Interesting read
Interesting, considering I was the opposite; became a teacher after spending years leading a clan.  Without that experience I would not have had the confidence to go into teaching; I never was good at presentations, never great at making friends while at school myself.

Leading a guild gave me the confidence to do so; talking to people and getting them to do what I wanted night after night, not only on an individual basis but me to whole squads and platoons of people at a time allowed me to grow as a person.  It forced me to deal with setbacks and problems with both the people in the guild, other guilds and with the games we played themselves.

With both teaching and leading a clan you are constantly dealing with people; as the article says its much harder online as you simply cant see the people.  In a classroom you can very, very quickly size up people; just by their appearance you can determine their attitude and feelings which you simply cannot get online unless you for some reason have a webcam session going for some reason.

Gold stars
 So I just got the last of the weaponry gold stars on Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

Feeling pretty good, last time I collected gold stars was back in primary school and I stuck them on my chest of drawers in my bedroom.

These gold stars have driven me to play the game with all the weapons, especially the ones that I don't like.  This has honed my skills, making me a much better player as not only am I more experienced, but I can now get kills even when using weapons that don't work in various situations; and using those weapons I do like I am much more effective with.

Anyway its got me thinking about rewards; sure most RPG games use them as a major driving force to actually play the game (a lot of the time RPG game play is stale and repetitive, at least to me) and FPS games are using them now to help encourage the players to keep on playing, which works quite nicely.

Rewards come in two flavours; the standard reward is simply something that is better than your previous gear.  I hate these.  As I have said all over the net, they separate old and new players, and force your enemies to get tougher otherwise they become trivial to kill.  The second type of reward gives you more options without making you more powerful; my favourite games give you these; PS as the prime example.  This makes game balance easier, and keeps players on the same level to play together.

You could say that getting these gold stars was grinding... but it was fun; I have been flanking enemies and taking out whole groups at a time, slapping C4 onto tanks and giddily ducking behind cover giggling with the detonator in my hand not to mention taking down machine gunners with a pistol.  Getting rewards in MMOs can be frustrating and boring on the other hand; take Age of Conan where if you wanted to progress from one zone to the next you had to at one stage repeat the same villa quest 10-20 times (I am pretty sure that this has been fixed since, but you get the idea).  There was plenty of higher level content just waiting for me to get to the stage where my character could handle it; but the stage I was at I had no other option.

Why not scrap the level system and just have the players able to access it when they wanted?  Then they could play together with their friends!

What I hate about MMOs
Problem: Almost all MMOs are packed with boring repetitive tasks such as grinding skills or experience for levels, and repeating the same or similar quests multiple times yourself as thousands of other players so you have little sense of personal achievement. Most MMOs focus almost entirely on the individuals RPG development of their character, making them hit harder and take more damage usually by increasing their characters statistics and the quality of their weapons and armour. This segregates the player base into a hierarchy, those at the bottom of the pile most times cannot compete or play with those near the top, due to radically different damage outputs and/or amount of damage they can take.

Solution: Remove the need for grinding levels and experience, scrap the existing pre set quest systems and remove the rise of a character statistics.

But then we've pulled out the goals of the game right? Correct, all we have left is a basic crafting and combat system, which is to be honest the bare bones of any MMO, the pre set quests and the level/skill system are simply there to keep you playing with those systems, so we must replace it with something else to make the game have some longevity. What should we replace it with?

We should replace all of these with another reason to take part in crafting and combat, and that I suggest is to have a war either between just two sides or any number of factions, even down to having every man for himself style anarchy. The conflict gives you a reason to fight and players will need crafted equipment and buildings, and the materials will need to come from the worlds resources including PvE monster parts, or more realistically resources in areas inhabited by monsters.

Still no quests though, so lets add detail and structure to our war, make the players have the ability to capture and hold territory, possibly making it revolve around cities, towns and villages as well as wilderness forts at strategic points (bridge crossings, mountain passes, beachheads, etc.), the players can then decide on “quests”, giving themselves goals to capture a region; at the simplest level you need no in game quest system, the players can just discuss it and organise it themselves, but you could allow players to make their own in game quests, say to capture a fort and then get players accept the quest and join a raiding army that shares the goal.

But what about individual character advancement?

