So let’s say you have a guild. Some of the peo­ple are good friends, you’ve known them for a long time. You know what they do in their lives, you know a lit­tle of their fam­i­ly life. You know about their pets! They raid with you, quest with you, are­na with you.

Then there are oth­er peo­ple who have been in the guild for a long time, but nev­er make the list of peo­ple you think of when you want to explore new stuff. They don’t par­tic­u­lar­ly care about knock­ing over chal­lenges, but are glad to come along to raid or pvp as long as their real-life con­nec­tion is going to be there. These peo­ple are the oth­er half of a “pack­age deal”. They have played enough to get to the max lev­el, and they do like the sight of zomg epics. Who does­n’t? So they vol­un­teer to come with you, whether it’s for your new are­na team, or your raid. Some of these peo­ple evolve into actu­al gamers, peo­ple who get good at their role in a group, who under­stand the game and what they can do in it, and who social­ize with the oth­ers. The oth­ers become SPHOs: sub-per­form­ing hang­ers-on. (Pro­nounced how it looks, rhymes with show.)
If you’re in a friend­ly guild, you almost cer­tain­ly have some of these. The guild­mas­ter’s boyfriend/girlfriend. An offi­cer’s uncle. The guy who works a few cubi­cles over from one of your core heal­ers. It’s like the tax that comes from being in a friend­ly guild with play­ers who accu­mu­late good kar­ma. That kar­ma gets spent qui­et­ly over time.

A SPHO­’s core skills are being friend­ly and try­ing hard. Their ties usu­al­ly don’t extend too far beyond the RL-tie that brought them to this guild, but some­times they’re ful­ly vest­ed mem­bers who are good at every­thing except the game you’re all play­ing togeth­er.

In terms of play­ing the game effec­tive­ly, you can think of peo­ple in your guild who are 50% to 100% more effec­tive than they are, and not because they have bet­ter gear. SPHOs raid or pvp fre­quent­ly enough to have great gear. There’s sim­ply a prob­lem between chair and key­board that pre­vents this amaz­ing toon with great gear from dom­i­nat­ing their cho­sen role the way you’d expect.

A small selec­tion of SPHOs:

  • The heal­ing priest who only uses flash heal.
  • The rogue who nev­er has slice and dice up.
  • The hunter who can’t break the habit of using mul­ti­shot to break CC at the wrong time.
  • The war­lock who insists on fear­ing in every encounter, no mat­ter how close the next group is to you.

These play­ers have no idea how hard the peo­ple around them are work­ing to cov­er their playstyle. They take full cred­it for every­thing that hap­pens in their pres­ence, because hey, they were there and push­ing but­tons too. You’ll nev­er be able to explain that if they are one heal­er out of three, they should­n’t be doing 8% of the heal­ing while doing no dam­age. If they’re a dam­age-deal­er, they’ll cheer that they got a huge crit, but won’t notice that they do less than half the total dam­age of the next per­son over. If you swap them out for a ran­dom per­son, you’re like­ly to have the same or bet­ter suc­cess. They don’t under­stand that.

SPHOs make group lead­ing dif­fi­cult because the leader always has to watch what that per­son is doing. While a SPHO will nev­er learn the game, they can obey sim­ple instruc­tions like “stand behind this boss when in melee” or “gank the heal­er first”. And those fre­quent reminders have to be gen­tle, because they’re friends with some­one who make take it per­son­al­ly.

SPHOs make group man­age­ment dif­fi­cult because the eas­i­est rea­son to turn some­one away is because they’re not geared enough. But what hap­pens when they are geared enough, and they just don’t play well? It’s dif­fi­cult to have the con­ver­sa­tion whose theme is “you can’t come because we’ll die more and find less suc­cess less with you than with some­one else.” Because you are, in essence, telling your friend in the guild to solve the prob­lem, and most of the time, that per­son does not want to.

World of War­craft isn’t seri­ous busi­ness. But it is a team activ­i­ty. And just like you should­n’t invite an unath­let­ic, unco­or­di­nat­ed per­son to play half­back on your soc­cer team, you should­n’t invite some­one who isn’t good at the game to your groups with­out clear­ly explain­ing why they are there: name­ly, that they’re fill­ing an oth­er­wise emp­ty spot and are liable to be replaced. Some­times you just need some­one who can fog a mir­ror or else the group does­n’t move, that’s fine. But you have to set expec­ta­tions accord­ing­ly. Oth­er­wise, you’re giv­ing birth to a SPHO who is going to feel like they got in once and con­tributed, so they’ll get in again. And again. And once that SPHO is in, it’s real­ly hard to get them out with­out a con­ver­sa­tion whose sub­ject is: “It’s not that we don’t like you, it’s that you suck at this game and when you’re around we lose more often than what we con­sid­er nor­mal.”

Or, you can just resign your­self to groups with less suc­cess. That works too. Hon­est­ly, that’s what my guild does. I just dream about the alter­na­tive every now and then.

More Words!