I want to talk a bit about guilds and how they enhance or impede social interactions in MMOs.
How guilds enhance social interactions
When I first started playing WoW it was with my husband and a real life friend of his. Through that friend we discovered other real life friends. Then, after a while, we joined a guild. That guild was the Knights Who Say Ni. When that guild stopped raiding, I moved to Sanctity, which merged with Forgotten Heroes. From Forgotten Heroes, those of us who wanted a different type of raiding formed Dreamstate. Dreamstate has members from all of the guilds that came before it. The reason I have played WoW for 8+ years is not the game, its the people I play with.
What the guild as a structure does is enable you to meet new people in a safe(r) environment. It normally has some kind of social norms and boundaries. It makes communication manageable. It makes people feel like they have somewhere to belong.
For the longest time, I didn’t think there was a problem. There is, however. Human social interactions are highly complex. The guild is singular in all its aspects – one identity, one set of norms. Often, except in very large guilds, there is also only one set of activities.
Say you are in a raiding guild, and you want to PvP. You can PuG, sure, but its hard. The best way to raid or do rated PvP is with a guild. The problem: I can only join one guild. I could use another character to PvP and join another guild with that character. This has its own complexities to it. Will either guild understand my splitting my focus? Will I be able to manage two characters? Will I create bad feeling in one or the other guild if they feel I am not dedicating myself enough to their guild?
Enter Guild Wars 2
Guild Wars 2 took guilds in a different direction. You can join multiple guilds. However, you can only represent one. What this tends to mean in practice is that you are in much the same situation. It is a bit easier to be a part of more than one guild, but most guilds want you to represent them and gain rewards for them. If I decided to join another guild as well as my current one, would they understand? It resolves the maintaining two characters issue, but not the social ones.
Wildstar is planning a similar compromise. There will be traditional guilds, but also Circles. Circles are groups of people who ally for a specific reason. So if you are in a friendly guild but want to PvP, you could join a PvP Circle. This definitely helps the issues I’ve described. However, the Circles are still de-valued. You, by default, belong to your guild and this remains singular. The Circle is no more than a glorified friends list with a chat function. Due to the primary, singular nature of the guild I suspect there will still be some expectation that your loyalty resides there. This isn’t how interactions work in reality. It is, however, the best solution I am aware of short of letting people join multiple guilds.
Someone needs to sit back and take a look at how guilds work in MMOs. All of the above examples continue the propriety nature of guilds. You join a group, you belong, you contribute. If you join another guild via some other route, you are somehow taking away from the main guild.
There are three purposes that guilds meet – social connections, communication and organisation. What if you could simply join multiple guilds, each of which would have equal standing? You could access the calendar of your PvP and your PvE guild.
Simply changing the name and some features of guilds wouldn’t be enough, however. Even if the interaction changed, players may not. Whilst I don’t believe we can gain such change without removing the systematic singularity most games have ingrained within them, the games are not alone in their responsibilities. Players also need to think about this and what they expect from their fellow guild/group/circle members. Think about real life and remember you have more than one friend – would you expect them to prioritise you over their other friends? Establish what you believe are the commitments your guild members are expected to make and don’t be offended if they do other things outside of those. Maintain those social links because those are key to your gameplay experience.