Guild, game, tribe

This is a topic of great interest to me but it feels huge and amorphous and I’m not sure from what angle to tackle it. So, if I ramble even more than usual, forgive me.

It may be only for a certain type of player, or for a certain age of player; maybe those of us who are old enough to have been round the MMO block a few times, and too old to be all Facebooked and Twittered up all the time, or who don’t like the all-details-all-the-time model those places have. For me, at least (and I fit all those categories), it’s not so much about the games anymore but rather about the people who play them. It’s about the people we play with, even if we’re not literally playing with them. Basically, it’s about people.

Shockingly, I’m by far not the first to think about this. There are many posts floating around about this, but the “Players ARE content” article over on Muckbeast (discovered through Rick’s /random) says a lot of things many of us seem to agree with. I’m mentioning this mostly as a topic to return to — and it caught my interest so I suspect it may catch yours too.

Today, I’m specifically pondering how this has affected the guilds I’ve been in over the years. Guilds have always been, at least ostensibly, about the people in them, building community and social networks, but the big raiding games (EQ originally and then, explosively, WoW) have in a way perverted this. Raiding guilds aren’t necessarily about community first — many of them seem to be quasi-military organisations where each soldier knows his or her place, shows up at predetermined times, and has a very specific role to play within the guild’s main aim, which is to “clear raid content.” Apparently in some of the more extreme guilds it doesn’t matter whether you like your fellow guildies or not, because that’s not at all what the guild is about — put up, shut up, do your bit, or GTFO.

(Yes yes, not all guilds are like that, and I’m sure there are lots of fuzzy-wuzzy raiding guilds out there. Certainly there are more and more “casual raiding” guilds out there, who try not to fall into the drama-trap that seems to await all but the most tightly-run — read: draconian — hardcore raiding guilds. KWSN is a casual raiding guild in WoW, where the idea is to prevent raiding from causing envy, grief and fractures. Thing is, fractures and drama seem to be almost inevitable in a raiding-guild environment, because of the way raid rewards have always been set up with many players competing for few, very hard to get goodies.)

Conversely, many smaller guilds have always been about community first. It’s much easier (usually) in a smaller guild, because everyone knows everyone else, and often members know each other outside the game context as well. These small guilds appear to have done the best job of adapting to something most of us playing around 2000 didn’t expect to see: MMO-hopping. Family-style guilds change games with relatively little trouble, and the core of the network is independent of what game is being played.

Medium-sized or large, non-raiding guilds have a harder time with this. Here’s that Muckbeast again:

It is an incredibly common occurrence on an MMO that people start quitting not because the game is not fun any more, but because all their friends are gone. What a shame and what a failure that is.

And when people quit a game, in the vast majority of cases you end up just losing touch with them. Even today, when keeping in touch over the Internet is easier than scratching your butt.

There are quite a few things games can do to change that, but what interests me, especially with CoW’s recent growing/changing pains, is how social groups (guilds) can adapt. As far as community goes, games and game design can in my opinion only influence, encourage, and facilitate. They certainly can’t sustain community — people do that. I’m not trying to downplay how big an influence a game environment can have, but I do think there’s a point beyond which it’s almost entirely down to the meat puppets.

What sparked this post was the realisation that guilds used to be game-based, but that smart guilds aren’t anymore. We had our EQ or UO or AC guild and then our DAOC or WoW guild and maybe our EQ2 or  SWG guild, and they probably didn’t have the same people in them. The eventual guild-based adaptation to that was to go multi-game, and that’s almost an accepted standard now. But what happens when people stop playing for a while, for whatever reason? Usually, we end up losing touch with them again.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a guild run by smart and sensitive people who realised years ago that you could be a social gaming entity without necessarily playing the same games, or indeed playing games at all. I’ve been in KWSN since 2000 or 2001, I forget, but I haven’t actually played a game with them for any length of time in several years. And yet, I still (and always will) consider myself a member of that guild. A lot of that is down to those guild leaders and the community they built deciding that leaving a game (or all games) didn’t mean you had to leave the social group, and actively encouraging everyone to stay in touch, at least now and then. Granted, some people drop off the map entirely, but there are some who check in  few times a year, and many many members who check in, post, chat, and in all ways *are* a guidie except that they don’t play any games.

