy (a rogue) dies. He’s been mouthy the whole time so I am sure that he’ll be the type to go pull the next boss as soon as he is ressed. I decide, judiciously, to drink before I res him.

He says, “Res.”

I say, “Just drinking.”

He says, “res!”

I say, “You could run back while I’m drinking if you’re in a rush.”

He says, “res!!”

He says, “res!!!”

He says, “wait 5 mins and kick noob druid”

He says, “res!!!!”

And this is where it hits me like a bolt from the blue. I WANT to get kicked from this group.

(Yes, healing does make me quite passive-aggressive.)

Think about it. All I need to do is spend a few minutes reading and then I can get rid of this monkey, set him on ignore, and re-queue for another group immediately. I decide at this point that I’m not going to res him, whatever happens, but comment that he could ask politely if he wants a res. Unlike Tam, this is not because I am a nice person who wants to instruct the rest of the player base in manners. It’s because I know there’s no way on earth he’ll ask politely so I am bound to get my group kick.

(If he had asked politely I’d have done it, my mana bar was full by this point. I might have … slacked a bit on healing him later on though.)

Meanwhile, the other druid in the group disconnects while the group leader is whining at me and asking him to do the res. Fate is on my side! This is meant to be! No one suggests kicking the annoying rogue, or telling him to stop bitching and run in – it’s one of the shortest cemetary runs in the game. (I assume because I’m writing in coherent sentences they think I’ll be easier to reason with, which is probably true.) I certainly don’t suggest it.

Before the 5 minutes are up he keeps adding more exclamation marks to each res request, insults my gearscore (like I care) and says I must be a noob. I have gone to get tea by this point, I just notice it in the chat when I get back.

I realise he’s finally been able to request a group kick because he says, “kick the druid” a lot and I do in fact find myself very shortly back in Dalaran. I then put him on ignore and get into another group almost immediately. Working as intended.

The Myth that One Raid Endgame Fits All

scrusi posts today about why he thinks the Lich King endgame leads to boredom, and underused raid instances. I read this, and I think about the TBC endgame, which also led to boredom and underused raid instances. (Ask anyone whose raid was stuck in Serpentshrine for most of the expansion.)

I suspect that all raiding endgames, when stretched out over months or years, will lead to … boredom and underused raid instances. The only difference is who gets bored, how quickly, which raid instances are underused, and which guilds feel most of the pressure.

So what is the ideal?

  • Raids become a regular hobby. The raid group becomes like a sports team with scheduled games, et al.
  • You should always have something to do, and something to aim for both individually and as a raid group.
  • Your group should be able to replace any members who leave so that it can keep raiding.
  • If you come late to the expansion, you should be able to join a group of your friends.
  • There should be enough new or varied content that people in your group don’t get bored.

To my mind, the big issue with raiding endgames is that players have to balance up group progression vs individual progression. If all raid content consisted of PUG raids with relaxed gear/ ability requirements and there was a lot of solo (or small group) content where players could go for progression, then we could have a setup in which one endgame fits all. It might be that newer games try a version of this model. It’s probably easier to support and would make a lot of players much happier and less stressed.

And yet, progressing as part of a group can lead to a deep and rewarding gaming experience. For a lot of players, it’s key to why we enjoy MMOs, because we can play alongside team mates and friends for weeks, months, or even years. If all players started at the beginning of the expansion and progressed alongside their raid, then they’d be able to take on the content when it was introduced. Given enough difficulty sliders, they’d get through it somehow at an appropriate pace. But this doesn’t always happen. Some players start playing later into the expansion. Some change groups for social reasons, scheduling reasons, or play style reasons. Maybe you want a more hardcore experience. Maybe you decide you would prefer to raid with your mates. Maybe something comes up iRL and you need to switch from raiding four nights a week to one.

There are no easy answers. Either progression is less important, so newer players can catch up easily with established groups. Or else progression is king, players are forced to raid with other people at a similar progression level, and guild hopping returns as the recommended way for people to ‘jump a few tiers.’

Accessibility means that Blizzard have prioritised letting newer players gear quickly and raid with their friends in Wrath. Those friends have no need to go back and run older instances again, and (more importantly) they don’t generally want to because they already burned out on that content.

