Thursday, 25 April 2013

Should a Lone Wolf Enter the Guilded Cage?

It's been a very quiet 4 weeks, and GD Bylos, has officially indicated that a monthly letter (is with the translators and) is indeed forthcoming this week or early next.  The only real news is that the AoC new player population seems to be creeping up just a little. So rather than wait for Funcom to set the agenda, This Machine Age would take a stab at a topic that new folks might find useful.  Here goes ...

Age of Conan is currently enjoying a modest but consistent in-flux of new players, many of whom have likely joined through Steam.  A reasonable of portion of them appear to be MMO fans who’ve tried several other games and some are new to MMOs.  Now, one of the harder pills to swallow, as a vet MMO player, has to be starting a game that’s been around for a while, but as a new-to-a-game player.  Whereas being a new-to-MMOs player means making mistakes and learning ropes, which for a true MMO virgin is all part of the adventure.  For a vet who’s joining a game such as Age of Conan for the first time there’s the prospect of having to grind, learn, and build your toons’ skills and assets. 

It’s no small wonder that most new-to-a-game MMO players want in on the ground floor of a fresh MMO property, so that fellow players are likewise new.   Who wouldn’t take that ground-floor prospect, rather than trudge up the stairwell to the penthouse, where most of a mature game’s long-time players live.  Now if there’s a metaphoric elevator that facilitates a player’s upward progress when the MMO is an established venue, it’s a guild.

Hence in this installment, This Machine Age will be undertaking the general matter of joining a guild in AoC, with a view to illustrating their benefits to players who are either new to the game or those who are altogether new to MMOs.

From time to time vets and newbs, alike, will consider joining guild.

Murddock’s First Lesson: Guilds and reciprocity: 

At the onset, the issue of whether even to join a guild needs to be addressed.  As a game that’s approaching its fifth year, it’s easy to see that there’s a lot of lore for a new player to acquire:  and by lore, I’m not quite talking about the fantasy back-story and mythology of the Hyborian Age.  Lore is the shared knowledge, beliefs, concerns, stories etc. of a community and AoC is like all MMO player bases, a community.  The game world is full of curiosities, secrets, and short-cuts; there are also, bugs, bad-practices, and artifacts of developer-plans,which never came to pass, that a player might want to know about.  So the initial questions are: 'Do you want to learn at your own speed through direct experience?', or 'Do you want helpful folks to fill you in?'

There's nothing wrong with either option.  Ol’ Murddock started as an MMO virgin back in July of 2008.  I knew that guilds were a part of advanced play, but I was hesitant to join for a few reasons: 1)  I was worried that my game skills were lame (they were)  and that I’d look like a knob; 2) I had no clue about most of the lingo, so I frequently didn’t fully comprehend what was being typed in global; and 3) my first experience with a guild was staggeringly atrocious.  The guild I joined was just abysmal.   Having nothing to compare it to, I came away from the experience thinking that all guilds were collections of wierdos and ass-hats.
It happened like this.  At level 18 or 19 Murddock was focused on getting out of Tortage, Age of Conan’s starting zone in the Barachan Isles.  Over the course of a week and after about 16 or 18 invites to join this specific guild (it’s unnamed in this blog in case it still exists in another MMO, albeit I hope, in a better incarnation),  I finally relented and accepted the invite, thinking if they conclude I’m a crap player, they will have only themselves to blame.  For the next week or two, it was made clear to all new guildies, that we were unequivocally expected to do nothing but grind staggeringly ridiculous quantities (500 to 600 stacks a day) of stone and wood to build the new guild city.  The guild offered no organized groups; no one would pair-up to help get newbs off Tortage (even the ones still in the zone); and the guild officers seemed to think belittling the newbs in guild chat was great fun (not jocular ribbing, nor even douche-bag locker-room obnoxiousness, these guys were just a bunch of organized trolls).  Newbs were expected to grind mats while the guild’s brass and a few other vets, played instances and raided. A guild, was a cage for virtual slaves.  In 2008, the AoC player base was still quite large and so I realized, I was having more fun grouping with the easy to find pugs.  Hence, I left that guild with an unceremonious /tell  “Eat my slick-steaming crap, you wang-knobs!” (I didn’t actually type ‘crap’ or ‘wang’ … I chose sweeter harsher profanity.)  And that bridge was well-burned via the fires of vulgarity.

Sometimes being a lone-wolf is a good thing
Second Lesson: Going it alone is a mixed bag

For about 6 months, I unequivocally declined every subsequent guild-invite I received.  Murddock, avowed to be a lone wolf.  As far as Murdy was concerned, guilds were for chumps.  In time however, I noticed the toon’s with the best PvE gear, the purple stuff --- the epic stuff --- were raiding and apparently doing so, happily within the context of guild activity.  While going it alone occasionally, areas of content were skipped (Frost Father) and sometimes level progression dragged.  Nonetheless while leveling, I moved at my own pace and developed confidence in my skills and broadened my understanding of the game.  There were two outcomes from this, 1) I became more prepared to be a effective contributor to a guild; and 2) the guilds in the game matured (insincere or disorganized guilds became less common) and soon had more to offer wary players like me.  