Any game is improved by having some form of character advancement, simply because it gives the player more goals to achieve which makes them more interested in the game and will keep them playing the game for longer (look at most modern online FPS games). However in a lot of MMOs character advancement is simply boring as stated above, and for advancement to be worthwhile while keeping all players on an even playing field the rewards of such a system can only be to increase the versatility of a character (or cosmetic changes). This can either be allowing them to do something different, like learn to use a bow or use something differently, like changing a spell so it has a longer duration but less of an area of affect. This allows players to either broaden their character or specialise in a certain field, giving them plenty of options.

So far the games that have come closest to this have been Planetside, WWIIO, EVE and Darkfall, with aspects of this idea system in place in other games, but these four have had it almost all there. Planetside was crippled by a poor post release development process, WWIIO and Planetside also missed targeting the majority of their potential player base as the FPS mechanics were not on par with the FPS games of the time. Darkfall has had a shocking release, with no games on shelves and the online store being swamped and inadequate for the demand. The game itself is also heavily bug ridden and the character advancement system makes players feel they must grind skills for weeks on end to be competitive, or take advantage of skill exploits while they can before they get fixed. EVE is a fantastic game, however for many it holds little appeal, as a lot of people want to have a person to control, not just a spaceship, which is an issue recognised by the developers and is looking to be in some ways corrected with the addition of walking on stations. The most impressive part of EVE is its trading system, which is second to none; no where else to the developers employ someone just to look after the in game economy.

Ultimately an MMO should be about you being part of a community, even if that is just as a wondering adventurer who moves from place to place helping/slaying people. Many MMOs simply ignore the most appealing and unique aspect of the genre, that of having thousands of player in the same world, instead choosing to follow the tried and tested method of just having a cooperative RPG with almost tacked on PvP and crafting aspects.

An MMO should allow you to affect the lives of those thousands of players, seek fame and fortune and come away from each play session with a story, not just saying I completed quest x.

Building a guild
Ultimately building a guild comes down to a few things:
  1. Hard work and persistence
  2. Getting the right people
  3. Luck 
Hard work is necessary; not only do you need to actively recruit initially (however you want to do this, in game, on forums, word of mouth, etc) to get a core of members but you then need to make sure that that core not only gets on well together but also has stuff to do; you need to make sure that they play together, either by just leading them as one unit or organising events to interest them.  Once you have this group you need to keep a careful eye on them, dealing with any drama issues that may arise (and they will at some point), usually due to the wrong sort of player joining your guild who simply rubs everyone the wrong way.  This core you then need to converse with and decide what hook you are going to use to recruit more or define your guild; for us it was the mixed arms/everyone is welcome/teamwork stance we had, but other guilds could concentrate on crafting, PvE or PvP in other games.   You also need to keep an eye ahead on distractions; with my Vindicators when WoW was released our PS numbers were decimated to the point I thought about swapping games; I did not, and the guild grew back to be stronger than ever, although it probably took 6 months of effort on my part to do so.  Then when the BFRs were released again our numbers dropped, again it took months of effort to bring us back to full strength.   

Having the right people join the guild is very important; get too many idiots and you will start attracting idiots; look at the Goons for an example.  The Vindicators were very lucky in that we recruited a core very early on of gamers that got on well together, and we got enough of them that were interested in recruiting to keep the outfit going for the next few years.  If you don't get this decent core group you will not recruit enough, and any people you do recruit will see no cohesion and leave (unless they themselves rise to the challenge and start leading).  You have to keep these guys in line and on track, if they start doing their own thing you risk them creating splinter guilds and siphoning off your members or simply taking them in big chunks.  To avoid this you may simply need to listen to any concerns or requests your members have for change; there's no point becoming stagnant when the game or just your membership changes its dynamic.  This is especially important if you have recruited whole groups of friends or an old guild disbands and you recruit 5+ members at a time, these guys know what they want and if you cant cater for them they will move on, often taking any friends they have made in your ranks with them; so keep them happy!

The final point I mentioned was simply luck, without a stringent recruitment process combined with a probation period you never really know what a person will be like until you play with them so you don't know how they will help or hinder your guild until you actually get them in.  The Vindicators have been lucky; we have recruited the right people most of the time, as well as recruiting those people with the skills to help us, for example website designers which have made us a handful of impressive sites in the past years.  We have also recruited people who are more than happy to pump tens or in a couple of cases hundreds of dollars into the guild and its services yearly to keep us running, and to those guys I am more than grateful.

