A Guild Odyssey – Part 3 (NBI Talkback Challenge)

“The universe is driven by the complex interaction between three ingredients: matter, energy, and enlightened self-interest.”

— G’Kar, Babylon 5

I believe Dunbar was on to something when he proposed that there is a limit to the number of people a single person can maintain social relationships with.

I don’t know if he got that number exactly correct, but certainly, it’s easier to remember 10-20 familiar names in a guild (my memory is very very bad) and the games in which I felt the strongest connections were games where less than 300 people tended to be online at any one time.

A Tale in the Desert is notable for being one of the few MMOs that allow people to be in multiple guilds at one time.

In my opinion, it’s pioneered a number of innovative guild features that other MMOs would benefit from adopting. The game also highlights the interesting push-and-pull between public community interest and self-interest for personal benefit via many design aspects.

Guilds, first and foremost, in ATITD are a means to control ownership and access rights to the property and items that players build.

If you’re a solo player on a single character, you might be able to get away with just having all the stuff you build be in your name and accessed via those, but if you play two or more characters, it becomes convenient to create a guild and give all your characters equivalent high access to everything.

Also, spouses or best friends that play one or two characters each will also favor creating their own guild so that they can share access rights that way.

Evolving up from there, we have the friends and family guilds where groups of friends may want to share communal resources, or come together to build big ticket items that are infrequently used but expensive for a lone player to build.

The nice thing about being allowed to join multiple guild is that you can have the best of both worlds. You can have a personal guild for yourself to keep your personal items safe, while being part of a larger guild, possibly with more limited access privileges, but still contribute to that community and benefit from the shared resources.

Veteran players tend to develop close relationships with each other and naturally want to stay in contact with each other and chat, so such clique guilds are common. Depending on the group, they may be open and inclusive to newbies joining them as some don’t mind or enjoy teaching newbies, and more players contributing resources tend to make the guild stronger as well.

A Tale in the Desert has one interesting spin on guild chat. (All chat tabs, really.) It’s persistent. As in, the guild chat can be set to be time-stamped and left up for hours if no one scrolls it off the screen.

What this means is that in smaller guilds, or even individual whispers to a player, you can essentially leave messages for each other even when both parties aren’t logged on at the same time. You could conduct a conversation message-board style 8 hours apart, and have the benefit of it speeding up to real-time when both of you are logged in together.

ATITD allows for as many chat tabs as you want to be up at once, so depending on the player, they could choose to leave chat tabs for 10 or 20 or 70 player names up at once to always stay in contact with them, or be in multiple guilds and keep track of all the chat going on in each channel.

This gives rise to functional guilds.

Interested in an aspect of ATITD? Say, wine-making? Beer-brewing? Growing thistles? An expert and want to talk shop with other experts? A newbie and want to pick the experts’ brains while asking questions? Join a functional guild and be included in a small community of other enthusiasts, sort of a hobbyist guild within a hobby, where most chat will be related to the subject of interest.

Regional guilds are also commonplace, often doubilng up as either ‘public facilities’ or ‘research’ guilds.

You see, it’s not easy to travel in A Tale in the Desert. The map is LARGE, the runspeed is SLOW, and so people tend to spontaneously clump together in regions and form local communities, with buildings close by that resemble a village.

Again, for big ticket items, people have found it most convenient to construct shared facilities, that are often placed in a central location of a region – next to a chariot stop – and designated as for public-use.

Ditto for research contribution, which are basically Egypt-wide projects to unlock a technology for all, including future players of that Telling, to use. Guilds are used to indicate interest in contributing to those projects, with the bonus of having a separate chat tab to keep track of everything.

One common mistake newbie players make is to simply join one guild, which is often a public or research guild as those have the widest reach and give their all for that guild. The effort is always appreciated, but sometimes the new players expect a reciprocation (such as increased guild rank promotion) that may not arrive. (Depending on the guild’s leader, permissions for various ranks may be set differently, to restrict certain items from being broken by over-use or abuse.)

Often, it is sensible to keep some resources for oneself and one’s individual progress through the game to gain levels, and contribute only what you can spare. Different people arrive at slightly different balances between self-interest and community good, but extremes at either end tend to be rare, and don’t usually end well.

Which brings us back to MMO guilds in general: are they merely comprised of selfish individuals looking out for number 1?

I doubt it.

But I don’t think it is wrong to say that most people are self-interested.

(Not selfish, not self-centered, because those words come loaded with negative connotations. Even self-interest is used in semantically confusing fashion when one does a casual search on the web. I find this man’s take on the words a decently nice way of differentiating them though – Gerhard Adams on individual self-interest that can lead to selfish, cooperative or altruistic behavior on interaction with another.)

