Every time new content becomes available, it's an opportunity for change in how each player approaches the game. When the content is as significant as an entire expansion, it can mean an influx of players in the most obvious way: people coming back because they want to see that new content.
There's a second, much smaller shift that happens as well, for both the people who have been playing all along and their guild's leadership.
When you're in guild leadership, you try to pay attention to the kinds of people in your guild. If you're in a raiding or arena guild, you need a certain number of players of a certain build and gear level. If you're in a casual guild who tries to be family-friendly, you need to know that the people in your guild respect that. The social dynamic of your guild is determined by the people who are vocal and play a lot. Running jokes tend to include these people, content gets run with them, and even the roster can start to be shaped by their presence.
Everyone makes a big deal about people joining and leaving a guild, and it's true that this is a big deal. But to guild leadership, who is active is just as important than who is tagged with your guild name.
Now, many players have just one guild. The guild is their game experience. This kind of player is easy for the guild leadership to manage: when that player logs out with one toon, they'll typically log in with another guilded toon and only the name change needs to be accounted for. Given that MMOs are a time-heavy style of gaming, if you have access to all of someone's characters, you have access to that player.
In my experience, some fraction of the playerbase has a game experience that is more than one guild. In fact, there are many different ways to manage multiple characters:
- one guild, multiple guilds, or unguilded
- all on one server or across multiple servers
- all in the same faction or across multiple factions
…and of course, any combination of the above.
When a given content level is in play for long enough, it becomes easier to manage multiple characters, even if those characters are in completely different situations. Let me explain.
In my casual raiding guild, I know that a couple of the players are side projects for players in highest-end raiding guilds. After a while, the characters in these guilds can only be improved by further raiding. Those players enjoy the vibe of our very friendly guild for just hanging out and "light raiding every now and then." In the long dead time between highest-end raid instances being released (and conquered), they spend most of their non-progression-raiding time (that is, most of the time) in our guild. Even though their highest-end raider is in another guild.
Now don't get me wrong, they're not gearing up the character with the intent of ever leaving (the "levelling guild" stigma). Each of these characters are in that character's permanent home (my guild), but each player doesn't spend all their playing time on one character. They play enough to participate in multiple communities at the same time. For these people, when a new highest-end raid instance comes out, these players mysteriously vanish for a while as their raiding guild attacks the instance with fervor.
Likewise, I have a number of toons in the same guild, but another unguilded toon who I farm and run battlegrounds with. (When I was an officer, I needed an unguilded steam valve) My wife and I also have a completely separate horde alt side project, which I've mentioned in passing before. On that server, we've consciously avoided joining a guild there in part because we know that we wouldn't be there but for our own whim, even though we've met some very friendly people there. However, if we had joined a guild, that guild wouldn't see us for a few months (at a minimum) after this expansion comes out.
So what's the common thread?
While characters are bound to one guild, players are not bound to one character.
When there is new content available for a character, it becomes especially attractive to play that character, to the exclusion of others. While this doesn't affect a character's relationship with a guild, it does affect the player's relationship with their character. Namely, every other character hibernates when new content comes out for a character that you consider higher in priority. In fact, every time you log in with a character, the others are hibernating. The content/focus relationship is just the running trend.
(Yes, this invalidates the whole main/alt definition. It's a continuing area of interest.)
The broader the new content reaches, the more likely that a given person's side project will be affected, and therefore the more likely that someone in your guild will be touched.
When the new content is as small as a new reputation grind becoming available, a profession change, or the release of a single new instance or raid, the odds aren't as high. In this case, a player will just play their other characters a bit less, as in the examples above.
Alternatively, when the new content is as large as a raised level cap and a completely new set of instances/raids and revamped skills and expanded/new professions and new pvp content and and and… in that case, every single character of every single player has new content available and new goals to pursue. For example, the humongous Wrath expansion coming out next week!
In this case, one character will be chosen to hit the expansion content first. Therefore, expansions mean the temporary hibernation of every side project.
The side projects who are members of my guild (and every other guild) will appear to vanish, probably without a peep. People who manage toons on multiple servers will basically go back to being single-server players for a while.
Given enough time (between three weeks and four months, depending on the player), people will go back to spreading their play time around, and likely rekindle the relationships that surround that character. But at first, they'll be playing their favorite character pretty heavily, and the communities around the hibernating characters will have to adjust to their absence.
For guild leadership, it's a mixed bag. They smile at the flood of players returning to the game, perhaps picking up some recruits and keeping their guild healthy by doing so. But meanwhile, a couple of people on the roster–maybe well-liked members–will silently vanish during one of the most exciting times to play the game. The excitement of the expansion content means that this will be overlooked, but it's strange and it does affect the social dynamic of your guild.
Do you think you'll see this happen? Keep an eye out and let me know.
- Expansions are the Great Reset
- My Compulsion is Infrastructure
- Definition: Main vs Alt
- Polytoons can be Bad
- Maximum Performance Isn't Always Maximum Fun