Though many games are grouped into the Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) genre, time has seen a broadening of the spectrum as games branch out from the original design into more specialized categories. But whether these games are centered on PvP, casual game play, crafting or a dozen other options, few continual threads still link this genre together. One of these long-lasting threads is the needed presence of guilds.

Whatever name you call them – clans, guilds, pledges – player groups are the backbones of an MMOG society. Many MMOG tasks are geared toward guilds, and can only be completed by large numbers of participants. Even when the game isn’t built around guilds, players often form groups to work together.

For example, raid bosses in games such as EverQuest or Lineage II require upwards of thirty people to even attempt to kill, and after you have the numbers they require lots of preparation and planning, not to mention luck. Even in a non-combat game like A Tale in the Desert, players are required to work together to build large monuments and teams of two to four are needed to work some machinery.

While this would suggest that finding the biggest, strongest group would be the most beneficial choice, not everyone can be in the most elite guild, and not everyone wants to. Players also form guilds for friendship, companionship, and more specialized goals than simply being “the best.”

Finding a guild is easy – it’s enjoying it and keeping it that’s the hard part. Ferst, a university student who plays a Spellsinger on the Lineage II Kain server, spent 67 levels looking for the perfect match. “Basically, I was looking for more than just a clan; I wanted people who were fun.”

Spending those 67 levels solo wasn’t easy, either. “I really like the PvP aspect of this game, but it was hard; I couldn’t pick on big clans or they would attack in force.” Ferst tried joining one of these big clans for a while but quickly became unhappy; he felt unappreciated and left to form his own clan, EndlessPariah. While his clan is only mid-sized compared to the competition, Ferst enjoys playing with his friends. “In the end it’s just a game I play for fun, and you have the most fun with your friends.”

D went through a similar experience in EverQuest. He spent a lot of clanless time while he was progressing his character. He didn’t feel that he would be a useful guild member or leader until he had reached the level cap, and thus declined all offers until that point.

By the time D reached his goal level, he had accumulated enough friends who had expressed interest in joining a guild that he decided to form one. But even on a non-PvP server, D’s new guild had plenty of obstacles to overcome; while they would spend hours preparing for a relatively difficult raid monster, a larger guild with more firepower would sweep in and mop up the monster in ten minutes. After some time, D left his guild to join one of the larger ones on the server.

The guild he joined, VeaVictus, was the second most powerful guild on the server. He felt that this new guild would give him the chance to experience the high-end content, and friends that had joined the guild before him were prospering. “I almost feel like I got too much of what I expected out of the guild. I was in the guild for a while and we’d go on raids and kill the big mobs but it began to feel like a job … in order to kill one raid mob it would take hours of prep time.”

The guild also got a bit of grief from its biggest competitor, the most powerful guild on the server. While they were preparing to attack raid monsters needed to move into new zones or obtain new items, their rival would rush in and steal the kill to keep them from catching up to their level. If VeaVictus still started getting too close, their rival would help the third-ranked guild catch up to them so they had more competition for targets.

But for all the cons of large guild life, D received companionship and support. Every time he attended a guild raid he would receive “points.” Raid monsters would drop amazing and powerful items that guild members could bid for with their points, so the more raids he attended, the more or better items he received.

Tau, a friend of D’s, learned to take guild support to a whole new level in Star Wars Galaxies. While he originally had few intentions of becoming a trader or crafter, the early days of the game saw a large demand for architects. Tau agreed to build a guildhall for a guild in exchange for funding to pursue the architecture class. The deal was beneficial to both parties, and the guild fed him resources and land plots while he skyrocketed through the class until he could construct the hall. Once the transaction was completed, Tau volunteered to stay on as the guild’s private architect. “Everyone needs a house, right?”

Tau supplied the guild with resource harvesters and player housing. He had plenty of customers, and his only real setback was his lack of land from which to harvest resources. This problem was solved by teaming up with a tailor, a crafting class that requires very few resources in comparison with an architect. He harvested resources from the tailor’s land, providing her with whatever she needed and keeping the rest for himself. Additionally, the two supplied each other with their respective final products. “In time I even just gave her houses to use as storefronts for her tailoring business, and in return she gave me all the clothes I ever needed.”

Meanwhile, Tau’s guild had a similar give-and-take system with their star architect. He provided them with low-cost housing, furniture, and harvesters, while they supplied him with droids, vehicles, and riding mounts. They all also sent their outside customers to each other with referrals. “If you came to me to buy a house, I’d sell you one … then you’d ask me ‘where can I buy a good R2 unit?’ and I’d say immediately, ‘I know the perfect man for the job. He’s right across the street – tell him Tau sent you.'”

Without his guild, Tau would never have amassed his architecture empire. But while his primary goal was commerce, the trade alliances that Tau formed became close friendships and dependencies. And as friendships developed, trade became easier and easier; the two benefits of being guildmates fueled each other. “We all took advantage of each other’s intimate knowledge of what we all needed and we traded accordingly,” commented Tau.

On the other end of the spectrum there are, of course, those who join guilds for friendship and obtain monetary rewards only as a byproduct. Ysandre, also of Lineage II‘s Kain server, is a member of the SemperFi clan. The clan is run by the family of one of his real-world best friends; the clan leader is his friend’s father and the second in command is his friend’s brother. “I love my clan and everyone in it.” Ysandre confidently backs up his family-run group. “Everyone really tries to get along and work together helping each other out. And they are great people to chat with while doing my daily hunting.”

But in being a part of the friendly, family-run SemperFi, Ysandre is also a member of the UltimateAlliance, an alliance that occupies one of Lineage II‘s coveted castles. The alliance provides him with perks such as use of its Manor system, a system that allows Ysandre to trade in easily obtained fruit for rare scrolls and items, but it also provides him with a lot of responsibility and trouble. “I don’t get killed for my clan. I get killed for my alliance. Since we are a castle-holding alliance we have enemies, and sometimes people on both sides decide to go out and cause a little more trouble.”

Some of these enemies include Ferst’s temporary clan, and Ysandre has to be constantly vigilant for powerful attackers’ approach. “People like me who don’t take part in the outside PvP get dragged into it because of their alliance.” And while his clan quickly comes to his rescue, by the time the cavalry arrives the enemies have long since cleared out. On top of random political attacks, Ysandre has to help his alliance keep their castle. While the castle lords receive taxes and benefits from the Manor system, holding a castle is still an expensive endeavor.

If guild members don’t get what they need from their group, whether that need is companionship or gear, they are going to leave it. The guilds that thrive are not the ones that recruit hundreds of members with no common interests – in this case, finding members might be easy, but keeping them would be impossible. Similarly, if players refuse to accept the costs of a guild such as sharing loot or defending castles, the guild will have a harder time functioning as an efficient unit. The guilds with higher rewards and lower costs are the ones that will last.

A guild also needs to know how to be flexible; their focus is in constant flux as new members leave and join, and old members change their priorities. A PvP guild requires players interested in PvP combat, a casual game play guild would quickly lose members if they started scheduling constant raids, and a crafting guild requires a delicate balance of materials and trade. If Tau had quit and left his guild without an architect, they would have had no way to obtain more harvesters or housing until they replaced him. Guilds are the backbones of MMOGs, but even more importantly, players are the backbones of guilds.

Laura Genender is a Staff Writer for MMORPG.com, and is also an Editor for Prima Strategy Guides.

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