Transparency: Are Guilds Becoming Too Big?
A common question that all MMO players have to eventually ask themselves is “what do I want in a guild?” Of course, many of us ask this question without realizing that is what we are asking. We might phrase it like “I need a group to run dungeons” or “Where are the good PvPers?” There are always those guilds that send out the random invite to those who aren’t guilded, but I suggest never taking those invites.
Most of the time, our needs as players appear to be simple, we want a group of like-minded people to hang out with as we game. So when did running a guild become a second job?
As I’ve said previously, I’ve run gaming communities, and I’ve seen all sorts of guilds. I love them. I think they instill a sense of pride and purpose for players among other positive social aspects. But many have grown from social circles into kinds of clubs where the goal isn’t to hang out with friends but actually help progress your gameplay prowess.
And I question if that is something we actually want from our guilds.
My friend Eliot writes a column here that guides guild leaders and guild members about how to make the most of their gaming groups. And I believe that there needs to be organization and structure for a guild to function well. No matter how good of friends you are, you cannot just wing everything and hope that it all turns out all right. (I guess an exception to that rule would be if you want your guild to grow no larger than the five people you have an speed dial.)
But a guild really shouldn’t be a second job for anyone, but there is certainly a trend for guilds to turn into jobs.
Are guild becoming jobs?
I have friends who are in a really large guild, and it’s certainly a lot of fun for them. It’s called the Old Timers Guild. I’m sure many of you have heard of this guild. It advertises having more than 10,000 active members, and if you visit its forums, you’ll see at least 100 people online, even during the slow times. Its games range from anything to everything. In many games, The Old Timers Guild has to make multiple in-game guilds just to accommodate all the members because the actual number of guild members exceeds the in-game guild member caps. I recall, specifically, that OTG was forced to enact a no-alt policy when Star Wars: The Old Republic launched because of the number of people joining the guilds.
But OTG isn’t alone, there is a long-standing trend to make your guild as big as possible because bigger is better, right? Many guilds have attempted to increase their size by joining large networks of guilds or even some media networks. This allowed guilds to build exposure and legitimacy as a strong guild. In the end, this also required more work and if a guild joined a media network the guild would have to be worthy of the time invested by an employee of the network.
Guilds partner with media groups
The Gamebreaker Nation guild is similar to this. The guild runs under the banner of a the Gamebreaker media network, but operates independently with a community manager from Gamebreaker acting as a liaison between the guild and the media group so that there is cross-promotion of activities. This set up literally has a person whose job is to take care of guild management.
I don’t fault the guilds nor the media groups for latching on to this kind of system because there also appears to be a trend of games catering to these kinds of guilds. Guild systems in MMORPGs tend to support larger guilds, leaving smaller guilds in the dust. That’s not to say that the designers intentionally set out to exclude small guilds, but the unintentional consequence of the games’ systems cause smaller guilds to be left out.
Games encourage huge guilds
I’ll give you an example using the recently launched Elder Scrolls Online. I could argue that the RvR PvP system in and of itself promotes zerging in order to dominate an instance. Although that is partially true, I do believe that ESO has done many things to circumvent the inevitable zergfest. Most of the zerging can be counteracted with a well-placed siege weapon.
The biggest issue is the trade market. There is no auction house or anything similar to that in the game, and the only thing that even comes close to being community-run sales machines are the Guild Traders.
Guild Traders are not Guild Stores, which exclusively sell to guild members. Guild Traders are specific vendors throughout the game world that sell specifically flagged guild wares to the public. Although there are quite a few vendors throughout the world, and it is definitely a unique alternative to the auction house system, the larger guilds dominate the best vendors because the vendors are bidded on, and of course, the guild that bids the most gains the vendor.
This means that the guilds that have the most money and/or the most people will likely gain these vendors over the smaller guild -- even if the smaller guild isn’t poor in relative comparison.
Guild Traders isn’t the only example of game mechanics being weighted towards larger guilds. Guild leveling in Guild Wars 2 and WildStar leans toward larger guilds. Conquests in Star Wars: The Old Republic require that your guild be big in order to top the conquest charts. When H1Z1 goes live, you’d best have a large guild if you want to game comfortably.
Let's talk about this trend
I’m not exactly in a position to say if this trend is good or bad overall, but I am not a fan of it. I feel that it alienates smaller guilds, and it causes the truly exceptional guilds to be overshadowed by the zerg. Many of the world-first raiding guilds aren’t really that big. Most have just enough to fill the raid group with a few bench seats to fill in when there is an absence.
When I asked a panelist on my debate show, Massively Opinionated, what the optimal size was for a guild, the largest number was 50. That answer surprised me. I was expecting for someone to say something in the hundreds of members. He felt that 50 gave optimal number of people being online so that there is enough activity in guild on a daily basis to provide enough players to do all the fun things that people like to do. Any higher than that and the panelists believed that it starts to become more work than fun and that ruins the ultimate reason why you play a game.
Clearly, on this topic, I don’t have all the answers, so what do you think? What is the optimal number of guild members? At what point do guilds become jobs?