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A blog about anything MMO related. I suppose I could have confined it to more specific things...but I dislike losing my freedom!

Author: Gishgeron

Some thoughts about the MMO Guild struture

Posted by Gishgeron Thursday May 15 2008 at 12:53PM
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  Anytime I post on these forums, and find a position which strikes me as interesting, I feel the need to blog about it.  Now, normally, I repress this urge and just go about my way.  Most of it would not amount to much in the way of discussion or debate anyway, and I prefer that my blogs at least offer up something to consider when viewing them.  At least, thats what I want from my "non-review" blogs.

  So, to preface this whole matter, let me begin by saying that I've recently been active around here in discussions which made me really think about the way we view guilds in the MMO genre...and the effects this view has had on gameplay mechanics thus far.  I realize that my posts can be a little...aggressive...from time to time, and that I may not always present my thoughts in the best manner possible in a given thread.  Because of this, I actually decided to sit down with you all on this particular matter and actually blog it.  My hopes are to present this a little more maturely, and with a little more open-mindedness than I sometimes share in the actual forums.

  I'm not too proud to admit my own failings :P  On to the subject matter.

 

  We all understand the basics of the Guild structure in MMO's today.  Groups of people get together, and form a glorified friends list of players in which to organize and engage in larger content.  This system is controlled wholly by the players themselves...an identity crafted by them and only them, and even comes with its own literal system of reputation behind it.  I recently discovered that this system is actually causing problems in open-ended development in the genre, though, and I'd like to explain why.

  When you have a game which focuses all of its content development around these Guilds, you also take with that a very harsh form of gating that prevents the community from actually opening up.  It almost sounds ludicrous when you say it aloud at first, that a community FEATURE could actually be breaking a community down, but its true.  This focus for Guilds breaks the "massive" community down into segments, fragmented sections of players which form these Guilds.  These segments do not actually involve themselves with the rest of the world, because doing so is a distraction from the game design...which forces the guilds to constantly operate together for maximum effectiveness in progression. 

  This matter translates over to the player poorly, actually.  In one particular forum a poster brought up how open GTA IV was compared to the "open massive worlds" prescribed by MMO gaming culture.  The openness of it is centered around the freedom of the individual to do what he wants, and involve himself in whatever he wishes.  It presents a situation where the day to day goals of the player can change, and are even encouraged to do so.  Guild-Focused content can never be this way, and the structure of the progression forces the individual to remove any personal goals for the sake of becoming involved in the Guild goals.  Granted, its not just guild systems which present this issue...gear and level based progression also have their hand in it.  But if we are going to address one face of the monster, I feel we should address all of its many heads as well.

  I think that these games need to go back to their community roots.  Ideally, factional systems BACKED by player controlled guild formats would be the best incarnation...so long as the content is based solely on the individual and factional goals, and not the guild goals.  Guilds should form naturally as players of like mind meet and wish to combine their similar goals.  Instead, the monster we have now gives us only ONE option.  Its an insult even TO the Guilds of todays MMO's...because they have nothing to truly involve themselves in.  They have no options, no freedom, no anything really.  They are forced into one of two gaming options, and neither of those do anything to actually make proper use of the ability to bring like minded people together.  They are glorified carrot-stick situations, and a weak when compared to the plethora of wonderful ideals floating around between the many games available.

  I'd like to know how many of you feel the same way about this.  Is the current Guild-centric structure really damaging the potential of the genre as much as a I think?  Am I simply being exaggerated for the sake of making a point?  Does this market NEED to scrap its old ways and rethink the usage of a community better?

  Feel free to talk!  I would love to hear what many of you have to say on this.  If the debate warrants it, I may copy paste this into a forum for easier access and reading.

JB47394 writes:

I'm not a big fan of highly-structured social systems, including grouping and guilds.  I like the fact that there are people that I can do things with frequently, but things get rather insular.  I'd prefer a structure that let people think of themselves as a guild without setting up the us/them barriers.

Instead of a yes/no structure for guilds and groups, I'd like to see something that lets me say how much I like or detest a character.  They are making similar rating with other people.  For people I haven't specified a rating, the system would use my rating for people who form a link between me and that person.  That's the old "Friend of a friend" or "My enemy's enemy is my friend" stuff.  They are implied ratings.  I can override them when I get a chance to spend some time with them.

