Designing a Guild: Obsidian’s First Two Months

Obsidian was formed on paper sometime around February 28th. I remember thinking that I had never read an article on how to “form a guild” and that it would be an interesting challenge to tackle. Further, I knew at the time I wanted to do something different for Crowfall. The game itself brought back vivid and fond memories of my time in Shadowbane, which, despite being plagued by bugs remains one of my favorite MMOs of all time.

Obsidian was born out of a desire to both create something new, and to build an organization that could survive without me one day. It’s humbling when I try to see a future for this organization without me, but its necessary based on my experiences. One of my long-time multi-game-guilds I’ve played a dozen MMOs with over the last 7 years is really just a shell of the organization it once was.

What causes organizations to break apart? A rigid hierarchy with officers who cling to retain control of their organization and seek to keep it the “way it was”. I’ve seen it in action and while it may be a worthy goal to achieve, it’s impossible with the passing of time. Real life always tends to introduce hurdles that some players just can’t jump over. Children, Marriage, Deaths, Employment, and others can cripple a person’s free time and will to continue on with their gaming passion.

Such was the case with my old guild, where only a very few of the old guard linger. It was a slow death, but one easily avoided.

Obsidian’s organizational tree was created to allow charismatic leaders to move up in the organization quickly. There are pitfalls of course, an outside negative alliance of players could try to seize control of the guild. Yet, I think with a few minor additions to the charter even this could be minimized. Certainly it would prove a tale worth retelling to others and that is almost always worth the risk.

Stories are what bring gamers back to a world. Shadowbane was and remains like that for me. I could tell you stories of my unique encounters, the sieges, the battles… all of it bring me right back to that moment in time. It’s invigorating (and only mildly disconcerting) when you can remember the details of a game 10 years past and can’t remember when your next doctor’s appointment is.

Communication

One of the first things I did was seek out different ways of communicating with the guild. I found lots of potential options, almost all forum based. Yet it came down to a random EVE tweet that really caught my attention. EVE fans had opened up a public channel for an application called Slack. Slack is probably the modern equivalent of upgraded version of IRC. This is probably the single best decision I made, and it was potentially a huge gamble.

It was a gamble, because I’d never seen a guild using this application. Yes its a new application in the marketplace, but its also not really doing anything new. Its hard to describe how Slack makes communicating better, because it essentially is a hybrid of tools we already use. Remember AOL Instant Messenger? That use to be the key application in in-the-moment texting on computers.. Slack integrates that, email, IRC and file sharing into a platform that remembers your conversation eternally.

Why is this crucial to a guild’s success? Talking casually with your guild mates is difficult during the best of circumstances. Now imagine their being next to motivation to login to a Mumble (the voice-comm app we are using) because there is NO game to play right now. Sure you could require everyone hang out on mumble, but the opportunity for off-the-cuff conversations are greatly reduced. Further, you then have to address the fact that some people just aren’t comfortable talking in a group setting with people they don’t know. Slack addresses all of this in a guild setting because it allows for those casual conversations to occur at the speed at which its participants are able to participate!

For example; I login to this app on my phone and on my work computer. I might type up a response to someone who posted a question the night before at 3am. The moment I type a response a conversation starts up in our channel about that topic. In real time. Sure a forum might work in this case, but the problem is the feeling of a conversation gets lost when its merely a fragmented post that might not be getting the most attention on the forum. These immediate conversations are further enhanced by the subtle inclusion of being notified when someone is typing a response. Further connecting you to the Slack conversation because you know someones about to answer you. No more refreshing your browser hoping someones going type out a reply.

Slack has been immeasurably useful for us in a myriad of ways too numerous to mention, so lets just say… if your not using it. Start today.

Mumble, as mentioned before, is our voice communication tool. Its seen less usage as mentioned above. I did want to call out that I ran a fairly successful guild meeting this last Saturday with about 15 attendees. It was more of a town hall meeting where I went over my vision for the guild and how we plan to operate within the confines of Crowfall. Nothing “secret” was revealed, as I basically went down our website and elaborated for people with deeper questions. The entire meeting was recorded and many people enjoyed it and the conversations that it spawned. So far no one has quit over my “elaborations”. Interesting.