It’s time to abandon the idea of guilds being game-based and start embracing the idea of game-related social groupings. I’ve started calling it “tribe,” partly because the term appeals to me, but partly because it’s a more accurate designator (for me) of a loose-yet-close federation of folks who have at least one thing in common: an interest in gaming. It usually ends up going far beyond that, of course.

Casualties of WAR recently went through an adaptation phase when it became evident that Warhammer Online — the game we’d ostensibly all signed up to play together in that guild — turned out to not be holding everyone past the first few months. Some saw this as a sign of guild disintegration, and it’s true that the guild in WAR has gone through some rough times due to falling membership (though that is turning around very nicely now, it seems). For me, however, it was mostly a question of “Let’s make sure we keep in touch, okay?”

Maybe it’s my temperament, maybe it’s my previous experiences, but I never associate a guild with just the game it may have started in. CoW is not just a bloggers’ guild — hell, it moved far beyond that not long after it was created — and similarly, it was never just a WAR guild, at least not to me (and in fact it was the founders’ aim from the start to be a multi-game guild, which is pretty much a given for any but the smallest, most tightly focused guilds these days). It was about getting a group of people together with common interests and to some extent common attitudes.

So why do we as players still tend to have that knee-jerk reaction when someone says they’re going to stop playing a game? “Ah, that’s a shame, we won’t see you anymore!” You won’t see them in-game — that doesn’t mean you have to lose all contact with them.

I’ve met some great people in games over the last not-quite-decade, many of them through CoW in the last half-year, and I don’t intend to lose touch with them. This blog helps, but there’s a feeling of … family, I guess, for want of a better term, that you get in guilds and not so much through blogs. (It can be a small, tight family, but a large, rambling, fractious family is still a family.) So if any of you leave CoW, I will hunt you down! And if any of you aren’t in CoW and would like to be, head over there and apply — it doesn’t have to be for any particular game. Tell ’em I sent you.

This is getting long, so I’ll keep this for tomorrow: why do we still tend to defaut to the “you can only be a member of one guild” idea when in real life we’re part of a zillion social networks, many of whom overlap to a greater or lesser extent?

17 responses to “Guild, game, tribe

  1. Wow, lots of posts over the two weeks I was off. I’m still digesting but I think guilds, more often than not, tend to represent a common set of ideals and goals. It tends to be more focused on an aspect (or single game). When it doesn’t, it tends to become more like a social connection, like you suggest. (Which is fine)

    There are existing guilds that span multiple games and that seems to work for them. I’ve been part of one in the past and I’ve seen guilds try to hang on to members by trying to split across games (i.e. EQ1 guild tried to split when WoW came out). The end result is that the blurry line became a little more solid as each side tended to almost ‘recruit’ people into the new game or the other game. In the long run, there was a bit of bouncing around and draw to try to play a bunch of different games. (Personally, I want a little more focus to avoid being drawn into something new or back to something old.)

    I agree that it doesn’t mean they have to exclude anyone else or people they previously played with.

    Guild exclusiveness.. or is it exclusivity? 🙂 That’s a tough one. It tended to be more common in the hardcore guilds to keep the ‘trade secrets’ hidden, but even in more casual guilds it tends to happen. In the casual case, it may be a matter of limited time and not wanting to be spread too thin? (I enjoy playing MMOs but I know I cannot keep up multiple guilds.)

    I hope you had a good holiday season 🙂


  2. If you see guilds as social networks though rather than as “pre-made grouping opportunities in-game,” the idea of being in multiple guilds makes more sense. I have lots and lots of friends, not all of whom know each other. Just because I got out with one set on Friday night doesn’t mean I can’t go out with another set on Saturday.