The idea is that players would be in the general vicinity of each other, and would tend to move their character towards other characters that are highly rated.  If red is for dislike and green is for like, then looking for green tints would let a player move to where they are generally matched up with other players.

No guild is needed to get together an activity.  Just seeing friendlies.  That system can be used in any visualization that a game supports.  If there is a /who system, then the listing can include the implied ratings.  If there is an auction house, it can include the implied ratings.

Beyond that, there's a need for a chat system that works with this.  One thought is to send a message to everyone that is rated at a certain level or above in your implied ratings.  Once contacted, they would all be part of a temporary chat channel for the purpose of that conversation.

The number of channels could be kept manageable because any given group of friends and acquaintances could talk on a channel once it was created.  You might get drawn into three or four such circles of people, but I think it would work.  It would require more thought and plenty of experimentation.

All I know is that fixed channels don't work all that well because they are on/off affairs.  Either you're in or your out.  I'd like to see systems that let the players dynamically form many overlapping social circles.

Thu May 15 2008 4:20PM Report
Gishgeron writes:

I absolutely love your ideals.  Most of the "Ranking" suggestions you made go hand in hand with my desire to see MMO's move into more community aspects.  The sims might have a great example of this, through their own relationship meter.  A sort of semi-transferable scoring system that allows you to not only place numerical value in relations...but to have that value extend to people that share similar values to the person in question.

For example

You are Bob, and your bestest buddy is Frank.  Through the game system...you eventually tie a given relation score of 100 with him through interacting with him on things.  Now, if Frank ALSO has another friend with a 100 score...you also find your rank with that person slightly increased.  So that, instead of starting at 0...you begin with a relationship meter of 25 or even 50 with them.  So if Frank were 100 with Tom, and you were 100 with Frank...the game would assign you to be ALSO 25 with Tom as well.

Bring a color code into this system is nice too.  White for 0, light blue for 25, green for 50, orange for 75, and gold for 100.  This way, you can track people in your area which are somehow connected to your social circle at a glance.  Its also a nice way to meet new people and make new friends...as seeing a stranger with a light blue name would indicate to you that one of your BEST friends obviously enjoys their company as well.  So you would be inclined to meet them, or even group up randomly to do things.

You could even tie in mild damage, defense, hp, and experience modifiers to this system...to reward not only FORMING this relations, but interacting with these people even after capping the meter.  Rather than "guilds" you can connect players into "circles".  The system would look similar to a guild..but operate very differently.  Then, you can tie this system into empire-style systems by joining circles together to act upon territory control and society generation.

Genius!

Thu May 15 2008 4:36PM Report
JB47394 writes:

You/re talking about a system for letting characters build fictional relationships and have them known by the game.  I'm talking about players indicating their relationships with other players (through their characters).  As you say, the system you're talking about is more like The Sims Online.  What I'm after is more like MySpace.  I want a system that encourages people who are likely to get along to be friendly.  It works as a kind of introduction system.  With negative ratings, it also works as a gossip system.

"See that guy?  He's pretty cool."   Introduction

"See that guy?  He's a jerk."  Gossip

But I'm glad you enjoyed it in any case.  :)

Thu May 15 2008 10:15PM Report
Gishgeron writes:

  Most of that structure is already in place...it really only lacks a "top friends" mechanism.  Such a thing would need to be viewable via a character info page to be useful, though.  The sort of windows most games have via a right click and a "Player Info" selection from that menu.

  That way it would be easily accessible information to ALL players just who was in your personal social circle.  Otherwise, a friends list takes care of everything else.  That said, such a mechanism would be a wonderful community addition to the game...if also a trivial one.  I guess that would be subjective, though, as I do not personally find ANY community supportive additions to a game to be trivial.

Thu May 15 2008 11:46PM Report
Melf_Himself writes:

I absolutely agree with you Gish. Guilds often force people to undertake particular activities that they may not actually want to do on a given day, but which they feel obligated to do or risk having no guild at all.

I very much like JB's suggestions.

