Managing Expectations for the Big New MMO. (Also video game music and Escape Goat 2!)

WildStar has opened pre-orders and just had a big beta weekend, which means my guild is all excited about the game.

And that’s a good thing! MMO launches are fun, and they are even more fun with a group of friends! But already my (retired) guild leader senses are tingling, and I’m worrying about making sure that expectations are managed.

“Everyone will start playing again and it’ll just be like the old days!”

Oh my dear sweet summer child. It is almost impossible to recreate the old days, whatever game they may have been in. Yes, historically a few people we haven’t seen in a while will show up for the launch of a big new title but just as well-documented is the fact that these people also wander off again shortly thereafter.

Which is fine! But it’s easiest to kind of anticipate that.

“Let’s just have everyone rush to level cap and then we can start raiding right away!”

This tactic has come up with every game since SWTOR. I sort of understand the impetus — other people have the “3 month MMO” mindset, so if we just go really really fast then we’ll be raiding before they know what’s happening and they’ll have to stick with it!

In my experience, though, this has the exact opposite of the intended result. The folks who rush to level cap quickly get bored of waiting for others to catch up and are a little burnt out in general after spending like 4 hours a day playing. I vastly prefer taking my time in a new game and enjoying being an uninformed scrub in a strange world.

“It’s okay, I’ll lead the raid stuff.”

This is always said in the utmost of good faith, and I have never, ever seen it actually work out. Enthusiasm is grand, but running a raid team is hard work. There’s recruiting (and on-boarding new folks), rostering, and occasionally dishing out stern talks when needed. There’s making sure you have enough tanks and healers, and having a Plan B when one of them doesn’t show up.

There is a reason that MMOs are littered with ex-guild leaders like me who refuse to do any of that stuff any more.

And again, my fellow MMO players in general, be the change you want to see. I cannot emphasize that enough. Want to be part of a stable team that does group content? Log on regularly. Participate in group content. Stick with it. If you wander off, why wouldn’t everyone else?

That is how good guilds and communities and raid teams are made.

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Do you like videos about games? OF COURSE YOU DO! Last week was a busy one on the Totally Legit Publishing YouTube channel, which is a collection of nerds, myself included, who like to make videos. Behold! And subscribe if you like what you see!

The fabulous Syl is contributing a weekly Video Game Music spotlight, and this week it’s all about World of Warcraft:

The also fabulous Ellyndrial made a video review of cute new indie puzzler Escape Goat 2. I played this game at PAX Prime and talked to the developers a bit, and it’s a lot of fun. Highly recommended!

How to Raid More Seriously as a Guild, or Life After Casual

A couple of weeks ago I got into a discussion with someone who was struggling with running a casual guild and yet wanting said guild to perform more professionally in raids. I’ve seen similar discussions going on quite a bit lately, particularly in the wake of Pandaria. So how do you convince your guild to focus more on raids without becoming a shouty jerk?

As someone who built a guild from a couple of low level characters hanging out in Stormwind to a fairly capable 25-man heroic raid team, I have some definite opinions on the matter. Here’s my advice.

Reconcile your vision with reality

Perhaps no word in the MMO gamer’s vocabulary has been more up for debate than “casual”. The dictionary defines it as “without serious intention”, and without veering too much into an unwinnable argument I think that jibes with what most MMO players mean when they say the word, whether the intention is in regards to time or effort.

Do you want your guild to raid “without serious intention”? There’s nothing wrong with that. Lots of guilds have a primary goal of hanging out, and any bosses they kill are just bonus. But if you want your guild to focus more and thereby accomplish more with their raid time.. well, that’s probably antithetical to a lack of serious intent. Being on time, being flasked, making sure the guild has raid food — all those things require effort. They require being less casual.

