Guilds, Servers, Communities

| Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Community used to be based on servers. We had our server and that was where we were, so all our actions were in our own back yard. Or to better fit my next analogy, our servers were our homes. Only a desperate, or awfully trained, dog will shit in the house.

Before battlegrounds PvP was based on the actual open realm. Then we had battlegrounds which put the same population in a box of some sort, which pushed out some of the world PvP types, but in general did not radically alter the composition of the group by excluding large parts or adding outsiders. People knew the other people on their server, including in the battlegrounds. Then came cross-realm BGs and areas which diluted the population and shifted a lot of focus away from battlegrounds. Battlegrounds ceased to be *ahem*, serious business.

PvE was still based on the server. Then came cross-realm LFD which pushed heroics and regular instances off the server. As with BGs, one can still make server-only groups, but they come at a significant cost of time and the loss of the 5% damage/healing/health buff.

The importance of the server as a foundation for community has been further eroded by easier and easier server transfers, name changes, and faction changes. Location and identity mean less.

In essence we're all in the public part and dogs are shitting all over the place. There are no owners with old newspaper bags in their pockets, so it just gets left there. The community stinks.

Blizzard seems to be trying to fix this by expanding guilds. With guild levels and reputation we are encouraged to stay in guilds. Nice thought, but nonsense.

With this change guilds cease to be a convenience for the sake of communication with a selected group. Once upon a time being unguilded wasn't a stupid idea. It was a choice with no major incentive one way or another. Now guilds are reputation, experience, and gold boosters. Now being guildless is stupid.

Is this going to improve the community? I doubt it. Utilitarian structures, which is what guilds are now, do not improve community. Instead they put players in a bad position: join a guild, any guild, just get in a guild, or you're hurting yourself. Oh and if you don't like the guild, you'd better find a new one before you leave, but that's okay, you can easily find a guild that just wants bodies to help cap their daily rep.

Notice how in this scenario no one cares about who is in the guild or who you are? They don't even care if you're skilled, just if you're playing.

This is not a way to build a strong community.

But let's be optimistic and pretend that we will all care for our guild and its members. We all huddle in and shut the door and stay in there. Why would we ever leave? PUGs are just a source of frustration. Thanks to cross-realm LFD they aren't a place to find new members. We're definitely not going to try making a server-only group, since it's probably just filled with people who can't get their own guild runs, and who wants those sort of people?

So we put up our walls and fences and keep the riff-raff out. It'll be like our own virtual Brazil, complete with segregation and unusually sexualized women.

Nothing is free. All the convenience we demanded of shorter queues and automated group formation, they came at a price. As I will suggest tomorrow, this price can be reduced, but we cannot rely on automatic anonymous groups and expect to have any server community and with no server community things will only get progressively worse.

I can't help wonder how many new players were tricked. Did they join WoW expecting to find a world to explore and a community to join? Or did they join expecting a hamster wheel of loot and a whole lot of dog shit?

After I write posts like this I ask myself why I still play. It's the friends. A very few of us who have been together for years. Does that contradict my entire post? No. Not at all. I think it confirms it. It confirms that people need social ties. But a handful of friends are not a community; it's a clique. Is that the future of WoW, a giant mass of cliques who cannot bear to interact with others?

16 comments:

Nils said...

The answer to "Why do you really play WoW" has been very valueable for years now. It's just so similar to: "Why is WoW so successful"

For me it is
- the core gameplay + polish
- the very few friends that still play WoW
- the fun in building a perfect character with 100% BestinSlot.
- the gameplay in non-rated BGs (wanted to like rated ones. It didn't work on my server - nobody does them).
- the persistence that gives mmeaning. Even WoW feels more meaningful than some single player game.

Right now however, I play Minecraft :)

Melmoth said...

The thing with cliques is that there is very often a person who belongs to more than one, and if that person's opinion holds enough weight, you no longer have a mass of cliques but a social network instead. It's a fine line.

Despite the rose-tinted glory days of Everquest and company, projected by many as perfect utopias of server society, there are numerous examples of anti-social players pursuing extended campaigns of griefing in those games. I agree that there were stronger, tighter-knit communities back in those early days, but those social groups were still based upon playing with who you knew and excluding those who behaved badly or did not play by that society's rules. This is not necessarily a Bad Thing; I guess it depends on whether you see clique as necessarily being a pejorative.

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Klepsacovic said...

I should put a little disclaimer on my blog "I have never played EQ."

@Nils: So you're currently playing a game that is the exact opposite of why you play WoW?

@Melmoth: Networking cliques... it's a funny phrase but you're absolutely right.

"excluding those who behaved badly or did not play by that society's rules." To me this is a good thing, an essential thing. Anonymity prevents exclusion. This is a good thing when you're going for freedom and revolution, not so good when building a community.

@Brian: Rewrite your comment to be less of a retarded dick. This is that "excluding those who behaved badly" thing from above. And yes, I get to break that rule if I feel like it.

