Thursday, October 30, 2008

Guilds and raiding

My WoW guild worries me. The officers made an announcement about the plans of the guild for raiding in WotLK, and it contains pearls like "we have too many tourists in our raids and tourists won't make us progress. If people want to be tourists, they should give up raiding or join pugs instead of wasting a guild effort". Oh great, the expansion isn't even out yet, and I have already been banned from raiding and told to join a pickup group raid, just because I didn't apply for a special internal guild rank by promising to raid every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday. The raiders are even going to get a super secret forum section, no regular guild members allowed.

It isn't as if this comes as a surprise, as if in the 4 years of guild history I hadn't seen pretty much the same before. But what worries me is that this kind of movement systematically lead to guild splits, big dramas, and nothing but unhappiness, while at the same time completely failing to advance the guild's raid progress. Serious raiding of a small fraction of a large guild inevitably leads to them progressing a bit and getting stuck. By making a strong distinction between raiders and non-raiders, and not taking any "tourists" on raids, there simply aren't any replacements arounds when inevitably some serious raiders leave for some even more serious raid guild.

But I think the fundamental problem in this lies in the fact there are two very different definitions to what a guild is, in regard to raids. My preferred definition is:
A guild is a group of online friends who decided they want to play together. A raid is an opportunity for a larger number of guild members to play together, with the purpose of maximum fun, enabling a maximum number of them to advance their characters.
Features that point into the direction of this definition are the removal of attunements, and the introduction of badges, which enables the more advanced guild members to raid with the less advanced guild members, and still get something out of it. The other possible definition of a guild, the one I don't like, but which is very widespread is:
A guild is an organization with the purpose of advancing as far as possible and as fast as possible in the raid content. For this purpose it is important to have a tight circle of dedicated raiders with a maximum attendance rate to progression raids.
Now these two definitions don't necessarily sound as if they were incompatible. Theoretically it would be possible to have a guild with just exactly the number of raiders and composition of classes needed to advance, with each of them being available for every raid. In the real world there are some serious obstacles to that: Nobody is *always* available, and the right number of raiders and perfect composition might change with time. Typical example was The Burning Crusade, where a guild would have had to organize three Karazhan teams at the start to have enough raiders to continue to Serpentshrine Cavern. In Wrath of the Lich King the initial progression will go from one 10-man raid to the next, but it isn't clear that the perfect composition for each raid dungeon will be the same, and sooner or later all the 10-man raid dungeons will be completed, and then you need to come up with 25 raiders to move on. You don't need to be a great psychologist to foresee that there will be guild dramas in many guilds at that point in the progression.

I believe that a guild run after my preferred definition of purpose not only would have a lot less guild drama, and more fun, it would also have a more steady raid progress. Slower, yes, but more steady. Reality is rarely black and white, a sliding scale of grey tones is more likely most of the time; making a strict distinction between "raiders" and "tourists" is not a good idea. Whoever sets up the criteria always makes them so that he still qualifies as a raider, but in reality there is always somebody playing his class even better, is available more often, and is better informed about each raid encounter. Somebody who can't or won't raid three nights a week isn't necessarily a bad raider, but he becomes useless for raiding if you systematically exclude him from raiding and he thus ends up undergeared. If you have a much larger pool of potential raiders in a guild, each of them participating less often in a raid, raid progress is of course slower. But there is a much better chance of being able to find a replacement if some raider unexpectedly leaves the guild or doesn't show up for a raid.

And then of course you have to think about why you play World of Warcraft in the first place. I always maintain that fun and entertainment are the real purpose of MMORPGs. Social factors, like recognition, are important too. But even there standing with the most leet epix in front of the bank isn't necessarily as rewarding as being recognized as helpful by a large number of your guild mates. Do you want to be recognized as a person, or do you want to be a collection of numbers, stats, a specific role in a raid, and a talent build, interchangeable with anyone else with better stats?

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