Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

6 October, 2012

How a guild dies
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 11:03 AM

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 premise

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?







9 Comments »

  1. I’ve seen a few guilds fall apart for various reasons. Two reasons stand out in my mind.

    I think attrition is one of the larger reasons: old players get bored or burnt out and stop playing; new players don’t have the in-game experience (or even out-of-game maturity) to lead a guild or raids. Those remaining who want to continue playing, but aren’t “leadership material” drift off to other active guilds.

    Another common example is similar to what you describe, but I put it more in the “drama”. The core members of the guild all agree with basic behavior, but you want more people in the guild so you can run more content, or fill vacancies, and you can get a clash of personalities.

    Comment by azog — 6 October, 2012 @ 11:21 AM

  2. Faux-progression guilds along those lines have been cropping up in every established MMO I’ve played for many years. When I first came across one back in Everquest before the first real Progression server had even been thought of I thought it was a great idea. I think that would have been around 2003.

    Some of the probably work. The one I was briefly in never really got going and for some of the same reasons. The person who starts it has one idea that’s maybe shared by the core group that he attracts, but if the guild gets any traction it soon degenerates into a lot of argument over what is and isn’t allowed. If the guild doesn’t attract new blood, on the other hand, people soon drift off to guilds that are actually getting somewhere.

    Even when EQ2 started, the guild I joined at launch could never agree on a direction. It disbanded and re-formed under a new name after a few weeks, then the leader left and finally the senior remaining officer launched a completely unprovoked tirade in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, disbanded an was never heard of again. Mrs Bhagpuss and I left to form a guild of our own which is the guild we are still in. We may only ever have a handful of people and sometimes it’s just the two of us but I much prefer it to the chaos and unpredictability of larger organizations.

    Comment by bhagpuss — 6 October, 2012 @ 11:25 AM

  3. Amazingly enough, achieving what your guild set out to do is increasingly difficult in MMOs these days. The only solution we’ve been able to sustain is to restrict the group only to folks that you know well enough to trust and that truly have buy in to the process.

    For us, that has meant a core group of 5 players that agree to play by the rules, stick together as a group, which means progression caps and stand downs unless and until the laggards of our little group can catch up so we can stay in synch and within a close level range which permits us to experience the content at-level.

    For those of us with a richer play budget than others, alts are our friends. We keep our “group” characters on the group track and if we have other interest or time to play, alts can scratch that it. To mark these goals, we typically set certain milestones/caps for progress. In our case, access to dungeons (minimum level, etc.) has served as our intermediate way points. By way of example, in Rift, the next dungeon is recommended for level 42+, so we are homing in to that as a group and wont undertake it until everyone is there.

    Unfortunately, restraint is a rare commodity in progression games. We’ve only really found that it works in a small group committed to progressing as a small group. I’ve often wondered whether a “squad based” approach to guild management could achieve the same thing on a broader level.

    I think that if you were to really make a go of a larger group attempting this, your intake process needs to be fairly vigorous to make sure you have true buy in, and then you probably need to be a bit merciless with offenders. Its simply a matter of, “if that’s what you want to do, then this isn’t the guild for you.” That said, its a continuous process of give and take with often the give being slowing down or stopping your own progression in order to permit the broader group to progress as a whole.

    Comment by potshot — 6 October, 2012 @ 11:48 AM

  4. azog wrote:
    …but I put it more in the “drama”.

    I’d say it’s more of a clash of goals than drama. I see drama as more along the lines of “The guild leader is cybering with the healer who seems to get all the good stuff.” The line between them can be pretty blurry, though.

    bhagpuss wrote:
    Faux-progression guilds along those lines have been cropping up in every established MMO I’ve played for many years.

    I’ve not seen a lot that were as strict as that one. There seemed to be a lot of abuse about the concept on the chat channels, too. People unable to fathom the reason why a guild would want to be so restrictive.

    We may only ever have a handful of people and sometimes it’s just the two of us but I much prefer it to the chaos and unpredictability of larger organizations.

    I’m in a small guild in DDO (and do a lot of PUGs on my other characters). There’s something to be said for small groups, but there’s also some value in joining a larger organization, too. Just have to deal with a larger group of people, which leads to stranger behaviors. I think an important thing is to agree what the goals of the group are and stick with them.

    potshot wrote:
    I think that if you were to really make a go of a larger group attempting this, your intake process needs to be fairly vigorous to make sure you have true buy in, and then you probably need to be a bit merciless with offenders.

    The guild did do this pretty well. I linked to the list of complete rules in the prior blog post about the guild. The guild leader had no compunction about dropping people who didn’t follow the goals.

    The problem came when some people wavered on the goals. They wanted to attract more people, and some wanted to loosen the rules, when the guild did it caused people to leave, so the guild needed more people, etc. A vicious cycle. Eventually the original purpose was lost. Added to the fact that some of the people added were not as mature, and the guild disintegrated. It seemed like a slow process, though.

