Us v. Them: What can I do when guild members disagree?

Us v. Them: What can I do when guild members disagree?

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Yes, I’ll admit it. I’m writing this article as an excuse to showcase Conquest member Lagniappe’s amazing stick-figure artwork. In the midst of other business, Conquest is currently working on a new logo. In my mind, nothing is better than dead stick figures, except for maybe hungry stick figure kitties. Or stick figure vampire kitties. Anyway.

On Guild Drama

Inevitably, even very healthy guilds experience moments of dissent. An organization can easily split into factions, especially when the issue at hand takes on personal importance for the members involved. Right now we’re having some discussion and debate in Conquest over the role of achievements in raiding.

Syd’s Patented Disclaimer

Usually when my students want me to bend the rules, I blame “the department” and claim that I’m “neutral” towards their request. Sometimes it’s a way of hiding my real opinion, but usually it’s a cover for “deviating from standard procedure is a pain in the butt and I’d just rather not.” There’s a window into my personality, I think. I’m going to repeat it again. I’m very pleased not to be the final authority in my guild, because I don’t have to be the one to make this decision. However, that’s not going to stop me from writing about it!

The Achievement Drama

So what’s going on in Conquest? As we get closer to Ulduar and time runs out to complete the Glory of the Raider achievements for the Black Proto Drake reward, some disagreements have arisen among the raiders as to whether the harder achievements are worth trying for. I’ll go on the record saying that I’m “neutral”: and this time I mean that I understand both points of view. It can be very cool to get achievements, and they do require the raid to work harder. However, as implemented in the current raid content, most achievements are a little irrelevant. They don’t award better loot, and there’s no vanity reward either without going for the meta-achievement. For some players, there’s no incentive to extend the raid week for achievements’ sake.

The Allure of Achievements

The main argument for achievements is that they train the guild for harder content. Some people care about the vanity reward, but most of the overachieving guild members are just striving after perfection–there’s not a lot of obsessing about mounts or titles going on. Part of me understands this need for perfection. I think Larísa of the Pink Pigtail Inn is much more eloquent on the subject than I could be, so I’ll link you to her thoughts here.

The Downside

The question here is not “why aren’t we good enough to do achievements?” but rather “are achievements worth our time?” Conquest isn’t the most hardcore guild out there, but we’re capable of doing anything that we 1) plan for and 2) really want to do in the first place. When we fail at a certain achievement, I’m more likely to look at motivations than the skill of players as the cause. We’ve lost some players recently, and we’ve had others take a break. There’s a good reason for this–it happens any time the content goes “stale.” At the individual level, interest wanes, and the die-hards in the guild have to scramble to hold the house of cards that is any guild together until the pendulum swings in the other direction. The moment is coming when our old friends will return and good recruits will be easy to find–and it will coincide with the release of 3.1. However, it will be too late at that point to get a Black Proto Drake.

Pushing the Limits

While I’m sympathetic to the achievement-hungry players, the feats we have yet to accomplish are the very hardest: 6 minute Malygos and Immortal for everyone, and maybe a couple others. To push ourselves to do that now would be to complete those achievements while undermanned and while training new raiders. Our raid leader, who I have come to like and respect despite his caustic attitude, thought we were doing pretty well considering the team we were able to field. I concur. But I will repeat: if we can’t get 6-minute Malygos down now, it doesn’t mean we suck. It means that if we had wanted to do it, we should have started trying while we still had our best team on the field. We’ll do better at the Ulduar hard modes because there are built-in loot rewards for each of them. I know from my day job that it’s pretty much impossible to get people to do something for nothing.

Setting Goals

I think that a raiding guild should always have a goal. Maybe the leadership of Conquest (who are all, interestingly enough, in the we-don’t-care-about-achievements camp) should have made those clearer early on. If I were steering the ship alone (thank goodness I’m not), I would have said let’s work on one achievement per week. I don’t think we need to push ourselves to raid 4 days a week and wipe over and over when we could clear the content in 2. I always believe in the Middle Way–and that might mean one day set aside to Achieve, but not two.

