I was inspired to write this column after seeing the comments in last week's column by reader McGuffin, who pointed out that not everyone wants to socialize in guild chat and share stories about life outside the game. He's right, but it raises the question of why such a someone would want to join a guild, since guilds are usually thought of as a social network of sorts. Many MMOs now have looking-for-group tools (and some even have raid finders), so in theory, there would be no need to join a guild at all if you aren't into the social side of it. But there actually are good reasons for guilds and shy players to team up, and in this week's Guild Counsel, we'll look at a few or those plus some ways for both groups to co-exist happily.
It's the other guy
When I use the term shy players, I'm not necessarily talking about shy people. There are many type A personalities who avoid other players when in-game, and for good reason. Let's face it, if you've ever run into a horrible player in a group or crossed paths with a griefer, it's hard to assume the best in any strangers you encounter after that. Pick-up groups and raids always seem to start off with a quiet distrust of one another, and sometimes it takes a while before players actually begin to communicate in chat. It's as if players brace themselves for the worst rather than assume the best.
Another way of looking at it was best described by Star Wars: The Old Republic Lead Systems Designer Damion Schubert in his discussion of the "lone wolf" player at last year's GDC. There are all sorts of reasons that someone might choose to distance herself from others: lack of time, fear of commitment, even actual shyness. But whatever the reason, there are plenty of players who are alone but don't want to be lonely, and that's an important distinction. People who are alone are in a neutral state of mind, and in some cases, a little peace and quiet is a healthy break. Meanwhile, the lonely person is in a negative state and feels socially disconnected from everyone. A player who prefers to play alone might still want to join a guild in order to avoid that loneliness.
MMOs as single-player games
The usual answer to players who stay distant from others is that they should just go play a single-player game. However, there are many MMOs designed around solo play (and in some cases, players argue that soloing has overshadowed group and raid content). It's almost a chicken-and-egg scenario about whether solo players influenced solo play in MMOs or solo content influenced people to play alone, but either way, it's a valid playstyle in many games today.
Can it work?
I honestly think that guilds and shy players not only can get along but should get together more than they do. Over my years of guild-leading, I've had several players join up who didn't raid, didn't group, and were fairly quiet in guild chat. We had a core of active members who knew each other well and were very tight-knit, and we had a few who preferred to do their own thing. It worked because others respected that privacy. The guild didn't put demands on people to raid, and more often than not, those players who started off distant ended up making social connections at their own pace and on their own terms. Some of them became active raiders and chatty members (my husband was one of those!), and others still kept a relatively low profile but carved out a niche of friends in the guild with whom to do quests, craft, or run group content. In the end, the guild benefited because even those distant players helped the guild grow, and the players benefited from having a low-key atmosphere to play as they wished.
Meanwhile, guilds that are OK with inviting the shy player need to practice what they preach and not put demands on players to participate. At the same time, that's a fine line to walk because guild leaders naturally want to keep tabs on the needs of the members without intruding so much that the more distant players feel hounded. When you strike that balance, though, it's surprising how many of those shy players end up becoming more social and more active within the guild.
In short, I am a firm believer that guilds make MMOs more enjoyable and that the social ties made are a nice side benefit. But at the same time, it has to happen naturally, and as I mentioned in last week's column, I think any longtime guild has seen that happen. There are plenty of guilds that don't have a playstyle that meshes well with that of a "lone wolf" player. At the same time, there are some guilds that invite too many lone wolves and haven't built up a core of members who have formed bonds and provide the social atmosphere that is needed over the long haul. Hopefully, more guilds will take a closer look at incorporating the shy player, and at the same time, I hope more of those players give those guilds a chance!
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.