And on the 7th day, Verant made guilds
Back in the beginning of EverQuest, players were banding together in guilds even before there was a guild system in place because it was much easier (and a lot more fun) to hunt with friends than it was alone. Players organized themselves out of necessity, and they divided tasks and roles in order to take on the challenges of the game.
But EQ was hard. It wasn't solo-friendly at the time, and failure usually meant a painful penalty of days of lost experience, or worse, starting over completely. Guilds were extremely important back then because membership in one made life in game a lot easier, not only for those within the guild but for those in the general population. I remember many a train in Crushbone that would probably still be there today if it hadn't been for the arrival of an organized guild to take it out.
But MMOs are much different today, and because of that, so are guilds. It's actually not a surprise that Guild Wars 2 seems to be modeling its guild system after the all-popular social networks that everyone uses. I can compartmentalize my real-life friends into tidy little circles, so why not do it with my gaming mates as well?
Unfortunately, it's not that simple, because while MMOs in general have become a lot more solo and casual-friendly, there is still a lot of content that is challenging and requires organization, teamwork, and preparation. The require the player to do more than just show up for that one night -- he needs to do the groundwork to properly equip himself with the necessary gear, consumables, and resists that give him and his team the best chance to win. It's what makes the game so satisfying for some, and it's also what drives people away from that type of content completely. Guilds play an important role here, and it's little surprise that guild groups and raids do much better overall with challenging content than loosely organized, impromptu groups and raids.
The curious case of guilds
Guilds in many MMOs are going through a Benjamin Button-esque type of reverse adolescence, starting out life as grizzled, rough shelters for survival and mellowing into hamlets for a variety of playstyles. While there are still plenty of hardcore, highly organized guilds in MMOs, there are now dozens of other types of guilds that have different aims and whose members share much different commonalities than traditional "old school" guilds.
For this new breed of guild, a system of multiple guilds is a natural fit. It would be great to be able to log in to one character and sample the dim sum of what all my favorite guilds have to offer that night. One night, I might be in the mood to PvP, while the next night, I might want to help level the guild that my small group of friends has formed.
But there's a square peg in the mix, and it's the fact that if you want to tackle the challenging content in MMOs with a more progression-minded guild, you can't really just show up when you're in the mood. If your other 19 (or 23, or 39) guildmates are working together to practice and prepare for the challenge, it's not fair to them if you spend your free nights doing things with other guilds. Put the Grasshopper and the Ant into a raid together, and it's pretty obvious what the outcome will be. It's not necessarily the player's fault as much as it is game design, but given the parameters of the games we play, we have to accept the requirements if we choose to participate in challenging content.
Of course, not everyone sees it that way, and when players in multiple guilds meet the endgame, drama is usually the result. But if you're a guild leader, chances are that at some point, the issue of multiple guilds will come up. I've had it come up several times, yet only one member was able to pull it off smoothly.
Burning the pixelated candle at both ends
The member was someone in our EQII guild who was one of our primary tanks, very active in game, and very skilled at mastering the ins and outs of each class he played on his characters. On top of that, he was always upbeat, supportive, and a pleasure to chat with. I still remember a Crypt of Agony run during which I received an education in the finer points of frog gigging. When he asked me about moving one of his alts into another raiding guild, my first thought was that it was just a polite way of transitioning from our laid-back raid guild to one that was more hardcore.
It wasn't the first time I'd had that conversation with a member before, and I went over the same factors and concerns that I had shared with other members. Basically, anyone in our guild who has alts in other guilds is expected to put our guild first. We had members who had alts with other tags, but they were either small, non-progression guilds or guilds that had gone inactive. Alts with tags in active, progression guilds are a lot more problematic because there's a good chance of conflicts with raid schedules and off-night grouping needs, not to mention that it takes a lot of time to properly gear up two raiding toons. What ends up happening is that the person is burning the candle at both ends and isn't really able to contribute enough in either guild. In every other discussion I've had about this with members, the result is usually a cordial agreement to either remain completely in our guild or make the move completely to another guild. Sometimes, it's a case of players not wanting to leave out of guilt, while in other cases, it's a situation where their eyes are bigger than their stomachs, and a little reality check helps to clarify things.
After I discussed things with this one member, though, he felt that he could manage it. The raid schedules didn't conflict much (they raided later in the evenings and there was really only one night when our raids overlapped), and he assured me that he would be available for our guild first (which is something he also made clear to the other guild). I decided to go with it, partially because I had a lot of respect for him and trusted him and partially because I knew that, honestly, there was little I could do about it anyway. At the end of the day, it's a game, and everyone has to find the fun in game however possible. I could put in an arbitrary rule and forbid any member from putting alts in other guilds, spending my time playing Big Brother and sniffing out surreptitious twinks, but people are going to do what they're going to do.
It was a huge leap of faith, and I was very skeptical about it working out, but it actually did. He was always available for us first, and I never felt that we were playing second fiddle. And probably most importantly, he didn't judge us based on the other guild. There were times when he offered raid ideas, but it never felt like he was trying to say that we were lacking and that the other group did it better.
In the end, it's very rare for someone to carry two tags in active guilds. So rare, in fact, that I doubt I'll ever come across another member who can do it again. Trying to play in more than one active guild is very difficult, and it has the potential to not only cause that person to suffer burnout but also detract from others' enjoyment in game, as they're subjected to the constant tug and pull that the member is going through. Furthermore, there's something demoralizing about seeing a guildmate choose to forego your guild one night to do something with his "other friends," even if that something is completely trivial. Someday, perhaps, MMOs will provide content that fits better with our desire to float among our social circles. In the meantime, guild leaders will need to find a balance when it comes to guild playstyle and multiple guilds.
Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.