It is survival. Self-preservation. Natural selection favors a self-interested mind.

But what we find is that when circumstances dictate that cooperation and/or organization yields bigger or equally decent returns for self-interested individuals working together, they come together.

Zergs spontaneously form. Leaders create guilds. Humans have a long history of coming together.

At least, for a while.

Until going one’s own separate ways benefits the individuals more, and stuff breaks apart. The age-old cycle repeats itself.

P.S. As for Puzzle Pirates, I’ve decided to talk about that another time. Suffice to say that it’s a game that also has guilds designed -into- the game itself, giving players a need to ‘join a crew’ for better privileges and unlock access to some activities, and a way for newbies to flow into and be introduced to various guilds. Suffice to say that it is -also- an aging game that is past its prime in terms of guilds that are still alive rather than historical artifacts that have seen better times.

P.P.S. I’d like to come full circle soon and talk about guilds in my current game of Guild Wars 2, but I’m finding it a little hard to write about at the moment. Suffice to say that a number of guilds I know are… cycling right now and that’s correspondingly getting me a little bit down as well.

Change is inevitable, but sometimes, it’s a little hard to accept while it’s happening.

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GW2: Accessible, Approachable – Which is More Important?

Stubborn has been musing about exclusivity and accessibility in WoW, and as usual, I end up seeing parallels in the game I’m currently playing.

He says:

I can pretty definitively say that… you’ll never please all the people, simply because of the players’ feelings about two mutually exclusive desires.  Every player either wants accessibility or exclusivity, and never the twain shall meet.

Those two polar opposites exist on an axis, sure, and people can exist towards the middle of the axis, but in the end, every player will prefer one of the following two options:

A game where everyone can participate in all activities
or
A game where merit earns you special opportunities

Sure, we can have deeper conversations and talk about points at which one opposite might be more important than the other, but in each player’s heart, one eventually trumps the other, and those feelings are what drives the whinefests associated with game changes.

Finding a good balance along this spectrum seems to be something that GW2 is also feeling its way towards with each episodic Living Story update.

Every few weeks, we sway back and forth between hard, difficult challenges with exclusive rewards and accessible content that can be done by most or all, with a veritable whinefest – or more charitably speaking, bountiful feedback – about that update’s activities.

At heart, I’m still a City of Heroes player. The original game was a magical collection of friendly, generous souls who formed a very strong community with a forums presence to match – folks thought nothing of throwing heaps of influence at random passing newbies to help them buy their next level’s upgrades, teams formed with little to nil picking and choosing of classes or levels (thanks to sidekicking and marvelous group synergies,) and the forums was filled with many helpful people writing guides on various effective ways to play each powerset, and relatively calm and rational discussion regarding the value of each class and the game’s various quirks.

That approachability and accessibility drew me and kept me playing.

Years passed, the developer helm changed hands and with the changing of the guard, there was also a noticeable change in design philosophy. Loot happened. Ways to upgrade one’s character to higher and higher tiers of power made hoarding money and items a lot more important. Rising power levels made the concept of “team” more redundant, and more about each individual and how fast missions that made money could be completed. The introduction of raids set a minimum gear level on participation, and even led to forced grouping for a while there.

You know what? In my opinion, the community went downhill fast.

The exclusivity gave rise to elitism. People got more insular and attacked any dissenters on the forums. A subset of players were all about the speedruns and played all group content that way, with beefed out characters that could pretty much solo the entire chain of missions. To heck with the team, and it came through loud and clear in their attitudes.

There is a reason why I choose not to play World of Warcraft.

The game leans too much over to the exclusivity side of the spectrum for my tastes by making raids the primary end-game activity.

To me, accessibility means inclusiveness.

I should not have to pick and choose and reject any person who is somehow “the wrong level” or “the wrong class” or “the wrong something” for a piece of content. I should not have to look upon any player as a potential impedance to my goals (consensual PvP excepted) and feel hostile towards them.

Players should not feel left out or blocked from progress due to a particular playstyle preference (eg. group or solo, easy fun or hard fun, liking a particular class, etc.) as this discouragement tends to lead to frustration and not wanting to play the game any longer, which whittles away at the community and game population.

And it should take a reasonable amount of time (and/or RL money) to reach an even max-level playing field. New (or poor) players should not be left behind in the dust by veterans who started the MMO at the dawn of time (or rich people with more money than sense) because that again leads to rejection of disadvantaged folk and gradual erosion of the playerbase.

So what about Guild Wars 2?

Well, I’m still playing it.

For the most part, GW2 remains a very accessible game.

Take leveling. There are multiple ways of gaining sufficient xp to reach 80 – the PvE open world (also known as hearts, DEs and map exploration, and/or mob genocide), WvW, dungeons, and of course, crafting.

