The Guild Counsel: What EverQuest Next Landmark means to guilds

With the arrival of EverQuest Next Landmark's alpha, the buzz is all about how the game is a fresh change from what we've been used to in MMOs. And actually, in some ways, it's a return to the roots of the MMO industry. But EQ Next Landmark is also redefining the whole concept of guilds, perhaps in the process raising the question of what guilds will look like in the future.

In this week's Guild Counsel, let's look at how Landmark could drastically change the way we think about guilds in MMOs.

The importance of guilds

As studios worked to take the sting out of the MMO genre over the last 16 years or so, the biggest change was the shift towards a more solo-friendly game. But as soon as players could go it alone and make meaningful progression in MMOs without an overarching community unit, guilds lost their main purpose. In response, many MMOs added extrinsic rewards to make guilds relevant again. The addition of guild levels, special buffs, member perks, and guild halls might have encouraged players to seek out and join guilds, but what it really did was push people to do things in-game not because they necessarily wanted to but because they had to in order to progress the guild. In many cases, players viewed guilds as something they had to tolerate because the game required guild membership for certain advantages. Guilds might have maintained relevance after the shift to solo-friendly games, but not necessarily in a good way.

So far, it seems that the main incentive to join a guild in Landmark will be to join forces with others in order to build things on a scale impossible on your own. Players will be joining because they choose to rather than because they feel they have to if they don't want to miss out on certain perks. And while players certainly can "progress" in game on their own, guilds will still have relevance as well.

No currency, no problems

In early MMOs, practically everything was tradable, and that made for some lively auctions and complex economies. But at least partly because of the intrusion of real money through third party trading, MMOs tightened their grip by level locking items, adding no-trade or bind on equip flags, and adding non-tradable tokens for the purchase of gear. Things were safer, but the changes sucked the life out of what was once a vibrant economy.

EQ Next Landmark has taken a surprising approach toward trade. Landmark has no currency system so far, and hopefully it stays that way. You can see the beginnings of a free and open bartering system for natural resources, which could bring the fun back to playing the market. And SOE's plans to incorporate Player Studio and the Marketplace shows that the studio is taking control of the role of real money and using it in a way that encourages positive gameplay. Years ago, players resorted to griefing, exploiting, and negative gameplay in general in order to illegally cash in on MMOs. But in EQ Next Landmark, players who earn the most money will be the ones who build the best creations, and that makes the world better for everyone.

Cooperation and competition

In Landmark, players are competing for resources, but because the world is so large and ever-changing, there's enough space for everyone to play without directly having to fight over nodes. While certain resources might be harder to harvest, it's more an issue of drop rates than it is other players stealing it out from under you. Meanwhile, there's a spirit of cooperation in the game that's bound to help knit together communities. Some players have built crafting stations near the travel hubs and have allowed others to use them, which makes it easier to craft better tools and speed up your "progression" in-game. Others have shared helpful tips, answered questions in-game, and lent a hand helping players find claims.

How does this affect guilds? Looking back, I think guilds were a shield against the harsh competition that existed in games. If you tried to go it alone, you were bound to run into players who would willingly get in your way, and by joining a guild, you could push back against that because you had the support of your guildmates. Players also needed a guild if they wanted a shot at contested content because one player's gain usually meant your loss. In Landmark, the primary role of guilds seems to be as a center of trade for members, who can pool their resources and share them with one another. It's also a clearinghouse of information; as members are learning the ropes, they're riffing off of others' discoveries, and the guild as a whole ends up with more game knowledge than someone on her own. At least in Landmark, guilds are transitioning away from being a protective army and toward being an academy, clubhouse, and resource exchange.

EQ Next Landmark is arriving at a curious point in the MMO timeline. The sandbox aspects of it make it a great canvas for natural development of little communities because as players pick out their claims and build, they're bound to make connections with their neighbors. But there are many pre-set player communities that are migrating over as guilds from other games, and while they'll most likely want to set up shop together, the land grab has made that nearly impossible. How SOE will reconcile the two and also plan out the larger design and tools for guilds will be interesting to see.

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.