Monday, March 12, 2012

World of Warcraft: The Problem With Guilds Part One

I did a majority of the work leveling my guild =)
A topic that is often discussed as a core issue is guilds and guild progression. With the new Guild Levels, Guild Achievements, Guild Reputation, and Guild Rewards introduced in Cataclysm, guilds are now a venue unlike ever before. What was once an easier way for people to group up to do activities, coordinate, and socialize became a medium for greed, selfishness, and leeching. A specific prevailing issue involves “farming people” to level a guild to 25 and to garner a fortune through the Cash Flow perk are not against the rules at all.

In addition to this issue of the guild system becoming corrupted (keep in mind good, well-respected guilds still remain despite this), the guild progression, personal or otherwise, while better defined, suffers from severe discrepancies that potentially affect the direction of the guild (towards PvP, PvE, or something else), the guild’s quality of life, or the players themselves.

This article will discuss a number of these issues. In the following article, I will offer solutions to improve the guild system to prevent abuse and make it less punishing to players all around, while tying loopholes that could potentially damage guild integrity and realm economics. This article will not discuss guild drama and other issues resulting from social interaction. In my opinion, such issues are better resolved among the offending players and the developers can't "program" out such problems like they can with the issues I will be outlining.

Bias Towards Higher Level Guilds

The one thing that really bothers me is when people will only join a level 25 guild (or a guild at a certain level or above). It only reminds me of how a lot of low level guilds that start out have a harder time building a membership base (unless they use bannable methods like mass inviting unguilded players) and can even die out (although this isn’t the sole reason the guilds die out).

I can’t speak for other realms, but it has definitely happened on my own realm – there are now fewer guilds than ever with larger membership bases, with some desperate attempts to start guilds on a regular basis (which frequently fail at establishing membership bases). Said guilds that are part of the privileged remaining are often level 25 as well and sometimes, when recruiting, explicitly mention it requesting new players to join for the perks, further starving lower level guilds of members they need to level their guilds to even compete so the level-capped guilds can get more guild experience they don’t even need!

The biggest issue is there’s not really anything wrong with the logic. Of course players want to benefit from the perks and so on. There’s simply no incentive whatsoever to join a lower level guild as opposed to a higher level one purely on the basis of guild level (excluding ulterior motives, like joining a friend's guild).

Furthermore, because guilds have gradually become more consolidated, lower level guilds are more likely to have less overall player activity as well, reducing the chance of players joining and staying in a lower level guild as opposed to a higher level one (that is more likely to have a respectable amount of active players who joined said guild due to the high level and because of the aforementioned reason). While it’s nice that it works out for some players, players struggling to work on their low level guilds will continue to struggle.

Small Guild vs Large Guild

Although this isn’t quite as much of a problem as before, it is worth mentioning. Back during the early stages of Cataclysm, most guilds were able to level at the same pace. This was primarily due to quests giving large amounts of guild experience (equal to 100% of the experience the quest awards).  Shortly after the release, guild experience awards from quests were reduced greatly, down to 25% of the experience the quest actually awards (which served as a major source of guild experience for a majority of guilds at the time). The effect was immediate as smaller guilds suddenly creaked to a snail’s pace in terms of leveling speed as opposed to larger guilds, which were reaching cap several times over on a daily basis anyways.

The result was a slew of complaints, suggestions, and arguments about every conceivable thing involving guild leveling. While I could go over every single thing that occurred, I would rather just state that the ultimate point is this:

Members of smaller guilds have to do a lot more work to ensure their guild leveling stays on par with larger guilds. Considering the rewards and perks for progressing a guild as fast as possible (Mass Resurrection and The Quick And The Dead reducing downtime, etc), this is a moderately big deal. This issue is further exacerbated by the fact the game itself shifted towards playing with smaller groups just as much as with larger groups, as proven by having similar difficulty and reward 10-man and 25-man PvE content, which of course “rewards” smaller guilds. As a result, pushing a nerf that primarily hurt smaller guilds contradicts this design philosophy.

Mercifully, Blizzard did try to close the gap a bit. For instance, they made it so fewer players were needed for “guild groups” for 5-man dungeons, allowing groups of 3 to earn experience and achievements for their guild. They also added in a few extra goodies like honorable kills granting guild experience and Arena matches (with full guild groups) granting experience, which promoted PvP activity within guilds. Unfortunately, the damage was done and small guilds were and are now more or less behind.

The Problem With Leveling the Guild

Even though many of the issues I outlined so far discuss problems with leveling up a low-level or a small guild, this section actually discusses the major discrepancies that either gives too much or too little guild experience.

Firstly, returning to quests giving guild experience, I think what Blizzard did was going in the right direction. However, it causes issues because lower level characters contribute very little guild experience (especially when compared to other activities like doing dungeons or battlegrounds). In addition, 25% of the experience awarded by quests seems a little small. It, however, should not be 100% (except maybe for characters starting out).

Secondly, battlegrounds awarding guild experience is very inconsistent. For characters leveling, one can gain guild experience equal to doing several quests by winning a battleground. However, at level cap, characters contribute no guild experience outside of honorable kills. Honorable kills also give a pitiful amount of guild experience. This wouldn’t exactly be a massive problem, but any level character gains the same exact amount of guild experience (10) per honorable kill.