Branding

Obsidian stands poised to hit its recruitment goals. I wanted to get at least 50 members before the first alpha started this summer and I’m well ahead of that goal. Everything seems to be clicking into place. What seems to be the cause of this? Branding. Several aspects of the Obsidian brand seem to be resonating with recruits (as was my hope when designing the guild). It is essentially the reason my guild has members.

The website came out incredibly well, for something that was bootstrapped and templated it came out looking fresh and professional and wholly original compared to peers. I think many people were surprised that a guild site could look the way it does and be as successful as it has been. Several modifications are planned to add dynamic content to it for the games launch, but it’s clear that this design has resonated and told my guilds story well. The addition of quotes as breaks in the sections was another unique way of creating a feeling for how the guild plans on operating in Crowfall.

The logo was another success story. Shortly after publishing my articles I contacted one of my buddies who does design work for a living and asked him if he could create a logo for my organization based on the design of a few others I gave him for references. He agreed and the logo currently being used was created after a few very rough drafts. I only had to buy him a copy of the Crowfall game. I came out ahead in my opinion (another guild member + a logo!).

obsidian_house_poster_720

Having a great looking website and an awesome logo only goes so far. I’ve seen a few copycats pop up already on the Crowfall forums, copying my layout and approach to the guild website. They don’t seem to be getting any traction because their guilds goals are vague at best. Obsidian is very transparent in how it publicly tells people how it intends to operate and its focusing a very unique aspect of the game (which may or may not exist based on the little information available). That focus, to act as a covert “stealthy” guild, is another major reason for my early success in recruiting for Crowfall. That focused and defined niche purpose seems to be attracting people of a like mind.

Now let’s be honest here, spending some money building a website, having a niche, those are all things anyone can do. Being successful at this early stage is meaningless. The real challenge for me going on months 3 and beyond is going to be keeping the people engaged in the guild. This is notoriously difficult considering the fact the game is not coming out for 2 years (or so) for some of the members (regular backer status).

Some of my members have taken to playing some of the free to play games on the market, League of Legends, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and others. Some want to begin training right now, but it’s difficult to passion the hype surrounding Crowfall. The last thing I want is someone so burned out on the game by summer that I lose a member. Thankfully I seem to have attracted some really interesting personalities, and some talent that extends beyond the game playing itself.

In all, if you had to rate my Obsidian experiment; I would call it a rousing success. I’ll be sure to keep anyone who enjoyed reading the initial “Create a Guild” series up to date with these occasional updates. Thankfully it appears that Obsidian is here to stay. And with that said, remember…

We Are Always Watching.

#crowfall #designaguild #obsidian

Managing The In-Game Crowfall Community

I want to take this moment to host a centralized discussion and suggestion thread around some key areas that have been hot button topics on the Crowfall forums, the first of which is Player Experience & Griefing.

Competition & Betrayal

The core of our game is competition.  If you want to experience everything that Crowfall has to offer, you won’t be able to do it without competing, directly or indirectly, with other players.  Part of our vision revolved around politics.  A key component of politics is the concept of betrayal.  We envision many relationships being formed and broken in the game. Whether it be a subservient guild who who overthrows their master, an infiltrator who loots the entire guild cache and delivers it to their sworn enemy, or an alliance that breaks falls apart at a key turning point of a campaign… We consider these to be “fair game” tactics.  We are designing flexibility into the system to allow these events to happen.  That also means that, from a support standpoint, we will be “hands off” when dealing with in-game betrayal by other players or guilds.

Killing versus Griefing

PvP (and competition in general) is the nature of this game.  Big rewards only come from taking big risk.  Taking that risk means it is quite likely that you WILL be killed by other players.  Accept that fact and move on. You want a nemesis system for those who have killed you many times over? A bounty system to allow you to place a nice reward on the head of someone who’s caused you much anguish? We like these ideas, and we are open to them!

