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Game of Dethrones

Rohan’s recent post The Guild as a Nexus of Contracts is an excellent read on the subject of Blizzard’s automatic “GM Dethrone” ability that was added in patch 4.3, and the concept of guild ownership overall. And it reminded me of the hidden depths of my rage towards this policy.

I joined the guild Invictus back when Azuriel was a level 30 draenei paladin tanking Scarlet Monastery for the first time, around a month before the release of Patch 2.2. The original GMs were a husband-wife couple who, a few months after I joined, inexplicably left total ownership of Invictus to the suave, smarmy smartass that was is myself. There was a period of time in that initial confusion when I contemplated, quite literally, /gkicking everyone and running away with the entire contents of the guild bank.

Listening to the better angels of my nature, as The Abe would say, I relinquished my power to the rightful heir to the throne, Soleste, whom shepherded us through most of the remaining bits of Burning Crusade content. In the months leading up to Wrath though, when the leveling guild-turned-10m progression guild was grinding down due to cliquish drama and apathy, I found myself once again bearing the weight of the crown.

And I am here to say: Invictus is mine.

Or at least was, until Blizzard felt good money should be thrown after bad in terms of Guild Leveling, which has probably killed more guilds than it saved in the aggregate.

I get it. Guild perks and reputation and auto-sustaining levels of guild-funded repairs gives the average member more of a stake in the guild as a whole. But it’s also bullshit. The guild will “belong to everyone” when people can vote for GM, vote for guild bank permissions, vote for bans from g-chat, veto /gkicks, decide on how loot distribution will work, spend three hours on Vent trying to prevent a drama-fueled implosions, purchase guild bank tabs, decide on guild names, tabards, and transfers.

Blizzard is not rolling out the goddamn Magna Carta here – you still can and will be /gkicked by a GM for no reason, with no appeal, at his or her complete mercy. Ownership is, to me, the ability to destroy something. And while guilds can no longer be disbanded, the membership can still be destroyed via kicking, prohibiting g-chat, removing privileges, and so on.

So what the hell is this half-measure? For every guild that is “saved” by First-Come, First-Serve succession, how many random alts of alts suddenly come into possession of a guild bank full of goods? How much residual goodwill is lost from the knowledge that everything you have worked so hard towards for years is not there waiting for you, should you return? Invictus was the sum of its members, yes. But it was also my blood, my tears, my gold, my time that formed the mortar of that structure. If I am to lose it, I want to be the one to watch it burn.

It makes no logical sense, of course. Bear the burden of leadership long enough though, bear the responsibility, and tell me it doesn’t make emotional sense.

Fixing MMOs: The Social Problem

If the cornerstone of MMOs are the social aspects, then I have a question:

Why do game designers make it so absurdly complicated to find like-minded individuals?

I started playing WoW like I imagine a lot of people did: alone. And much like I imagine happens with guildless new players, I was ninja-recruited in one of the starting zones. From there, some elder player took me under their wing, helping me with that difficult final Ghostlands quest, getting me into a BG for the first time, and so on. I had a really great time.

Then… the guild imploded while I was questing in the Hinterlands. The game was no longer fun, and I abandoned my Blood Elf warlock. Since I had already paid for the WoW box and TBC at the same time, I decided I would at least try to get my money’s worth and roll a draenei on a new ‘Recommended” server. Leveled alone, twinked out a bit at levels 18-19 and 28-29 (I thought the AB boots were godly, even if you had to lose 30 games to get them). And then I ran that fateful Scarlet Monastery as a paladin tank, with three people who were friends IRL. I must have made some kind of impression because they invited me to the leveling guild they were in, named Invictus.

When I quit WoW a few months ago, I had been the GM of Invictus for over two and a half years. I saved the guild from abject destruction twice before taking the reins myself, and we graduated from leveling guild to Kara-clearing to eventually the #1 progression 10m-strict guild on the server in Wrath. For a time we had an absolutely brilliant raid roster of people that got along with each other, had similar interests, and otherwise had an ineffable chemistry which peaked in Ulduar, something that absolutely could not have happened at a better time in the game. Seriously, I still get misty-eyed looking back on the Ulduar montage I filmed (and seeing the Guild chat spam in the video after those kills almost makes me want to re-sub).

Thing is, it was completely goddamn random that any of us met at all.

To be clear, I am not referring to the general sort of Destiny vs Coincidence of my original guild imploding, my “choosing” Auchindoun over another server, or even my decision to tank Scarlet Monastery that night (and remember, this was back in TBC so Alliance characters had to be pretty damn serious about making the 15+ minute trek across three Horde-heavy zones). Anyone can talk about “what if?” until they begin to question the very nature of existence itself.

No, I talking about how Blizzard and most other MMO developers seem to rely on emergent social groups in their social MMOs.

e·mer·gent
adjective
Arising casually or unexpectedly.

When I met Sproll, Ariyal, and Duerim (now Boryenka) that night in Scarlet Monastery, none of us really knew how much we had in common. I wish I remembered what it was that led them to invite me to Invictus, although it was probably something dumb like my being guildless at the time. All three of those guys ended up being core officers of my benevolent Invictus dictatorship over the years, and I still talk with Bor to this day outside the game – we played the new Portal 2 co-op DLC a few days ago, for example.

If LFD existed back in those days, would I have met them in Scarlet Monastery? No. Would I have met them somewhere else on Auchindoun (it’s a low-pop server after all)? Maybe. But I still cannot get over the ridiculousness of the design insofar that this sort of emergent social behavior is encouraged in the most asinine way possible: randomly throwing people together and seeing what sticks. That is why you will never see me agree with the notion that LFD destroys communities. A lot of us bloggers lucked out in the Wild West fashion, but how many untold millions failed to get that pug moving and quit from boredom before the endgame? Is that really a “community” worth saving?

What I will agree with is that the current system is also dumb. The genre seems so stuck in the goddamn Dark Ages when it comes to social networking that I am genuinely surprised anyone makes something more than superficial “friends of convenience” at all. Players need to be given the tools to find like-minded individuals. There is a danger to creating insular cliques, of course, but if everyone agrees that MMOs are better with friends, this antiquated grouping design of blind coincidence needs revision.

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion featuring concrete suggestions, coming (to) In An Age near you.