If you're a regular reader of this column, you know that my biggest pet peeve with WoW is how little support guilds have received from Blizzard over the years. As I've said before, guilds are the backbone of any MMO. They facilitate all the group content that developers spend millions to produce -- the content that keeps people interested in the game and separates an MMO from your average single-player experience.
Without officers who sacrifice time and energy to organize and lead their guilds, no MMO can succeed. I am, of course, biased, but I believe that officers deserve more support than they typically get from MMO developers, especially in WoW. Finally, Blizzard has unveiled plans to deliver not just an improved guild interface, but an entire leveling and achievement system for guilds, complete with talents.
In Cataclysm, the face of Azeroth is not the only thing that will be reshaped. Guilds will be completely different entities compared to what they are now, with much greater depth and interactivity. To fully understand how monumental these changes are for officers everywhere, let's first look at the history of WoW's guild improvements.
Once upon a time, a guild in WoW was just a chat channel with a crude interface for ranking and assigning permissions to ranks. That basic interface was clunky when WoW first launched, and it hasn't changed . . . ever. To give an example of how awkward this interface is, imagine you want to add a rank to your guild for junior officers, who will assist the full officers. You can only add ranks to the bottom of the ranking list. So to add this new rank, you have to add a rank to the bottom of the list and then rename all the ranks above it. The new rank will be your lowest rank. Then you'll have to rename your former lowest rank to be your second-lowest rank, on and on up the list, finally renaming whatever rank was previously in that position to the new rank you wanted to add.
Now there's a big problem. No one in your guild has their correct rank anymore. So you need to click on every single member of your guild and reassign their rank. Then you need to go into the permissions tab and set up each rank all over again, including your new rank. Voila -- seven hours later, you have your new rank! There are add-ons to ease this process, but the fact that you even need an add-on to simplify what should be so incredibly basic is mind-blowing.
The first substantial improvement to guilds was made in Patch 2.3, when guild banks were added to the game. This patch also gave us the Zul'Aman raid instance. So yes, guild officers waited a long, long time for this feature.
Almost a year later, 3.0.2, the pre-WotLK patch, brought us improved game calendars to schedule raids and other events as part of the base UI. In theory, you could use this calendar for all your guild scheduling. However, many officers still use add-ons such as GroupCalendar, which are (in my opinion) better, due to their flexibility and ease-of-use.
Ten months later, 3.2 gave guilds the option to extend their raiding lockouts. It's a small change, but it's a godsend for guilds of all ability levels to be able to make their own decisions about raid resets.
These changes and improvements, slow as they were in coming, were all very welcome. But they were, by and large, what should have been provided at launch.
After all this time, we are still tied to the basic guild UI that launched with the game. Nearly five years after WoW first hit shelves, guilds have very few in-game ways to distinguish themselves, to tout their victories, or to reap rewards for their survival and success. Leaving a guild (or getting kicked out) has virtually no cost. Disbanding and reforming can be done at the drop of a hat with practically zero consequences outside of a few pricey bank slots. Guild-hopping for personal gain has ruled the day. Now, all that is changing.
Three months before WotLK launched, I wrote up a wish list for improvements I wanted to see Blizzard make to the guild experience. Foremost among them was to add guild-wide achievements. Another request I made was for a recruiting interface. Now, in Cataclysm, we're getting both! Another item I wished for, a way to identify which characters were all tied to the same account, was noted as a possibility at the BlizzCon WoW Systems panel.
I'm not trying to take credit for these ideas. I'm just extremely excited to be able to check two or three items off my list of wishes! Blizzard has finally announced a way to make guilds -- and belonging to a guild -- more meaningful and more dynamic.
When the developers of Warhammer Online announced their "living guild" system and its associated perks, I admit I was quite jealous. I wanted my WoW guild to be able to grow and develop, and eventually offer its members some substantial in-game benefits beyond access to group content. I tried WAR briefly, but I didn't stick around long enough to see if their promises about guilds came to fruition the way that Mythic envisioned.
Blizzard as a software developer is more of a "perfecter" than an innovator. If they can take what other games have done with guilds and make those good ideas shine with Blizzard's unique brand of polish, then officers and members alike will truly benefit from all the hard work of operating a guild.
Needless to say, it's about time they spent some serious development resources on guilds. Cataclysm is shaping up to be the expansion that officers always hoped for, but never got. It's a great time to be in a great guild!
In a perfect system, talents and achievements would help long-standing, highly successful guilds of any size or inclination to stand out from the crowd. Guilds would have ways to prove that they have achieved their goals. The benefits of achieving those goals should be numerous and significant. They should be better for long-term members than for new recruits, rewarding guild loyalty with improved perks.
Ideally, guild stability and longevity should bring tangible incentives. That will encourage members to work harder at preserving the guild they belong to. When disbanding or gquitting brings real consequences, then players won't be so quick to tear a guild apart over a loot issue or jump ship to a new guild rather than apologize for a mistake. When being kicked out of a guild has an actual cost, then officers can exert more pressure on their members to behave in a respectful and courteous manner. All in all, guilds might experience less drama as a result.
Of course, these changes could tip the balance in the other direction. Power-mad guild leaders could wield their juicy talent perks and gkick button as a club to beat down anyone who disagrees with their policies. Members could all flock to the most successful guilds, leaving average or newer organizations high and dry. The push to level up or earn achievements could cause massive, guild-wide burnout.
It's too early to tell exactly what Blizzard has in store for us. Thus, it's too early to predict what will happen to guilds in Cataclysm. The only thing for certain is that guilds will never be the same.
In the coming weeks, I'll talk specifics about what I'd like to see (and what I don't want to see) for guild achievements, leveling, and talents. For now, let's just bask in the possibilities!