This is the second part in a short essay regarding some thinking about World of Warcraft Guilds. For Part I of the series which focuses on the purpose of guilds in the context of the game, click here.
Why Guilds Fail
Ask any Warcraft player what the word “Drama” means to them in relationship to the game and they will most likely provide you with a definition focused around one of two game elements – loot or raiding.
As previously mentioned, loot (or gear) acquisition and distribution is one of the major functions of guilds within the World of Warcraft. Guilds serve as one (and arguably the most important) mechanism for “gearing up” players so that the membership of the guild can continue to progress through the content.
When inequities are perceived in a guild’s loot distribution process, drama ensues. If and when the inequities are repetitive and reach a level where they are felt to be atrocious, affected guild members will vote with their feet either by leaving the guild or by not participating in a guild’s raids.
As previously mentioned, loot is an enabler of an individual ability to progress through content. So, if a player does not feel that the guild is enabling their individual ability to progress through content as desired, then they will look for alternatives. This search is balanced only by the strength of their affiliation with other members of the guild.
An exodus caused by this sort of drama can serve to trigger a second reason why guilds fail – a misalignment between an individual player’s progression goals and the perceived ability of the guild to continue to progress.
Typically, guilds are characterized on a spectrum as being “Raiding” (or hardcore), “Casual” or “Social.” The difference between each is the focus on progression and the required commitment of the members to support the achievement of the progression goals of the guild.
Raiding guilds are very focused on progression. Raiding guilds often raid several nights each week and typically require a strong commitment from their membership. Social guilds are the opposite. They are least typically focused (as a whole) on the progression aspect of the game. They exist as a mechanism to support the conversational/social aspect of the game. Casual guilds exist somewhere between the two – raiding less frequently then a hardcore guild, but with an understood predisposition and desire to progress through the content.
A misalignment between a guild’s progression goals and those of an individual player can exist in either direction on the spectrum. If a player feels that a guild is not working hard enough or is not moving fast enough through the content, then he or she may leave to look for a guild that they believe will position them closer to facilitating the realization of their progression oriented goals.
Likewise, if a player feels that a guild’s progression goals requires more commitment then they can or are willing to offer, then they may choose to leave to find another guild that will assist with the achievement of their own personal progression goals and/or social requirements. Again, in each of these situations, the strength of the social bonds between an individual and the other members of a given guild serves as modifier between the alignment individual’s progression goals and the focus, commitment and ability of the group to progress.
The challenge with maintaining this alignment is that there is a multiplicative effect that exists between the goals of all of the individual members of a guild. A single player leaving because of a misalignment between his or her progression goals and that of the group can serve to create a vicious circle which causes a drastic reduction in the ability of a guild to progress and or in an extreme case, the dissolution of a guild altogether.
This occurs because as one players leave, other guild members assess the impact it has on the guild as a vehicle to support the achievement of their own progression goals. As other players decide that the guild can no longer satisfy their own individual goals, they may also decide to look for greener pastures. This provokes additional evaluations, and the circle continues.
Last but not least, if a player decides that a number of individuals within a guild are not the company we wish to keep, then he or she may choose to find another collection of players that more aligns with their own social interests.
Understanding why guilds fail is important because it help to define the practices required to promote guild success.
Upcoming: Some thoughts on practices to make guilds successful.