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 now from No Starch Press.
Less than 24 hours after Cataclysm went live, Blizzard announced a major change to the way guilds would level up in the brand-new system: Guild achievements no longer provide experience. The change came as a shock to many players. Typically, major shifts in design philosophy such as this occur during beta or even earlier. However, as Nethaera explained, the beta did not provide an accurate picture of guild experience from achievements because most characters were templates without their own achievement history.
It seems shortsighted that Blizzard did not anticipate a rush on guild achievements, particularly in the early days of the guild leveling system when there are so many juicy perks to unlock. Not to mention, achievements were the only way to get around the daily experience cap and powerlevel your guild. If anyone should know the lengths that players will go to in order to reap rewards, you'd think it would be Blizzard.
As it turns out, the game's developers somehow did not see this coming and, unfortunately, the timing of the announcement could not have been worse.
The announced change went into effect after many guilds had already gone on achievement sprees, some earning multiple guild levels and their associated perks. Earning these achievements was not often trivial -- a lot of planning and farming went into earning them. Last Friday's Around Azeroth was a great example. Blizzard then had to retroactively de-level those guilds and remove their perks. From a players' perspective, the only thing worse than being forced to wait for a reward is to earn that reward and then have it unceremoniously stripped away.
The right decision?
I think we can all agree that Blizzard could have handled this situation better. However, the more important question is this: Did the developers make the right decision?
The change effectively removes any chance of accelerating your guild's level. Most guilds will be able to hit the daily experience cap without much hassle. Very small guilds may not always make it. In a nutshell, that means most guilds will all level at the exact same pace. Any advantage that larger guilds might have been able to claim through sheer numbers has been erased.
Is that best for the health of the game? In one sense, you could say that it is. Clearly, larger guilds would have been able to earn certain achievements, such as most of the crafting achievements, far more quickly than smaller organizations. Guild size should be a matter of personal preference, not a throttle for rewards.
On the other hand, let's look at the long-term scenario. At some point and around the same time, every active guild that existed when Cataclysm launched will be max level. Those guilds will have a significant advantage when they go to recruit players over guilds that formed more recently. With achievement experience intact, those new guilds had a chance to catch up faster. Now, they will be have to be patient and live with the disadvantage, because leveling speed is more or less out of their hands.
Discouraging players from forming new guilds may cut down on drama to some degree. It's possible that fewer guilds will split or reform to become more exclusive. At the same time, though, this change may also discourage people from creating new guilds from scratch for the right reasons: because they want to try their hand at leadership, for example, or because they have a vision for a specific type of community.
Right now, I'd say it's too early to tell exactly what impact this change will have. Certainly there are both upsides as well as drawbacks. Much depends on how willing players are to join guilds that have not yet unlocked all the most desirable perks.
What it means
The meaning of guild achievements has changed in a significant way. Prior to this announcement, earning guild achievements was a way for your guild to work together toward a common goal that would benefit everyone in the guild community. Best of all, anyone could contribute. Going after achievements wasn't just an excellent team-building and morale-boosting exercise -- doing so allowed everyone in a guild, regardless of whether they were able to raid or PvP on a competitive level with the other members, to feel like a vital part of the organization. By gathering a handful of herbs or stomping on a gnome who wandered into Hillsbrad, you were making a difference.
Those aspects, by and large, have been lost. Now it feels like your guild will level with or without your contributions, because someone at some point during any given day will cap out the experience. Also, much of the sense of purpose to these achievements is gone. Be prepared for members to opt out of helping with specific achievements. Much like the player-based achievements with no actual rewards, some people just won't care.
Surely there has to be a compromise somewhere in this achievement system between teamwork being rewarded too well and teamwork barely being rewarded at all. We as officers know very well that players respond to goals, but goals are hard to push for when we're achieving them purely for their own sake, with no direct benefit to anyone. Since the goal of leveling faster has been taken away, I would like to see more tangible rewards, such as the Broiled Dragon Feast recipe and the Armadillo Pup, tied to specific achievements.
What's saddest of all to me is that leveling your guild is now a soloable grind. It takes more than one person to level efficiently, but it requires no teamwork whatsoever to accomplish. That was true prior to this change, but the fact that teamwork could level the guild faster was a fun and exciting concept to many officers and players. For that reason, the new system just feels wrong to me. What's your take on it?
Learn how to survive the leveling process, deal with guild perk freeloaders, and discuss the guild talent controversy or the guild reputation system. Send Scott your guild-related questions and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org; you may find your question the subject of next week's Officers' Quarters!