Abstracting from the Situation

I’ve been sidelined from raiding–or doing anything at all–for the last few days, as I injured my cornea (ouch). I had a lot of time to think, and one of the things I thought about was the achievements issue. The bottom line for me is that my guild is important to me. I’ll do things to make them happy that I wouldn’t do otherwise–that darned no-spore Loatheb kill included. I’ll go along with the achievements and I won’t gripe about it. However, I’m going to take a more active role in governing the guild at moments like this. I can’t just defer to Matticus and our raid leader every time. They’re great, and they usually know what to do–but sometimes Professor Syd could be useful. I’ve had to mediate between factions in the classroom and faculty meetings, and if I’m not participating in the decision-making process in game, I’m shirking my responsibilities. In my last guild, I took on too much–I wanted to fix every problem myself, and it backfired big-time. However, now I have to be more active, and at least get involved in the debates. “Out to Lunch” is not a leadership philosophy–so I’m putting in my two cents, both here, on Conquest forums and in-game. Both for myself as an officer and for my guildies, moderation is the key lesson gaming has to teach us. If I have to print “The Middle Way” on a T-shirt and mail one to all the raiders, I will do it. It will also, by the way, have a cute kitty on it, so they can all think of me when they use it to wash their cars.

So, dear readers, how are your guilds dealing with achievements?

Why I Love and Hate Achievements

Why I Love and Hate Achievements

As I predicted in an earlier post, the newly-fledged Achievement System turned out to be more than just a cosmetic change to World of Warcraft. In fact, I was far too conservative in my predictions. Instead of adding another layer of accountability to progression mechanisms already existing in the game, the Achievement System has in fact created its own unique avenue for progression–casual style. Achievements are so appealing because anyone can work on them, alone or in a group, and there’s a reward for every little thing you do. Even, famously, picking your teeth.

The Benefits

There’s a certain appeal to accomplishments that are tracked, defined, detailed, and instantly accessible. I find myself reading through the achievement tooltip when I’m in flight or waiting at an instance for a raid to start. I am by no means immune to the siren call of Achievements. In fact, I’ve been spending all the casual time I have in pursuit of non-combat pets. I have 49 of 50 to date, and I’m sorry to report that no matter how many times I log in when I’m supposed to be working, Syd somehow just cannot get a Sinister Squashling, either through the boss event or through trick or treating. My failure of an alt, Marfisa, has gotten two of them in treat bags so far. Never fear, dear reader, the cute little skunk pet will be mine–as soon as the Darkmoon Faire rolls into town and I buy an ugly old frog.

Moreover, I think the Achievement System is a brilliant move on Blizzard’s part. Many casual players are coming back to the game right now to refresh their knowledge of their characters ahead of the expansion, and the tracking system–and the cleverly written little tasks–breathe a little life into old content.

However, Achievements are not all sunshine and rainbows. Briolante–who’s smarter than me most of the time–tried to tell me a few weeks ago that Achievements were going to be a real drag. In fact, I think his comment had a lot of expletives in it, but his major fear was that Achievements would become the new badge gear–the measure of success that our guild members would pursue, doggedly, until they got every single possible thing. It turns out that he was right, and, like badge gear, many of those achievements require a tank’s help. Hence, the expletives.

Now, it’s not as if Briolante doesn’t like to help people out. In fact, he does, but in moderation, and for things that make sense. I’m starting to feel a little resentful of Achievements myself, even though I haven’t done a single thing I wouldn’t otherwise do in pursuit of them. What, then, is the source of my angst? Read on, dear reader. . .


The Drawbacks

1. I feel like I’m spying on my guildmates. If someone is crazy enough to go explore all the corners of Winterspring, even the really inaccessible one over by the cave full of crazed Moonkin, I don’t want to know about it. Without wanting to, those achievement reports influence how I think about each of my guildmates. It’s almost like opening a bathroom stall door while someone else is in there–very, very uncomfortable. I know I could turn the alerts off–but I can’t make myself. What if I’m missing important information that could be used for the good of the guild?

2. There’s a little voice in my head telling me I’m lazy. I have a ridiculously low number of achievement points for someone who has raided as much as I have. Perhaps it’s my competitive personality, but whatever the metric, my instinct is to catch up. However, it would be hard to do that without running all those heroics and Zul’Aman again, and to be quite honest, I’d rather not. That goes for most achievements–world exploration, holidays, and reputation grinding included. The non-combat pet is my only exception, as I’m all about achievement if the reward is cute enough. However, I’m not interested in the proto-drakes or other flying mount rewards. Syd never uses anything but flight form–nothing compares to the grace and freedom of actually being a bird.

