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)

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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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