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If WoW is social media, what function do guilds serve?

Wil Wheaton and the rest of the Axis of Anarchy from The Guild
In my time playing WoW, I've been in a lot of guilds. I've played in guilds that were fighting for the realm-first heroic progression spot and others that were content at realm 15th. I've been a part of the Reddit guild families, which are so large that they need a chat mod to link the multiple guilds for all their members. I've also been in guilds like my current one that have a grand total of 15 people as members.

The World of Warcraft guild experience is as wide and varied as the players who play this game. I'm an unabashed guild-hopper who wants very specific things from a guild and is willing to leave if they don't happen. Other players are loyalists, who find one guild and form lasting bonds that keep them playing with the same group of friends for their entire WoW experience.

Is WoW social media?

Cynwise at Cynwise's Battlefield Manual wrote a post last month about the fact that World of Warcraft is a form of social media. There's no denying that fact: The entire MMORPG genre is based on the idea that you are playing a game with other human beings, not just facing off against the computer as in the genre's predecessors. In fact, I'd go even further and suggest that in many ways, WoW has potential to be an ideal form of social media.

As a good example, Facebook is what immediately comes to mind when we think of social media. However, Facebook is boring. You can only write so many status updates a day, and connecting with your old friends from high school doesn't actually take up much of your time.

Social media alone isn't sustainable, so Facebook added fun into the formula. It added games and apps like FarmVille to keep you interested in being on Facebook. Newer social media like Foursquare and Fitocracy tried to improve on this idea, providing you points for checking in or working out and allowing you to compete with your friends. Social media evolved into gaming in order to sustain interest.

Screenshot of the looking for guild interface, complete with snarky comment.
World of Warcraft is the exact opposite. It started off a gaming platform, but it's slowly developing social media tools to allow you to connect with your friends. In the beginning, there was trade chat, pickup groups on your server, and guilds. Now, you can now broadcast a message to friends on multiple servers a la Twitter, run the Raid Finder with 24 people you don't know, run Firelands with 24 off-server friends you do know ... and still get restricted to only talking in guild with people on your server.

What functions do guilds serve now?

As Cynwise talks about in his post, the restrictive nature of guilds runs totally counter to Blizzard's intent of opening up World of Warcraft as social media. In essence, guilds are Google+'s circles or the rarely used group function on Facebook. They're a way for people with similar goals and interests to get together and socialize. We commonly see this in raiding, leveling, or PVP-focused guilds, but we also see the GLBTQ-oriented and families of guilds on Proudmoore (US) or the community of Redditors that has populated Sargeras (US). Here at Wow Insider, we have our own guild named It Came from the Blog on Zangarmarsh (US) that hosts regular get-togethers on that server.

For a very short period of time pre-Cataclysm, a few friends from the shaman forum community and I rolled on Frostwolf (US) and made the guild (and won ourselves a few beta keys along the way!). Unfortunately, all of our mains were on disparate servers, and trying to keep up with playing on two servers became too much of a hassle. Despite our dedicated Vent and threads in the shaman forums tracking our progress, it fell through. Its successor, a group chat thread for the shaman community named Sentry Totem, has been going strong on the shaman forums for nearly two years now, though.

The social guilds of tomorrow

This is the sort of socializing that WoW needs to be supporting and making easier for players to do. In essence, I have two guilds right now: the official guild I belong to and raid in and the unofficial group of Sentry Totem. A third might be the World of Warcraft Twitter community I'm involved in, where I get into conversations with players I don't ever actually talk to in game, mainly due to people not wanting to share Real IDs (which might be a thing of the past come BattleTags.)

Members of <It Came from the Blog> charge into battle.
If WoW wants to make itself into an industry leader in using video games as social media, the problem of restricting guilds to specific servers is something it's going to have to address eventually. Even more so, the idea that players need to be restricted to only one guild might be something Blizzard will want to pull the plug on. If I never had to tab out of WoW to talk to my shaman friends while remaining in my raiding guild, I think I'd be a lot more inclined to log into WoW for something other than raid nights.

Brace yourselves for what could be some of most exciting updates to the game recently with patch 4.3. Review the official patch notes, and then dig into what's ahead: new item storage options, cross-realm raiding, cosmetic armor skinning and your chance to battle the mighty Deathwing -- from astride his back!

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Guilds

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