3. The structured Achievements have altered my understanding of the game world. What I love most about the world of the MMO is its open, anarchic nature. I actually like remote locations like Winterspring–where I spent a lot of time grinding rep with the Wintersaber Trainers–because they feel wild and unused, just like the remote corners of the real world. If the game is telling me to go to a certain place to get points, it just doesn’t feel like a hideaway any more. For the most part, when I was grinding rep in Winterspring, I was the only player there. I love the sense of a hostile world with only me in it. I suppose, in general, that I would rather that my “casual time” be as unstructured and solitary as possible. However, that’s me. I’m a raider, and I have plenty of structured things to do in the bulk of my play time.

4. I haven’t felt it too strongly yet, as healers are a dime a dozen in my guild, but there’s a good chance that, as the game moves on, guild members will start to post events–dungeons and raids–for achievement purposes only, and that they’ll need a healer. I tend to run instances following a very practical model. If there’s something that someone needs–that I recognize as valuable–I’m happy to help someone do it. If there were a mount, a pet, or a piece of gear involved, I’m glad to come along. However, I feel the same way about Achievement Points as I came to feel about Badges of Justice–it’s a bit of a stretch to do something unpleasant just for points. Now, if I or my groupmates could buy pink bunnies with those achievement points, I’d understand. But without that, I’m just not going to feel motivated to revisit old content. I like new things, and once I move on from an instance, I really move on. There’s a very good reason my alts haven’t been through Karazhan. I follow the same rule for things like holiday events. If they are fun or profitable, I participate. If not? I let it go.

So what can I do? As a player, I am going to strive to use the Achievement system as a tracking-only mechanism. Where possible, and pet skunk aside, I am not going to let the tooltip tell me how to play. That way, when I pore over my achievements panel, it will really let me track Syd’s journey as a character.

Future Overachievers Anonymous: How Achievements Will Rock the Social World of Wrath of the Lich King

Ever since the first articles started coming out about the Wrath Alpha, I’ve been intrigued by the achievements interface. Most writers in the blogosphere are excited about the change–at the level of the individual player, the achievement system will enhance the fun factor of playing the game. Check out this article from Matticus to see what I mean. The achievement panel as it currently exists in the Beta is a detailed look at your character’s past, and it serves as a scrapbook or photo album of that character’s virtual life.

sydera best achievements

On a personal level, I could not be more excited about the achievements. Many of the cleverly-described feats on Sydera’s achievement screen took very real blood, sweat, and sleep deprivation from my entire guild to accomplish, and seeing them spelled out makes me feel quite proud. As for the personal achievements, I feel nostalgic when I see how many quests I did in certain areas or how many horde fires I extinguished during the Fire Festival.

While the achievement system may be new to the World of Warcraft, it’s not exactly an innovation in the gaming universe. The WoW achievement system is a descendant of the character progress-tracking systems in console games and single-player PC games. High score tables such as those found on old-school arcade machines like Ms. Pacman or Donkey Kong are among the earliest achievement systems. When video games first invaded the living room, Atari pioneered a system of clothing patches you could earn by mailing them a photograph of your TV screen. In more recent years, achievement systems have become a fully articulated means to track one’s virtual progress and experience. For example, in Neverwinter Nights, my heroine’s feats were described at length in a journal, to which I could add my own notes if I wished. I really enjoyed reading through that journal at the end of the game–while I’m not a roleplayer per se, I do delight in story and character.

The direct ancestor of achievements in Wrath, however, is the system developed by Microsoft for the Xbox 360. The Xbox 360 achievement system is unique in two ways: the console stores achievements independent of specific games, and all Xbox 360 games are designed to have achievements. The company also intends for players to view and react to others’ achievements through Xbox LIVE gamer profiles. As their website cheerily declares, “Half the fun comes in comparing your own achievements to those of your friends and competitors.”

In Wrath, players will similarly be able to “compare achievements” when they inspect each other, opening up a whole new avenue of uses for the system.

isidora compares achievements

The crucial difference between Wrath and Xbox LIVE is that Warcraft is a fully-fledged social universe with millions of citizens who constantly interact in profound and diverse ways. The revolutionary aspects of the new WoW achievement system will thus be in the realm of player interaction. And now, I will break out my fuzzy pink [Future-Predicting Dice of the Monkey] and prophesy for you what will happen when the WoW community meets the achievement panel. Based on my observations of the current social customs of WoW players, sweeping changes will occur in the following four areas.