Griefing, however, is not allowed by our Code of Conduct.  Harassment of other players (either in-game via chat channels, or on the forums) will not be tolerated.  We cannot condone abuse toward others, threats of real-life violence, comments regarding suicide, racial slurs — there are a myriad of unacceptable behaviors, as outlined in our Code of Conduct.  These behaviors have no place in ANY game and any player who feels it is necessary to test us on this position will be apologetically removed from our community.  We have no tolerance for abuse or hate speech in our game, or on our forums.

We already have plans for an (optional) profanity system, standard /ignore and /report functionality, and we have some interesting thoughts on tools to allow community self-policing, but before we go into those we want to use this thread to host your suggestions for what YOU would want to see, in regards to self-policing.

So, on this topic: what functionality do you want to see? What would help you?

So this is a really interesting post up on the official forums (which I realize now was posted over a month ago). I like it mostly because it gives us some insight into how ArtCraft will tend to approach this game. In this sense its very EVE-esqe. CCP has taken a hands off approach to this kind of internal-politick’ed metagame. The problem, however, comes from the tools given to corporations to actually manage permissions. In a nutshell, EVE’s system of hangar and asset management has been a nightmare for a very long time.

Basically what this conversation is going to boil down to is the people who actually manage communities complaining and those who plan on ripping them off cheering the whole thing on. Where do I fall? I think as “interesting” as these stories are (and there are some doosies out there), they are more a lesson of guild mismanagement or worse a failure from the developers to create tools necessary to manage the nightmare of potential spies ripping everyone off.

So what should Crowfall do to minimize any blowback from these scams? Its pretty simple, provide robust tools that give guild leaders some options to firewall their guilds assets. Creating a few guild ranks and hedging against these sometimes isn’t enough. You’d almost have to allow the guild leader to create separately managed vaults with individual permission levels. How would you fit such a system into Crowfall exactly? Great question. My big concern here is that instead of addressing this, they will simply give us the default MMORPG toolset; guild ranks and one vault. Good luck with that.

We still don’t even know what sort of storage we’ll have as a guild in the game. Do guilds have a magic vault? Or when your city gets destroyed do people get to loot its contents? If thats the case, what sort of stockpiling can really occur in a game where corporate theft would become a serious enough issue to warrant a toolset in the first place? Some of these questions may give us the answer we need to guide this conversation more.

The second component to Tullys post was sort of tools we’d need to really help manage the relationships between players. I think this is the better question to ask because its about how you build a community. I think tools EVE provides are good first step for designing Crowfalls. Multiple relationship “flags” need to be an option for this game. I think each player and/or guild should have a reputation versus your guild/self. For example;

  • Scree’s guild Obsidian is Hated/Enemy Flagged with Valors Lords of the Dead guild (for obvious reasons).
  • Lakez, another LoTD member, runs into Scree. Scree can clearly see that Lakez is an enemy, despite having never run into him specifically, because the flag was set on his guild.
  • Morpheis, another Obsidian member, runs into Valor and Lakez, despite having never met them before they show up as Hated/Enemies because of the flag set for Obsidian versus Lords of the Dead.
  • Talis isn’t a member of either guild, runs into all of them (and dies), but they all appear neutral to him (but not anymore!).
  • Talis sets Scree the player as an Enemy, not Obsidian the guild.

Many relationship flags could also be set, allowing for kill-on-sight, hostile, neutral, friendly, or allied flags to be set for individuals and guilds. This is an identical mirror to how EVE works and it should be adopted for Crowfall. All sorts of guild and city systems could key off of the status of these flags.

With this system, self-policing becomes a non-issue. Hated enemies would appear as such to your friends/allies as an inherited state. This could be over-ridden of course, but the premise is that your players actions have a very real and lasting consequence. Acting like a douchebag? The server will learn quickly and you’ll find yourself without allies or friends to save you. There really doesn’t need to be any system beyond this. Crowfall is likely to be an unforgiving world. Simply having the tools to manage these types of players out of the meta-game is all we need.