In TBC, recruitment posed a different type of issue to guilds. It was harder to just gear up the new alt or new player and let them join. Guild hopping was recognised as the best way for a new player to manage this, which probably suited some people but made others a lot unhappier. Ultimately, forcing progression raiders to go back to older instances to gear or key new recruits certainly didn’t help with avoiding burnout for them. Using less progressed guilds as feeders to more hardcore guilds (ie. they recruited new people and trained/ geared them, who then left to join more hardcore raids) also gave them a demoralising level of turnover. It wasn’t a better raid system, it just hit a different group of players more harshly.

We know that players can be enticed to run content by suitable rewards, but that adds an extra element of pressure into the game which won’t suit some groups. (Imagine if the rewards for running Naxx, Ulduar, and TotC in the same week were so high that competitive raiders felt pushed to do as many as possible.)

Weekly raid quests have been fairly successful. PUGs form quickly. But it’s not really the same experience as running those old raids when they were new, with a bunch of similarly geared people.

For all that some people complain about WoW’s lack of innovation, Blizzard have tinkered a good deal with the raid game, and how new content is introduced into the end game in general.  They’ve made changes during Wrath that would have really eased pressure in TBC. For example, being able to extend the locks on a raid instance means that even raids on a very casual schedule aren’t pressured to clear everything in a week before it resets,

So why don’t new players form new raid groups?

So if people who aren’t burned out on the older instances still want to run them for fun, what is stopping them?

The answer is, because you need a group. And because a lot of people don’t want to organise one, especially not with other new players who they may have to teach. Only at the very start of an expansion do raids start from the beginning (and even then, a lot of them will be full of experienced raiders from other games or expansions.)

Logic says that raid progression is an old and outdated mechanic. The type of progression that groups can earn via rated battlegrounds will probably work much better for WoW. Gear matters but good play and tactics mean that a skilled team can work around it while gearing new members. But that’s PvP.

And yet, some of the best experiences I’ve had in MMOs have been watching entire raid groups grow and learn together. Very soon, I suspect, we’ll rate these experiences alongside waiting 17 hours for a boss to spawn or crippling death penalties: memories of an earlier and more hardcore era.

Blue Booking, PvE Grind, and what do we do in games inbetween scheduled groups?

I have been thinking recently about the patterns in which I tend to play MMOs. I’ve been spending more time in LOTRO recently, and my guild there is mostly made up of older players. They’re grumpy and proud, and they are very very good at organising their gaming to fit lifestyles which involve kids, non-gaming commitments, and a mix of casual and hardcore players. They are also awesome (if any of you are reading this!)

This means a lot of scheduled runs, even for small 3 man groups. Of course you can just log in, see who is around, and put a group together, but players with time limitations prefer to be able to arrange their free time in advance. I’ve noticed that players are also quite conscientious about notifying the other people involved if something comes up in advance and they can’t make it. I’m sure there are also a lot of informal but pre-arranged levelling groups and skirmish groups which don’t use the bboards and calendar to organise.

And this reminds me a lot of my old pen and paper groups. We’d have regular gaming nights and if anyone couldn’t make it then they’d let the rest of us know.

It’s a good rhythm for any organised group hobby. You have ‘group’ nights. And then if you want to work quietly on your hobby you can either skip a group night or do it when no one else is around, or at home.

But I’m interested in what it means to work quietly on your hobby if your hobby is an MMO. Because these games tend to be based on progression, then either time spent solo will progress your character (in which case all min/maxers will feel they must do it) or else there is some other purpose.

Blue Booking in RPGs

Blue Booking is a pen and paper technique that has dipped in and out of popularity. And it is all about immersively answering the question, “What does my character do in between scenarios?” You can imagine a pen and paper scenario as a short story. A  bunch of people turning up to a group and improvising their way through a brief storyline which consists of a plot hook, a few scenes, some conversation, roleplaying, fights, and a conclusion.

So if your character’s life is a bunch of short stories (think of it as an anthology) then what happens inbetween?

The idea was that players could try to answer that question and the GM would award xp for good efforts. They might write a short story explaining what their character had done, or was trying to do, after the last scenario. Maybe it would represent a day in that character’s life, or introduce some of their family or friends who the GM could use in scenarios later.  Players might draw pictures or use any other type of creative activity to do this. They might have a private chat via email with other players to discuss what their characters were getting up to, and then let the GM know later.

And if a RPG scenario is like an instance (which it isn’t really, apart from the fighting) then MMOs answer the same question by actually letting players play through some of what their characters do between group adventures. But of course, RPGs are all about roleplaying so we expect players to seek immersive answers. MMOs – for a lot of people – have almost nothing to do with roleplaying at all. Most players won’t care what their character is doing between fighting dragons.