There are places that are best visited with one's pals

Third Lesson: A guild is about having heart and sharing fun.

In time, by grouping with various guild's players and watching the global chat, it became easy to see which guilds seemed to be a good fit.  One day while grouping, a player, whose tag was Minoc, just casually mentioned it: “We’re having a laugh … are you looking for a guild? We’re welcoming new players.”  I told him about my previous guild and he just said “Nothing like that, we just like to have a good time.”

So it was that I did end up joining this friendly player’s guild, called Phoenix Storm, when Murddock hit about level 72 or so (leveling was very slow in AoC's first year and I was in no rush to get to the max level cap).  It was a relief to find a guild doesn’t have to top-tier in order to be supportive or fun.  In PS, players did grind for reasonable amounts of crafting materials.  As a group, players chose to help out.  It was good just seeing the city grow and we enjoyed crafting for each other: the communal activity bolstered camaraderie.  The vets socialized with all players all the time.  There were as many “gratz's” typed in guild-chat for a new player who finally killed Strom, as there were for the ones who were hitting 80.  As many “gj’s” were typed for players winning their first T1 purple item, as there were expressed for the first player in the guild to grind tokens and get the wolf mount (me BTW: and well before the item-shop existed).  In Phoenix Storm, players put fun and jokes on an equal footing with raiding and occasional PvP minis.  It was not an elite guild. And sometimes we would even fail, yes, the easiest AoC raid, Yakhmar’s Cave.  It was always more about the fun than about being the best.  The guild’s core team, were from various countries: UK, Holland, Norway, Australia to name a few.  This made the voice-coms experience rich and respectful.

The other thing new-to-MMO players might notice when joining a guild is that, yeah, even within a guild, there might appear to be in-groups.  At first in Phonenix Storm, this seemed a little off putting, but after a while it became clear that, there was a tight-knit group of vets who were the core and who had the most to teach others.  So despite feeling a little left out when the veteran group would start a new tier; it was soon evident that what they learned,  all guild members would benefit from.  It also quickly became clear, that the same core group members were leading weekly T1 and T2 raids, managing the guild’s web-page, updating the guild’s bebot, and doing constant recruiting.  None of which a player such as me was expected to do.  Suffice it to say, that in a good guild you benefit more from the work of others than you could possibly bring by yourself. As the guild flourished and grew, I found that the more one socialized, the more one becomes part of that guild’s community.  On one occasion, when I was living in Canada, I was DC'd from a T2 raid, when Hurricane Igor hit the city in which I was living (that's my street at the 15 second mark).  I had the best excuse, and players were pretty amused and curious about the event.  Once in a while, real life intrudes into guild life in startling ways.
It was a real jolt the day I logged-in after a few weeks off (for overseas vacation at home in Canada), only to discover that our guild was going to be disbanded. Shit, just when I was getting the hang of it!  If Phoenix Storm was a cage, it was a golden one. The guild’s leader felt he needed to put more time into his real life.  I neither expected the disbanding, nor anticipated the disappointment of knowing that this group of folks was going to dissolve.  The guild had some excellent and skilled players and very responsibly, the leadership approached another like-minded guild and proposed a merge. 

For MMO players, circularity is a common experience

Fourth Lesson: Guilds have a life cycle.

