The demise of guilds

I don’t think I would get much argument if I said that Warlords of Draenor was very hard on guilds. And so far I have not seen anything in Legion that will reverse that trend. In fact, if anything, the implementation of Order Halls will further hurt guilds.

Before I continue, a disclaimer — much of what I will say is anecdotal, derived from my server and my WoD guild experiences. I could not find any place that tracks the number of guilds in the game historically — WoWProgress follows something like 700k guilds, but I could not find any historical data on change in numbers. So I am left with my own analysis, influenced by my experiences.

The relevant personal experiences are, I left two failed guilds, and am now part of one that is struggling to maintain viability. The failed guilds had gotten to the point where frequently I was the only guildie logged on most nights, the raid teams had disintegrated, the GM and officers were ghosts, and all planned activities disappeared. My current guild maintains some semblance of social play, and there are 8-10 guildies on a few times a week, but the raid team — formerly in the top 25 on the server — ceased to exist even before Hellfire Citadel came out. So please understand that what I say is certainly colored by my own experience. Yours may be completely different.

For me, guilds have always been one of the bedrocks of social play in WoW. I did not join one until I was about level 50 on my first character (back in the early days of WotLK), but once I did, I was hooked on them as integral to my enjoyment of the game.

I think guilds reached their peak around the end of Cata and first part of Mists. Indeed, it was during that period when Blizz seemed keen on promoting guild membership, because they instituted a host of enticing guild perks. Cata saw the introduction of guild leveling, from 1 to 25, with perks awarded at each level. But by the time of Patch 5.0.4, Blizz began to remove or nerf several of the perks, including the wildly popular Have Group Will Travel, which allowed a guildie to summon other guildies to their location. In WoD, Blizz eliminated the guild leveling system along with many guild perks.

In particular, they axed the Cash Flow perk, by which the guild earned a small amount of gold every time a guildie looted gold in the world. The stated reason was that some GMs were using this to exploit their guildies and enrich themselves. I suppose what they really meant was that illicit gold sellers were using the mechanism to generate gold, but whatever the reason, it was a pretty serious blow to many guilds, causing some to revoke the free repairs privilege, which in turn hurt retention and recruitment.

Guilds were also indirectly — but seriously — impacted by some of the design features of WoD. For example, the lack of repeatable content, such as rares and such as the irrelevancy of dungeons, meant there was less reason to get up guild groups for some romping-about fun for an hour or two. This of course was compounded by the lack of flying, meaning it became a pretty major commitment to get a group together in the same place at the same time, and then spend most of your time just traveling to wherever your target was. Not to mention if you had just an hour or two to play, you probably felt you had to spend that doing your garrison and follower chores, not running about with a guild group trying to find an objective. And everything was further compounded by the widespread perception that WoD was just not very fun, which caused fewer and fewer guild members to log on, that is if they remained subscribed at all.

To make matters even worse, raid design in WoD was very detrimental to casual raid teams, be they “hardcore casual” or “laid back casual” in nature. For the laid back casual teams, most of the mechanics were too demanding for a flex-style pick-up group of guildies, unless there were a significant number of very good raiders to carry the group. Normal level was much harder than Blizz told us it would be when they introduced the new raid levels. Thus, the promised “friends and family” mode became progression, and players just looking for an evening of fun and camaraderie stopped trying to raid.

Ten-man teams with core members trying to do progression also faced a number of obstacles:

  • Blizz failed to follow through on its design promise that progression teams would be able to start on Heroic (since in theory WoD Heroic was previous Normal). You simply could not be properly geared for Heroic unless you had first cleared Normal, in most circumstances.
  • WoD raids were horribly tuned, such that small teams were at a disadvantage. But the mechanics were such that bringing in  guildies who normally did not raid with the team was impractical, since it significantly slowed progression while the augmentees learned not to commit the single-player raid-wiping errors nearly every boss had. Pugging via the Group Finder was tedious and annoying, not to mention going this route pretty much destroyed the feeling of team accomplishment people sought when they joined a progression team in the first place.
  • Overall decreased player participation in the game meant getting even ten players to show up on raid nights became difficult, which meant trying to plug the holes with more non-core members, which in turn meant there was even less team spirit in the group, etc. It was a continuous downward spiral.

All of these factors contributed to the WoD demise of many guilds. Social guilds no longer had enough active players to be really social any more, and casual raiding guilds found it increasingly difficult to field a viable team.

Looking at Legion, I don’t see anything so far that gives me hope that guilds will be revived as a robust social mechanism. Indeed, the focus on Order Halls would seem to be at the expense of guilds.

I have to admit, I still don’t see the real game design reason for Order Halls, except as a quest hub. And some aspects of them are downright stupid, such as the ridiculous notion that every class member on your entire server is the primary class leader, the one with the “unique” artifact weapon. Puh-leeze.

For myself, I would have preferred a simpler quest hub mechanism, and put the “home base” dev effort on something like Guild Halls. Now, there may be a technical reason that Guild Halls are not doable, but if so  I would like to hear it. As it stands, it appears to me that Blizz is just fine with the dwindling relevance of guilds in the game, and in fact their actions over the last two expansions indicates they are actively promoting such a trend. I think this is a shame, given the avowed social nature of the game. It would be nice if Watcher or someone would address the future of guilds, and how Blizz sees their continuing role, if indeed they see any role for them at all.


About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

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