Every Monday, Scott Andrews contributes Officers' Quarters, a column about the ins and outs of guild leadership. He is the author of The Guild Leader's Handbook, available this spring from No Starch Press.
About a week ago, Blizzard revealed all the latest updates concerning their gameplan for Cataclysm. Among them were a host of changes to the new guild systems and UI overhaul that were originally announced at BlizzCon 2009. Today I'd like to focus on the removal of guild talents. In future columns, I'll address other changes.
Guild talents get the axe
Two of the biggest announcements from last week were not new features but the cancellation of previously announced features: Path of the Titans and guild talents. I've heard a lot of complaints from people about removing the Path, which is to be expected -- it was considered a key feature of the expansion and a long-awaited means to customize your character beyond talents after glyphs, in the words of Ghostcrawler, "didn't live up to what they could have been." It's a shame they couldn't make the Path work, but I'm hopeful that the revised glyph system will compensate for its loss.
On the other hand, I'm not hearing nearly as many complaints about the removal of guild talents. Again, perhaps, this is to be expected. After all, Blizzard's plan is to replace them with unlocked perks that you receive automatically as your guild levels up. In other words, every guild will get every talent. Awesome, right? For guild members, yes. For officers, not as much.
I'm sure many people will disagree with me on this point. Ghostcrawler had this to say:
I agree with him in theory. There is a risk (as well as a benefit) inherent to making your guild different from others, and it's not impossible to imagine that spec'ing your guild a certain way could have caused this scenario. In practice, though, I wonder if such a thing would really happen.
I mean, what sorts of talents was Blizzard planning such that choosing one over another could actually drive people out of your guild? During BlizzCon, they listed examples such as increased gold drops, removal of reagents for raid-wide buffs, mass summon, mass resurrection, and reduced repair bills. If someone gquits over whether they get more gold per kill instead of foregoing reagents, I'm pretty sure there are additional factors at play.
Yes, if there were talents that gave you 10% more damage and healing in battlegrounds but not in raids, then I could see people moving to another guild if they wanted that extra 10% to apply to their raiding instead. I strongly doubt Blizzard would have implemented such game-breaking talents though.
I wish Ghostcrawler had provided a few examples of talents that might have had a negative impact on your guild, because I just don't see how a realistic "perk" talent choice could make such a big difference that people would actually gquit.
Why do I care?
As I explain in Chapter 1 of The Guild Leader's Handbook, it's important to define your guild, to give your guild an identity that sets your organization apart from others on the server. Doing so provides a number of benefits, not the least of which is more effective, targeted recruiting. Of course, there will always be guilds who want to be all things to all people, but it's vastly easier to run a guild with a focused purpose and a strong idea of the types of players who would want to join.
To date, all such differentiators have been external, by which I mean they are chosen by the officers but they have no actual representation in the game itself. You need to speak to guild members or read the guild's policies on its website in order to understand what the guild is all about.
With talents, Blizzard had a means for allowing officers to differentiate their guilds using the game's own interface. For that reason, talents could have been a huge win for officers, but now it looks like we won't get this functionality in WoW. (I should mention that the new recruiting feature in the UI may allow you to choose from one of several labels that describe your guild, which is a small step in the right direction.)
In my opinion, it is possible to provide talented differentiators that don't necessarily drive away players who aren't part of a guild's major activities. For example, in a progression-oriented raiding guild, you might choose a talent that provides 5% increased reputation gains for PvE factions (i.e., Sons of Hodir) over one that provides the same gains for PvP factions (let's assume Cataclysm has PvP factions that actually matter). While it's true that a player in your guild who PvPs rather than raids may not benefit as much, she still does benefit. It's hard to imagine that the cumulative difference of talent choices would affect her game experience to the point that she would leave a guild she was happy with and players she liked for the sake of minor convenience. Perhaps I'm giving too little credit to a player's desire to min/max her time, but I just don't buy it.
The risk of drama
Ghostcrawler's other reason for removing guild talents is this:
GC, I take umbrage with you here. Call me sensitive, but this statement is an insult to your game's officers. You're pretty much saying, "We don't trust you to make decisions that won't cause problems."
Officers have to make difficult decisions all the time. Sometimes it's better to talk to your players and achieve a consensus. Sometimes it's better to act alone for the benefit of the guild as a whole. Good officers know when to move forward with either method. By taking this power out of our hands, Ghostcrawler is telling us that we don't know how to do our jobs.
Beyond that, I was honestly shocked by this statement. Never before has Blizzard so much as batted an eye at whether their game design would "create the risk of drama." Where was this concern when they decided to create a 5 > 10 > 25 progression path in Burning Crusade? Where was this concern when they were implementing the Immortal achievement? Or restricting Algalon access to individual players rather than the guild as a whole? Or creating four separate lockouts for Trial of the Crusader? Or designing the Tribute to Immortality achievement? Or making cool and purely aesthetic rewards such as the Amani War Bear, Mimiron's Head, and Invincible -- rewards, by the way, that take the dedication and hard work of everyone involved for months at a time in order to earn -- drop one. at. a. time?
C'mon, GC. Some days I feel like you guys do nothing but sit around your office inventing new ways to "create the risk of drama." Seriously, that is not card you get to play at this point. Don't get me wrong: I love that it's finally occurring to you and I hope that this represents a shift in thinking. However, I'll believe you actually care about that when I see it over the course of an entire expansion.
Ghostcrawler also goes on to say that it's easier for Blizzard to make adjustments and add more perks over time without worrying about a talent tree, and that is completely understandable. At this point, anything they can do to get Cataclysm into our eager hands faster is a good thing. Even so, I also feel like the dumping of guild talents is a missed opportunity for officers, and I don't think Blizzard's reasons for this decision, beyond the basic logistics of it, are particularly strong.
What do you think?
Send Scott your guild-related questions, conundrums, ideas, and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may find your question the subject of next week's Officers' Quarters!