I’ve been reading Tobold and Potshot lately. They’re talking about loot and game design as it relates to endgame guilds, specifically guild hopping and progression problems due to it. I haven’t seen a decent explanation of the problem, but as a guild officer/leader I’ve seen it in action twice now, once with the original WoW endgame and now with the TBC endgame. I don’t have a solution, but I can frame the problem.
For me, the most fun time in WoW is right after an expansion hits, when there’s limited collective endgame exploration. All the content is new and fresh, then I find myself grouping with not just my long-term guild friends, but also my friends who left to get on the progression roller coaster. It’s glorious! This is what the first two months of TBC was like.
Then, endgame progress starts to happen, and a tiered system begins to form.
Some guilds progress quickly while others progress slowly. Before long, you have some small percentage of guilds at the top level, a larger percentage slightly below them, and ultimately many at the bottom. Now let’s follow a person, Mike, through his ascent to the endgame.
First, Mike belongs to a leveling guild. He groups with and rides that guild up to the maximum level, but the guild doesn’t have the wherewithal to group up for the endgame content, for whatever reason. Ultimately, Mike decides that he wants to see some of this content, so he joins pick-up groups, and he finds that it’s fun. He does a little research and applies to an entry-level endgame guild. Mike is accepted! Wait, why is this endgame guild recruiting?
Entropy is constant in all guilds. A personal dispute can’t be resolved, or someone can’t afford to fix their computer, or they get divorced, or die, or become parents, or get sent to jail, or change jobs, or any number of other real-life reasons. Or they simply get bored with the game and never log in again. Regardless, even good people with no other issues leave the game. Every guild’s membership is never constant, and therefore every guild must constantly recruit.
At Mike’s first endgame guild, he learns to group, and the guild is sweeping through EndgameA content and is trying to get through EndgameB content. Mike is getting loot upgrades at a decent rate in EndgameA, because the guild has that under control. The goals of Mike and the guild are in perfect alignment for this time. Let’s define these goals. Endgame guilds are easy:
- The goal of an endgame guild is to raise the total level of gear of its members so that they can explore the next level of content. The ability to run endgame content is dependent on both the size of the group and the collective loot level of that group. This means that taking a slightly-underequipped person is acceptable, because it’s better than the empty spot you have that threatens to kill your guild’s basic ability to raid.
Players are harder. Each endgame player is a combination of the following three goals:
- A loot-driven player wants loot upgrades. Zomgepics.
- A socially-driven player wants to play with their friends.
- An exploration-driven player wants to see all the content available.
(There are obviously more goals, but bear with me for the purposes of this article.)
Mike participates and gets all the gear available at EndgameA content. After some variable amount of time (due to the randomness of loot drops), Mike has nothing left to gain from EndgameA. He finds that his guild’s progression on EndgameB–where progression is not easy and where the guild is currently stuck–is simply painful and too slow. Unfortunately for Mike’s guild, Mike would rather see new content or get loot sooner without the struggle of doing it the hard way. His goal ranking is: loot/exploration first and social last. The people in his guild don’t matter as much.
Luckily for Mike, there is another guild on the server which is exactly one step up in progression; they have EndgameB conquered and are working on EndgameC. The minimum requirement for gear to be successful in EndgameB content is EndgameA gear. Thanks to the random loot system, most of this new guild is still gearing up in EndgameB, so it’s fine for a new applicant to simply be in EndgameA gear. Thanks to the effort of his current guild, Mike has EndgameA gear! The door to his second endgame guild is open.
After some amount of sweating, Mike leaves EndgameA guild to join the more-progressed one. The new guild gladly looks the other way at how the player came to them. Who can be certain what happened? The new guild is hoping for the best, so they welcome Mike with open arms and a big cheer. After all, this new guild is trying to get through EndgameC and needs active participants, because they keep getting poached by EndgameD guilds, who are getting poached to EndgameE guilds. And so on.
The problem is that the best situation for people who are loot driven is to be in a guild where the average level of gear of its members is higher than his own. This grants access to higher level content without the difficult part of sweating through it the hard way. Loot-driven people like coasting easily through content. They like getting rewards for minimal effort.
As you can see, this leads directly to guild-hopping. And endgame guilds, in their state of constant recruitment, make the problem worse with their constant poaching of each other. If they don’t recruit this player, then some other guild will, and increase their chances of progression, which is just another guild to poach from them.
Thus, soon after endgame is explored by some, a guild stratification system sets in. A clear path through guilds emerges. Start in guild 1, jump to guild 2, then guild 3, and so on. This continues until the ladder is reset at the next expansion.
Blizzard has taken steps to combat this: reputation levels with instances; attunements; badges of justice; tier set tokens; exchanges for pve to pvp gear. Each has helped, but the problem is still there. The individual gets all the rewards, regardless of the relative efforts involved.
So while people say that Tobold’s “loot belongs to the guild” idea is crap, that’s not the point. There has to be a better way. Any suggestion is better than no suggestion.
In the meantime, the system churns on and the socially driven players who are close friends in an endgame guild–like mine–end up bitter that they’ve helped so many people up and along their own personal ladder, while the guild progresses very slowly because they hang on to a fraction of the people who pass through. Remember, we socially-driven people aren’t purely social, we want to get upgrades for our characters and see the next endgame, and the one after that. But we won’t give up friends just for loot or to visit another part of the game. Our only options are: 1) continue to hope that we can find enough like-minded people to get momentum to clear our current hurdle and experience the joy as a group; 2) give up on the endgame altogether. Giving up isn’t a good solution because raiding is fun. Seeing new content is fun. Clearing obstacles with your friends is fun.
So we loyal ones stick together and keep recruiting, hoping to find the rare person who values camaraderie over loot, while we quietly look forward to the next reset (the next expansion). The ladder won’t exist for a little while, and we can play in ideal environment, briefly.
I’m cheering all of you on, Tobold and Potshot and the rest.
(edited on May 2 for some grammar flubs)