I see some potential problems, which could probably be ironed out by various tweaking of the sytem, except I'm not sure about the last one:

1) Players purposely tanking other people's ratings (/hating everyone they meet). The easiest way to solve this is to normalise every score a person gives according to the average score that person gives (ie if I rate everybody 0%, and I rate you 0%, it would be a normalised score of 50%). Similar for rating everybody 100%. You obviously can't go below 0% or above 100%

2) The above solution would probably take care of people selling their services to bump the ratings of others ^^

3) A major potential problem is that some people, for whatever reason, are going to be disliked by most people. Maybe they're bad at the game, have poor english, can't type properly, or, more likely, they're just an obnoxious little shit :)

At any rate, it would suck to be one of these guys, as hardly anybody would want to group with you. I'm not sure I can see a way around this one myself, what do you guys think?

 

An idea I've had with the similar goal of expanding social networking in games is to have "causes" that players can align themselves with. Players have, say, a collapsible check-box menu that they can update whenever they like to indicate how they want to play the game at a given point in time.

Do they want to aid faction A/B/C/D/E? Do they want to be a criminal? A law-abiding citizen? A law enforcer? Do they want to loot cities? Do they want to hunt dragons? Goblins? Trolls? Raid dungeons? Pick pockets? Bake bread? Assassinate people? Explore the land? Conduct research? Compete in pvp tournaments? etc, etc...

Basically, there would be a massive list of every conceivable option that players want to do. Checking the appropriate boxes would open additional subheadings, eg clicking on "hunt trolls" would reveal:

Additional specifications such as level of trolls to hunt, whether to hunt fire trolls or ice trolls or..... garden trolls (lol)

LFG and GLF announcements related to hunting trolls

A quest to travel to city XX and speak with npc yy, who is the leader of the Troll Exterminators League. You could obtain rank with this cause for your actions as you progress through all the tiers of troll hunting

A list of the top 100 troll hunters in all the land, and your troll hunting rank

As well as frequent *red alert* message updates whenever a large troll-related event is occurring in the realm. For example, "Troll Settlement aaa is raiding Player settlement bbb and carrying away babies! Settlement bbb implores troll hunters everywhere to come to their aid!" You get the idea.

So, all players have to do is check the boxes for activities they feel like doing at a given time, and the game will do its best to keep them up to date with all the events/quests/parties related to that activity that can be conceived.

In terms of the color-coded aura thing, you could have the server log player checked actions and sum them over time. If a certain player spends, say, 25% or more of his time hunting trolls and so do you, he would accrue points towards some happy color when viewed by you. The color would be an overall indication of how much you have in common though... for example, if i've selected the "no ganking" cause and he's selected the "slaughter innocents" cause, then it would offset our mutual love of troll hunting, and cause me to see him in an unfavorable light (literally!).

Another option would be a right-click menu available on characters. There would be, say, a list of 3 activities you would most like about the person, and a list of the 3 that you would least like.

Players could have the option of lying about these activities.

I'm sure all sorts of political hijinx could also unfold if you allow players to "pretend" to align themselves with particular causes, for the express purpose of stabbing them in the back. For example, I check the "troll hunting" box, find a group of troll hunters, and ambush them to save my precious trolls.

This would be accompanied by the ability to click on people you don't like, and add a "auto don't like" option. You would see that ugly red aura the next time that player attempts to group with you, along with some hover-over text editable by you to remind yourself what the person did to irritate you :)

Sorry for the massive post, you just got my creative juices flowing. What do you guys think of this idea? I think it marries pretty well with what's been suggested so far.

Fri May 16 2008 6:40AM Report
JB47394 writes:

Melf_Himself: "I see some potential problems"

Watch the following video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6a_KF7TYKVc

Now consider that when following a chain of friends towards one of those goals that the guy talks about (such as money, love or a home), the chains weren't all created equally.  They assume that a friend is a friend is a friend.  I'm suggesting that relationships can be rated, and that you want to follow strong chains of relationships, while realizing that weaker chains are more subject to caution.

The game would be following a chain whenever it showed a character's rating to you.  So if you rate Bob a 0.9 and Bob rates Mary a 0.9, then the first time you see Mary, you will be shown a default rating of 0.81 (0.9 * 0.9).

That's a simpleminded treatment of the issue, and there are many ways to tweak the math.  Also, there's the issue of dealing with many different paths through the social network to a given person.

You rate Dave a 0.9.  You rate Bob a 0.1.  Dave and Bob both rate Mary a 0.6.  The first time you see Mary, should you see 0.54 (0.9 * 0.6) or 0.06 (0.1 * 0.6)?  Should you see the average of the two?  The highest?  The lowest?  There could be thousands of paths through the social network to come up with a value for Mary.

