Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Guild Achievement System Brings the Ban-Hammer on AIE
As you will recall from my earlier series of articles on how to build a successful guild, I am a member of two very large guilds on Earthen Ring - US. My first guild on Alliance side is The Illuminati, which has 396 characters as of this writing. A very big guild, to be sure. But The Illuminati is dwarfed of course by Alea Iacta Est, my horde side guild better known as the largest guild in the game across all servers. AIE has 6792 characters right now and is a fantastic community of gamers who are a great resource for leveling, professions, grouping, and anything else you want to do in the game. There has always been some problems with AIE and the guild interface, which is only designed to handle 500 characters. Nevertheless, AIE got along just fine and nicely asked Blizzard to fix the problem if they could, despite it being very low priority.
However, a blue post yesterday shattered AIE and fellow mega-guilds like Taint, Goon Squad, and others. As of patch 4.0.1, which looks like it will be next Tuesday, all guilds will have a hard cap of 600 members. You will not be able to add more characters unless you are below 600. Which means AIE, as of next week, will not add another new character ever again. No alts, no rerolls, no friends and no players that have been removed for being inactive for a few months. Not one more player, unless AIE gets below 600 members, which will not happen until the servers stop running in all likelihood. So while AIE and other mega-guilds will not have their rosters fractured or culled through at this time, they also will stagnate from here on out in the existence of Azeroth.
While I disagree with blizzard on disallowing mega guilds after 6 years of setting a precedent with them in the game, the real problem is how they've brought this change about. There was literally no warning, and AIE is thrown into absolute chaos right now as the officers deal with another big challenge. I'm sure they will step up to the task and keep the guild moving on, but that's no excuse. The stated reason is actually that Blizzard cannot or does not want to handle the additional work of tracking individual statistics for more than 600 characters when figuring out guild achievements. Reading between the lines, they don't want to make people flock to mega-guilds who will earn guild achievements faster. Or if you take a pessimistic view, this is just a lame excuse for them to do something they have wanted to do for years, which is kill the mega guild.
However, AIE is one of the most active communities of WoW players because many of them listen to The Instance and talk actively about wow to their friends, more so probably than non-listeners of the major wow podcasts. While they throw around server load like it is a major concern, they are allowing AIE and other mega guilds to continue existing while fixing the guild interface and achievement problems for everyone, mega guilds included. So they fixed the problem, but undercut our guild at the same time. And make no mistake about it, there will be some kind of backlash, whether it be at Blizzcon where 300 AIE guildies or more are planning to attend, or in public forums such as blogs and podcasts. There will be public comment on this, even if it does only affect 0.1% of guilds (a misleading number because there are a massive amount of players in those guilds compared to the many bankalt guilds and personal guilds).
The real fix to the problem is good game design, and specifically good achievement and guild perk design. Guild perks from achievements should not be major draws for people to a guild, they should just be time savers and nifty other benefits that allow you to make the game slightly easier. Think of these like heirlooms, not talents that must be had by everyone. The achievements should be designed so all serious guilds including small raiding guilds can get all the available perks within a few months of cataclysm's release. Sure, the large guilds will get these perks a bit quicker, but that will not matter as long as the perks are not must-have items. The simple solution would have been to remove all mega guilds (defined as guilds with more than 600 members) from getting any realm-first type guild achievements. This levels the playing field for those with fewer members, and stops the world from becoming a bunch of mega guilds.
In reality, Blizzard has the power to make the guild interface work, as proven by their assertion that it will now work for guilds of all sizes post-cataclysm. However, this decision is a result of plain lazy achievement design. Remember, achievements were added to the game in WOTLK to give people something else to play for, something else to enjoy. Now achievements are being used as a pitiful excuse to slam some of the best communities in Azeroth. AIE has recently transcended warcraft and is moving into other games such as Eve online, and it's all because the community is supportive and great. Taint is a wonderful community of gay, lesbian, transgender players who support each other in game and out. And all the new players who come into cataclysm as wow 2.0 will never get to experience either of these communities. Now I understand there will be sister guilds and networked chat and people will prevail with workarounds, but it will not be the same as having one guild for all your members.
So lazy design in a relatively unimportant aspect of the game (achievements) now leads to the death of growth forever in AIE and other mega guilds. I was planning to move either my shaman or my druid over to Horde side with the paladin to join AIE and have two main healers on either side of the fence in cataclysm. However, I wanted to wait for the new race/class combos to make the switch and it is easier to level on the alliance side with the sugar momma Ekat and the sugar Daddy Navar paying for everything the alts need. However, if I cannot join AIE, I will not transfer that character. So that's $25 out of Blizzard's bank account. And who knows, my limited interaction with AIE may eventually drive me away from the game. I know I'm not alone in that sentiment, and this comes at a terrible time as people come back for cataclysm after the usual doldrums breaks and they will not have that community to return to. In fact, most people server transfer or faction transfer to get into AIe with their favorite characters, but that will not happen anymore. That's money out of the bank account for Blizzard. Plus, even guilds like The Illuminati will likely start putting limits on people to 1-2 characters maximum, which stinks when you want to participate in a lively guild chat.
In fact, that brings up another possibility. Perhaps Blizzard wants to limit guild size to limit the usefulness of guild chat access in the mobile auction house application. Perhaps they do not want to enable a facebook-or-AIM like instant messaging service for the mega guilds most likely to use the service for that purpose alone. Again, this looks like they are willing to give up moderate cash gains to remove the major users from loading a service and making them design servers and systems well.
Again, I do not want to paint this like they are making AIE shatter immediately. But this is a ridiculous and unwarranted decision that has been made for all the wrong reasons, and Blizzard is simply not being honest with their consumers. That's just not right. And while we may be a small percentage of the playerbase, hopefully we are vocal enough to let Blizzard know that this action is in poor judgment, much like the idea to force forum users to use only real ID's was. Life will go on, but this blindside tactic by Blizzard is shocking to those of us affected and will not be forgotten when we are making the all-important decision on whether the good outweighs the bad in this game to keep on paying that monthly subscription.
If I'm in a particularly grumpy mood, my apologies. My favorite guild member in my alliance guild quit the guild for reasons I'm none too thrilled with. I'm certainly not going to take it out on guild leadership because they are not slighting me at this point, but my sense of community in that guild has also been seriously shaken this week. So it's a real shame, but both my guilds are currently leaving me disappointed, despite all that is good about them. Until next time, don't let bad judgment happen to you, at least not without a fight.