Now, this certainly is not to say that you need to start implementing crazy mandatory attendance rules or performance standards! Think about the casual elements of your guild that you enjoy and value. Is it bringing people who are not always optimal, but are nice? Maybe it’s being flexible with that guy who can only show up at the last minute, or not worrying about specs. The good news is that you don’t have to change any of those things that you enjoy! In fact, I’d advise against it. Don’t throw out your guild’s identity for a little more raid success.

By this point you might be thinking, “Okay fine Liore! I’ll stop calling my guild “casual”! So what?” Well, I’m glad you asked.

Reconcile your guild with your vision

When you call your guild “casual”, most people immediately think of some variation of “lack of seriousness”. This is particularly true when that term is coming from the guild leadership, who are responsible for setting the vision and timbre of the guild. It will potentially confuse new members who thought they were joining a casual raid guild but are now getting some social pressure to show up with flasks and buff food.

One of the biggest problems that a guild can encounter, in my opinion, is discordance between what the members expect from a guild and what they actually get. I’ve read literally hundreds of posts on official forums written by people who thought they were joining a progression guild but nothing ever dies, or vice versa. Clearly communicating your expectations is a fundamental way to ensure a good match between you and your members.

So: want your guildies to stop treating raids so casually? Stop telling them that you’re casual. In my case, I switched to the similar-yet-different “casualcore” which was a nice balance between relaxed and serious, but there are many different ways to communicate a more considered attitude towards raiding.

Start right now, today, by being totally transparent with your goals and desires. Waiting until after the raid to grumble in officer chat about the lack of preparation (and man, I have been there) is just going to create a bad vibe for everyone. Instead, consider sharing something like, “We’re still the same loveable guild we always were, but if we want to kill some bosses then we’re gonna have to show up on time, and I’m going to expect that from now on for people who want to raid.”

There is absolutely the possibility that your guild will completely reject your motivation to kill bosses as something that they’re not interested in. If the vast majority of your guild rejects it, then at least you’ll know not to ever expect a higher level of attention to raids and you can stop worrying about it.

The “too long, didn’t read” version of this all is: Sort out your own priorities, and then communicate them effectively to your guild. That includes making expectations clear and using the right language when you talk about your guild. If you want to be less lackadaisical about right nights, then stop pretending you don’t care. There is, in fact, life after casual.

Balancing Multiple Games in a Community

World of Warcraft inspired the creation of thousands upon thousands of guilds. Once the population started dropping, though, and fickle gamer eyes started to wander I think most savvy guild leaders saw the writing on the wall and started looking at multi-game structures. I know I did! It doesn’t matter whether we called it a community or collective or organization, the idea across the board was not to hook our group’s existence on one single game.

It’s a structure that makes more sense given the current general nature of MMO gaming. Sure, play what you want, when you want, just hang out, whatever. For the most part, at least in my guild, I noticed that generally this resulted in people being far flung in a huge number of games, and occasionally congregating in one “flavor of the month” like Diablo 3 at its launch. While we had branches in more than one game, often only one at a time would have any kind of population of note.

Except for now. Now we have a very popular game (Guild Wars 2, natch), and a less popular one that has a few highly tenacious members (RIFT fistbump, Belghast!). The two games are kind of coexisting at the same time, which is great, but it raises an entirely new problem: a big resource imbalance.

While I’ve noticed this in my own guild obviously, I suspect it’s endemic to the gaming community model. Game B players can respect that their game isn’t as compelling to the group and people should play what they want, but still feel a little sour that they’re pugging content while the other game has three times the players online. Game A players just wanna play their game and have fun and not be made to feel bad for it. No one is wrong in this scenario. It’s just human nature at work.

So how does a gaming community weather having two or more active “camps”? It reminds me of trying to run two simultaneous groups in Karazhan back in the day. I suspect that the solution, like pretty much anything related to guilds, is recruitment. Recruit enough people to keep both sides lively! My recruiting days are well and truly over, god willing, but in theory I think that’s probably the answer.

