The Downside of Endgame Guilds

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:

  1. A loot-dri­ven play­er wants loot upgrades. Zomgepics.
  2. A social­ly-dri­ven play­er wants to play with their friends.
  3. 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)

More Words!

4 thoughts on “The Downside of Endgame Guilds”

  1. Excel­lent post, and it real­ly hits home giv­en what my main guild has been going through late­ly. We’re also a Cama­raderie > Loot kind of guild filled with adults with fam­i­lies and so forth, and although we enjoy pro­gress­ing as a guild, we’re nev­er going to progress as quick­ly as a group of kids with unlim­it­ed time on their hands. Most­ly, we want to hang out and play togeth­er.

    We’ve found that some­times, even folks who have been with the guild a long time feel com­pelled to move on once they get a taste of more pro­gressed raid­ing, and it’s hard to fault them for this. I don’t think they should be penal­ized for want­i­ng to play a dif­fer­ent game than the rest of us. In fact, I appre­ci­ate them mov­ing on, rather than try­ing to change who we are as a guild. Sure, I’m bummed when a friend leaves, but I’d be even more bummed if we end­ed up accu­mu­lat­ing a lot of these peo­ple (because they did­n’t want to lose their epics, as in Tobold’s pro­posed solu­tion), and it changed the fla­vor of the guild itself. As it is, this hap­pens any­way. I’ve heard so many folks say, “I joined this guild to hang out with my friends, but now sud­den­ly, we’re a raid­ing guild and I hate it,” or “Most every­one in the guild is try­ing hard to progress, but we’ve got a few slack­ers that can nev­er seem to gath­er their con­sum­ables on time or make enough time to raid.”

    Should we real­ly penal­ize peo­ple for mov­ing on to a guild with goals clos­er to their own? Is the real objec­tion how the per­son leav­ing makes their depar­ture, or the fact that they got the final piece of gear from Kara they need­ed before mov­ing on? And how much should that mat­ter to the social, casu­al guild any­way? After all, the loot will drop again.

    I do agree that any sug­ges­tion is bet­ter than no sug­ges­tion though. Very inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion.

  2. Although my high­est char­ac­ter is lev­el 33 I think that’s a very nice sum­ma­tion of the real­i­ty of guilds and end-game con­tent. The key point is that guilds are just the sum of their mem­bers. I’ll throw out a cou­ple of sug­ges­tions.

    - Accept the sit­u­a­tion. So guild A is focused on EndgameA, guild D on EndgameD. Accept that guild A will *nev­er* actu­al­ly get to EngameD. Make the tran­si­tion between guilds as pain­less as pos­si­ble.

    - Pro­vide tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits to the guild as an enti­ty — while you’re a mem­ber of the guild you can share in the ben­e­fits, once you quit you lose the ben­e­fits. For exam­ple allow the guild to have “own­er­ship” of some items. Those items may be loaned out to a play­er but they must be returned before the play­er can /gquit.

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