There are quite a few people screaming for guild halls in games like World of Warcraft, and I’m not just talking about the garrison. The garrison is cool, no doubt, but it’s not the guild hall the people have been asking for – not even close. A Guild Hall is a place where players can meet, interact, hold conferences, discuss upcoming raids, all manner of things. There are several games out there that have Guild Halls which can be purchased for in-game currency, but the question I’d like to consider is whether or not having a guild hall could possibly become detrimental to the game itself. I’d like to talk a little bit about what I call the ‘Everquest 2 Effect’.
The Everquest 2 Effect - MMO Guild Halls Gone Wrong
The first thing I want to say is that the MMO guild halls in Everquest 2 are absolutely awesome; there’s no other way to put it. In the typical stock, you have three guild hall tiers, each one better than the last. The lowest tier has everything you could possibly need for your casual guild, while the second and third tier take it a step further. When you get to the third tier guild hall you end up with an entire half continent to play with, which is great in theory, though the question becomes 'why?’
Because the guild hall requires status to operate, there tend to be rooms in the larger guild halls filled with status reduction items. For example, since beds reduce status, I’ve seen entire rooms packed with bunk beds that are never actually used. This is just one example of ridiculousness in EQ2 MMO guild halls but it definitely gets more interesting. On the less ridiculous side of things, guild halls can be equipped with buffs, teleports, service NPC’s, and more. You essentially end up with your own rented city and as long as your guild is able to continue paying the upkeep, you never actually lose it. Sounds cool, right? Well, it is, but there are a few issues to consider. First of all, there is literally NO reason to ever leave the guild hall, so you end up spending all of your time there. Well, it seems that a lot of other players sort of had the same idea, which means the once populated cities quickly became abandoned and finding groups became more annoying than ever before. At some point I stopped just ‘running into people’ and to be honest, anyone I did run into was more likely to be porting back to their MMO guild halls to use the amenities. These days, even though Everquest 2 is still moderately populated it looks like an absolute wasteland.
First of all, there is literally NO reason to ever leave the guild hall, so you end up spending all of your time there, which means the once populated cities quickly became abandoned and finding groups became more annoying than ever before. At some point I stopped just ‘running into people’ and to be honest, anyone I did run into was more likely to be porting back to their MMO guild halls to use the amenities. These days, even though Everquest 2 is still moderately populated, it looks like an absolute wasteland.
Everquest 2 - Why Would you Ever Want to Leave?
I cannot say with a straight face that MMO guild halls were the sole reason for Everquest 2’s community downfall. One of the other factors was the travel options that were introduced following Sentinel’s Fate. In the beginning, players were forced to travel the world by boat or by relying on spire portals created for them by friendly wizards. This in itself created more of a sense of community as you could travel on boats with your friends, or you could even meet new people along the way. When was the last time you ran into someone on a boat in an MMO, struck up a conversation, and decided to run off into the wild together on an adventure? When was the last time anything remotely like that happened? Do you even remember? Things have changed, and perhaps not for the better.
World of Warcraft – Alive and Well
World of Warcraft doesn’t have guild halls or player housing. What it does have is the garrison, still a favorite of many, but there are some stipulations on use. First of all, you don’t get a garrison until you get to the Warlords of Draenor expansion content, so not EVERYONE has one. That being the case you’re still going to run into plenty of people in the open world areas. Second, getting everyone into your garrison requires you to invite them into a group and have them set their garrison to the leader’s in order to visit. Sure, it can be done, but it requires several steps that no one wants to take unless they’re staging for a raid. In other words, it’s not just a place that you casually wander in and out of.
Because there are no guild halls or player housing in World of Warcraft, you’re more likely to find players out and about finishing daily quests or crafting. You might also find players sitting in taverns, or even enjoying themselves beside a lake. This is definitely one instance where not having a guild hall or player housing option has helped a lot.
But wait, weren’t there games that have guild halls and still appear to be reasonably populated? What’s up with that?
