Expansions, Side Projects, and your Guild

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.

More Words!