Anyway, are you a part of a gaming community or multi-game organization? Do you find that there are power balance issues between the games, or does everyone seem to generally squish around happily? Do you put more emphasis on recruiting new people, or getting the existing folks to try other things?

Preparing for the Guild Wars 2 Rapture

Tonight at midnight in my time zone the Guild Wars 2 headstart will kick off, with probably millions of players taking part over the next few weeks. I’ve been jokingly calling it the “Guild Wars 2 Rapture” in RIFT guild chat. This is the first time I’ve been sticking with the “little guys” during a hype-ful launch, whereas in the past I’ve either been engrossed in WoW during its behemoth days or trying out the new property. It’s required a bit of planning and mental preparation.

It might be obvious from previous posts that I haven’t bought the game. That being said, I hate not being part of a big event like a major game launch — being one of the gang and going where the excitement goes is my nature. Also, I have a lot of cool guildies who I haven’t played with in a while who said they’d be back in GW2, and I’m really bummed that I’ll be missing out on their company.

So while I’m not playing, I’m a little melancholy today about it. Fortunately, we’ve been planning for the GW2 Rapture in the RIFT guild for a while now, using the following survival tips:

Recruit! The survival guide for ANY guild should have recruitment as number one, but even more so now. There are plenty of people who aren’t playing Guild Wars 2 out there! It’s unfortunate to think about, but some guilds will probably move entirely to the new game or just die off as people play something else, so there will probably be a steady stream over the next few weeks of folks who need a good home.

Manage expectations! We run 10-man raids one night a week in RIFT. Ideally we’ll be able to continue that, but I know I’ve definitely been making an effort to let people know that GW2 might play havok with our schedule for a bit. (And, from the other side, that we understand if they’re a little obsessed with Tyria for the next while. There’s no need to make people feel bad about video games.) We have backup plans in place to try challenging 5-man content (master modes!) if attendance is light.

Patience! GW2 is probably better for the “little guys” than previous MMO launches because of the lack of subscription, and I know many of my guildies intend to play PvE in RIFT and PvP in GW2. That being said I suspect that even those folks will be distracted totally by their shiny new game for at least a couple of weeks, before mellowing out into a more sustainable rate of play.

To folks who are joining in the headstart or playing Guild Wars 2 at launch on Tuesday, although I’ve written some pretty cranky things here about your game I do hope y’all have a great time playing it.

To my fellow Left Behind-ers in the Guild Wars 2 Rapture.. rock out with your different game taste! Play what you love, and try to not sweat other people playing what they love. In the past I’ve talked a good game about how diversity in the market is good and people can play more than one MMO at once, and looks like it’s time for me to back up those zen words with a calm attitude and flexible plans.

Pondering the Future of Appointment Gaming

For a long while after quitting WoW I laboured under the impression that if the Cats were to find a magical One True Game again, we’d all fall back into cooperative group gaming. In my mind this would be raiding, because that’s what I have experience with, but really any kind of group activity would count. What I realized lately, though, is that I’m probably one of the very few people who actually want this again. For the most part, my guildies and friends appear to be tired of what I call Appointment Gaming.

Perhaps it’s getting older, or burning out on MMOs, or just being bored from years of WoW, but whatever the reason most people think in the abstract that they want organized cooperative gaming, but when faced with the actuality of having to be online at a certain time every week they blanche. And while I am kind of ribbing those folks here, I don’t blame them for not being as in to Appointment Gaming now as they once were. Things change, and arguably judging by guildies, friends, game statistics, and fellow bloggers, this change is affecting the majority of MMO players.

However, if in general the MMO community is moving away from Appoinment Gaming, where does this leave guilds? The problem is that people still want socializing and cooperative group activities, but they want it on their schedule and they don’t want activities that require work outside of the activity itself (ie. gear grinding). To have this happen spontaneously, you need a certain number of people online at any given time. You need people to chat with, and people to form groups with, whether it’s for a dungeon or a PvP encounter or whatever.