Creating and maintaining a guild is no easy task; for me it is a major part of my life and took up a lot of my time in the first few years especially, but it is massively rewarding when you are successful.

The ethos of the Vindicators
This is the first of a series of posts I will make about my guild, not focusing on what we have achieved, but on perhaps how we have achieved getting to the status that we are.  This first post on the subject will be my musings on how we have developed the ethos and way of thinking that the Vindicators have towards each other.

Time and time again my Vindicators have been referred to more as a family than a guild; a comment that I am immensely proud of.  By no means do I expect this is unique to our community, perhaps it is the same for all guilds that have lasted for as long as we have, but I do know that this bond is one that binds us together, despite not having a single game to hold all of our interest.

I think the key aspects that allowed us to develop this ethos are:
  1. Relaxed leadership: we have never had a strict leadership (any time we have we have lost members), any rules that we have had are kept as simple as possible and are there to simply keep us together; any breaches of the rules and we boot people out pretty quickly (most of the time) as we know what we want to do and wont let people waste our time with drama.  I think this style of leadership started with myself; I always left other to lead for me, concentrating myself on the overall picture rather than the daily working of the outfit and this established a core of leaders who had simply proved themselves to the other members quickly and effectively.
  2. Planetside: a game where everyone was equal apart from their skills and character allowed those with the right qualities to lead rise to the top and do so; in a grinding based game this would not be so.  In a grinding game those who have simply invested the time (or indeed money) into their characters have the power (due to character stats and/or in game money).  This left people in the outfit who simply got on together and respected each other; anyone else simply left or we removed them, often purely due to character issues rather than breaking any of our rules.
Because of this we have enjoyed each other support over the past years, organising gatherings and vacations together as well as sending each other gifts and spare PC parts that we have going so we can carry on playing together, not to mention our members donating hundreds of dollars to keep our website and ventrilo server running, as well as renting game servers when we have desired them.

Has this ever caused any problems?  Perhaps is has, perhaps it lacks the drive that some guilds have as we are content the way we are; for example in order to grow into new games we need to recruit new leaders who want to play that game.  Often our family of gamers like different things, meaning that some will like a game but others will not, causing them all to stop playing it and our chapter in that game to disappear.  Because of this we are waiting for a game that will appeal to a majority of our core members for more than a few months, a game where we can focus our attention and carry on developing.

Enough rambling today.

What Planetside 2 means for me
 The The above comic and a countdown clock has appeared on the official PS website leading up to the 19th of May; the 7 year anniversary of the game.  There is some speculation regarding the nature of the countdown; it could simply be some crappy event they have planned for subscribers.  I however and many others are crossing our fingers for news of PS 2.

So what do I want from the game?

I want it to provide the same feeling I got from the original, the feeling that I and my outfit made a difference; that my command decisions would radically affect the battlefield dynamic hopefully leading to our success and the enemy being pushed back.  I detailed in one of my earlier posts why I enjoyed PS so much, and those points are what must be kept intact for the sequel to do the original justice.  As I think I said previously I look back at PS with rose tinted glasses, but my outfit has to be honest been in limbo since we left PS, and the sequel could make us great once again!

MMO player types
 Over the years I have seen  hundreds, maybe thousands of players pass through the Vindicators and every one is different, every one has a story, a play time, different friends, likes, dislikes, etc.  Sure because of the nature of the games we play we have a particular kind of player attracted to the guild, or more importantly a certain type of player stays with the guild.  The players likes simply determine what games they will find fun.

The scales that these players sit on boil down to:

Play time
I refer to the difference here as casual or hardcore; casual players are those that only play for 30 minutes or an hour a night, while hardcore players are those that game for hours and hours every day.  Games themselves cater for these different play styles, either requiring massive time investments for success attracting hardcore players, or minimal time necessities for success.  An example of a hardcore game would be Darkfall; you simply have to play for weeks to get to a standard where you can compete.  A casual friendly game would be Planetside where a new player can stand toe to toe with a veteran immediately. 

