Monday, May 17, 2010

Social Innovation and Alliances

Spinks wrote about Raid Alliances here. Check it out. My response is: Yes, Yes, emphatically YES!  What Spinks is talking about is how guilds are often formed based on friendships or common views on things, while raiding groups are often based on compatibility of time schedules, desire, and skill level.  History has shown us that finding a large group of people that share all of those things with you can be like Mankirk's Wife.  Also, at times, the two group ideologies seem diametrically opposed.  That is, your friends or people you get along with don't often have the same skill, schedule, or drive to raid that you do... but they're still your friends.  You still would like to spend time with them. 

What the current guild system does not take into account are the needs of a long-term, social environment.  People's goals are going to change over time.  It happens every day.  This doesn't mean we want to have to sever ties with one group in order to join another.  Additionally, people are members of multiple groups in RL all the time.  You can have two groups of friends.   Maybe one group is made up of friends that attend the same school as you and the other is a group of fellow hobbyists.  They could not share a member and yet your allegiance to each is equally valid.  That's how life works, but not WoW.

In WoW, we have to choose one group and only one group.  Hope your needs don't change.  Hope everyone sticks together, because all your souls are most assuredly in one shard.  There isn't room for change.

I lived this problem along with several close friends of mine and a whole host of alliance-mates.  We used to be officers in a casual, friendly guild.  The guild used to be quite large, but has seen it's numbers dwindle as all the good players hit a point where they need to leave in order to secure a raid spot (me included).  We love our guild, many of us still hang out on the same forum boards even though we're not official "members" any more.  The guild did not raid.  It just wasn't in the fabric of the membership.  We had a lot of different people with a lot of different schedules.   If we had ten people who wanted to raid, we could still only get 5 to show up on any given night.  It wasn't because the people didn't want to raid together, it was just that our schedules were all so different.  So, we left to pursue the interest that most required belonging to a guild.  Not friendship... raiding.

For a while, we did the raiding alliance thing.  It was great.  We had a group of people we raided with, regular raids, and we still had our friendly guild.  It was like having our cake and eating it too.  Then, I'm not sure what happened.  A group that started in late TBC found itself ripping apart at the seams mid-Wrath.  I could point to several key issues, but the bottom line is as Spinks mentions: the marked lack of support of the alliance paradigm from Blizzard.  It's not something they encourage.  They want everyone in their neat, little guild boxes, as emphasized by their plans for Cataclysm.

Now, I am not against the guild leveling stuff promised in the pipeline.  I think it'll probably be pretty cool and give some good incentive to stick with a group.  I'm not saying it's a gross oversight or anything, because maybe there isn't a good way to encourage alliances.  Maybe it wouldn't even work.  I don't know.  I can only say that by putting the emphasis on guilds so heavily, they're effectively debilitating any independent alliances.  The lack of support made it difficult in the first place, but with what's been foreshadowed, it will soon become untenable.  You will pretty much have to be in the guild where you're doing your raiding.

So where does that leave me now?  I've stepped down as an officer in a guild I was quite fond of.  It was heart wrenching, but I still have an alt there.  Ya know, to keep in touch.   I joined a small guild of ten awesome folks who are committed to the same schedule and raiding ideas.  There are no thoughts or talk of any sort of future alliance, as it has mostly dissolved.  People still stay in touch and ask for help for their guild runs, but, for the most part, we were forced to go our separate ways.

As an aside, I'm not knocking my current guild.  I love these people; they've become some of my best friends not only in-game, but in RL too.  We all sort of live in the same area, so we can meet up, help each other with RL problems as well as in-game ones.  It's a great little guild.  We have similar ideas and senses of humor.  We're like any little clique you've ever known.  We have our drama, we have our good times.  It's rather awesome and I'm happy to be there.

My point is: why did I have to choose?  Why couldn't my "main" be in two guilds, for instance?  Maybe you could designate "social" guild and "raiding" guild?  Maybe we could have had a supported alliance, with features to make it more palatable.  Half of our current raid team is made up of folks who, like me, had to leave the old guild for the new.  It just made sense.  We got sick of kludging together random chat channels, separate banks, calendars, etc... it just didn't work.  Raiding takes a lot of organization, and you really need to be in the same guild to capitalize on the tools that Blizz has given us

We tried a big alliance, we tried a small alliance.  In the end, the lack of support forced our hand.  That seems to be what Blizzard wants, though I'm sure they wouldn't put it quite like that. 

I don't want to sound too ranty though, because it still has worked out rather well for me. I'm excited about the guild leveling, and generally happy where I am now.   I know that Blizzard can't do it all.  I chalk it up to a "personal decision" that was difficult, but the right one for the direction our gaming has taken us.  However, Spinks's post, aptly titled "What Could Have Been", made me really think about, ya know, what could have been.  Maybe it would have been possible to have our cake and eat it too in some crazy parallel universe of online gaming.

As MMO's gain longevity, we will inevitably need to see innovation in the social aspect of the genre.  The concept of a "guild" has been around for quite some time, and perhaps we're seeing that it's becoming outdated.  As social gaming becomes more main stream, we'll have to find better ways to accommodate the "human factor".  That is, we need to allow for change, because that's sort of what we humans do over time.  We learn, we grow, we alter our perceptions.  I, for one, would pay a lot of money for a game that finds a way to embrace our fickleness without short-changing the relationships.  Seems like a pretty tall order though.

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