Caramael said...

WoW used to be fun because of the people you met ingame (which took me quite some time to realize). This does not happen anymore, so I have no reason to play the game.
If I feel like playing the loot hamster wheel, I choose Diablo 2. It's way better than WoW at that; no badges/points/whatever, just chance and screaming FUCK YES when some amazing item drops.

Tesh said...

Hrm... so how does one build a community? Force people into proximity of some sort and make them cooperate, or let people self-select their own groups and cooperate because they want to? Seems to me both could work, but I suspect the former would always have an undercurrent of resentment and mercenary attitudes, just waiting to fly apart when the stresses cross a threshold, while the latter might be more cliquish, but stronger in the long run.

Come to think of it, isn't that more or less what happens with guilds?

Klepsacovic said...

@Caramael: Why do you think you are not meeting people in game? I'm curious about your experience and perspective.

@Tesh: What would make people want to cooperate? We cooperate to do what we cannot do alone. A perfectly soloable world with any interaction being purely social might work, but clearly that isn't what WoW is creating with its guild system.

Justisraiser said...

I started playing in 2008, right before patch 2.3. Lots of quests involved fighting elites and requires parties of 2 or 3 people to do it. Unfortunately even back then, the population in leveling areas was sparse. I ended up having to skip a lot of those quests.

Then patch 2.3 hit and lots of old world quests were nerfed. I now had access to content that was unavailable to me, and I did it solo. I didn't lament the loss of socializing, because I wasn't socializing anyway besides typing "/1 Can anyone help me kill Mor'Ladim?" every 2 minutes.

This is a tough problem that's tough to solve with the type of content. If you force grouping to promote socializing, then you risk shutting people out of content entirely if they can't find a group.

I do make a good amount of friends, but it's generally my participation at the endgame. I would organize 10 man PUGs all the time in WotLK and I quickly ran out of space on my friends list. In Cataclysm, I've asked Trade Chat if they wanted to join up with me before I queued for LFD (I play a healer so I don't mind a longer wait joining with a DPS if he knows the fights and performs well), and half the recruitment I've done with my guild has been through that.

There is a high concentration of players and raids (and heroics to a lesser extent, for now) require so much teamwork that socializing is inevitable.

It's a tough balance. If you require socializing while leveling, you risk people getting stuck leveling. But if you don't really require socializing until endgame, then you eventually have levels 1-84 as a single player game.

Klepsacovic said...

@Justis: I loved places like Jintha'Alor which used to need a few people to get through it. It was soloable, but slowly and with great difficulty. But I also remember it taking a long time to get groups and more than once ended up leveling out of it.

So I agree, forced grouping while leveling is a potential problem since it can be so hard to find groups then. Outdoor group content is troublesome because it has no tool for gathering people outside the zone.

Maybe WoW needs a LFG tool for group quests. Come to think of it, I think there used to be one, but people didn't use it enough. Maybe that could have used a second try, such as auto-joining when accepting group quests.

Not enough grouping and we play alone, too much grouping and people are likely to not play at all. It's a tough balance.

Caramael said...

@Klepsacovic: that's a tough question. I guess I'll blame the LFD tool and overall horrible player attitude inside the groups it forms. All I know is that during vanilla and TBC I had quite a long friends list, and logging on usually started with a bunch of whispers from and to those friends. Somewhere during WotLK that all disappeared.

Anonymous said...

Why would I want to be part of a community of morons?

Klepsacovic said...

@Caramael: Tomorrow I'll address the LFD tool, which I do think is a good thing. As for the attitude, I can't quite say where that came from. PUG was never a positive thing, but it's fairly new that it is so so negative.

@Anonymous: I can't think of much reason, but I wonder what this community of morons is to which you refer.

Nils said...

Klepsacovic, you are talking about Minecraft.

Correct. Just because I play WoW for these reasons doesn't mean that these reasons are all the reasons that I'd ever play a game for.

We Fly Spitfires said...

I've been asking myself lately why I play WoW too. I guess part of the reason (and I'm sure this extends to a lot of people) is because it's become purely habitual. It's also so streamlined and progression so obvious that it's an "easy" gaming option. Why bother downloading and trying a new game when I can just log into WoW? It makes me feel very lazy sometimes.

Sthenno said...

WoW has millions of people playing it. The thing about millions of people is that they don't like each other.

I interact with all kinds of people during my day but I have only a function relationship with most of them. They are not my friends. It's not that there is anything wrong with them or that there is anything wrong with me, that's just how people are. On the other hand, I have friends who I genuinely enjoy the company of and want to spend time with. It would take literal magic to make WoW different.

Klepsacovic said...

That's why we used to not play with millions, but mere thousands, or based on time, hundreds. I'm not suggesting that we should like everyone, or even anyone, but when we seem to actively despise strangers, and everyone is a stranger, something is wrong.

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