    (See how I make it sound like I have a) friends and b) a social life? :D)

    I think to a large extent guilds ARE becoming social networks (or we’re recognising their potential to act as such), especially as we get older. Not playing the same games doesn’t mean we can’t interact within an out-of-game “guild” framework — forums, irc, voice chat, blogs, all that stuff that exists now that wasn’t as common or accessible 10 years ago.

    Hrm. Maybe one of the terms I should have used above is “out of game” — how guilds work in-game hasn’t changed all that much. It’s what they do outside the client I’m talking about (and interested in today).


  3. Oops — as for holiday seasons… unhealthy and near broke like so many others but actually, yes, it was a good holiday season!

    It’s not what you have, it’s who you’re with. (See how I subtly reinforce my point. ;))


  4. Interesting post. I think the term “guild” doesn’t really apply to what you’re talking about, but otherwise I’m right there with you. I mean, the group of friends you go out with on Saturday night doesn’t call itself a guild, right? Guild, to me, seems like a game mechanic. I think “community” is a better term.

    Though, hmm, I guess the traditional use of guild is any group of people with a common interest? So I suppose if the common theme is gaming, its a gaming guild. Erm, and I think I get way too hung up on semantics. 🙂

    I run a site,, that’s been around since 1994. It’s a group of people who all game and share interests, but we rarely game together. Just chat about games, share reviews and so forth. Some of the members of this place I’ve know since the 1980s and the GEnie online service.

    Here’s a related point. Why are we limited to belonging to one Guild in a game? Like you said, we have different groups of friends. Why do game developers make us choose between them. If I have a friend in Guild A and another in Guild B, I have to snub one or the other of them. Why can’t I join both guilds?


  5. Yeah…it’s going to get harder and harder to keep individual gaming groups together. It’ll be a lot easier to just form gaming tribes like CoW.

    I also think a big step to making games better is the use of the alliance system. That way small and medium guilds can team up to do raid-type stuff if they want to. I’d probably still be playing EQ2 if they had an alliance option.

    One of the real ways to tell if a game is hurting is if there is an alliance system and it doesn’t help. WAR is a great example. It’s difficult to drum up any action in the game if with a five or six guild alliance. Too bad, really.


  6. I think I’m feeling extra dense today (notice ‘extra’).

    Ysh>>If you see guilds as social networks though rather than as “pre-made grouping opportunities in-game,” the idea of being in multiple guilds makes more sense.<>Why are we limited to belonging to one Guild in a game? Like you said, we have different groups of friends. Why do game developers make us choose between them. If I have a friend in Guild A and another in Guild B, I have to snub one or the other of them. Why can’t I join both guilds?<<
    Dunno, why can’t you? And how are developers limiting this (outside of PVP games where cross faction stuff can be bad)? Because they have to have different servers to support the populations?

    p.s. I’ve dropped the pally/mage duo on Firetree and I’ve bounced over to Rexxar, dragging a long time online gaming friend (goes back to my FPS days) and my mage partner along with me. I’ve got a pally named Lannister there. Don’t hesitate to send me a tell you see me online. 🙂


  7. Crap… that will teach me for using those characters for quotes. My level of density has just increased.

    Ysh, my comment was saying that “pre-made grouping opportunities in-game” are still a social network. It’s just more focused on something specific. And I’m not sure it’s as cold sounding as it ..err.. sounds.

    I guess some people aren’t looking for socializing so much as we are looking for other people to play with when we do have a chance to play.

    I don’t think people should be faulted for either mindset (much like people shouldn’t be fault for disliking fluff or crafting in MMOs) since how you enjoy your ‘play time’ is up to you.


  8. Me: If I have a friend in Guild A and another in Guild B, I have to snub one or the other of them. Why can’t I join both guilds?

    SmakenDahed: Dunno, why can’t you? And how are developers limiting this (outside of PVP games where cross faction stuff can be bad)

    See, this is why I do get caught up on semantics, I guess. By Guild A and Guild B, I mean in-game, mechanics-based guilds that you get a big pop-up INVITE dialog box for. You can’t join the CoW Guild on Rexxar and another Guild on Rexxar with the same character.

