6 October, 2012
Earlier this year I was on EQ2, checking out the dungeon creator for the new expansion. I dusted off my old character, once near the apex of power but now sporting old gear and wondering about the strange locations on the world map. While I was playing catch-up, someone broadcast over general chat that they were starting a new guild with a novel idea: progress through the content and impose rules to make that content actually challenging. I feared that I didn't have enough time, but I got sucked in anyway.
It was a lot of fun because it initially drew a group of people with similar goals. But, good things don't always last, and the guild died a victim of many circumstances. Time has passed and the wounds aren't so fresh, so join me as I turn a developer's critical eye to what happened.
The guild was started with a simple premise and some strict rules: the founder of the guild wanted to experience the EQ2 content with fresh characters, trying to eschew as many of the since-added features that have made the progress much faster and would likely trivialize content. It was a player-directed way to do in EQ2 what the progression servers had done with EQ1.
We would also have an internal-only economy, as the normal inflation of the game had made prices out-of-sync with the game's original setting. The cash at the top end of the game had grown so great that people were willing to spend a mind-boggling amount of money for the simplest of items. It would have been trivial to find something semi-rare and sell it for an amount of money that would have rivaled the combined coin of an entire guild nearer launch.
Two important things to note: first, this wasn't an attempt to relive the glory days. The rules were made with practicalities in mind, knowing that the game had changed significantly. For example, you couldn't even start a new character in the the old starting cities anymore and the structure of one of the cities, the "evil" Freeport, was completely different. Second, this was a community effort. We weren't there just for the challenge, it seemed many were there for the camaraderie that came from finding other like-minded players.
The unsteady start
I came on fairly early in the guild, Shattered Memories, but not quite at the start. I heard stories about the first few players going out and running quests like mad to save up enough money to pay to start the guild, a cost that would be trivial to even a mid-level player, but it was the first big obstacle.
One important thing is that the guild leader was pretty strict at the beginning. He set up the rules and was hesitant to bend at all. He repeatedly said he wanted to make sure that people had bought into the idea and goals of the guild. He also realized that a lot of the rules were not externally enforceable and relied on the individual to maintain them, so it was important to find people who bought into the rules. This helped get the guild start on the right foot.
Let me take a small diversion here to explain my situation in MMOs. I'm very much a socializer in games, and as a developer I know a lot about the structure of social groups in games. I see joining a guild as a commitment. But, my work isn't always even and predictable: conferences, travel, crunch, etc. make it hard for me to ensure I can always be online. (In fact, I was typing this text in an airport as I'm traveling for work.) I'm especially hesitant to become a guild officer, as that entails a level of commitment I most certainly cannot guarantee. So, while I loved the guild, I didn't feel confident in committing to an officer position. I was more than happy to advise, though.
I was keenly interested in trying out a lot of the old content. I had started playing EQ2 during the second expansion, so I had missed a lot of the launch content as group or raid content. I had mostly run the solo content and if my friends were around and the same level, we tried a few dungeons. This time around, however, I was able to enjoy this content. Tackling this content with the restricted characters was an accomplishment, and it gave us gear that was a nice upgrade.
When rolling my character, I perhaps made an ill-fated choice: I wanted to try out the new class, the Beastlord. Part of the flexibility of the rules for the guild is that there were no forbidden races or classes. I've written before about the power of new classes, and I was relatively overpowered for the content we tackled. I like to think that this was also due to me being a pretty good player. :) But, I did routinely come up on top of the DPS meters without having to hyper-optimize my gameplay.
But, it was all good. As I said, the main thing was the community: here was a group of people who wanted to try out the content, who wanted to tackle a challenge, who wanted to have fun with the game.
The dangerous stumble
It's hard to pinpoint exactly where things started to go wrong. The first undeniable sign was when I had to go away for a week, then came back to a whole lot of new names. Now, that in and of itself wouldn't be bad, but with these new people came a new attitude.
One of the problems is that different people had different opinions on how fast we should advance. The original goal was that we would be fairly moderate in our progression: the goal was to enjoy the content, not race through it. After all, if we just wanted to race through the content we could just... race through it without denying ourselves the advantages the game had added. But, some people were growing restless, and wanted to push harder. So, there was a push to recruit people into the guild.
Unfortunately, a lot of the new people didn't quite share the same goals. They cared a lot more about being top of the DPS race, which meant that went full-bore even when our healers couldn't keep up. More than once I had to repeat the mantra, "You can't DPS when you're dead."
Worse, a lot these new people didn't share the same level of maturity as others in the guild. While the original guild members were fairly pleasant and respectable, some of the newcomers spouted the same tired jokes from the obnoxious corners of internet forums. Some were particularly rude when a run didn't go right the first time; this caused hurt feelings and made some people simply leave the guild. Instead of a community, the guild started to feel like just a bunch of people sharing a chat channel.
Not surprisingly, a lot of these new recruits also wanted to push through content faster. A number of them were old veterans who had done the original raids a mind-numbing number of times. Each time they pushed to hurry past some group of raids, saying that the next set weren't so bad. But, when we got to those raids, the cycle repeated with people claiming boredom want wanting to get to the next set.
The sad disintegration
The damage had been done. The leader who had started the guild stepped aside and promoted someone else. This began a cycle of loosening the original restrictions to try to recruit new people, buy that just chipped away at the original intent of the guild. This was especially noticeable when the economy was no longer internal; when you could buy stuff off auctions, the power level increased and trivialized the content.
A lot of the old timers who hadn't already left simply stopped attending raids and some even just left the guild altogether, and it was again tough to fill all raid slots. Eventually, the new guild leader sent out a guild-wide message making it official: the guild was effectively ended. I was sad, but it had been obvious to me that the end was coming. I had tried to bring these issues to their attention, but it seemed to be too late.
What went wrong
I don't think I can point to any one thing that went wrong. The collapse of the guild felt like a death by a thousand cuts, starting with paper cuts then graduating to slashes from blades.
I think that the biggest problem was the weakening of the community. As I said, the initial members were very enthusiastic about the concept of the guild, and the guild leader was very strict in enforcing the rules. Because we had a shared experience and adversity, it became easier for us to stick together. But, as some members feared not having enough people helping out, they invited more people and weakened the rules. This caused more problems as it alienated the original members of the guild, causing them to leave and abandon the guild and leading to a feedback loop.
Without that community, the rules made less sense to enforce, and thus the guild degenerated until the guild was nothing special.
What could have been done? I think the best thing would have been to stick with the original rules. Keep the original purpose as much as possible rather than compromising to build the guild. I would have preferred to see the original promise thrive or fail on its own merits would have been better than lamenting about "what could have been...."
It's a shame, because I do enjoy EQ2 as a game, but I lost my excuse to spend more time in it.
What do you think? Have you been part of a guild that fell apart? What do you think caused the problems? What could have been done to prevent it?