Penalty or Rewards
Care bear or Gambler are what I call these; a care bear does not like penalties imposed upon them, not liking loss of items or experience.  WoW is an example of a very care bear friendly game; no item loss and minimal penalties for death.  EVE is an example of a gamblers paradise; every time you undock you take a risk; you can not only lose your ship which may have taken you months to work on, but also your skills if you forget to clone your pilot.

Sandbox or theme park
What I call these are guests or guides.  Guests enjoy being entertained; theme park games provide the rides; usually quests or raids which have been completed by thousands maybe millions of players before them.  WoW is the pinnacle of theme park games so far, which is why it is so successful.  Guides are the players that want to actually make a difference to the world they play in; they need to be making the decisions which will affect not only themselves but also the other players they play with.  EVE is probably the best (at least success wise) sandbox game out there, which is likely one of the many reasons it sees its subscription numbers increase year on year; there are very few decent sandbox games around.

I would like to mention player "twitch" skill verses character skill, but there are such a small number of twitch based MMOs out there its hardly worth mentioning; Planetside, WWIIO and Global Agenda (which does not count as an MMO anyway; 12 person fights!), and coming up APB, Mortal Online and maybe Huxley.

Where do I sit in these scales?  I am now a casual player; being a teacher I simply don't have the time to play for 3-4 hours at a time, at most I can play for 2 before I need to do some work.   I am also much more adverse to receiving harsh penalties; I don't have the time to raise funds for a ship and decent weapons in EVE just to lose it all because I warped into the wrong sector or nipped to the toilet while navigating warp.  As for the third scale I am very much in support of sandbox games; why do the same quest as 10,000 players before me, why not make my own quest based on an ever changing player driven world?

Why I quit Planetside
 It took me 4 years but I finally left Planetside.

The straw that broke the camels back was having the morale of the outfit torn out of it during the Outfit Wars event.  The Outfit Wars even was a tournament which required each outfit to gather 30 players together for a scheduled time and then duke it out over ownership of a couple of bases.

Leading up to the event I was incredibly excited, as was the rest of my outfit and I think the entire player base, populations were up, squads were full and battles were raging across the game world 24/7.  We were asked to get the Vindicators to form up an hour before the first fight and we turned up with 45 members, all hoping to get a place in the tournament platoon and have a chance to help grab us victory.  We all waited the hour and were ready to go, but the other team were not.  45 minutes later we were finally warped to the location and got ready to start; the other team had not amassed enough players from their own outfit and were scrounging up mercenaries to aid their cause.  When the game started we rolled over the enemy and destroyed them utterly; it was a fantastic thing to see, our aircraft tore through the skies, tanks roared across the desert and our defence team sat back with very little to do apart from prepare explosive traps.  Needless to say we won that round.

The next fight we had similar numbers show up to try out, and again we won easily.  Except the enemy claimed that they were all warped back to sanctuary when they died rather than being allowed to respawn at their base.This was due to the fact that we had destroyed/disabled all of the enemy spawn points and they had NO WHERE TO SPAWN on the continent.  This the GMs somehow took to mean that they could be awarded a draw rather than a loss and our victory was stolen from us, as well as any chance of winning with a clean sweep despite our own GM initially telling us we had won.

Following this our numbers turning up died down although only to the allowed maximum amount of players for the games.  The next fight went well, we got another win which was a damned good and almost even fight if memory serves.

The next game was disastrous.  However not due to our own failure, but by the GMs again.  The fight itself was great, almost a stalemate but for the last minute where our troops got into the enemy based, disabled the spawn room and got a hack on the enemy control console.  This action by the rules should have allowed us extra time to defend the hack and potentially win the game.  10 seconds after we placed the hack and it was announced one of the two GMs called time on the game.  Our GM then called time also despite a flood of messages from us asking wtf was going on simply as due to the other GMs poor timekeeping that was it and it was over.  Victory was snatched away yet again.

The next fight our available numbers dropped again and we had to scrounge a handful of members to fill our platoon, but we won.

