15 Minutes of Fame: Retirement home

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Is there such a thing as retirement guilds for burned-out players? When Sharaya and Boltac of Vanguard of Norrath spotted that innocuous question on the Blackwater Raiders realm forums, they recognized a familiar face: their very own guild. A collection of former hardcore gamers from the EverQuest era, VoN has become home base for a more casual approach. "We've all done the hardcore raiding thing, which comes with wanting to see everything and do everything in a high-content mass online game," explains VoN officer Sharaya. "We all have had our stints with guilds sporting the usual raid schedules, leveling needs, gear requirements and members constantly preening about scores from tertiary web sites with convoluted ranking systems. In the beginning, we all did this as a choice. It let us see everything, and let's face it -- it was fun.

"But as in most games with such demands, many good players get burnout," he continues. "They don't tire of the game; they tire of the routine. They tire of 'having' to log in to make events or risk /gkick. They tire of the constant fighting over drops and arguing about who gets invited to what. The game ceases to be a game and becomes a chore. It truly is a 'daily.' What we realized is this is not a fault of the game; it's a fault of the guild you're in."

So they created Vanguard of Norrath to offer a refuge from the grind, a place to indulge what Sharaya calls "the ability and know-how to blitz most anything we wanted but ... on our schedule, at our pace and without any pressure." The big surprise? How many other players have been attracted to VoN for exactly the same reasons.

Main character
Guild Vanguard of Norrath
Server Blackwater Raiders
WoWstyle Began WoW a little over a year ago, after a long hiatus from MMORPGs; casual approach, frequent play hours

Main character Boltac
Guild Vanguard of Norrath
Server Blackwater Raiders
WoWstyle Began WoW in February 2005 and played casually until joining up with former EQ guildmates

15 Minutes of Fame: Sharaya, Boltac ... You both call yourselves "longtime gamers." What does that mean to you?

Sharaya: Most of us are old school, paper-and-pencil D&D geeks who honed our love for this sort of scenario in grammar school and kept doing it as an excuse to get together for almost 20 years. We also tinkered with text-based PC fantasy games like Zork, graduated into the first graphic-based games like Pools of Radiance and found ourselves finally in EverQuest prior to Warcraft. ... From a gaming standpoint, we get it -- not just because we know how to whack keys to kill mobs, but we know and are interested in the why and can see the fun in that.

Boltac: I'm 40 now, and have been hooked on old style RPGs and video games since I was about 12. Shar and I used to hang out in his room just about every day and play D&D until it was time for me to go home for dinner. (In EverQuest), he basically taught me the game, showed me where the good spots to get coin were, the best spots for levelling. We camped the Mino Hero for about 14 hours one day, just cracking each other up.

What were your "hardcore days" like?

Sharaya: My hardcore experience (first and last, I may add) was as a 65 wizard in EverQuest. I belonged to a guild that had a raid schedule which ran a minimum five days a week for three to five hours per night. It had gear requirements, point systems for looting based on attendance, etc. Sure, it let you see content you would not normally see, but by making it so regimented and mechanical, it took all the fun out of it: "Ok Saeadan, stand here ... Shoot this ... Don't get caught in the pink spell thing ... Loot/roll/rinse/repeat."

The enjoyment of an MMO is in its ability to immerse you and your friends in another world for a few hours. Treating an event like you're going in for a root canal spoils that effect. Couple the sanitized approach with a schedule where I was engaged, had a full time job and was in night school, and it got to be just short of ridiculous.

Boltac: I had recently gotten divorced before starting EQ and then was laid off from my job. My account was paid up for about a year, so it was the cheapest form of entertainment I had. So when I wasn't looking for a job, I was playing EQ. It got pretty bad for a while. It kind of became my shield as I dealt with unemployment and my recent divorce. At one point, I played for 43 hours straight just chain pulling, trying to level up my character for a Planes raid that was going on the next week. I eventually found a job and just had to stop playing and deal with RL. I had become pretty burnt out on the game, anyway, from playing all the time. I lost touch with a lot of the people from the old VoN.

What's most different about your approach to gaming today?

Boltac: I pretty much game for fun first and achievement second now. That would be the biggest difference. I don't mind getting gear upgrades, but I would rather get them playing with people I have a blast with and wiping a few times as opposed to PuGging and one-shotting them. I love seeing things I haven't seen before in the game. Again, with pals is the best way for me.

What's your idea of a fun evening online in WoW?

Sharaya: Getting a group together and running something: a five-man for upgrades, instances for alts or spending an hour cruising Dalaran on our motorcycles with our pirate hats on for laughs. Doesn't matter, really.

Boltac: One day, Diamnae and I spent a while base-jumping off of the Dalaran tower. We realized that if you kick off your rocket tinker on your boots, run, jump and then open your chute after the move increase goes off, you can float at least a third of the way across Crystalsong Forest before your chute gives out and you fall to your death. We spent an afternoon doing that. I would jump and Dia would be the ambulance and res me when I fell.

You've mentioned that your laid-back concept has attracted other players. How do you manage to keep the guild administration and demands to a minimum, preserving the effortless approach?

Boltac: I've been told recently by one of our newer members that he plays with us because "we are chill." We don't take the game too seriously. We decide on the few things that come up as a group. The biggest issue we have had to deal with so far was how to deal with a new recruit whose first action was to ask for gold from us. The core group of us have been playing together since around 2000. Aside from Shar, Volgrim and Yeller, I have never met any of them face to face. But it's easy, because we play to just have fun, and we have attracted people who are like that. We will most likely never see endgame content, but we are ok with that. It's not what we are about.

What's been the group's experience so far in 3.3?

Sharaya: The most fun for me had to be running FoS blind. No strat research, no dashes off to wowhead ... nothing. We ran it as a five-man three times in two nights. We ran it with all guildies and a veritable cavalcade of silly pets, hangers-on and pointless paper airplane and train droppings. We had no clue how to succeed and only did so after a lot of laughing and getting our butts collectively kicked. I think we spent 10 minutes doing James Brown impersonations in Vent.

That's what makes us different. We're not afraid to fail, because failure is often funny. We're too old to worry about WoW Heroes scores. We don't care who gets what loot so long as it makes US better. We're here to have fun, play together and enjoy the content as we wish. Warcraft is a terrific vehicle for that, and I think we do that very well.

Boltac: I have been mainly playing around with the PuG system. I'm an absolute companion pet addict. If there is a pet I have a chance to get, I'll try pretty hard to get it. So I'll be grabbing anyone from VoN who will run them with me until I get the PuG. I haven't put much more time than usual in it.

When the new stuff came on, we just ran FoS cold. Wiped a few times, and had a blast doing it. I think the group has run a few of the others. I'm not in a huge rush to see it. I'll get there eventually!

Vanguard of Norrath is currently beefing up their rosters enough to take on the occasional 10-man instance. Visit the Vanguard of Norrath web site for more information.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" - neither did we, until we talked with these players. From an Oscar-winning 3-D effects director to a rising pop singer ... from a quadriplegic player to a bunch of guys who get together for dinner and group raiding in person every week ... Catch it all on 15 Minutes of Fame.

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