MMO Guilds – Are They Friends or Coworkers?

I was reading in a fairly old back issue of Games for Windows last night,and it brought up the idea that close-knit guilds in online games were a thing of the past. Their point was that with item-based progression and 25/40-person raid content, gamers no longer flock together because of like-mindedness or establishing a community; they flock together for more personal gains—phat lewtz—and merely tolerate those with whom they associate rather than revel in their company. It is almost as though there were two ways to look at those with whom one raided: they were either social friends or coworkers, with whom raiding was a shared job.

I am borderline on this. Yes, my old Ultima Online guilds were based entirely around protecting ourselves from PKs and/or being PKs and griefing others. We were there for one sort of camaraderie or another, and the idea of killing raid bosses was absurd. The game wasn’t built that way, so we couldn’t think that way. We banded together because, one way or another, we liked each other’s company.

The same was true of my Star Wars Galaxies player association (read: guild). We were mostly members of the SWG Stratics forum community, and we played the game together because we liked each other. We went hunting Force Crystal Hunters and Krayt Dragons not for phat lewtz, but because we wanted to have a funny story to tell later on. We started a couple of cities, and we pooled resources to have the best crafting stations and architecture around. We even had our own resident Jedi before a couple of us were able to unlock our Force Sensitive characters.

In World of Warcraft, however, that all changed. The application process no longer went from being a cool enough guy who could help people out and have fun, but whether or not one had good enough gear/experience to warrant inclusion into the Cool Kids Club. It did not matter if one was the funniest Priest on the server if said Priest could not heal through Onyxia’s deep breath or didn’t understand not to heal during Nefarian’s Priest call. If an applicant’s equipment had mostly green letters in the title instead of blue or purple, he or she was a second class citizen, despite everything else.

Luckily, I found a guild early in my WoW career who went against this stereotype. They were never at the absolute top tier of raid progression, but they were nice people who had a good time with whatever they did. You might know them from their Blizzcon award-winning machinima series The Grind: Oblivious of Malygos. Note: The guild is an entirely separate entity from the video makers; it just so happens the makers are members.

These were legitimately good people. Sure, they had an application process, but they are one of the few guilds I know about who will forego someone being a min-maxing loot whore if he or she is a nice person and would compliment the guild well.

We raided together, even beat most content available (all but AQ40 and Naxx), and had a good time doing it. We cared about the progression we experienced in raids, sure. We took our time together seriously, but we never let the game come between the fact that we were friends, first and foremost. Some of us even met up for gatherings outside of the game and, as far as I know, some Oblivious members still do this annually.

I spent a lot of time in Oblivious, over two years, and I’m sad to say that I screwed it up. I left the guild immediately before The Burning Crusade was released because I had the promise of greener raiding pastures. I left with a few friends of mine, and we started our own raiding guild that was nowhere near as close-knit as Oblivious, and it failed. We tried again, and eventually the second attempt failed. In the end, I had forgotten what attracted me to the guild in the first place, something that Games for Windows said couldn’t exist in a 40-person raid environment—community.

There were hurt feelings from our leaving, and some of them to this day have not been patched up. I still read the Oblivoious forums daily, and occasionally pipe in. There is just something about the group of people there that I still find endearing. If I ever return to World of Warcraft for any extended period of time, I’ll apply for non-raiding membership in Oblivious just to catch up and play with people who make playing the game fun.

So when I think about the death of the close-knit guild like Games for Windows mentioned in January 2008, I scoff. Sure, there are groups of people who only care about their purples and their hard mode achievements. Such groups will have strict admittance and attendance policies, and the spirit of being a guild will be lost among trying to beat a video game. But if one looks hard enough, then guilds like Oblivious can be found. Guilds where having corworkers matters less than having friends exist. It might take a while to find them, and they might be fewer and farther between than “progression above all” guilds, but they are there.

And take an old fool’s advice: if you’ve found a place where you feel comfortable in an MMO, stay there. Don’t go off looking for greener pastures and better experiences. The main reason to play an MMO (in my opinion at least) is the social aspect, and if you can find a group of people you like playing with and who like to play with you, consider yourself lucky. Because, like Games for Windows mentioned, most guilds like that are dead. Most, but not all.

By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.


  1. Games for Windows is right, unfortunately.

    Today most "guilds" are indeed gear-based application platforms for organized item acquisition.

    Well, I usually play with at least one or more old friends, and if the guild is not more than that, we at least have our mini-clique inside the guild. We are mostly too lazy to set up our own guilds, none of us is a guild leader type.

  2. My Puzzle Pirates experience meshes well with this too. There are the "hardcore" players who seek to maintain a high level of play, mostly with crews (guilds) and flags (groups of guilds), and there are those who just want to play and mess around and be social. I have characters in each sort of guild, and while there is some bleed (the categorizations aren't clearly delineated), there is definitely a marked difference between the two. I have more fun in the smaller, casual groups, but I know others who thrive on the hardcore.

    The part that makes it different in PP is that gameplay is player skill based, rather than avatar skill. As such, the nature of guilds is based on how people approach the game, and players of like mind banding together. It's not a mechanical thing like gated raid content, where there's a minimum barrier to entry. The grouping is more organic and more comfortable, then, and not reinforced by the game mechanics. (At least, not to the same degree.) In my mind, that's a better situation, since players can self-select based on sociality and playstyle, rather than be shoved into pigeonholes of playstyles they don't want to get to the stuff they *do* want.

  3. I have only ever been in one guild. They're very casual and hardly ever raid. Raiding doesn't hold much priority for most of them, but it's something I really enjoy. Even then, I would find it extremely difficult to leave them.

    I know each of them, looked them in the eye, shaken their hand.

    How valuable is that?

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