And yet, MMO design is so rooted in old immersive goals that these things tend to be built in anyway. The origin of our grinds is not just to keep people playing but to answer the question, so what does your character do when they aren’t killing dragons?

  • Maybe they are a crafter or tradesman, and have to keep up with the day to day demands of running a business. (In MMOs, that means gathering, crafting, playing the auction house or otherwise toying with the economy.)
  • Maybe they have an active social life with friends, parties, drama, love affairs. (Roleplaying.)
  • Maybe they are involved in defending their homelands. (PvP … sort of.)
  • Maybe they just like wandering the world (not really much to do in most MMOs here.)
  • Maybe they are ambitious and are trying to impress superiors in some organisation? (reputation grind.)
  • Maybe they are ambitious and trying to impress other players in an organisation, for example in their guild. (Organise guild activities, offer to help with guild website, other out of game activities.)

And you can see that PvE grinds and activities try to replace the notion of the blue book, with some occasional success. Many possible activities are not modelled at all (which is a shame because it would give non-raiders more to do in the endgame). Others are not well supported because devs just don’t like or understand the gameplay (like roleplaying.)

But truth is, the majority of players will prefer to log off and do something else in between adventures. They won’t want to play out every single thing their character does, or even the majority of it.

And here is where the blue booking side comes in. Even players who don’t want to spend hours gathering to simulate the crafting activities that their character does might still be interested in having the activity recorded. There are games where you can set your character to do something useful while you are logged off. You don’t need to actually pick all the grass. Maybe you could just leave your character to do it and then when you log back in the next day, your packs are full.

And this I think is where the opportunities are for integrating casual or even mobile gaming with an MMO. What does my character do between adventures could be answered with ‘runs a farm’, for example. I don’t honestly know if this is the way that MMOs will go; for every EVE which is trying to integrate a MMO with a shooter (Dust), there will be others who decide it’s easier just to leave separate games to be separate. WoW is looking to battle.net and the RealID to push the solution that says, “I play SC2 while my WoW character is not involved in anything,” for example.

But I am intrigued by the possibility of finding more and more varied answers to the question, “What does my character do in between group runs,” in MMOs.

Sociopaths r us! Is a social game a polite game?

I read a great article this week (courtesy of RPS), and it was by a gaming journalist who was explaining how playing Halo tipped him over the edge. He’s describing here how he got ganked by a random stranger, became mindbogglingly furious, and spent the entire rest of the evening tracking and corpse camping the guy to get revenge.

Not unusual behaviour for someone in a shooter, you might think. It also shows signs of classical sociopathy (A pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others) and I think he was right to recognise that the game was bad for him and quit.  Here’s an example:

Who was he to take my stuff? He respawned, this time I was off to the side of the base and tossed a ‘nade. It was beautiful, curved delicately and landed right between his shoulder blades. Pow!
I wrote: “2-1″.
In truth, I was sort of hoping for an apology. He could have just given me what I wanted.

The italics above are mine.

I’d spent time tracking this guy down, I was /right/. I killed him and he quit. I tracked him down again and again and again. An evening lost to bloodying up some jerk, feeling like a vigilante.

So when someone ganked him, he felt owed an apology, but no notion of apologising to the guy whose entire evening he had ruined. FPS shooter players just don’t do that. PvP has a similar dynamic. Why would you ever apologise or expect an apology for killing someone in a PvP game? They chose to play, they knew the rules. They can log off and do something else any time they like.

By comparison, look at an article that Matticus penned this week on his blog. It’s called How to Apologize. This is about a very different type of online game, and very different types of relationships between players. He’s talking with respect to running a raiding guild, although it could just as easily apply to any player in a guild or online community.

Still, the contrast between how the writers expect other players to behave is very marked indeed. FPS online chat is known to be vicious, hostile, sexist, homophobic, racist – in fact you can name the unpleasant behaviour of your choice and it’s probably rife on Xbox Live. Trade chat on WoW isn’t all that much better, depending on your server. But guild chat is usually more polite (or at least everyone is equally accepting of the level of rudeness.)

So why do players act like sociopaths online?

Freedom to unleash your inner sociopath!

If people are acting like sociopaths, it is because they enjoy it. A lot of players have stressful factors in their jobs, relationships, study. or just generally in their lives. Logging on and being randomly horrible to a random player may be a source of stress relief. Obviously, it’s not so fun to be on the receiving end of the insults. But the sociopath player is able to ignore that; they’re either a sociopath, or roleplaying it well online, or else it’s the local game culture that everyone is randomly horrible to each other equally. Griefers even find it fun.