Thirdly, doing arenas gives an enormous amount of experience. Even though I leveled up my guild a good way by doing arenas with friends, I think the experience award is simply too much. Players can get as much as 100,000 guild experience per person per arena win (or even more) at level 85. This is quite a jump from battleground gains. I’m not sure how much rated battlegrounds (the other PvP endgame activity) award for each player for winning, but even accounting for the Guild Challenge for winning a rated battleground, the amount arenas award for having so few players participating is far too large. In comparison, dungeons and raids (especially dungeons) seem to give too little for each boss kill (although Guild Challenges do sort of make up for this).

Overall, it’s pretty clear guild experience awards need a bit of rebalancing.

Switching Guilds Can Be Difficult

Switching guilds hasn’t always been easy. However, with the advent of guild reputation, switching guilds is now more punishing than ever. This is because guild reputation resets upon joining a new guild, which means you forfeit the ability to purchase any rewards from your former guild (you do mercifully keep anything you purchased already). Furthermore, guild reputation is quite time-consuming to gain (takes 12 weeks without reputation bonuses taken into account). Even with the reputation increasing tabard, the farming is still a bit too harrowing (especially since the guild reputation increasing tabards, while it can increase reputation gains, will count a larger percentage of the gains towards the cap than expected).

I understand that players shouldn’t earn guild rewards quickly, but having to farm so much reputation (since a good number of rewards involve exalted guild reputation) every time a player switches a guild severely demotivates people from switching guilds even in cases where joining another guild is the best option (due to unfortunate circumstance like guild implosions, guild drama, and so on).

Guild reputation gain in general is poorly designed. This is because guild reputation gains are proportional to guild experience gains. This means lower level players will have severe trouble increasing their reputation with the guild. To be honest, I feel like this doesn’t make much sense – it’s just unnecessarily punishing (it just means they spend more time at level 85 grinding for the rewards, some of which they can't even buy at lower levels anyways).

Cash Flow And Player Leeching

When I initially saw the list of Guild Perks to be released with Cataclysm, I thought most of them were pretty decent. Cash Flow especially was high on the list because for me it’s essentially an additional 5/10% gold looted from monsters (because at the time my guild was mostly a bank guild). However, it rapidly became apparently that the perk was problematic and partially a reason why the game’s economy has become more inflated (although it is definitely not the only reason – there are definitely some other culprits like quest gold awards and the like).

Furthermore, especially during the early stages of Cataclysm, people were inviting new members just for the sake of abusing (though sometimes unintentionally) the perk. Each new member that is actively looting mobs is suddenly a cash cow. With many members nefarious guild masters or guild high-ups can sit back and watch the cash flow into the guild bank coffers, which they can then have full access to. I understand that the general purpose is to compensate for guild repairs, but the fact is selfish people ruin the current design of the Cash Flow perk.

A related issue involves guilds leeching players for guild experience. Back during the early Cataclysm, I remember a guild that performed a mass recruitment drive. As a result, it was one of the first guilds to reach guild level 25. Higher-ups then proceeded to weed out the ranks significantly, removing players who have been inactive for too long, were people the higher-ups simply “didn’t like,” or were otherwise recruited just for their guild experience from questing. They then tried to form a raid core (surprisingly, the guild vanished into oblivion after that. Perhaps they transferred to another realm).

So what is the problem? Nothing is stopping people from doing this. There are no checks in place and dishonest players can abuse this just as badly as the Cash Flow perk, sometimes even in tandem with it! This isn’t even difficult to do either. One can download addons or construct macros that can mass invite players to a guild. Although this can result in a bannable offense due to the act of spamming, the bans are short and rarely, if ever, lead to a permanent ban (usually it’s just a string of 3-hour bans, based on comments about mass recruitment).

Guild Challenges (Or the Lack Thereof)

Another issue I’d like to address that is pretty much separate from the overarching issue I was describing above is Guild Challenges. When they were introduced in Patch 4.1, I thought they were going to be a solid feature, especially given the fact it gives a sizeable amount of guild experience that doesn’t even count towards the daily cap. However, when I saw the final implementation on live realms, I found them to be a bit underwhelming. Even considering the fact that the implementation of Guild Challenges could’ve left room for more, no additional challenges have been implemented in the prevailing patches. Surprisingly, given my complaints about Cash Flow leeching and potentially damaging the realm economy, the gold rewards from Guild Challenges don’t bother me.

What does bother me however was how few challenges there were overall. As a guild, only a grand total of 3 different activities need to be done on a weekly basis to get all the challenges done. It’s not exactly difficult to finish the PvE ones especially, since the guild as a whole only needs to finish 7 dungeon runs (even low-level dungeons with low-level characters, which cause a whole host of problems involving low-level characters getting easy gold early) and defeat only one raid boss. The only PvP-related Guild Challenge offered is for Rated Battlegrounds, which I think is a shame. There should definitely be more PvP-related Guild Challenges.

How To Resolve These Issues 

You'll have to find out in the next article!

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