    Think of the reduction of drama if you could. If someone wants to try another kind of guild, they could form it, and people from the old guild could join to try it out without leaving the old guild. No hurt feelings, no leaving friends behind.

    I’d argue that the only alliance mechanic a game needs is the option to create custom chat channels. My EQ2 guild is part of an alliance even though EQ2 doesn’t have an “alliance” mechanic. We just have a persistent custom chat channel we use to organize events.


  9. One of my favorite posts of recent blogging history.

    Guilds were indeed once something more, and I would love to see that restored. They were often referred to as “tribes” or “clans” even in games that clearly marked them as guilds.

    I miss that. Anyway, time to scroll back through your blog and find the post where you told me what server you went to!


  10. As always, I take a look at this through a monetization lens. Subscription games are built around exclusivity. That’s how people can justify spending the sub money; the game is their only game. Spreading yourself over a handful of sub games gets expensive.

    As such, it makes a great deal of sense to have a “tribe” or whatever you want to call it, to maintain the metagame group. (At least, if you like the people.) Even if it’s a shared InvisionFree board, or a circle of blog links, keeping in touch with people is something that’s pretty easy to do.

    Since guilds are a “game function”, I do wonder if there’s a call for a “tribe function” within something like SOE’s Station Pass framework. Something like a “Station Crew” function where members are automatically incorporated into “guilds” in the different games the Station Pass grants access to. (Or have some mechanic to control their guild membership within said games without actually logging into the games, since the “crew” membership is an overarching community.)


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  12. Heh sorry all, I was out all afternoon testing the novel concept of “social life” — ostensibly running important errands, which were only a prelude to an early and margarita-laden (for Mort, not me, I’m usually the @(*@#^* designated driver) steak dinner. The steak, however, was the best I have had in many a year.

    If any of you live in the Dallas/Fort-Worth area, I can highly recommend “La Hacienda Ranch” (yes, I think it’s a tautology too) off that route 121/Airport highway thing, near Bedford.

    So, yes, *burp.*

    Despite the recent rant, this post about guilds wasn’t intended to parallel the other one, though I’ll admit my timing was a little suspect. I’d actually been mulling today’s post over for a long time, and irrespective of the drama that may or may not happen in a guild, I still think there’s an argument to be made for some guilds, at least, being rather more than just an in-game gathering place now. Hence social network (which is a pretty fuzzy term really) or tribe.

    I think my base point, prompted largely by all the great people I’ve met through gaming in the last decade, and the large proportion with which I lost touch when we moved on, is that I’d like to see guilds I’m a member of as more holistic things — even if, as Tesh says, it’s just a free forum somewhere.

    As for only being allowed in one guild per game (in most games), I really think that’s just a box most designers don’t bother thinking outside of — and thinking outside of it would mean some complicated coding. That said, A Tale in the Desert is one of those games that not only allows, but rather actively encourages multiple guild membership. In ATITD a guild can be more like a “common-interest” group — so you can have a guild made up of your buddies, be in a guild that’s interested in solving a particular Test, be in another guild that’s all about wild animal spotting (it’s an ATITD thing), be in a trading consortium, be in another trading consortium, etc etc etc.

    Anyway, I plan to ponder multiple guilds and in-game guild stuff some other day, in more detail.


  13. I get you now Pete. I guess I was thinking you could have one character in one and another character in another entirely.


  14. Love the post. Nicely said!

    I am also a social gamer. My biggest gripe playing Oblivion (a single-player game) was that I couldn’t share my experiences with other players. I couldn’t show anyone the cool ruins I found or compare loot or work with a friend to take down tough encounters. The magic is in large part the people I meet in these games.

    It always hurts when someone close has to leave. I still miss that person’s personality and foibles even if all I’ve seen of them is their avatar. I’ve been fortunate in LotRO to have everyone I knew bail on me once and still end up with a great group of people to hang around with. It wouldn’t be the same place without them.


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