As predicted, Cataclysm has had a massive impact on guilds and guild leadership. The changes to guilds in this expansion will continue to have consequences throughout the lifetime of the game. Of all those changes, none have affected PvE guilds more than Cataclysm's new raiding systems and philosophy.
The new endgame
In April 2010, Blizzard announced a major shift in its design philosophy for raiding: The company intended to combine lockouts for 10- and 25-man raid sizes, while placing the exact same items in both. When the changes were first announced, the community -- including part of WoW Insider's own staff -- unleashed an understandable outcry. Memories of the transition from vanilla's 40-man to The Burning Crusade's 25-man cap haunted us. We worried whether our guilds could survive another monumental change.
At the time, I tried to stay positive. I touted the potential benefits of the new raiding paradigm. Looking back on my column, most of these predicted benefits came true. Fewer weekly raids to schedule is, for most guilds, a good thing. The flexibility to shift up or down in size for the same lockout has been great for resolving attendance issues. Running prior tiers in 10-man as a 25-man guild is a great way to train and gear up new players without sacrificing ilevels. Committing to a single raid size is a huge differentiator for guilds that sorely needed one. These are all highly beneficial aspects of the new system.
In that column I was, of course, too optimistic when I wrote about less burnout and guild hopping. In my experience, it's happening just as often as in prior expansions, if not more. Some things never change.
Guilds shrank in 2011
If your guild prefers 25-man raiding, this expansion has probably been difficult for you. The majority of raiders, when push comes to shove, seem to prefer the smaller raid size. Certainly the majority of guild leaders and officers don't want the headaches that come with larger raids.
In most aspects, it's much easier to maintain and manage a smaller roster. Also, if you're starting a new raiding guild, odds are you're targeting the 10-man size, at least at first. Building up to 25 from there is an arduous and frustrating process.
What has been the result? At the end of this expansion, 25-man guilds have become an endangered species.
On my own realm, Khadgar, my 25-man raiding guild is now number one in 25-man progression. For years, we were nowhere close. Sure, we have some really great players, but we only raid two nights a week, four hours at a time. It's hardly an aggressive schedule, and realm firsts have never been our priority. The reason we're at the top right now is simple: We survived. Many of the other 25-man guilds haven't.
From what I've heard, a similar situation is happening on a lot of other realms. It's not surprising, either. Why put all that extra effort in when the benefits to doing so are so marginal? A large part of why my guild continues to strive for the larger raid size is because we prefer it, plain and simple. How long can we go on, however? The coming lull between expansions is going to be particularly rough on us and every other 25-man guild out there.
Saving the 25-man guild
Blizzard made these changes because it wanted raid size to be a matter of preference, not rewards. If trends continue, players who want to be able to run 25-mans with a guild will have a hard time finding people who are willing to do it, especially in leadership roles. In many cases, they'll settle for 10-man raiding even though it's not their preference. Thus, the changes are acting against Blizzard's intention.
Some would argue that doing away with the larger raid size would be good for the game. I disagree, and to prevent that outcome, I would like to see Blizzard reward the larger guilds more than it currently does for dealing with all the extra hassle. The officers of such guilds deserve it. I think reducing the valor points earned in the larger raids was a mistake, and I'd like to see that decision reversed in tier 14. That is just a minor perk, however. More could be done.
10-man guilds have it rough, too
It's not all gumdrops and candy canes for 10-man guilds, either. What was once a raiding niche in Wrath of the Lich King became the mainstream. Suddenly, 10-man guilds found themselves with heavy competition.
Combined with the drop in subscriptions, fewer players and more 10-man guilds meant leaner rosters. Recruiting woes have become a constant source of anxiety for raiding guilds of any size.
In addition, the glacial pace of assembling legendary weapons in smaller raids is remarkably slower. While I think more incentives are needed for larger raids, I don't think depriving raiders of legendary items is the right way to do it. Some guilds wind up running older content for much longer than they ever wanted to because they promised to finish a player's legendary. That's not a healthy situation.
There has to be a better way to incentivize 25-man guilds without blatantly punishing 10-mans in such a high-profile way.
The advent of the Raid Finder
Amid all this turmoil, Blizzard had one more bombshell to drop: the Raid Finder. The Raid Finder is a huge win for the average player. With few exceptions, the age-old dilemma of friends versus content has been emphatically resolved.
In some ways, the Raid Finder is great for guilds. It fills in gaps for loot, and it lets us see boss mechanics ahead of our scheduled raid nights. It gears up our alts without putting pressure on officers to schedule runs. It keeps players who truly don't want to commit to a raiding guild from feeling forced to join and, ultimately, disappoint.
Raiding guilds are no longer the gatekeepers to content, and I applaud that. We really shouldn't be. It makes us do some crazy things. However, I worry about the future of guilds in WoW. When the vast majority of group content can be accessed with the click of a button, where all social ties and the personal accountability they represent are stripped away, how does that affect a game's community? I'm afraid the answer will be "not well."
For now at least, raiding guilds remain a vital part of WoW, but our influence is dwindling. This spring, our rosters may be harder to maintain than ever before. Will Mists of Pandaria bring more changes to raiding, or will Blizzard release its first expansion yet that doesn't shake up raiding in a major way? We'll all find out soon enough!
Recently, Officers' Quarters has examined how strong new leadership can create a guild turnaround, the pitfalls of promising more than you can deliver, and lessons learned from Scott's own guild demise. Send your own guild-related questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.