Equipping yourself as you get to 80 also has multiple options – karma vendors, cultural stuff for coin, dungeon vendors, drops from mobs, crafting it yourself or, of course, the TP. One can pick between blues, greens, yellows or even orange, depending on how affluent one is feeling, and even blues will eventually get you through the content, though greens are the best compromise in terms of stats and affordability.

Once you get to 80, there are again multiple options for “max level” gear (here defined as the orange exotic baseline.) Karma vendors, drops, the TP, crafting, dungeons, WvW, pick your poison. If one finds themselves unable to afford this just yet, level 80 greens and yellows are sufficient to get by until one can work towards this goal.

Ascended items (or the max + 1 level) are meant as a medium term goal to work towards incremental improvement of a character. Again, there are multiple options, if more limited in nature. Laurels, or faithfully completing dailies, will yield an item after 25-40 days, depending on if one supplements them with badges of honor or not. Attending guild missions, which normally span a two week period, will yield an alternate means of nabbing accessories via commendations. Completing a fractal above level 10 will allow one to work towards rings, either via a lucky drop or patiently plodding through ten character-days’ worth of fractal dailies via pristine relics.

It is not unreasonable for even a new player starting from scratch today to reach a max level baseline which is functional and accepted by a majority in a month or two, or less.

And the beauty of GW2 is that they don’t even have to hurry to get there. (With some partial exceptions, there may be some discrimination in dungeons or WvW, and the erratic difficulty level that is the seasonal content of the Living Story may be occasionally frustrating.)

Dungeons are more of a mixed bag, though that’s probably partially the attitude of players who prefer the dungeon playstyle. There seems to be a competitive subset who enjoy speedruns and very specialized builds to eke out the very last scrap of optimal – picking and choosing the appropriate tools for the job and tweaking for efficiency is naturally part of the game for them. There also seems to be another group of players who strive to be like their idols but upon failing miserably to communicate or coordinate, turn on their party to assign blame and play the discriminate-without-understanding and kick-from-party games more than actual dungeon running.

It’s still possible to get into inclusive groups who don’t play in the fashion mentioned above, don’t mind spending a little extra time -and- successfully complete dungeons, so I’d classify them as moderately accessible.

WvW is, of course, one of the more accessible player activities to get into, though one can pick one’s level of dedication to the format through joining various guilds and the resultant community that forms on each server has an impact on how approachable or elitist a server “feels.”

If anything, it’s the Living Story updates that are the most schizophrenic.

One previously controversial update was the Mad King’s Clock Tower, that managed to produce unintended player hostility towards players on Norn and Charr characters.

With the Queen’s Jubilee, we have the Queen’s Gauntlet, which has produced conflict between those who want to farm Deadeye Dunwell for an accelerated gold/hour rate and others who are seeking to complete other achievements. Some players are openly being nasty to others in the hope that this will leave them with a personal arena to themselves for the maximum rate of gold earning.

The champions loot update, while pleasantly rewarding the task of defeating champions across the board, has yielded the unintended ember farm – a dynamic event which produces 20-30+ champions via scaling – whose successful cycling in 5-10 minute intervals is contingent on failing the timed event. This has suddenly produced conflict between those who want the event to succeed and those who want the event to fail, with resultant nastiness across map chat (from non-well-behaved parties of either side) can be more eye searing than the slideshow framerates.

The temptation was too great. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

The temptation was too great. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

With some irony, I note that the Queen’s Gauntlet is not very accessible (in terms of skills/builds needed) and the ember farm more so (though there’s still calls for grouping and staff guardian preferences,) but both are yielding the same presumably undesired consequence.

An unpleasant community is not an approachable one.

Not being approachable turns people off from wanting to join in and participate in the first place.

And even if they do, thanks to dangling low hanging very desirable fruit, they’re not really enjoying the experience beyond self-centeredly staring at the shinies in their own pocket.

That focus on self tends to lead to exclusive and elitist atitudes – disregarding other people’s preferences or discarding them after using them for selfish purposes.

Which fucks up the community even further in an ever vicious cycle.

I think ArenaNet had the right idea early on in their iterative design process where they tried to make sure that all nearby players’ interests were in alignment with each other. Dynamic events were crafted so that whatever actions players took were working towards completion, and not griefable. Dynamic events are supposed to be completed for the best rewards.

Given a chance, players can and will attack each other. It takes design to create a friendly, cooperative experience where additional players are only welcomed, not looked upon with suspicion.

It’s my hope that future Living Story updates will give a lot more thought back towards their original manifesto. Enough with the individual or dissimilar goals trying to interact in the same space – save those for private instances. Craft us shared goals, provide opportunities for players to help each other, eliminate ways players can grief each other.

And give us back our social cooperative world.