The social structure that is guilds has come a long way in the history of online gaming. If we take World of Warcraft as an example, which is handy since the game has been around and evolved for a longer period now, we can see the same has happened on Azeroth – the founding of guilds is as frequent as ever, but the reasons why they are joined and the ways they are run have changed gradually over time, as a consequence of the game changing. There’s a vast variety of guilds these days, catering to every imaginable playstyle. There’s true ‘professional guilds’ and there’s guilds with all sorts of requirements. The other week I read about the rise of a ‘super guild’ on World of Matticus, a new form of guild that has sprung from Blizzard’s featured guild perks system for Cataclysm.
If I think back on the early days of my own server, there was only a handful of 40man raidguilds around. If you wanted to raid seriously, there was a limited choice and we all knew each other on that block, just as you generally knew your opponents in a battleground as a more frequent PVPer (which made for many a fun interlude at Xroads). There were hardly any so-called ‘casual raidguilds’. There were far less non-raiding guilds than today and there was certainly a lot less going on in terms of public chat pugs and lose alliances.
My very first raidguilds also had a rather modest structure and set of requirements and guidelines in place, compared to the well-oiled business machinery run by many guilds these days. Officer teams were chaotic bunches more often than not, recruitment happened in much more legère a fashion and if you wanted to raid on Thursday night, the way to sign up was to be there on time.
Oh yes, we’ve come a long way with our guild organisation; with our lootrules and raid calendars, our recruitment procedures and attendance monitors, guild ranks and officer departments. In Adrenaline we make use of all these options and more. Over the years, Blizzard has introduced more tools to help guilds organize and monitor themselves better. I can certainly say that the implementation of guild banks for example was a huge relief to all the officers out there, used to re-logging constantly to some guild mule.
Another change that has evolved over the years in WoW, is a guild’s need for security. Almost all of us have had at least a guildmate or two who’s account’s been compromised in the past. Even worse, many guilds (ours included) have experienced their guild bank raided because a member and/or officer has been hacked. Using a login authenticator has become pretty much standard in WoW’s community, even if some still resist (for what I personally find very weak reasons) to get one attached to their account.
The other day, Alas wrote an article about an officer guild-quitting on her, because of her guild’s authenticator requirement for raiders. It’s not unfrequent for guilds to have safety requirements like this today – but she goes on to ask the more fundamental question of “how far can guild requirements go?” without becoming unreasonable.
Personally I believe that the sky is the limit. Guilds are always about joint ventures and just like it’s up to every guild leadership to decide on their own type of guild and guidelines, it’s your freedom to join or leave a guild that is not to your liking or found a guild of your own. If there is enough people interested in a certain type of guild, chances are such a guild will be created.
We might have a hard time thinking out of the box right now, but if we look at the long way guilds and online communities have come, I wonder how their structure is going to evolve from here: how are things going to look like in a world like Azeroth, 10 years from now? What procedures and requirements might future guilds employ?
Paying for membership
I have an aunt and uncle who love to golf. They’re average middle-class citizens, they don’t own a house of their own and they only drive one car which is 15 years old. They might go on a short vacation every other year, but that’s about as much as they can afford. Pretty standard where I live, one of the so-called richest countries in the world.
In order to find a shared hobby for their retirement, one that allows them to be together outdoors and be active without the ability to hike or run marathons anymore, they settled for their mutual wish to take up golfing together – a much more difficult endeavor for two average people like them, than meets the eye.
The few golf clubs available around here are the same as pretty much everywhere: damn expensive to join. For those of you that might not be aware of this system, the majority of playgrounds like that are not public and come with entry fees and membership fees of several thousand euros, ranging from 5000-10’000 per year, up to more astronomical numbers such as 50’000 euros and more. Entry fees do not include yearly membership, nor any further services or equipment – they’re only payed for well, entry.
A big stash for ‘normal’ people. A reason to say fuck golfing maybe and look into mini-golf. Certainly a reason to go vote and prevent more of these places to pop up and claim public spaces and wildlife habitats. But I’ll leave the snidy side-remarks at that because I really don’t want to talk about the sense or non-sense that is a few select ones claiming leagues and leagues of public countryside for themselves and their private leisure, pushing out all other people and animals alike (not to mention the gazillion galleons of precious water required to maintain the supple lawns every week), to mingle in exclusive country clubs because life is so hard and they really need some luxury every now and then to relax in peace. Ooops, have I already done it now? Oh well, there’s only so much quiet sufferance I got in me, and it’s Julian-week after all.
The logic behind golf club policy is of course most comprehensible: they’re about exclusiveness as much as the need to limit the number of visitors in order to maintain the courses and keep them a clean and quiet experience. You can’t and don’t want to have places like that crowded by hundreds of people. The high maintenance costs a lot of money and you want things to be profitable after all – none of that is possible if you opened it to a wider audience who’s never gonna spend cash in the same way, while ruining the whole point. Also, many golf clubs around here do business with the excess money, investing into financial projects and so forth.
