Raise your hand if you still have your notebook with pages and pages of group lists scrawled out for pieced together raids. (Extra points if you have cross outs and arrows for when you had to mesh groups together in those late night hours!) MMOs have come a long way toward tailoring their UIs for guild use. Things like in-game guild rosters, guild banks, guild mailings, and the message of the day seem simple, but guilds have grown to expect these as defaults, and it's hard to picture life without them. Meanwhile, there are more sophisticated guild tools like recruitment windows, in-game parsers, rally banners, training dummies, target marks for both players (tank, assist, etc.) and for mobs to indicate attack order, and all of these are immensely helpful and should be essential tools for every MMO.
I really think that the addition of voice chat is one of the most important changes for guilds in MMO history. It's a double-edged sword because on one hand, it made it that much harder to immerse and roleplay, but on the other, it brought members closer together, helped reduce the amount of misinterpreted text, and definitely made those big boss fights that much more satisfying. (There's no comparison to the scroll of "woot" in text to the thundering echoes of YEAH in voice.) Whether I'm using a standalone like Ventrilo, Teamspeak, or Mumble, or an integrated system like Vivox, I'm thankful for the ability to break the sound barrier and speak with guildies.
It's so nice to finally be able to convince my friends (and their kids) to try MMOs without a big lump sum payment upfront. With so many titles out today and so many longtime guilds that have stuck together for years, guild leaders have a tough job. They run into the possibility that their current game just isn't doing it for them and for the members and that it might be time to move on to another game. And it's hard to ask everyone to pack up and move if it requires a hefty game purchase and then a monthly subscription fee. The free-to-play plan allows everyone to take a look and kick the tires before making a commitment. It's amazing how many guilds will actually move as a group, and free-to-play makes it easier for everyone to stick together and weigh options without the upfront payment getting in the way.
We've seen a rise in open-world, large scale events in games lately, which is a nice change after the preponderance of cloistered instances that we've been squirreled away in for almost a decade. I think studios are still tweaking the "fun factor" to some extent so that these dynamic events actually feel dynamic and not like a repetitive grind, but this type of content is great for guilds because there's always room for one more. In the earliest MMOs, there was no cap on the number of players who could join forces in what became known as raiding, and while some guilds took heat for bringing hordes of people to a raid (zerg rush keke!), it was a godsend to be able to round up the troops and not have to turn people away.
I think when we look back years from now, raid caps will be seen as one of the worst design features of this era because they run counter to the core of what makes an MMO great, which is the social, massively multiplayer environment. They divide guilds and put unnecessary pressure on members to meet gear checks and skill checks in order to "make the cut." Raid caps also make raid content less accessible to the majority of players, which actually hurts everyone because it makes it hard to justify the amount of developer time and resources to create and tune content that only a tiny percentage of the playerbase will ever get to see. I understand that caps made it easier to balance content and keep things properly challenging for raiders, but it's a bandaid solution that has created more problems as a result. I'm thankful for a renewed focus on more dynamic content that is inclusive and accessible to all.
I have to wrap up my thank-you list with a /hattip to those massive, fire-breathing, scaly beasts because they were one of the main reasons I wanted to create a guild in the first place. The thought of bringing an army to face off against a dragon was just too cool to resist, and it's led me on a pretty wild journey that brought me here. Even though I play a wide variety of genres now, my roots will always be firmly planted in a fantasy MMO with big dragons. Each time the guild faced off against a dragon, we never knew how it would turn out, but we always ended up with a memorable experience.
There's a lot that guild leaders and members can be thankful for in their MMOs, and it's amazing to see how our games have changed to make the guild experience more enjoyable overall. Now if only the developers could make those in-game holiday turkeys actually taste like turkey, life would be perfect! In the meantime, pass the cranberry sauce and a two-handed sword, please.
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.