So people who find it great stress relief to gank people and vent at randoms enjoy the general xbox live and trade chat atmosphere. It’s perfect for them. Just as long as everyone else plays the same way too. And if anyone dares to get upset or doesn’t want to play the sociopath game then it’s their fault for being different and not trying to fit in.

I am reminded of a guild officer in my old DaoC guild (which was, in retrospect, home to some of the worst officers I’ve ever encountered.) He saw himself as an in game sergeant major and regularly used to bitch people out in public if they annoyed him.

One day, he did this to a player who became very upset. They hated being yelled at, felt insulted and belittled, and made sure he understood exactly how upset they were. At the time, his reponse to this puzzled me greatly. The officer became furious with the upset player. How dare they ruin his good shouting session by bringing stupid emotions into this? Didn’t they know that when he yelled at them, they should accept it politely and change their behaviour to exactly what he demanded?

I don’t think he was really a sociopath, just an idiot who wanted the virtual world to reflect his self image. I think he knew that he’d gone too far, but what he actually did was to yell more at the upset player for being such a delicate flower. Unsurprisingly, this did not help and resulted in a gquit. i.e. the person who did not fit into the sociopath’s guild left.

Because you can!

The internet is anarchy. And without anyone to moderate the chat channels, bboards, or live chat then sociopaths roam widely, free to force the other web denizens to conform to their mould. And if we can’t boot or report the perpetrators, then everyone else is stuck with them.

So where do people go if they hate sociopaths online? Well, not to xbox live or open FPS chatrooms, that’s for sure. They have to collect in communities which will allow them to moderate other people’s behaviour. So guilds, private servers, social networks, moderated forums/ newsgroups and anywhere else where they can keep the riff-raff out to let their frustrations out on each other somewhere in the internet back of beyond.

And then people wonder why women don’t feature much in online gaming.

Social games force people to be more polite

So if a social game is one that forces players to communicate with each other, and to cooperate, then there is a limit to how sociopathic a successful player can be. If you want to win, then you have to work with others. That’s the bottom line in this type of game. A whole guild of sociopath players can be functional, as long as no one expects anyone else to care about what they think ( if you are the type who expects apologies when someone else insults your mother, then it’s obviously not the guild for you.)

But if a player who might be a sociopath in FPS is also an achiever, they’ll probably have to modify their behaviour in a social game. So social games will tend to be more friendly — whether they’re raid based like WoW or gift based like Farmville. Their communities will tend to be more supportive and functional.

We see this even more on roleplaying servers, because RP is all about socialising (you cannot RP on your own). So these servers hold a special attraction to the most social players.

More solo friendly games will breed more sociopathic gamers

As matticus’ post shows, players who make long term commitments to their online communities do need to foster and care about their relationships with other players. You don’t need to become best friends, but you also can’t treat them as abusively as a perfect stranger who you will never meet again.

And I wonder what this means with the ongoing trend to solo-friendliness in MMOs. Although the majority of players in the random dungeon finder are fine, it’s easy enough for the sociopathic ones to sneak in these days. And the less players need to communicate and cooperate with each other in game, the easier it is to treat the others as random objects of abuse.

But MMO culture isn’t the same as FPS culture. Many more women and older players play MMOs, for a start (and yes it does make a difference.) They won’t all suddenly become randomly abusive just because they can. But other people will. And especially if game companies keep chasing the hardcore male 18-30 year old player and putting out more solo friendly games, the prospects for better communities online are poor.

So driving away from that hardcore market and more towards the mainstream is a good trend, in my opinion. Casual gamers who won’t accept that they need to put up with all that shit as the price of entry may yet keep us all honest.

On Solo Rewards for Group Challenges

Group content of any kind in a MMO can be seen as a social challenge. If you want the shiny mount/ quest reward/ epic then you need to find 4/9/24 other suckers to come and help you get it. Now, the standard way to do that is to either pledge your loyalty to a guild which will require some kind of ongoing commitment. Or maybe chance your luck with a pick up group, or asking random people on the trade channel. Or persuade some friends to come along.

And people enter into guild pacts because they know that they all will benefit. So where do legendary weapons fit into this scheme? One person in the raid has to be chosen to receive the main reward. I guess the social challenge for the rest of the raid is to pick the right person and hope that s/he will stay with them afterwards.