1. Guild recruiting

This is the potential change that interests me the most, as I really enjoy interviewing new players for my guild. With the achievement system in place, my interview criteria are going to change. In addition to a chat over vent, I will start requiring a character-to-character interview. The recruit and I will have a seat in the Pig-n-Whistle, and we will mutually check each other out. One of my main goals will be to read the character’s achievement panel and ask interview questions based on what I learn. Even if the achievement panel ends up as part of the armory, it will still be useful to go through the achievements in “person,” if you will.

At the most basic level, the achievement system will allow a guild recruiter to verify the information that a potential new member shares about himself. Up until now, I have had to rely on very limited tools–mostly my own intuition–to decide whether someone could be trusted. The following questions always go through my mind: “Is this player who she says she is? Did she really clear Naxx back in Vanilla WoW?” The achievement system will effectively give me a way to do a background check. In addition, it will also let me get to know the recruit a little better than I might otherwise. Like a series of Twitter updates, individual achievements don’t say much on their own, but considered together, they reveal a lot about a player’s personality and how she chooses to spend her time. If I see that the recruit has many holiday-based achievements in addition to her string of boss kills, I might guess that she would enjoy the silly social aspects of my guild as well as the raids.

2. Bragging rights

As if trade chat weren’t bad enough now, just wait till hundreds of achievement points become available. Any time a new standard of comparison is created, the trolls come out from under their bridges to celebrate. Who’s got the most achievement points on your server? You’ll know soon enough. As an example of the chicanery that might result from the new system, consider the case of a certain infamous druid on Vek’nilash, who I’ll call Stinkleaf. This person was a highly ranked arena player, and he made sure everyone knew it! When Stinkleaf got Season 3 shoulders, he spammed Trade Channel for days calling himself “The Best in the World.” Every time I would run into him in Ironforge, he would harass me for my obvious adherence to PvE: “OMG wut is dat PvE crap, durids R for arena!” Let’s just say I was really, really happy when this person left the server for an easier battle group. We may see similar things arise in Wrath with achievement point griefing.

3. Alt discrimination

isidora and syd worry about discrimination

I have three characters at 70, all of whom took quite different paths to get there. Marfisa, a paladin, was my main all throughout Vanilla WoW. Sydera has been my main and my only raiding character in BC. Isidora, my delightfully evil affliction warlock, is my farming character. When I look through the achievement panels for all three, it’s really clear which characters have been alts and mains at different times. Any character who has been an alt during any phase of the game will look inexperienced. Sydera was only level 40 when BC hit, and of all the achievements in Classic WoW, she’s really only done the Deadmines. Marfi, however, has credit for most of the 5 man dungeons, all the world exploration, and many of the quest-based feats. Isidora, however, has practically nothing. Since the process of awarding credit for old instances is uneven, she doesn’t even have points for the few dungeons I did take her to. What would happen if I wanted to do what I did when BC came out and switch mains? Isidora has no titles–she hasn’t even been to Karazhan. She would look like a colossal n00b, even though the player behind her has a great deal of raiding experience. The achievement system might, for the upper tier of raiders, lock players into sticking with their longtime mains instead of branching out to try something new. That would sadden me, because alternating among my characters is one of the things that keeps the game new and fresh for me.

4. Roleplaying

I’m no RP expert, but I’m fairly confident that the achievement system will offer RP-ers new conversation-starting tools. In order to start a roleplaying style conversation with a stranger, you have to have something to talk about. Players will learn to inspect the folks they encounter and quickly compare achievements. Anything might spark a conversation; for example, you could say: “Hail, slayer of Van Cleef! What news from Westfall?” As you can see, I’d be a terrible roleplayer, but the potential is there. Any time new information is available about a character, the possibilities for story creation increase.

These are only four possible consequences of the new achievement system, and only time will tell if the changes have long-term good or ill effects. Personally, I can’t wait to see them implemented–for me, the good outweighs the bad. However, if I ever want to raid with a new guild as Isidora, I think I’ll have to bring Syd along for the interview too.