Low population realms have been a problem in WoW as far back as 2007 and they continue to be. Blizzard has opted not to merge realms like other aging MMO's have done. For a long time, players asked for these mergers. They've watched their already low-pop realms bleed more players because of the population problem, making the issue worse and worse.
Recently, Blizzard unveiled their solution this ongoing issue: virtual realms. Potentially slated to arrive in patch 5.4, virtual realms could be the answer that we've been waiting for. In the meantime, however, one low-pop realm has taken matters into their own hands by organizing their guilds and creating a better experience. They call it the Kargath Guild Council on Kargath-US.
I had the pleasure of interviewing two of the minds behind the KGC -- Battlevixen, officer of Bloodsworn, and Merciful, guild leader of The Iron Fist -- about why they founded the council and the challenges they've faced along the way.
What was your realm like prior to the formation of the KGC?
Battlevixen: Prior to KGC, Kargath suffered from attendance issues that did not allow a lot of guilds and groups to raid. We had a lot of smaller guilds/groups that could not fill a 10man roster. Very few players were able to even pug because of this. There was also almost no communication between all the various guilds. Each guild kept to themselves for the most part.
Merciful: In addition to people who just stopped playing WoW, we were losing good players to other realms. The notion is that Kargath is a dying realm, and once that takes root in people's minds, they self-select themselves off the realm.
Why did you decide on a guild council as a solution?
Battlevixen: Merciful and I thought a serverwide guild council would be the best way as players that we could help our server. At the time, Blizzard had not announced their intentions of creating flex raids or virtual realms. The biggest issue we saw was that there were a lot of guilds recruiting and a lot of players looking for raiding guilds/teams but these people were not connecting due to real life activities and raid time availability. This really hurt the PvE progression on Kargath because only the larger guilds were able to raid consistently. We had a highly progressed raiding guild completely switch to a high population server as well as several long-standing guilds completely collapse due to not being able to fill a raiding roster to allow them to consistently raid.
Merciful: Communication -- we wanted everyone to understand that they weren't alone in the situation that was evolving, i.e. that attendance and the normal course of players leaving would start to erode all our ability to raid.
What was the response like after you announced the idea? Were other guild and raid leaders receptive?
Battlevixen: We had 22 different guilds attend our first meeting and everyone agreed that we had to do something ourselves to better the server. By sitting back and not doing anything, we were watching our server population dwindle down to almost nothing and that hurt recruitment and progression. Everyone agreed that we had to be the ones to take action to improve our server. We had a few people that opposed the KGC at first, but now almost everyone is onboard and utilizing the KGC to help our realm out.
Merciful: I was surprised at the high turnout. I expected half that many. It really showed me how concerned everyone is about what is happening. On one level it shows you how much people want this game to continue and this situation to resolve. It's a great sign that people care and with that you can solve a lot of problems.
Tell us a bit about how the council operates.
Battlevixen: The KGC meets once a month on a pre-determined Ventrilo where GMs, raid leaders, and officers discuss problems and possible solutions. We try to determine how effective we can be and how we can improve on what we are doing. We have a KGC channel in-game that allows GMs and raid leaders to more readily be able to find potential recruits or even just a temporary fill-in for their raids. This also opens the line of communication between all the various guilds and their GMs, which was not there before. Prior to KGC, most guilds kept to themselves and did not interact much with other guilds. We try to promote and host OpenRaid and serverwide LFRs for players on the realm. This is also used as a recruiting tool to try to bring more players to Kargath.
Merciful: Again -- ever increasing ways for people to communicate with each other and play the game across guild lines.
What unexpected challenges have you encountered?
Battlevixen: We have had some open opposition from players that felt we were trying to abuse the KGC to create mega-guilds and weed out all the smaller guilds, which is not the case. Some players prefer smaller guilds, so we want to try to provide a more stable raiding schedule for them. The KCG can be, at times, time consuming that diverts our attention from real life things. We do not have a president or chairman for the KGC. We do not want anyone to feel they need to stay online 24/7 to maintain the KGC. Every member of the KGC helps out voluntarily.
Merciful: Time mostly. We have our own raid teams, real life, and then the other things we do for fun in the game, that devoting a few hours to this a week is difficult.
Do you have advice for other low-population realms out there?
Battlevixen: With the soon release of virtual realms, low-population realms will be able to more consistently raid. To help your specific realm, no matter what the population is, players need to communicate. Not to just their friends and guildies, but to everyone on your server. Set aside old beefs with players and open the lines of communication between all the various guilds and raid leaders on your server. That is the first step in trying to help out your realm. Set up alliances between several guilds to raid together, and if everything goes well, you could eventually talk about merging the guilds together. Create realm hosted LFRs, PUGs, and OpenRaids. There will have to be sacrifices made on all sides though and everyone has to be willing to do what they can to try to help out. You have to want to make your server better.
Merciful: Echoing Battlevixen -- communication. The first step to addressing the issue is getting your server together and talking. Very low pop servers are going to have a very tough time. My next thought would be to find similar servers and talk cross server -- see if you can at least team up somehow for events that Blizzard allows cross zone (PvP, challenge modes, previous tier achievement runs). Kargath (our server) is in the top third of all US servers as ranked by WoWProgress and still it's considered a dying realm. I can't imagine what one of the bottom third servers must be going through.
What's your opinion on the virtual realms concept?
Battlevixen: The concept of virtual realms is appealing, however I think it is a step away from community. Back in vanilla, BC, and Wrath, there was a huge sense of community within guilds and realms. People had something they could be proud of and they were willing to work together to accomplish a common goal. I do think virtual reams will help smaller population servers by having easier access to raiding consistently, but I do not think it will bring back that sense of community.
Merciful: Battlevixen has hit it on the head -- it's about building a community. You want to raid with friends and people you enjoy playing the game with, not just random people you pick up through an LFR interface. Virtual realms is an acknowledgement of the game's declining population. The old ways of building and retaining raid teams and guilds through community tools doesn't work efficiently anymore (forums, posts in recruitment threads, etc.). All those relied on a growing community. The question for the Blizzard devs is "How do you help us build communities -- and how does virtual realms support that effort?" There are many solutions, and the one elephant in the room that virtual realms points to is "Alliances" although that is probably too radical for them to consider anytime soon.
Thanks to you both! Good luck with the council, the realm, and your guilds.
It's fantastic when guilds collaborate. Often, guilds working together can solve problems that no single guild could solve alone. If any other realms out there are organizing in this way, I'd love to hear about it below.
Officers' Quarters keeps your guild leadership on track to cope with sticky situations such as members turned poachers or the return of an ex-guild leader and looking forward to what guilds need in Mists of Pandaria. Send your own guild-related questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.