I wonder though what legendary weapons might look like in the new Cataclysm scheme of guild design. If it is possible to have guild bound items – something Blizzard have already been discussing with reference to crafted heirlooms – then how about a guild bound legendary item? You could let different people use it from week to week. So if you helped create a legendary that was of a type your class could use, you’d share the reward.

But people do also love solo rewards. They’re the only progression for soloers, and the main progression for everyone else. So there has to be a balance between guild rewards and individual rewards; how heavily it is tipped towards the individual will control how trapped people feel by their guilds. Would players even want shareable legendaries, and to give that power to a guild (guild leader, even) rather than to an individual player? Or will it make them feel less ‘used’?

My experiences with Shadowmourne

shadowmourne

(These are some bad screenies of the legendary weapon in action)

I’ve been musing on legendaries lately due to a couple of experiences with Shadowmourne – the current WoW legendary axe.

The first was the guy who broke Gearscore, shown in the pictures above. I zoned into a random PUG with my Death Knight, and there was a player with the legendary axe. He did about double my dps, which wasn’t all that low to start with. And he was a nice guy too, he told one of the other dps to stop whining about healing. Everyone was ogling that weapon and asking about his guild. And when we left, everyone wished him luck on the hard mode LK25 fight.

The other was that we’ve been making a Shadowmourne in our raid group, which involved tackling some of the raid encounters in an awkward way to let him complete the quests. I think working together on a group achievement like that is something to be proud of, and wish him the best of luck with the rest of it. I think we’ll all be very proud to see a Shadowmourne in our raid too.

And yet. I’ve never owned a legendary weapon on any of my alts, although I have been in guilds which helped to create a couple. And frankly, even if there had been a tanking legendary this expansion, I would not have been first in line to get it (purely for attendance reasons, if nothing else).

I wonder if it’s selfish to wish for raid bound legendaries, just so that I could see what it’s like to carry one …

Sharing information in fights: Everyone’s a critic

I think we can agree that yelling at people in frustration is not the best way to pass on information. (See yesterday’s post and comments.)

But when we’re playing in a group in a MMO, a lot of information needs to be communicated quickly. Are we trying to focus fire and if so, does everyone know what they are supposed to be hitting at any time? Do you need to ask another player to remove a debuff from you? Have you just used a cooldown that your tank or healer or dps needs to know about? Are you going to assume someone else’s role because they just died in combat?

A lot of our abilities are designed to interlock with each other. A buff from one player might significantly affect the abilities or optimal ability use of another. If you have debuffs, you need to know when to use them. When you think about it, that’s a crazy amount of information that needs to be assimilated quickly.

So how do we do it?

  • Pre Pre-planning. This is where you discuss the fight and tactics in detail on a bboard before you even step into the instance.
  • Pre-planning. If you know what will happen in a fight, you can pre-arrange the kill order, any crowd control, any other tactics, and roughly when significant buffs will be used.
  • UI. We rely heavily on the user interface for information about when players have buffs or debuffs active on them. This is automatic information provided by the game (and the UI addons, if you use them) and doesn’t require anyone to actually say ‘I’m poisoned!’
  • Flashy graphics. Some spells just come with very unmistakeable graphical effects that no one can miss if they’re paying attention.
  • Boss cues. Some bosses will cue before they make a special attack with either a graphic or some kind of yell. Games don’t tend to use pure audio cues; I’d like to think this was in respect of deaf gamers but it’s probably just because they know a lot of people play with the sound off.
  • Text and macros. Sometimes the easiest way to inform your group or raid when you’ve used a cooldown or buff is to macro in an automatic comment on group or raid chat when you activate it. eg. ** Just used Bloodlust ** The only problem is … not everyone reads text chat in the middle of a fight.
  • Shout on voice chat. Best saved for if something really unexpected happens and pre-arranged plans have to change on the fly. Also probably best left for the raid leader.
  • We don’t. No one says or types a word. We just assume we roughly know what they’ll be doing and go with it. (Really common in 5 man instances in WoW these days, or any content where it isn’t critical to micro-manage.)

Either way, it is a huge amount of information to process and I think regular raiders often forget how enormously overwhelming it may have felt when you first tried a raid, particularly as a healer or debuffer.

Broadcasting Taunts

Given the sheer amount of information flying around, I’ve always tended to the cautious side when I’m deciding which of my abilities and cooldowns to publicise. I was thinking about this lately because with the heroic beasts fight, we do a lot of tank switching in the first part. So I picked up an addon which would automatically tell people on the raid channel when I’d used various different abilities. What I really wanted was to let people know if a taunt had failed, but I figured I might as well add an inform about Shield Wall also (it’s a tanking cooldown).

