To begin with you should have referenced DAoC when you made examples of games trying to take guilds to the next level, but then I don’t know how you could wrap it up in a line.
Summarizing your points:
1- Help players find the proper guild for themselves (information and accessibility)
2- Help *new* players integrate themselves within the game and old guilds to still remain open (accessibility again)
3- Do not neglect the UI and proper guild management tools
4- Keep the guilds integrated (in contact) with the rest of the community (?)
5- Give these games some ambition :) Massive crowds and persistence
This is one of those design topics I really care about and where I have many ideas on how to do it “better” (my point of view). After my guild project I can say that the major difficulty I found from the player perspective was about your first point (and the third, to an extent). But then there are problems outside the game itself.
The guilds are almost always something independent from the game. They grow by association but they usually start from the outside. You have consolidate groups of players existing outside the game and then putting the premises for good guilds inside the game. A small group of RL friends has already hundred more possibilities to survive and consolidate in the game than a guild starting from zero.
It’s somewhat easier to build a guild during the first days the game launched, it becomes then really hard to do the same on a brand new server in an already released game and it’s nigh impossible within a consolidated community on a old server.
Everyone is *already* in a guild, in most cases even BEFORE creating the character. You just cannot do anything about this if not inviting level 1 to 10 characters that you probably won’t see for more than a week and, in the case they stick, will ultimately jump on to a more efficient and already productive guild as they need to.
Guilds are like light sources and players like swarms of flies. Everyone is attracted by a few consolidates points and these points are almost always independent from the actual game. The reasons why long lasting guilds are created and survive is almost always something completely external from the game that then shapeshifts in something different. But the origin is always elsewhere. The tribes aren’t native, they are portable.
This from the point of view of the player. From the point of view of the designer I wrote long ago a (half obsolete) guild system that still addressed many important points.
For example I structured the game so that beside the hardcoded PvP factions, the players have the possibility to detach themselves and build player-made organizations that have the same “dignity”, gameplay-wise, of those hardcoded. The goal was to give the players a type of “tool” to just show and model what they want, so that the game is completely malleable to their needs and ambitions. Even the actual guilds are structured to be rebuilt from the inside. Basically I belive they should be designed (from the outside, as developers) as scripted languages, as customizable “objects” that can then be rebuilt and recombined directly by the guildmaster as he wants. So that the final organization of the guild is completely subjective to THAT guild and its needs.
Then my project meets your last point, the most relevant. It’s the *gameplay* that needs to shape up the role and function of the guild. I had recently some heated discussions about the guild system in WoW and one of my strongest points and critiques is that the guilds in WoW just have NO FUNCTION. The game itself isn’t aware of the fact that a guild exists, there gameplay is completely isolated from a guild.
I strongly believe that this is a major weak point and if you follow that link you can see how I completely share your points. That’s the very special trait of these games that we AREN’T USING. Raph would say:
Does your game NEED it? No. But given that it is one of the axes of gameplay that makes use of persistence, and persistence is one of the key things these games offer that other games cannot, well, leaving it out may be considered to be at least underutilizing the genre.
Massive crowds and persistence. That’s exactly the same type of mmorpg I dream about and that I blandly plan from a couple of years. This is why the importance of a guild goes way beyond the actual organization to finish right in the gameplay. To become the CENTER of your game instead of something on the background. Which brings to that sort of slogan that I built: “Give back the world to the players”
Meaning that the players need to finally live within the world and shape it. Conquer cities and castles, conquer and administrate territory, build farms and the resource system at the RTS-level. Finally arriving at the commerce (that is completely detached from the personal power treadmill so that you can only trade and craft resources that have a weight in the conquest system -communal level- and not your personal loot).
The actual goal is to remove the idea of a guild as mostly like an OOC system and give it an active role within the game. Make it the backbone of the game structure. And this works better in a PvP game and in a truly massive environment where you share a persistent space (competition, the land is a finite space).
So, what I believe is that your points must be creatively exploited as paradoxes. They shouldn’t be directly addressed. But I also can see how all this is a distant, unrealistic dream.
DAoC tried to weakly address some of your points. They added a clunky LFGuild command noone uses (point 1), they added merit points to spend on bonuses and encourage old guilds to accept new members (point 2) and the RvR does better than every other game when it comes to the fourth point (and fifth), despite things are going downhill quickly and the communities are now completely closed and with an elitist attitude to focus exclusively on arranged 8vs8 encounters. Screaming like mad cows when someone else in the game passes by to distrurb their limited toy.
What DAoC did badly is point three. As of today I just cannot know who the fuck is in my guild. People going /anon not only disappear from the /who command but they disappear from the goddamn guild chart. And I AM THE GUILDMASTER. I just cannot know who the hell is in the guild and who can hear what I say and I cannot perform actions (like promoting or demoting and even kicking out) on those who aren’t currently logged in. There’s a clunky “/gc autoremove playername” that sends a request that is then processed someday in the future if you need someone out of the guild. This just to say that we can dream all we want but almost always these games are broken at the very basic level and they don’t really need fancy designers. Just common sense.
Between you and Dave Rickey that’s all I’m looking forward in the near-mid future because I can share the direction where you are going and those principle. Just remember to deliver and not build a game that works wonderfully on the paper but that then has an half done implementation that ruins the original design in all the most foundamental and trivial elements (controls, UI, client performance, lag, stability, graphic attractiveness etc..). Because we have already enough products on the shelves with those features.
It seems that today the key for the success is at 99% about making things work as they were originally designed, and 1% about having also good ideas to actualize.
And to conclude, most of the times the *players* do not share your principles. They want to be full time /anon and block group invites, they close general chat channels and feel the head exploding as they enter in contact with someone they do not know in a range of 100 miles. Some players just don’t want to be part of larger communities and have their guild open and integrated with the other “tribes”.
From a side I believe that the design should promote and teach more “positive” (and fun) forms of gameplay, from the other I also believe that it’s good to give a proper role to everyone with a different attitude and have an overall enriching and varied community.