To be honest I'm not sure that there are more guilds breaking up right now than at other points in WoW's history. It's hard for us to say anything with a shred of certainty since we're not privy to Blizzard's internal metrics on guilds (and their numbers would be metrics, since no one variable, sans a disband, perhaps, would indicate a 'breakup' or movement along the curve towards a breakup).
But with that said, I asked our Twitter and Facebook audience last night, and they came up with some good points -- some of which I agree with, and some of which I don't.
The social aspect has decreased
In some ways this is true, it has decreased. With the introduction of LFR, and even the random dungeon finder back in Wrath, the need to just experience the totality of the game no longer requires a guild. You can "go it alone" in some regards -- although you'd still have to group, of course. But there's not a requirement you get along with 50+ other people.
That said, I disagree with the conclusion of the statement, even if the premise is correct. Just because the social aspect has decreased does not mean people won't seek out like-minded individuals. It's a very big (perhaps the biggest) part of our animal nature to form into groups to support our like-minded goals. That is, at the very core, what the social game is about. Has WoW's features that have inherently lessened the rewards for tight-group social play caused the guild to die? No. There's still tons of reasons to be in a guild (like fast achievement runs, actual raiding, organized PvP, and establishing long-term social bonds).
LFR has replaced raiding and the need for a guild
A lot of people said this, and in may ways it's related to the reason above -- that the new structures of WoW mean that a guild isn't needed anymore. With LFR in particular, there's some truth to the argument. You don't need a guild to raid anymore (although remember the social animal point above as to why this is highly mitigated).
What this argument fails to realize however is that while the old guild structure may be dying or already long dead (depending on who you talk to), the new guild structure is alive and well. Yes, the old guild where you had to farm for the raid, wait outside the instance ready to go, play Tetris on your Game Gear while watching Spock swing a light saber on your other monitor -- just so you didn't miss your call in to the raid... those days are gone.
Instead, you now have smaller guilds with a greater ability to pug members, or split off into different groups and do different things if the scheduling doesn't work out one night. Some people find this as not real guilding/raiding, but others find it a breath of fresh air -- one that allows you to have a life outside of WoW.
Thus I propose that LFR hasn't replaced raiding and caused there to be no need for a guild; it has instead just changed priorities in WoW and thus in your guild.
Cataclysm was too little too late, and MoP is too much too soon
This argument appeared a few times last night. It's essentially saying that in Cataclysm the content didn't come out fast enough, and when it did, there wasn't enough of it (I think we can all agree on this to some extent). Fast forward to MoP, and the content is coming out so fast and there is so much, that people can't keep up and just quit out of ... and here's where the argument breaks down.
Why do people quit when content is coming out quickly? Is it because they can't finish it all so they pick up their toys and go home? I doubt it -- and I don't think this argument has much merit on an analytical basis. While it's definitely true that MoP has more content than Cataclysm coming out (thus far), there's no indication that people are just up and leaving over it.
The best argument I heard in support of this theory is that people can't catch up when new content is released, that WoW has become even more isolating than Vanilla WoW was. I disagree with this as well on two levels. First, there has only been one week of patch 5.2 -- there is no way people have quit and are not playing because they can't catch up in a week. Even if they are, it's not a systemic problem yet, which it would need to be for it to affect guild participation. And secondly, there has always been a bit of catch up that needs to be played whenever a new patch comes. WoW has survived such things before, it'll survive now, and it'll survive in the future.
When did blizz change to be more open? Was it gradual or a dam break situation?
Right now Blizzard is much more open about their policies, design, and future plans than at any time in their history. But this isn't just Blizzard that's changed, in particular to WoW -- it's the whole WoW landscape -- both the community and the way the community interacts.
I'll use myself as an example over the last six years I've been writing here -- we don't do anything like we used to. Not only is our writing incredibly different, but we have avenues to interact with hundreds of thousands of readers instantly through social media, mobile, and modern web technologies. Six years ago that didn't exist. WoW news is reported on as it happens, and it's reported right along the New York Times and Faux News Twitter accounts.
This radical reshaping of the editorial landscape has caused not only our site to grow and mature in a different way than originally laid out in our strategic plan, but it's caused Blizzard to grow and mature in different ways as well. Remember when there was no official WoW presence on Twitter, and all you got were blue posts? Now their CMs are interacting daily, brilliantly embracing social media, and staying in touch with the community in a completely different way than when people like Zarhym and Nethaera started their jobs.
In all this Blizzard has just opened up over time, as naturally happens when you can interact quickly and daily with a large amount of people -- and have that interaction be understood to exist in a social sphere rather than a hyper-critical sphere. We don't take anything crazy said on Twitter seriously unless we get it clarified. This relaxing of communication has lead to great interaction across the spectrum of gaming, and Blizzard is really a shining example these days of what to do.
Sorry if this is a little long and philosophizing on mass communication... I have to go give a presentation about this today in a committee meeting. Odd how many WoW things reflect in real life, isn't it?
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