You know the worst part? Not people complaining about spam because actually no-one complained. I got the impression it was felt to be generally useful. Nope, the most difficult part about automatically informing your group when you use an ability is that … they automatically also get informed when you press the button by mistake.

You don’t realise how naked this makes you feel until you try it. I mean, OF COURSE I press taunt at the wrong time sometimes. So does every tank who ever lived, unless they have it bound somewhere really inaccessible. If it’s not being broadcast, you just whisper to the other tank afterwards and apologise. They’ll shrug it off, we all do it. If using taunt by mistake means it wasn’t up when you really needed it then you can always fake that it missed or failed. But if you broadcast your abilities, then suddenly your entire raid becomes a backseat driver. Or at least it can feel that way.

So one positive side to broadcasting my taunts and cooldowns? You can bet I’m way more careful with them now. There’s no doubt that it’s made me a better player, in that sense at least.

Game jargon: When is a group not a group?

When is a group not a group? When it’s a party, fellowship, fleet, team, gang, etc.

New MMOs often flood players with a tsunami of jargon, using new words for old, familiar concepts as well as thinking up terms for new gameplay or lore which is specific to that game. It isn’t just the humble group that gets the makeover treatment, games use different terms to describe guilds (kinship, corp, legion, supergroup, society, etc), raids (warbands) and even different types of spell (mez, sleep, incapacitate, blind).

It can feel overwhelming when you jump into a new game. As well as the official jargon, players have probably adopted their own abbreviations and nicknames for different locations, instances, bosses, quests, items and each other. A general chat channel might as well be in a foreign language for the amount of sense it makes to a newbie – or at least an unfamiliar dialect. Learning the local slang is an important part of learning a new MMO and joining that game’s community. Many of the wackier pieces of jargon are purely emergent — the player base thought them up to represent something they wanted to talk about.

So why think up different names for groups and guilds in every game?

Names have power. By renaming a familiar entity, you can change how players perceive it. For example, in D&D the player who runs the game is known as the DM or Dungeon Master. Later RPGs renamed this role as Game Master (showing that a game wasn’t really centred about dungeons), Storyteller (White Wolf trying to focus their games on stories and storytelling), and … infamously … Hollyhock God (I think this was an attempt to make Nobilis even more way out than it is anyway). Most pen and paper games settled for some version of GM — after all, players knew what it meant and it did describe the role.

Guilds and groups don’t really fall into the same category though, because a guild in most games serves the same function. It really is just a case of swapping the name to something more immersive. And immersion is another reason to pick different names. Would it make as much sense to talk about a group in EVE as it does to talk about a fleet? Even if they are functionally the same? A fleet implies a group of ships, after all. Using the name reminds players of the setting and of what their ‘group interface’ represents.

LOTRO in particular really went hell for leather on renaming just about everything in game to be more Tolkienesque. As well as Fellowships (groups) and Kinships (guilds), they even reimagined character death as representing loss of morale. It made for a very immersive experience, even with the exotic and unfamiliar naming system. Even when the name is not particularly immersive, different words have different connotations to players. A ‘party’ just feels more fun than a ‘group’.

Then there is the issue of trademarks. If a company thinks up a lot of new jargon for a game, they can trademark it and prevent others from using it inappropriately. If you look through the list of registered trademarks for a company like White Wolf/ CCP, you’ll see that they have trademarked a lot of the game jargon for this reason.

Players are more amenable to some kinds of jargon than other. The different names for guilds have been enthusiastically embraced in games I have played. LOTRO players jumped immediately into ‘kinships’ and started happily referring to their ‘kinnies’ (instead of guildies). My friends who play Aion are chatting about their Legions. There was no confusion, no resistance, they were happy with the new name for a player organisation.

Groups on the other hand are usually referred to as groups. It may be different in space settings where the players represent ships, but my experience is that people have been more resistant to adopting different terms for a group. Perhaps the game jargon for groups was either awkward or didn’t add enough in the way of immersion to really catch on.

But still I wonder how upcoming MMOs will name their groups and guilds. I’m thinking that fleets will feature in Star Trek, but I wonder how Star Wars (yes you can sign up for beta now) will choose to portray guilds in that game. It’ll be a challenge to think of guild jargon that could apply equally to a player organisation for sith warriors or for a group of smugglers. Perhaps they’ll decide, in the end, that the easiest way is just to call a guild a guild.