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?
Guest post: The mind of a tank
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