That and /report of course.

Currency in Crowfall: Why I Don’t Want To Be a Goat Trader

I’d like to take a brief moment to throw out some consideration towards the design of Crowfall not having any established in-game currency. I’m sure there are plenty of unique rational reasons for wanting to stand apart from other games and not implementing an in-game currency. I’d almost support it if it wasn’t just seemingly a design choice meant to make the games economy stand out from the crowd.

There is a very real economic reason for a currency based economy versus a bartering based economy like the one presented in Crowfall. Instead of paraphrasing, I’ll just use a quick example/quote I found as to why currency is so beneficial; Continue reading

Designing the Crowfall API: A Wishlist

For those unfamiliar with what an API is, lets start off with a brief introduction to the idea. API stands for Application Programming Interface. Most major applications you use have some sort of API to allow for app developers to make stuff for you. Examples of popular API’s would be Facebook, Twitter, and even Steam (how many websites let you login with your social media login? There’s an API powering that login!)

In gaming, API’s are slightly rarer. World of Warcraft introduced its Armory application roughly 3 years after it launched. Its allowed for external app developers to work with it, but the information exposed is very minimal. On the opposite end of the spectrum is a game like EVE Online, where not only are your characters information exposed, but also your corporation, and even their vast marketplace. Some restrictions and access controls were overlayed on top of this data, so not EVERYONE can gain access to it (you have to share it with people willingly). Still the amount of information that is available is shockingly overwhelming. The games audience has used this data in many incredible ways. Lets take a brief trip and show you some of the cooler stuff circulating the EVE Online universe (powered by its API); Continue reading

Crowfall: EVE Online Comparisons

“It’s like Game of Thrones meets EVE Online.”

This is certainly one of the more cliche ways of presenting your idea, popularized by the huge uptick in upstart app developers seeking investment dollars. What better elevator pitch line then this to a gamer? You’d have to have been disconnected from the internet to not know what the two ideas of Game of Thrones and EVE Online were. Capitalizing both on the popularity of a modern Television (and lesser known Book series) cultural phenomenon, and then further tying that mental picture in with the successful niche PvP game that’s hung in there for 12 years. It might be a blatant ploy to attract an audience who was never really sold on the promises of EVE Online, or perhaps to attract a new audience who was never a fan of the sci-fi genre. Either way the statement is worthy of dissecting why the developers feel there game might be the next virtual world you should inhabit.

Continue reading

Pillars of Eternity & Crowfall

Pillars of Eternity is awesome and brings back the good ole days of no-open-world bullshit rpgs. The best kind of RPG in my opinion. Now if only the story wasn’t so emotionally unengaging.

Happy to report that Obsidian is doing great. Over 25 members and growing consistently. Have some cool things to talk about in a bigger post … look forward to that.

#crowfall #obsidian #pillarsofeternity

A Crowfall Introspective

Wow. What a crazy 30 days it’s been. I haven’t felt this excited or motivated about anything in a long time. Crowfall completed, successfully, its Kickstarter campaign. It did so many things right, and touched on so many pain points for me that I couldn’t help but back it.

My concern over recent MMOs has always been the “PvP-too” approach to lazy game development. I had actually thought Wildstar to be slightly different, but that was actually more of a mistake on my part for not reading on its development and assuming they knew what they were doing with PvP. Clearly the 40v40 War Plots debacle was all that I need to say about that games approach to PvP.

“PvP-too” is basically my way of indicating that a developer wants to attract as broad of an audience as possible. Not just the PvE crowd, but the PvP one too. Wildstar & ESO (whens the last time you heard anyone raving about ESO’s PvP… ever?) fall into this category for me.

I overlooked Camelot Unchained because to be honest the game doesn’t sound terrible. It does sound like they simply didn’t wish to expend resources on PvE. It’s not because that’s not their focus, but merely because it’s not within the budget. What happens when PvP gets boring in that game? And it will. After a year of fighting the same opponents, and the battle being largely the same battle that occurred 3 months before it, when does it cease to be entertaining anymore? THAT is a core unaddressed issue.

