So who doesn't fit? I'm talking about two groups, mostly -- guild collectives/coalitions (several guilds who have banded together for a common purpose) or raid alliances (a very specific coalition or mixed group of people formed into a team for content). Both are two structures that have emerged socially and pragmatically to fill gaps that the traditional guild structures of yore haven't met.
Guild coalitions serve to create a larger pool of people out of several smaller pools and provide easier access to socializing, or goals -- whether that be raiding, PvP, crafting or just fun activities like role-playing or exploration. They often have organized calendar events, raid teams, or shared chat channels in order to gather and socialize. Raid alliances, on the other hand, have risen in popularity with the advent of 10-man raids -- a 10-man team doesn't necessarily have to be part of a larger 25-man raid team or even the same guild. This even holds true for 25-man raiding: some raid teams are formed solely from smaller guilds that just don't have the membership or interest in supporting one 25-man raid team from their guild roster. Both of these instances for raiding and socializing have come out of a very real need from some of the people in World of Warcraft. It may not be a grand portion of the entire Warcraft population, but very soon they might find themselves hard-pressed to continue business as usual in the face of Cataclysm's guild benefits.
I know this because I'm facing it myself. I belong to a guild collective on my server that I've been a member of since I first started playing Warcraft back in 2005. It's been my home, my family and my social outlet all these years. We have two 25-man raid teams, countless 10-man teams spanning four guilds, and a collective chat channel. It has changed and grown over the years, but now that the idea of Cataclysm's guild benefits are becoming more and more lucrative, we're already seeing a push for at least a raid guild amongst our social guilds for our progression 25-man team. I haven't been very enthusiastic about this at all. Is it wrong to fear change? Possibly. But for raiding in particular, I know some people are going to be feeling the push or the pinch to support a guild with their raiding endeavors. My guild specifically has enough people to be able to level up their guild talents without help from killing bosses, but what about those who are smaller? Or focus on a raid collective?
We aren't the only ones who might have this problem -- there's many more like us in similar situations. How are the Leftovers going to handle raid achievements when the Cataclysm require 20 people in the same guild to count a kill? Spreading Taint? Those are just two of the major, well-known social groups that I am sure would do well in their own right, but what about smaller coalitions? This isn't even the first time our sorts of teams and guilds have had to deal with not being as lucrative as a raid guild or singular entity. While WoWprogress and GuildOx have looser requirements for raid kills or achievements, they have historically not tracked guild alliances or raid alliances in mixed-guild boss kills. While I understand the difficulty, the fact that this will continue on in Blizzard's plan for guilds is rather disheartening.
Simply put, Cataclysm's changes for guild talents will not benefit most of the guilds who participate in activities under an allied umbrella. Raid teams will not get credit for their kills in their guilds in terms of leveling up. Same goes for PVP combat. If a guild that is part of a coalition is large enough to level without using raiding or PVP, they will ultimately benefit from questing, crafting and other such things. If they aren't, this is going to keep smaller guilds from gaining talents a lot longer. This creates a dilemma - either the smaller guild needs to find alternate methods to earn talents themselves under this system or join a larger guild in order to have everyone benefit. This becomes more of a sticking point for any collection of guilds that focus on raiding. Blizzard is providing many incentives to become large, healthy guilds with boosts to questing, craftables, and just overall organization for members. In this vein, only the largest of guilds in a collective or the most stubborn of coalitions will remain unchanged by this, but most people have been scrambling since Blizzcon 2009 trying to understand how this will affect things. Back in our guild collective, we've already started "beta-testing" the raid guild and I have not joined it. I'm still very torn having to choose between raid achievements and guild talents and the guild I've been a part of for almost four years now. I'm sure that others are feeling the strain too.
While Blizzard has been amazing at allowing all playstyles to succeed in this past expansion, this feels like a disavowal that emergent social structures in their MMO are as important as things like easy access to raid content, epic gear rewards from heroics, and cross-server grouping. I'm not sure why Blizzard can't come up with a solution for the problem either; it might just be a case of dealing with the majority as opposed to the handful of people who genuinely use and enjoy more than one guild or non-traditional social structures. Other MMORPGs, such as Eve Online and Guild Wars, have not only set allowances for guild alliances and coalitions, but made it incredibly easy and beneficial within their game mechanics. I believe that Blizzard could find a way to implement a way to purchase an alliance -- one that would come with its own tag or tabard, integrated chat channel and ways of using the already existing in-game calendar and raid panels to organize members. Easy restrictions could be put in place with exorbitant costs to be shared by the member guilds, or limits on how many guilds can join, or how alliance activities create bonuses towards their individual guild leveling. An even easier way of perhaps quieting some of the backlash from raid kills or PvP events would be to just allow a reduction in the number of people from a guild needing to be present in order to gain credit. 20 guildmates still seems rather steep for a raid boss - using 10 would be a step towards smaller guilds and mixed-guild teams to have a little more leeway on options for what they would like to do in Cataclysm.
I'm sure our little "guild of guilds" will survive as four guilds and a raid guild, regardless of how Blizzard enacts guild talents. But I feel for all of the other crews of people who raid together, have fun together, and have forged bonds that have no singular guild tag and stand under a banner that they created themselves. We are not the majority by a long shot, but we've definitely carved a special place in the WoW social sphere, and this will affect us all in the coming months. It just remains to be seen how much.