Games that Thrive Even with MMO Guild Halls
I mentioned earlier that Guild Halls seem to throw off the population within a game, but there are many instances where they simply don’t. There are some games where Guild Halls are introduced and public areas still thrive, so why is that exactly? The answer is balance, and I’m not talking about a 50/50 balance either.
[caption id="attachment_66065" align="aligncenter" width="560"] Guild Wars 2's Hall is Great, But it Doesn't Have Everything you Need[/caption]
Guild Wars 2 is one that comes to mind, speaking of Guild Halls. It’s been several years since the game launched and MMO guild halls are a fairly new part of it. There were some concerns over whether or not the idea would pan out. The same goes for Rift of course and their guild dimensions which serve as guild halls, but one thing stands true for both games: the game is much more interesting outside the guild hall than it is inside. So how do these games accomplish that? How do they make the open world cooler than your own personal little space?
The answer is pretty simple: world events. The problem with Everquest 2 is that it has a finite number of quests. Sure, you have your dailies, and there are definitely things to grind for, but eventually people run out of things to do and they’re going to spend all of their time sitting in their guild halls, so what do you do about it? You give them a reason to come outside and play, you give them a way to really interact with lower level players, and most importantly, you make the world more interesting than the guild hall. Seriously, I can experience everything in a Tier 3 guild hall that I can experience in any one of the major cities in Norrath and my guild mates are there with me, so who cares?
In Guild Wars 2 I have good reason to leave the safety of my guild hall. There are tons of events, and most importantly, they have the living world story. I paid for it so I’m damn well going to experience it. What happens after the living world story and the expansions? More events, more things to craft, and most importantly, people to interact with which brings me to another point; in Guild Wars 2, if you want to chat with the world you have to head to a specific region. Everquest 2 made the mistake of allowing everybody in the world to chat in a specific channel, so talking was never a problem. If you want the community experience in Guild Wars 2, you have to go to a specific location, just like in EVE Online, and there is a different community in every area. You might establish a spot where you like to hang out in particular, but at least you’ll be there, out in the world, and you’ll actually be a presence in the world rather than a disembodied voice that shows up in the chat window every now and then.
Rift makes the mistake of allowing a global chat channel as well, but it does encourage group events in the open world. Rift events call for players to work together in order to quell threats facing the world from alternate dimensions, providing worthwhile rewards for those who participate. It’s once again an instance where the open world is more interesting than the MMO guild halls and for this reason, both games are thriving even with the introduction of these instances.
[caption id="attachment_66066" align="aligncenter" width="560"] Rift's Guild Dimension[/caption]
One last point I’m going to mention is the guilds themselves. The most interesting thing about MMOs is that joining a guild is easy. Almost everyone is in a guild and it costs nothing to be in one. You get the prestige, you get the title, and most importantly, you get access to all of the amenities. Games like Black Desert Online, however, have changed all of that. I found out the hard way that you can’t just sit idly in a guild there while they run out doing missions and fighting bosses because it pays out to every single member, which pretty much ensures that everyone is either going to be active or they’re going to be kicked out. For this reason, not everyone in Black Desert Online can be in a guild. If other games would implement this policy, it might get a lot more interesting and you might see a lot more people operating independently.
So when it comes right down to it, the answer is to make MMO Guild Halls an interesting place, but they shouldn’t be the focus of the entire game. They need to be a meeting place with some amenities but overall, they should be a part of the background rather than the foreground. Other games have definitely learned this lesson, and Daybreak continues to spiral downward by making Guild Halls more enticing, it’s almost as if they want their players to be sitting in instances rather than in the open world, and who really knows why? All I know for sure is that it’s a good way to ruin a great game.
In the end, the burden is going to be on the developers to make the world more interesting and it’s going to require a lot of forethought. They can’t just drop MMO guild halls into a game and expect the entire thing to sort itself out. Instead, they need to evaluate their community and give them a reason to be outside. You know, kind of like the way a game developer might release an app that causes us all to leave our houses and scour the streets searching for imaginary creatures. It’s not like that will ever happen, but you know, it’s a thought.