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The Guild Counsel: My kingdom for a house

Karen Bryan

You work hard in-game, so it's understandable that you'd want a place of your own, outside the auction house and hustle and bustle of city life. What better accomplishment than constructing your own guild home! On the surface, it seems like a great idea. But to quote Dr. Ian Malcolm, "Oh yeah, 'Ooh, aah,' that's how it always starts. But then there's running and... screaming."

In this week's Guild Counsel, we'll look at guild housing -- the good, the bad, and the "good heavens, what made you think that tapestry goes with that sofa?!"

What's the point?

The two games that I play primarily are EverQuest II, which has a very robust guild housing system, and RIFT, which has none at all. Any time you consider the topic of guild houses, you have to ask the question, "What's the point?" In EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment did ask that question, and the team came up with several good reasons, in the form of amenities, perks, and portals.

The guild amenities were a fantastic addition to the game. It gave guilds something new to focus on, and the amenities included benefits for adventurers and tradeskillers alike. Thanks to crafting tables and tradeskill NPC amenities, a guild could set everything up in one room of the guild hall, and players no longer had to deal with the hassle of running up and down the stairs of the crafting zones.

The addition of the rally flag vendor also made life much better for players. Thanks to the ability to set a rally point in any overland zone, latecomers to a raid could quickly catch up with the action and groups could get started much sooner. Training dummies are another fantastic addition, and they now come in several types, ranging from solo to raid to even an AoE set of dummies. Trophies were added in as well, so you can bring home the head of your most recent raid kill and even add a few decorative touches of your own. Bankers, mailboxes, brokers, teleporters -- everything you need is available. And there are plenty of cosmetic options as well -- uniformed guards, a guild stylist, and even a pirate ship.

Does this really build community?

But for all the perks that guild housing offers, it does take away from that feeling of community. The irony of EQII's guild halls is that the team might have done too good a job. When every guild is safely tucked away in its guild hall at the end of a raid, the chance for socialization goes way down. I have to admit, in EverQuest II, I never got to know most of the guild leaders on my server. That wasn't the case in EverQuest, where I was basically forced to get to know them all, the good and the bad. Each had its benefits and challenges -- you have to eat a lot of lemons to get the "tight-knit community" that came from EverQuest, and there is something to be said for the more-fractured yet less-dramatic environment of EverQuest II.

This touches on the larger issue of community in general. Often, we talk about how important it is, but game design lately doesn't seem to reflect that. If anything, it goes against the trend, and guild housing is definitely part of that.

Break it down

Of course, EverQuest II's guild housing is all instanced, which contributes to the feeling of an isolated community. One easy solution is to just have housing be a part of the overland content, as is the case in several MMOs already. In Vanguard, our guild really came together and bonded as we tackled the various requirements to get our guild hall plot and build it. Seeing a physical structure was a very satisfying reward for our collective efforts. In addition, we collaborated with a few other guilds, since we were seeking different types of materials, and it was great to pop over and see their guild halls completed as well. There weren't nearly as many amenities as there are in EverQuest II (at the time, the only perks were three statues that provided buffs, and most of the time they were bugged), but just being able to construct this immense guild hall, towering over all the small, individual homes, was a fun accomplishment.

But if there's one thing that I would lobby against regarding guild halls, it would be the fact that in so many games they can be torn down or destroyed. I understand wanting to avoid urban blight, but if a guild is going to come together to build something and decorate, it, its members should be able to take heart in the fact that their work is permanent. Obviously, if it's a PvP ruleset server, there's an understanding that you can build it and also break it, but overdue rent should not cause something that massive to just poof. Lock the doors, as in EQII, but don't force a guild to start over. A guild that takes a break from game is probably not going to be excited to come back if its guild hall is torn down.

You put that chair there?!

If you do play a game with guild housing, be prepared to tackle a major question: Who in the guild will be responsible for decorating? You might think this is a non-issue, but more often than not, you'll come across someone who either A) absolutely fights to his dying breath to be part of the decorating process or B) will lobby with every ounce of his soul against someone else's design ideas. Even hardcore guilds will have hardcore designers, so it's something you need to consider. You might go with a committee approach or just divide up the hall and assign areas to those interested. Or you could go with a more draconian approach and decorate it yourself with thousands of plain wooden benches and table lamps. Whatever you choose, you'll probably need to treat it as seriously as you do issues like loot and recruiting, because there will undoubtedly be someone on your roster who feels it's that important.

Who owns it when the owner is gone?

All too often, guilds run into the logistics of what happens when the "owner," or guild leader, leaves the game. Unfortunately, not all games cover that circumstance, leaving guilds hanging when it comes to trying to take control of the guild hall. It's easy to attach ownership to whoever purchases it, but if you take into consideration that it's a team effort, the control should go to the guild, not the individual. Hopefully, games will tackle that issue down the road.

Yeah, that's freakin' amazing

For all the questions about whether guild halls are worth it, there are countless threads that show an amazing display of talent when it comes to outfitting a guild hall. In EQII, players have figured ways to escape the walls of their guild halls and have built incredible structures in the instanced overlands that surround the halls. They have used items in ways that you'd never imagine, turning rugs into walls, shelves into steps, and mundane items into kitchens, aquariums, even trains and rocket ships. In an age when we often focus on loot and progression and slaughter, it's nice to see the creativity that comes from players, and it can provide some great opportunities for guilds to rally together and grow close. Just be careful of your plaids and stripes.

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.

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