Certainly not all the PS players moved to the new guild, Brothers of Arms, but a majority did.  It certainly made joining the new group easier.  Now BoA was a little larger and a little more competitive than PS, but it was also even more organized and more seasoned.  The experience was akin to moving from elementary school into junior high.  Bigger kids, bigger stakes, but in time it was fine.   Although I don’t think that I was ever a spirited or prominent member of Brothers of Arms, the experience did offer many rewards.   Among others,  BoA helped me come to two noteworthy realizations. First, it was instructive to observe how solid MMO vets ran a guild proficiently; they never burnt bridges when a player left (and players frequently came and went).  They took social activities seriously and recognized that non-guild invitees to raids expected all players to be efficient and focused.
The second realization was more affecting.  BoA’s guild leader, named for his main character, Gert, was a plucky guy from the UK, who was passionate about: Age of Conan; his comrades in the guild; and about never wasting time.  In groups and raids, he often took the demeanor of a hearty rugby coach, always shouting “Get off the bloody rez pad and get your arses back here!”  With Gert, you always felt that dawdling was an infraction worse than making a newb-mistake.  It is not often that one’s raid defeats all its bosses like clockwork; but as my particular time zone requires late hours for raiding, I grew to appreciate Gert’s emphasis on efficiency.  I relished my weekly raiding sessions, listening to Gert, learning from him, and also witnessing him learn, as well.  So even more startling than the announcement of Phoenix Storm's fate, was that late spring afternoon when I read the news from Brother of Arm’s second in command, Albae, that it was strongly believed that Gert had passed away in real life.
It was utterly unexpected and we were floored.  Clearly some of Gert’s closer pals (who had more real life contact with him) discerned he was not answering on other social networks. That’s the thing about a virtual community:  it’s so ephemeral, so invisible.   Understandably no grief-stricken family would remotely bother to contact his virtual MMO-chums: it’d be the farthest thing from their minds.  Player-tags, preclude us finding obituaries or memorials.  So Gert’s passing was sadly both indefinite and yet tangible. The news stayed with me all that day and for the next few, not because I was troubled about the guild or my own fun; but simply because the feisty guy, who I’d listened to on Ventrilo for over a year; this guy, who gave so much of his time to folks like me, was presumably dead.   I don’t know truly what happened to him. The impression was made had some guild members that he may have been chronically ill; so in retrospect, I couldn’t help but wonder that in an MMO, which most of us play to pass our leisure hours, that conceivably for Gert time at his MMO was more treasured to him.
Despite the BoA leadership trying to keep going, Brothers of Arms wilted.  By the time I returned from my three off-line summer weeks in Canada, the guild had dwindled to just a few players, who out of respect for Gert, didn’t disband (they renamed the guild BoA: the Legacy of Gert).  However, for all intents and purposes they were now a just a small cooperative of nice folks but were players who in practice wanted to be lone wolves: that's not who I was anymore.  I let them know I wanted to do more grouping, and that I was looking for a more vital guild and they were amiable when I did move on.

The thing to take away from this solemn anecdote is that MMOs guilds can owe their vitality to one or two leaders; and as such, like the very people who energize them, they can wither or perish unexpectedly. 

Whenever I'm just waiting around, I'm reminded of Gert.

The Final Lesson: Applying to a new guild

If you are indeed an MMO vet and your time is precious, then the best thing to do is simply to keep an eye on global chat and look to see who’s recruiting.  By following three guilds (viz. Black Sphere, The Free City of Lochlainn, and Dawnsong) via their recruiting messages, their posts in the official game forums, and by looking at their webpages, it took just under two weeks to find and join new guild. 

The Free City of Lochlainn seemed a little de-centralized (lone wolves?!?), so I approached the other two:  Black Sphere and Dawnsong.  In just one day,  Dawnsong sent a link to their webpage to sign up; whereas, Black Sphere took somewhat longer to reply.  The decision was clear and I chose right.  Dawnsong is a large, solid guild with a core of knowledgeable helpful players; they run regular T2 and T3 raids and many have solid T4 experience.  Ironically, Dawnsong frequently teams with a group from The Free City of Lochlainn.  Dawnsong’s leader Thain, is a jovial ribald guy from Norway, who makes players feel instantly welcome and who lets players find their own place within the guild.

To summarize:

  1. Guilds are great when they’ve got a core of vets and they should offer reciprocal benefits.  
  2. Being a lone wolf, is not a bad thing, but it can limit quick access to content, at times.
  3. Don’t join a guild merely to learn the game mechanics or community lore; join because you want a social experience and to play a game’s social elements
  4. Guilds come and go for various reasons, so make the most of your time with one: and remember that the leaders not only put time into the guild’s activities; their passion often is what keeps it vital (and yeah, let ‘em know you appreciate their efforts)
  5. If you do have to look, take some time and do your diligence; find a guild that’s a good fit for you and don’t expect to (or try to) be the guild’s perpetual centre of attention … have fun and keep it light; and if it’s not a good fit, leave graciously.

Joining a guild is a worthwhile action, should you want to fully enjoy a game's social elements

New MMOs can be susceptible breeding grounds for ill-intentioned, naive, insincere or inept players, who may try to create guilds that don’t or cannot benefit their other player-members.  The advantage of joining a mature game such as AoC is that new players can count on most of the established in-game guilds to be able to offer organized raids and instances.  Most offer guild cities that are generally complete, and which don’t require the slavish grinding of mats.  As a game with mature players, most AoC vets are good-natured and understand and appreciate whatever level of commitment you can contribute.  While they don’t all endure, a newly formed guild, conversely, does offer the prospect of becoming a core-member and the chance to enjoy the guild-progression process that's full of common basic goals and shared solidarity.  So while you shouldn’t be in a race to find a guild ASAP; in the long run, when the time is right for you, joining an appropriate guild will enhance your MMO experience and, maybe just a little bit, enrich your real life too.

1 comment:

  1. Great article. Really enjoyed reading it. I'm new to AoC myself now and have opted for the Blood and Glory PVP server. Hope I'll find a friendly guild here, because lone wolves don't seem to live too long on this server.