CEO of Accidental Intelligence Former Technical Director of Forsaken Studios Gamer
For my first blog post on IndieDB, I'm going to cop out and repost verbatim a blog post I made over a year ago on our games website (Embers of Caerus). In it I discuss my opinion on how current game "guilds" fail us in this modern social-centric world, and how that has turned into the direction we are hoping to take with our own in game "guild" system (which we put under an umbrella name, Player Associations).
So, read if you like, like if you enjoy, share if you feel it is interesting enough to warrant that :)
For the first developer blog for Embers of Caerus, we wanted to speak about something that is both core to many systems we have planned, but also demonstrates how we are looking to break the mould set by previous MMORPG games. The subject of this blog post is Guilds but before I begin I just want to make a quick point on the definition of a Guild. The context I use the term "Guild" in this blog may vary, as there are two versions. There is a "Guild", which is a newer use of the term, to refer to a grouping of players within a multiplayer game, and can be interchanged with terms such as "Clan", "Corporation", "Outfit" or whatever the game feels is the best role-play way to refer to them. There are also guilds, which are associations of craftsmen and tradesmen in a particular trade, such as crafters, fighters, thieves etc.
I will start with making a bold statement, but before you close the page in disgust after spitting your tea/coffee/ over your keyboard, please bear with me and read on to hear the basis of this statement:
MMORPG Guilds Suck!
Yes, yes I know, guilds have been the mainstay of MMORPG games since their very inception. Guilds allow you to band together with your friends, sharing a common identity, chat channels, and in some cases even the benefits from the contribution of all the guild members. Well, for that part traditional MMORPG guilds have done their job, and they haven't done it badly, but it can certainly be improved. Bold words, I hear you say, but hear me out and I will explain.
There are a number of association types currently used by MMORPGs, which can be categorised as either Persistent or Transient. Persistent associations last indefinitely (well, until a player decides to leave that group for another), and will continue between different gameplay sessions for an extended period. Examples of these associations include “guilds”, clans, and corporations. Those groups are also sometimes collected into larger groups, or alliances, in which each component group is essentially equal. Transient groups are made for a specific goal or aim (e.g. a quest, adventure, or PvP scenario), and persist for that gameplay session only, typically ending during that session. While I am sure those definitions could be argued, that is the definition I will be using for the remainder of this blog, to try and simplify understanding.
Now, membership of these groups is typically, and in a lot of cases necessarily, mutually exclusive. A player can typically be a part of one persistent group, and one transient group at a time, for example they can be part of a “Guild”, and also join a adventuring group. This works quite well in most situations, but it isn't very dynamic, and when you think about it, it isn't very intuitive either. Should I want to join a typical player Guild, but also want to be part of a player tradesman guild, that isn't possible, and I would need to choose one or the other.
So, if we accept that the current approach to game associations and groupings is not up to par, how do we fix this? Well, we start by looking at social groups and interactions in the real world, and also look to other mediums that seem to be doing things better. I refer, in this instance, to social media. Social media is an interesting subject on its own, and it shows how when approached and organised well, a platform can explode. It started with the likes of MySpace, Bebo, and other basic social sites, which originally were very much like what we currently have in MMORPGs; static Guilds which are essentially just a friend group. People are either our friend, or they are not.
This approach was reasonably popular, until a clever student came up with Facebook. Suddenly, people could not only pick friends, but they could also categorise those friends by how they know them, and put them each into categories with their own permissions. No longer did you only have your "friend" category, but you also had your "family" category, and your "work colleague" category, and even in some cases your "enemies" category. Beyond even that, you could elect to join specific groups where you shared a common interest, such as the Forsaken Studios group, instantly being able to interact with all the other members of that group. It was at that moment social media exploded, and people started exploring all new ways to interact socially with millions of people, both known, and unknown.
I’m certainly not saying this concept will work for an MMORPG as-is, far from it in fact, but it does demonstrate how people like to have granular control over the groups they are a part of, and the people they interact with. This is a good basis of thought to continue this blog.
Now, let’s look at a typical person in a typical life, who for the purposes of this blog we shall call Joe. Joe, like us all, has a Family. He has parents, siblings, a spouse, children and a dog. This is a core unit, and this is what typically we could most closely relate to a traditional MMO "guild", with the parents as officers, and everyone else holding various ranks underneath. But, as I discussed above, this isn't the only group Joe is a part of. Joe also has a job, goes to a soccer club on Sundays, and is a freemason. That’s four different groups Joe is a part of, but they certainly aren’t mutually exclusive; having a job does not mean he can no longer be part of his family, and can't go to play soccer on the weekend (unless his nefarious boss makes him work overtime!). However, they also aren't fully inclusive: Just because Joe plays soccer with John, it doesn't mean he wants to invite him around for dinner with the family. There are certain considerations however, as Joe’s boss may not look kindly on him taking a second job with a direct competitor.
The key point here is, we are all in our daily lives part of many different logical groups, each with its own constraints, rules and internal hierarchy/structure. We can choose to be part of any group, and many groups at the same time, but there may be certain restrictions imposed by those groups we need to consider.
Now, this may sound complicated, but ultimately we can abstract the concept of a group, or association, so each has a type, properties, permissions and constraints, much like a Facebook or Google+ group. You could choose to make an open society, where anyone can elect to join, or a closed society where people must ask to join, and be accepted manually. You could even make a secret society, where membership is on an invite only basis. This doesn't just cover persistent groups either, as the same concept can be used to handle transient groups or those which sit somewhere in-between (a conquest or crusade maybe, which is non-persistent, but lasts a longer period of time).
Let’s not stop there. A group or association is not only defined by its members, but by its relationship to other groups and associations. In the real world, this can be seen by soccer clubs being part of a league, or a company being part of a wider corporation. If we take an example from medieval feudal society, we have Kingdoms each led by a House. That kingdom may have multiple vassals, and each vassal may have its own militia, and crafters guild, and maybe even a church. The kingdom as a whole may have an Army, which is a new sub-group comprising the militias of each vassal, but commanded by the king, or his commander... and so on, and this is where it gets interesting. A player may be a crafter, and have his own close family. He may then choose to seek employment with the crafters guild of his local village. That village may be ruled by a baron, who is a vassal to the greater kingdom. So, by joining that crafters guild, he gains the benefits of that guild, plus gaining the protection of that baron, and ultimately becomes part of that kingdom and must abide by all of the laws that kingdom passes (and pay taxes, one of the consequences). This leads us into factions, such as the kingdom-wide faction, but also sub-factions comprising different houses of the kingdom, with their own political motives and intentions… But I digress, and that are the subject of a future blog :)
As you can see however, once we break the bonds of traditional guilds, and work instead to define ways to organise and control our relationships and groups, the possibilities are pretty much endless.
This is why we at Forsaken Studios feel it’s about time we broke those bonds, and put the control back into the player’s hands. Want to build a kingdom? Go right ahead! Want to set up a thieves guild with offices in all major towns? So be it! Want to set up as an independent merchant travelling the lands selling your wares? Cool by us!
I guess the main thing to take away from this blog is to stop thinking about "Guilds" in the traditional sense, and start planning your social groups in a more meaningful and dynamic way. I know it will take some work to shift our mindset away from the age-old traditional Guild system all MMO games up until now have pushed on us, but I urge you to try, and I hope and fully expect we will all get a much richer experience because of it :)
Anyway, I have gone on long enough for the first blog post. I hope you see why I feel so emphatically about the opening statement, and why we have decided to break the mould and change the way Guilds in MMORPGs are handled. I look forward to sharing more of this, and other systems in coming months, as we carry on this merry game development adventure :).
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