    It was a really fun few months, though.

    Comment by Psychochild — 6 October, 2012 @ 1:22 PM

  5. I was in the guild for awhile too, and my reasoning for leaving was mostly because of some bad bugs I experienced in the game where it would lose textures and I’d fall through geometry out into the abyss. However, I did like the concept behind the guild which was why I joined in the first place. But I had a massive red flag after I picked the Beastlord class and some guy in the guild went off on how all BL players were noobs and that he didn’t think I should have been allowed to play one. Apparently, what he said he intended to be in a tell instead of in guild chat, but it was embarrassing and made me feel like I was doing something wrong.

    Comment by Cuppycake — 6 October, 2012 @ 5:10 PM

  6. Your description sounds a lot like the “grew too fast, and lost their culture” issue that affects a lot of startups.

    Comment by Toldain — 7 October, 2012 @ 8:31 AM

  7. I was in 2 guilds that failed due to Drama. The first was run by a guy who was extremely popular but it turned out he was a drunk. As time passed he felt freer to make inappropriate comments until someone got offended and left. The people who openly sided with the person who left were kicked. I was trying to reason with the leader through tells instead of guild chat when suddenly he started kicking everyone left in the guild. When he finally kicked me I sent him a tell that I wasn’t coming back and he said “good”.

    Most of the members of the guild reformed in a new one. That one eventually ended with drama as well because the leader was cybering with one of the officers even though she was married. Some people in the guild were disgusted by their open displays of affection (knowing her status) and the guild was not being run well because those two were “distracted”.

    Drama seems to be the end of most guilds I’ve been in, it seems really hard to avoid…

    Comment by Djinn — 8 October, 2012 @ 8:41 AM

  8. I’ve found that most guilds follow this cycle, when all is said and done. It’s hard to hit that perfect balance of progression speed and culture to keep people together.

    Further, it’s worsened by traditional MMO design issues. Before raiding, level has such an enormous impact on comparative balance between players that even a tiny bit of excess progression on the part of some renders the contributions of others worthless, and can quickly lead to people being entirely unable to experience content together.

    At the raiding level, it’s so enormously difficult to find sufficient people at a comparable skill level AND tolerance for failure. This, in my experience, is the number one base cause of raiding guild failure*. You need a lot of people, and if they cannot commit to regular play, you need more and more. But the more you have, the more variation you end up with, quickly leading to the “elite” and the “bads”. The better players chafe at either the unnecessary delay in progression to gear up all the extra people, or wiping due to painfully stupid behavior. The poorer players get unhappy with the expectations and blame.

    I’ve seen successful raiding guilds that last, but very, very few of them. IMHO, it can only work with a small group of close people who are able to play consistently together. The larger the required group to experience content, the sooner things break down.
    (* I’ve never had drama guild failure issues, because I’ve always avoided Drama People. You can pick em out a mile off, and just steer clear)

    Comment by Derrick — 8 October, 2012 @ 10:38 AM

  9. Cross posting a comment by Bruce Hennigar II from Google+:

    I wonder if there comes a point where the GM must choose quantity over quality in efforts like this. You say he was very strict in the beginning, but continued to let people in who didn’t necessarily fit the mold, but the problem is you NEED people to fit the mold or your plan doesn’t work.

    You can’t have, say, the majority of the community population who runs around in WoW in a slow, retro progression type guild; it just won’t work. You need like minded people who don’t care about always being top of the DPS meters and who don’t necessarily want to race to max level, but who will do the DPS required to kill a boss and be at the required level for expansion raid content in a reasonable amount of time. So you’re not hardcore, but you’re not casual (note I’m using casual to denote play time, not skill. I did NOT say “bad” :P). You’re somewhere in the middle, but I’m not quite sure what you’d call that class of gamer today.

    I signed up for a progression guild once, but it took so long for them to get started due to figuring out rules that I never actually did anything with them. I tried playing on the EQ progression server when it launched until I found out you could buy stuff from their cash shop to help you out. I stopped playing immediately because then it became whoever was willing to do the most to progress the fastest, which included the cash shop. I wouldn’t have minded if the cash shop wasn’t usable and I had to be hardcore and level 24 hours a day again.

    Anyway, I think it’s important that the people who try to accomplish feats like this actually sit down and figure out the rules before opening the doors to the public. You can’t know everything people will try beforehand, but you can know how to handle people who stray into dangerous territory and to keep the peace, you need to know when to boot people from the guild. I’d say running a guild like this is even harder than running a normal guild, even a current progression style guild, due to the rules and enforcement of those rules. But I’m betting if you can pull it off, it would be so much fun.?

    Comment by Psychochild — 13 October, 2012 @ 10:30 AM

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