People write doctoral dissertations on this stuff, but suffice it to say that there isn't one value that everyone sees.  The value that you see for a given character is computed entirely differently from the value that I see for that character.

Don't get too carried away in the rating system.  What I've suggested is far beyond anything that an MMO would tackle.  It requires that players take the time to pick a number from a range for as many characters as they care to.  It may just be too much to expect of players unless they feel they are getting an important return on their effort.  Rating characters on multiple criteria is probably far too much to expect unless that is a central part of playing the game.  That is, if the game were about social networking that would make more sense.

Melf_Himself: "LFG and GLF announcements related to hunting trolls"

I take two exceptions to that statement.

The first is that there are groups.  Groups are a problem, not a solution.  Once grouping is introduced to a game, the entire game is structured to deal with group activities.  Groups isolate players from one another when we want players interacting.

When players chat, they only chat with their group.  When rewards are handed out, they are handed out to a group.  When a task is undertaken, it is a group-sized task.  And so on.  Two groups nearby to each other are aconsidered competitors, not allies.

The second is that the activity is hunting trolls.  I don't want players given a fiction so that they can feel that they are hunting trolls to some purpose, while at the same time they know that they're actually hunting them for the loot and experience.

What happens when trolls no longer drop loot and give experience?  Add to that the fact that the trolls are going to tear up the player equipment pretty badly.  It's a Total Lose situation for the players.  Unless they have a reason to fight.

The kingdom is pushing out into NPC lands, and the King awards land to those who help claim it.  So until those NPC lands are cleared of trolls and such, nobody gets anything.  And there are trolls blocking a bridge.  The entire push in this direction is blocked until the trolls are removed.

That's the stage that I want to be set so that players can avoid grouping.  They converge on problems and deal with them.  The social situation is fluid, and players will look for friends so that they can fight alongside them.  But they will acquire new friendships due to chance interactions with other players in the area.

Melf_Himself: "Players could have the option of lying about these activities."

I am of the opinion that games that permit treachery and deceit are severely damaging the health of their community.  I'm back in Eve Online, and the sense of distrust and isolation is terrible there.  Everyone wants to form a corporation and nobody wants to ally with anyone else.  It's bizarre.

This sure does inspire some large posts, doesn't it?

Fri May 16 2008 10:10AM Report
Gishgeron writes:

  Yes it does, and that is a good thing.  It means that there ARE people interested in improving the selling point of these games...and that point is the community aspect of them.  Until now, Guilds have been the only real binding community element to the games...and it has served its purpose well enough.  But its time to move forward.

  I wouldn't call groups a bad thing though...you have to realize that you can't have use for groups at all unless there are things a person can't do alone.   Its a situation which forces something on the player, and I know we hate that.   I would say that a lot of the problem in this is that these worlds are terribly alive...and there are no fluid and changing elements to them.  Most games focus solely on the group content, and forget that a large part of what makes these games tick has nothing to DO with group content...but with social interaction.

  Do you think perhaps I should move this matter into a forum?

Fri May 16 2008 10:23AM Report
JB47394 writes:

Gishgeron: "I wouldn't call groups a bad thing though...you have to realize that you can't have use for groups at all unless there are things a person can't do alone. "

Having tasks that one person cannot do alone does not mean that formal grouping must be implemented.  Formal grouping is needed because the game needs to know how to apportion the rewards.  That needs to be done because the game is fundamentally about gaining those rewards.

Instead, if a game's entertainment were predicated on experiencing the content and making gains that were primarily global to everyone in the game, then the need for formal grouping is reduced.  Players can then interact with those around them who are working on the same shared task.

A castle needs to be taken.  It's gonna require weeks of fighting to do it.  Around 100 players at most show up to deal with the place.  They don't group because they're all involved with taking the castle.  They don' t need to worry about who gets what because the only gains are received by taking the castle.  Those gains are improved supply trains, access to changes in character skills, new crafting choices and so on.  Whatever the castle has as community loot.  Those things don't go to the attackers but to the community coffers.  It's just a way of changing the game systems.

Gishgeron: "Do you think perhaps I should move this matter into a forum?"

Yes.  A blog is like a soapbox, while a forum is like its historical roman counterpart.  A soapbox is something that you stand on so you can speak your mind to the public.  A forum is an open space in which many people can discuss a topic.

Fri May 16 2008 11:39AM Report

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