A guild is going to need a LOT of people to keep this critical mass of folks online who are ready to group at any moment. Back in our 25-man raiding heyday you could find roughly 10 people on during non-raid prime time, and that required about 75 players. And that was when our recruitment was oriented around raiding — it’s a lot more difficult to recruit people with a platform of “we just, like, hang out sometimes and stuff” despite the fact that most people are just looking to hang out sometimes and stuff.

I dunno — it seems to me that non-appointment gaming doesn’t suit the small guild model. It’s hard to recruit for a guild with no organized events, it’s hard to have enough people online waiting to fill a group. It would, however, perfectly suit a game with a huge playerbase, preset events that don’t require much coordination, and a lack of emphasis on guild structure.

Which, upon reflection, is I suppose why I don’t like Guild Wars 2, and others do.

Guild Influence Rewards in GW2
Apr30

Guild Influence Rewards in GW2

Everyone is talking about Guild Wars 2 today after the beta weekend! If you’re looking for a general summary, Spinks has written a good overview and collected many links to different reactions. Generally folks seem to be speaking positively about the game today for both PvE and PvP. The biggest negative comments revolve around social features, and I couldn’t agree more with most of those complaints: things like a good /who (or similar) command, being able to pick one overflow zone for your party, chat bubbles, and so on are missed and I would argue are optimal for a smooth community multiplayer experience.

There are, however, plenty of great blogs talking about those issues this morning so I thought I’d touch on something different and look at the Guild Wars 2 guild system.

As you’ve probably already read, players can technically be members in multiple guilds, although they can only actively represent a single guild at any given time. Once a player has at least one character in a guild they are able to represent said guild(s) on every subsequent alt. The in-game guild roster is pretty similar to that of any other MMO, except it includes the account name as well as the character name (yay, no more tracking alt ownership in notes!) as well as a character’s profession levels. If you are a member of multiple guilds, from here you can also select or change your guild representation for that character.

“Representing” a guild means that you appear online in its roster, you’ll have its tag next to your name, you have access to that guild’s rewards, and your activities collect “influence” for that guild. Influence is sort of like “guild XP” in WoW — it’s a guild reward currency that players earn simply by playing the game. Unlike WoW, earning influence seems fairly easy for small or low-level groups. We had about six players on a gazillion different alts this weekend, all low-level of course, and you can see from our influence log that we had a steady trickle of guild currency:

membersearning Guild Influence Rewards in GW2

So what do you do with all this influence? Why, buy neat things of course! Unlike WoW where perks were granted at set times during a guild’s growth, the GW2 guild reward system lets guilds pick what perks they want and in what order. The perks themselves are sort of like EvE or Glitch in that they take some time to learn (anywhere from a few hours to a week), and you can queue multiple perks in a “Build Queue” to run consecutively.

The rewards are broken down roughly by activity type, including PvE, economy, and PvP. They’re staged according to how many ranks of each activity type the guild has earned. For example, taking 24 hours to learn “Politics 1″ opens up a handful of perks to buy. Higher level perks can then be unlocked by then learning the more expensive “Politics 2″. There seem to be two types of rewards: permanent ones, such as a guild bank or emblem, and temporary buffs. The latter are a great idea, and help make influence relevant to even the oldest, most active guilds.

Guild Wars 2 2012 04 29 17 55 18 Guild Influence Rewards in GW2

While guilds can pick whatever rewards path they wish, I would strongly recommend engaging in a little min-maxing right off the bat and getting Archetecture 1 (24 hours) and and the Guild Workshop (48 hours). This will allow you to build two rewards simultaneously, and will significantly speed up the flow of rewards.

guildworkshop 500x267 Guild Influence Rewards in GW2

Much like the rest of Guild Wars 2, the guild system is not revolutionary but does add some polish and modern features to an old friend. It feels more cooperative than WoW’s competitive guild levels. None of the rewards seemed particularly game-breaking, but a good way to tailor and buff your guild while just playing as usual.

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