Just before PAX East kicked off this year BioWare surprised fans with the opening of guild pre-registrations, a multi-phase effort to offer players the ability to get their guilds set up and ready before the game officially launches sometime this year. When I originally heard the news I thought, “Well, that’s certainly a nice gesture!” but what I didn’t realize until later is just how far BioWare has taken the feature.
Guild pre-registration is not simply a process of picking a cool name and reserving it for yourself and your guildies, instead, BioWare has launched a full-blown Guild Headquarters on the official SW:TOR website and pre-registered guilds will be imported right into the live servers once the game launches (assuming they meet certain requirements). When setting up a guild players can select from a number of criteria to better present their guild to potential applicants, with said criteria ranging from the side your guild is on (Sith or Republic), the type of server you’ll be playing on (PVP, RP, or PVE), your guild’s timezone, language spoken, and more.
Once created, guilds can be fully managed from the Guild HQ as BioWare’s basically given each guild their own space on the official website. Each guild essentially gets their own page with both public and private forums (which can be moderated), the ability to set their own Message of the Day, Mission Statement, and the option to select from a multitude of characteristics such as dedication level (hours per week), activity focus (PvP, endgame content, social, etc), the level of role-playing expected by guild members, whether voice chat is required, and much more. Even the guild roster can be managed and sorted; members can be promoted, kicked, sorted by name, rank, class, and the guild leader can even abdicate leadership to a selected member. The application process can also be handled directly through the guild page, which is something that is sure to be appreciated by guild leaders.
Of course, if you’re not interested in creating your own guild the Guild HQ also features a detailed search feature that allows players to search out guilds by the same criteria that leaders set when creating them, enabling would-be applicants to find guilds that fit them best.
Earlier I mentioned that the guild pre-registration program is being rolled out in phases, and this first phase is called “Formation”, which really explains itself. However, things get even more interesting when Phase 2: Alignment launches, as BioWare will introduce an optional allies or adversaries system that can be utilized by guilds to mark up to three other guilds as, well, allies or adversaries!
The purpose of marking another guild as an ally or adversary is not simply cosmetic, either, as BioWare will be working to group up marked guilds onto the same servers come launch, though this is not guaranteed. For example, Pre-registering your guild under a PvP server in the east coast timezone is almost sure to place you on a US-East PvP server, but the exact server will be at BioWare’s discretion. Were it not for the adversaries and allies function, this would definitely hamper the usefulness of the program, and so it should prove to be a crucial feature for guilds looking to play with or against other guilds on the same server.
Aside from the numerous features the Guild HQ provides for players, this whole pre-registration process is also likely to help alleviate one of the major issues that plague big MMO launches: server congestion. Players tend to plan to settle on specific servers prior to a game’s launch, and if the guilds that band together are large enough this can pose serious issues for the server population and the ability for players to get into the game. Often the popularity of these pre-selected servers exacerbates the issue further and it kind of feeds itself. No one wants to play on an empty server so many players tend to head to the same few super populated servers which often creates a huge imbalance across the rest of the servers accompanied by tons of cranky and often stubborn players kvetching about queue times (assuming there are enough servers, of course!). By allowing guilds to pre-register and build up long before launch BioWare can control the spread of the game population to some extent and this could possibly contribute to keeping server populations on an even keel at launch. It doesn’t take Nostradamus to tell that with the way things have been going Star Wars: The Old Republic is going to be a zoo come launch day with the amount of people interested in this game and you can bet BioWare is considering whatever options they can think of to avoid having a nightmare on their hands. I don’t know for sure if this is one of them, but it could certainly end up serving a dual purpose in the end.
As a player who often joins up with or leads his own guild I’m very impressed with the Guild HQ on the whole, which has definitely piqued my curiosity as far as what BioWare plans for in-game guild features/content, but that is for another week. Being a community manager, I can also see the benefit of the program from the perspective of building community around the game, as supporting guilds is one of the best ways to cultivate and nurture a community. Who better to evangelize your game than a group of players who have already decided they want to play and organize their guild around it? With that said, I’d be remiss not to mention that MMORPG.com has its own Guild HQ of sorts that features much of the same functionality, so you should definitely check it out as well!
What are your thoughts on the guild registration program? Have you set up your guild? If so, how are you finding the tools available and what would you like to see to improve on them? I’m especially curious to hear from long-time guild leaders on this (*cough*Paragus1*cough*). Share your thoughts in the comments below!