Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Group Dynamics

Larisa from the Pink Pigtail Inn is fascinated by group dynamics in WoW, and compares the management of a guild to what training she had for the management of a group at work. I've been at that sort of management training courses myself, and they *do* teach you useful stuff that can be used for your guild, for example in the field of conflict resolution. Nevertheless I'm asking myself whether World of Warcraft is a good example to study group dynamics, because WoW is seriously lacking in guild purpose and functionality.

If you look at how guilds are managed in WoW, you quickly realize that 90% of the effort goes towards raid organization. Who gets a raid spot? How is loot distributed? Is there a DKP system, and which one? Even guild recruitment is often linked to raids, with guilds only recruiting certain classes they are short of for raiding. Take away raiding, and a guild is reduced to a common chat channel, and maybe the opportunity to find a guild group using that chat. Much later in the game Blizzard added guild bank functionality, but due to the risk of guild bank robberies in most guilds the access is severly limited.

If you log into WoW outside of specified raid times, it is actually quite hard for you to do something "for the guild". Other games, for example A Tale in the Desert, have more opportunities for large collective guild projects, to which everyone can contribute in his own manner. In WoW the only big project is the somewhat nebulous concept of raid progression. And in Wrath of the Lich King that isn't much of a project, because even casual guilds already beat Naxxramas and are just waiting for the next raid dungeon to be patched in. So while there are some challenging management tasks left, like "how do I gear up the maximum number of guild members for Ulduar", there isn't much drive behind them. World of Warcraft guild dynamics suffer, and have always suffered, from the problem that guild progression doesn't really exist, there only exists individual character progression. The only thing a guild gets out of downing a boss is a screenshot on the guild website, the knowledge of how to do, and the loot, goes to individual players. If those individual players stop playing, or quit the guild for another one, guild progress proves to be hollow.

All this causes fundamental differences between what management techniques and group dynamics are good for work environments, and which ones are good for World of Warcraft guild management. The secret of managing people at work is to provide them with the resources and motivation they need to work on their own, without the manager's constant supervision. In World of Warcraft you can get away with much simpler management techniques, of the drill sergeant variety, because there simply is no possibility to let guild members contribute to the general welfare of the guild on their own. The only real guild activity is a raid, and there the guild members are under constant supervision of the manager aka raid leader. Thus guild management is often reduced to the minus 50 DKP variety that even anti-social Gevlon believes in. The third phase of group dynamics, mutual dependency, in which everyone values the other group members, is rarely reached in WoW, because it is a stage which isn't absolutely necessary to succeed.

Strangely it is the hardcore PvP games like Darkfall or EVE that often end up having stronger group dynamics, because people depend much more on their guild. If you talk to people about what attracts them to these games, it is rarely the ability to gank others, but quite often the stronger cohesion of guilds is mentioned. And I do think that it would be possible to create the best of two worlds by making a PvE game with stronger group dynamics, by giving guilds more projects to work on together, and not just together at organized points in time, but also individually. Everquest 2 and Warhammer Online are already experimenting with guild ranks and contributions, but I'd say they aren't quite there yet. If World of Warcraft has one weakness where it could possibly be overcome by a future generation game it is probably this lack of social interaction and long-term group dynamics.

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