But how much sway should guilds have with game studios? On one hand, they can be helpful lobbying groups for game changes that the bulk of the playerbase wants and would appreciate. On the other hand, not all guilds are the same, and what one guild might want to see in game could be vastly different from the ideas of another guild. Should guilds have special summits with studios? Let's take a look at this topic in this week's Guild Counsel.
Guild summits have been around for years now. The first one I remember is the guild summit in 2004 hosted by SOE, which was set up to address concerns over the Gates of Discord expansion. Since then, game studios have used guild feedback through official meetings (like EVE Online and BioWare summits), and sometimes the studios even go to the guild (SyndCon). EVE's summit is a bit different from others because the players elect the council, and the sandbox world of EVE makes it easier to address a broader range of game topics. But one thing that tends to be common with many guild summits is that the organizers glean feedback from the top guilds, so topics of discussions usually revolve around endgame content or game changes that affect the most competitive guilds. I'm not questioning the importance of those meetings, but I think the landscape has changed a lot over the years, and particularly with the rise of free-to-play in many MMOs now, there are many other topics of discussion that guilds can help address.
Furthermore, the guild landscape has changed dramatically over the years as well. Yes, there are still many hardcore guilds that play the endgame (and when I use the word guild, I'm using it as a catch-all for social networks in games, so that includes clans, corporations, alliances, etc.). But there are all sorts of guilds with a vast variety of playstyles, and each has a different take on what it'd like to see from the games it plays. On top of that, longtime guilds tend to have more than one game experience under their belts, and collectively, the members have insight into dozens of different games. That's a treasure trove focus group if ever there was one, and game studios should want the same thing that these guilds want: to have a game that attracts players who are also potential members.
Of course, right now, guilds are practically unique snowflakes. No two are alike, so it would be nearly impossible to get feedback from all of them and make all the changes that guilds want. But it might be worthwhile for more studios to seek out the longtime guilds in their games and get a sample from the variety of playstyles in order to get broader feedback. Metrics are useful, and there are many studios that rely on them to tune updates and add enticing content, but I don't think metrics can root out some of the intangibles that guilds can spot and address. There's an emotional component that's missing, and guilds do a pretty good job of spotting it. We've all heard stories of how players stick with a game long after they've tired of it because they want to play with their guildmates, but what if a game studio worked hand in hand with these guilds to keep players coming back not only for their guildmates but for the fun of the game? Studios have done a good job of addressing endgame thanks to guild feedback and guild summits, but that's just a first step. I don't think metrics can do as good a job as a guild can in fleshing out what players like to do together and what they enjoy most as a group, so it's worth hearing them out.
There's an echo chamber effect to past guild summits. The guilds that usually attend are traditional guilds that are the best of the best in the game they play. They provide a lot of great suggestions for how to improve the endgame, but what about questioning the value of the endgame in the first place? If both parties are satisfied with the basic concepts of raids, nullsec, realm vs. realm, or whatever content comprises the endgame, then there aren't many voices who question the fundamental concepts of the endgame in the first place. Why do the majority of players not participate in their games' endgame? Is it really because it's too difficult? Perhaps, but maybe what one player or guild finds fun another finds boring, exclusive, or simply not enjoyable.
Guild summits have a particular relevance in light of what's happened since Star Wars: The Old Republic launched. BioWare held a guild summit with days of meetings and panels, but the framework of the game was already in place, and the endgame in particular wasn't very different from many other AAA MMOs, which means dailies, token farming, and instanced raiding. That's something that many MMO fans look for in their games, but if the sales goal was to pull in and retain millions of subscribers, you really need to attract gamers who aren't typical MMO fans and might not find dailies, token farming, and instanced raiding all that appealing when they hit the level cap.
In the months that have followed, we've seen the news of staff layoffs and lower-than-predicted subscription numbers. Of course, there is probably an endless number of reasons for SWTOR's troubles, but I think MMOs in general still haven't smashed the niche market label yet, and part of that is that guilds, players, and studios are all working from the same frame of reference, one that isn't shared by a large portion of the population. The free-to-play movement is changing that a bit, as is the rise of social media and the natural connection it has with MMOs, and I think we're beginning to see some new ideas in our games as a result. It's well worth it to have guild summits and solicit feedback from guilds, but it should include more of the longtime yet non-traditional guilds that can better represent the broader playerbase, perhaps help studios see their games in completely different ways, and potentially make MMOs in general more appealing to everyone.
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.