That issue, and that issue alone, was the one I saw solved right in the announcement of Crowfall as having been addressed. We wouldn’t be worrying about Goonsquad (or Uncle Bob as some Crowfall fans are calling the dominating zerg guild) dominating server X and the population fleeing for greener pastures. No, instead, the world’s naturally have a start and a conclusion. Elegant.

Crowfall earned a solid $250 from me, I just saw it charged to the credit card. It was an exciting endeavor to back a game for the first time. I’ve never done it before. But what really sold me on the game?

I wrote an article 3 years ago or so that said my ideal game was fantasy-EVE. Crowfall is fantasy-EVE. Passive skill training that removed the need for me to be a basement dweller, arguing with my loved ones over whether or not I could leave the house for the first week out of fear of being outleveled and outclassed. No, now I could focus on what was really important; killing my enemies.

EVE-Online did so many things right, but the one thing that always edged me to eventually unsubscribe was the ability for the game to escalate so quickly beyond my ability to fight back. I could be in a frigate and get outclassed immediately by someone in a battlecruiser/destroyer, or worse multiple battlecruisers/destroyers. There was little if any response to this, and no amount of preparation could prepare you for some of those fights. I don’t find that fun. Admittedly it can be a bit of a thrill ride though.

I’m not saying the same thing can’t happen in Crowfall, as sheer numbers would likely overwhelm any player. The devs even came out and said that a group of newbies could easily overwhelm a veteran max trained character. Yet, max skills and being outclassed are different things altogether. In a world of seafaring ships, if we are all destroyers, I’m okay with one person being better at destroyers than me. When someone can be a battleship, who cares how much you’ve trained at being the best frigate pilot in the world?

I’m greatly simplifying my feelings on the matter, and I’m well aware of the differences and balancing that go into making sure EVE players DON’T feel as easily outclassed as they are, but the point remains that being outclassed is not fun.

Crowfall and the fantasy genre is also where my heart lies. As much as I appreciate the depth and width of EVE Online, I never truly felt at home there. Crowfall has the potential to be a home for me for many years, and it’s that hope that has gotten me so excited.

Hopefully the world has a place for a niche game like this. The Kickstarter and its ~220% funding make it seem like it might.

#crowfall #kickstarter

Designing a Guild Part 5: The Website

DesignPromo5

 

This is the final entry in the five part series of Designing a Guild. I took you through the brainstorming, ruleset and branding of a new guild for the Crowfall MMO game. You can read the prior entries in the series here; parts one, two, three, and four. If you’ve followed along this far and are interested in joining, the new website is up and running and accepting members! Thanks for joining me 😉

This was one of the more difficult challenges to guild creation. I knew from the get go what type of website I wanted; modern, minimalist, and as impressive as I could make it. I think I hit the mark spot on.

When I began with the project, I wanted to set a mood quickly. With this website I broke up each section with quotes that would give visitors a feeling for the organization as a whole. Additionally I tried to insert some descriptive text as to who and what Obsidian is. I even came up with more details as to how the membership would deal with promotions and movement between the individual “cells”. Continue reading

Designing a Guild Part 4: Branding

DesigningAGuildPromo-4

This is part 4 of my series on Designing a Guild. In this series I am going through inception to creation and implementation of a new guild for an upcoming MMO named Crowfall. Before reading this entry, catch up by reading the firstsecond, and third part of the series.

I’ve always known that unfortunately some guilds are better then others at doing certain things in a game. Your guild might focus on raiding the end game bosses of World of Warcraft, or PVPing in Guild Wars 2’s World versus World competitions. Whatever your guild is good at, it probably tends to advertise itself as such when it goes out looking for new recruits. Some guilds rely on mass spam recruiting techniques (ever hear someone in general chat go “JOIN US WE ARE GOOD AT LIFE” ? Yea, I’m not planning on being one of those guys. Continue reading