The final fight was against a TR outfit that was famed for their skill and rapid assaults using fighter aircraft.  They had won every previous game with the same tactics; massive air assault followed by parachuting onto the base and taking it rapidly.  We adjusted our game plan to suit, we would blunt the enemy assault at our base by defending, then move out when we could to there base when the pressure let up.  The fight itself went exactly as we planned; they came, they dropped into the base and then got fried by our defensive teams.  Our spies overlooking their base reported back their activity; they simply grabbed another aircraft, waited for a group and then came again.  Eventually they tired of dying and stopped bothering to attack, just hovering around the continent waiting for us to assault them so they could fly in behind our advancing forces and take our base.  We made efforts to advance, but every time our defenders called us back to help fight off the aircraft and paratroops.  They were outraged that we had scuppered their plans for a clean sweep (doing so also allowed a fellow VS outfit to win the tournament with a clean sweep) and hurled abuse at us on the forums, but we had done what no other outfit had managed and not let them beat us.  Some of our members agreed with them in saying that we should have attacked more and part of me agrees with them to be honest.  However there is little to no defence in Planetside against the tactics they were using unless you simply put guns in every entrance to a base; the aircraft cannot be killed fast enough to stop the pilots jumping out over your base if they come in numbers.  Anyway I will talk about problems with PS in particular in a future post.

The two GM screw ups were enough to decimate our morale and our membership, enough to make me finally give up on the game (we had already all but rebuilt the outfit twice following WoWs release and the disaster that was BFRs).

Gaming after Planetside
Since I have stopped playing Planetside in 2007 I have been in limbo waiting for the next MMO to arrive that fulfils the first four points I mentioned previously.  So far none have managed; the upcoming APB may manage it, but I have serious concerns over the long term game and how quickly the players will bore of the world and mechanics.

I have tried out numerous MMOs; EVE, Age of Conan, WoW, LOTRO, etc and the closest I have been to happy has been in EVE; but I am a care bear at heart and don't like the huge losses that can be suffered very quickly; wasting weeks or months of work for the more casual player.

Mainly I have filled my time with single player or standard multiplayer games my favourites being:
Battlefield series
Call of Duty series
Brothers in Arms series (as well as Star Wars: Republic Commando which was very similar game play wise)
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion 
Fallout 3
Total War series
Supreme Commander

On consoles I have enjoyed:
Star Wars: Force Unleashed
Super Mario Galaxy

Primarily I enjoy FPS games with a side order of RTS to keep things fresh.  I have carried on gaming with my Vindicators and if I am playing multiplayer I need to be playing with them to really enjoy myself I have realised.

Currently I am playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2, which is an excellent FPS but let down by a shoddy but ambitious front end before you actually start playing.

I have always looked to the future of gaming, constantly waiting for the next game to be released that looks like it may rise above the rest, or simply the next one to warrant my attention for the next few weeks or hopefully months.  Always however I am waiting for a MMOFPS that will rival Planetside, a game that will keep me occupied for years not just months.

What I loved about Planetside

 I enjoyed PS so much for a few reasons:

1. Massive combat; no longer were we contained to small 64 player skirmishes, we were finally able to be a part of huge battles with hundreds of players.
2. The experience system allowed new players to stand toe to toe against veterans and still have an almost equal chance of victory one on one.
3. The variety of play styles the game encompassed; infantry, tanks, aircraft and stealth as well as support.
4. The reliance that was needed in the early days on other players to allow you to fill every role, not just the few your certifications allowed for.
5. It was my first MMO.
6. My outfit was a success.

To date very few MMOs have catered for the first 4 points on my list, somehow spoiling them and taking away that aspect which I feel is vital for an MMO to work for me personally despite the fact that many people enjoy the games that do not manage those points like PS did (of course PS was not that successful, perhaps BECAUSE of those points that I value so highly?).

Point 5 was a one shot deal, although I had tried both Anarchy Online and Dark Ago of Camelot before, and neither suited my tastes.

Points 6 was ultimately down to me, but by no means can I take credit for all of my outfits successes.  Most of its success was simply luck in finding the right people early on to recruit other similarly minded players; I barely even led my outfit on the field for the first 6 months, I was always willing to let other players take squad lead before me.  I will cover getting guilds up and running in a future posting here.

Next I will post why I think that PS was better in the first year, rather than what it is now which is still more or less the same thing but various factors have made it a poor reflection on not only what it was, but more importantly what it could have been.

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