The business model works for the ones running it and their clients alike: both parties get what they want from the deal.
The guild with the entry fee
In the year 2012, Leprechaun, an imaginary tauren warrior from the imaginary Stormglade EU server, is the founder and GM of an ambitious raidguild called -Decadence-
The guild runs a strict raiding schedule and transparent guidelines, monitored by a very dedicated staff of officers who look after all the guild’s needs 24/7. Joining Decadence is rather simple: willingness to commit to all raid nights, profound knowledge of your class and game mechanics (yadda yadda) and: submitting a membership fee of 60’000 gold upon joining.
When Decadence set out with this unique recruitment requirement, they were initially met with an outrage in their thread on Stormglade’s public forums. By now, the guild is one of the most respected and favoured places to be in their battlegroup. Raiders are switching servers only to get a shot at a trial in Decadence. One more notorious rumor tells a story about a smaller raidguild’s former GM, who disbanded his own guild and sold off the entire guild bank, in order to be able to submit the membership fee.
During this time, Leprechaun has been accused of being an elitist and worse by many haters, as much as being praised a genius by his own guild mates and fans all across other servers. In an interview with MMO-Reportz.com, he had the following things to say about Decadence’ unique approach to recruitment:
“At some point the number of applications was just too overwhelming to deal with. This was on the brink of hitting EU’s top 10. The officers were working all around the clock and our guild’s expenses skyrocketed in order to support our swift progression and minimize our members’ need to spend time on farming for mats and consumables.
In Decadence, we provide for everyone: everything is guild funded and free, down to individual playstyle / consumables, repairs and extra gear sets. All of this is funded through membership fees and business done with it.”
“We felt that with the 60’000 gold entry fee we were killing two birds with one stone: a smaller selection of recruits who put in the extra effort of depositing a reasonable sum of money the guild needs in order to function.
“We don’t believe the amount of gold is too high; if anything, it shows a member is dedicated and knowledgeable enough to farm this kind of money in the game. It’s not hard to come by in my opinion, at least not if you’re playing a lot. And that’s the sort of players we want to attract.”
“We’re furthering the goldseller business – are you serious? [laughs] Now that’s a pretty ludicrous claim, in my opinion! Decadence is a small guild after all, we hardly influence this kind of global enterprise. Also, the types of raiders we attract are probably not the kind of casual players that are more likely to struggle with gold in the game.”
“Asking everyone for the same deposit makes our members feel they’re contributing in the same way, it’s an even share among everybody. Already upon joining, this allows new recruits to feel they are actively partaking in Decadence and have a ‘right to be here’. This is easing them into becoming an established part of the guild. In return, our members get a unique and all-inclusive guild experience. Decadence is run professionally and provides for all our raiders’ needs without any further guild requirements that other raid guilds have, such as donations or material farming. Even our excess loot is evenly distributed, rather than hoarded by us. I don’t see how our policies are so much worse from other guilds, we’re simply doing it differently.”
“We provide our raiders with the experience they’re looking for. In return, we use entry fees to do guild business and ensure a smooth progression. Besides that, members leaving us are eligible to a refund of a 50% of the initial sum. This is an additional security for us in terms of guild drama: we don’t have rage-quitting in Decadence. People treat a guild very differently if their own money has been invested. And a potential refund makes for much more amicable parting, we have learned.” [chuckles]
I admit that while my initial reaction to the membership fee was very critical, much of that if not all has been dispersed through the course of the interview. There is a solid logic behind this guild model: it allows the guild to function the way it does and there’s a few very interesting pros in Leprechaun’s reasoning. His points on members sharing ‘ownership’ and including newcomers straight away for example, makes a lot of sense to me. So does his point on guild drama, as sad as it might be. The 60’000 gold fee is a measure of security for Decadence and it provides members with services in return.
The only ones that really get excluded are those unwilling or unable to make such a deposit – but then these players would probably not be able to commit to such a raid agenda anyway (much less want to).
I don’t think Decadence is different or necessarily more elitist than other guilds: it is just one joint venture among others, catering to one type of raider. And unlike the golf club analogy, it does not harm anyone else by its exclusivity which is probably the most important part.
What does the future hold?
I can definitely see more evolved ‘business models’ like this hypothetical one, exist in the future of online guilds. There are already enough signs out there, maybe there’s even a few raidguilds around already that require deposits of this sort. Guilds are here to stay and as long as MMOs continue to grow, guilds will follow that progress and become more professionalized, with more elaborate concepts and membership requirements. I guess you can like that or not, but then the freedom of choice is still yours.
Would you pay to join the ‘perfect guild’, if it enhanced your gaming experience? I don’t see why not.