Last night, I ran SFK for the first time since I ran it with Pox Arcanum last spring. We went as part of a new static group that we’ve formed with my sister and her husband, as we’re showing them the ropes a bit. As soon as I walked in, the memories hit me… just inside the doorway while we were buffing up, I remembered that Wara decided to kill a rat and the aggro from that pulled the first mobs in the next room. I thought about how we went in hoping we’d get through the dungeon possibly twice, at most, during our session, and ended up fully clearing it out three times. When the first mutton chop dropped last night, I started feeling really sad. I miss playing with the Purple Poxers.
I’d cooked up the idea of putting together a static group back in February, and immediately got enough interest to get two groups going, with a couple of extra folks still LFG. Given that we had enough people to sign a charter, we decided to form a guild, and in a series of blog posts we hammered out the plan for how the groups would play and what kind of restrictions there would be to make this play experience/experiment interesting. In the weeks that followed, we put out a notice that we were looking for more, got a common blog going, created a spreadsheet to organize the forming groups, and slowly added more teams to our guild roster.
While our membership steadily increased in the months after, the number of consistently active teams seemed to plateau. I think there were several factors here. First, we had folks that signed on with enthusiasm for the project, but they really didn’t have the time. They’d join a team, but then not show up for the scheduled playtime, or in some cases, never show up again. After a few weeks, their teammates would reluctantly replace them. Some teams also had scheduling problems they could never overcome. The teams that did have success were the ones that said, “we’ll play every Tuesday night from 7-10pm,” or something specific like that. The ones that scheduled their playtimes on the fly rarely managed to get their full team together. Either they didn’t give enough notice before the suggested play date or someone didn’t check their e-mail on time, so they’d always come up short. Some groups decided they’d play even if a member didn’t show up, which didn’t quite fall in line with my philosophy on how things should go. I wonder if this contributed to the problems in those groups as well, since with that approach, it didn’t matter if you showed up or not. It wouldn’t be as though the other four people couldn’t or wouldn’t play.
Another issue that cropped up with some of the folks that joined in the LFM wave was that they almost immediately added multiple toons to the guild. This was intended to be an side project where folks created a single toon, and that’s all that each of the founders had. In that LFM wave, we had people with up to 4 different characters playing with 4 different teams. In my opinion, this led to a couple of major problems. The first was with scheduling. With each additional team these folks joined, they effectively removed another night of availability from their week for either scheduling or rescheduling with their teams. If you have just one toon, if someone can’t show up on your regular night, there are potentially six other nights you could get together. If you have four toons with static groups, that would mean only three other nights you could get together if someone had to reschedule. If more than one group each week asks to reschedule, forget about it. I believe this is part of the reason those teams never got off the ground. Scheduling makes or breaks static groups.
The second issue that cropped up from multi-toon players was that these folks were essentially making Pox Arcanum their primary guild, and they had expectations of certain things that traditional guilds have, like a charter, well-fleshed out guidelines, and presence of leadership. The founders didn’t feel the need for a charter or guidelines in the beginning because all the folks who initially joined had a firm grasp of what we were about. We wanted the groups to form and run their own teams, arrange their own schedules, and do their own recruiting — if a team could do this, we assumed they’d very likely work well together as a group, too. As for the presence of leadership, we intended for this to be an interesting side project for everyone and tried to make it clear that founders were unlikely to be on the server when it was not their scheduled play time.
I think it was this lack of visible guidelines from the beginning that led to folks straying from the original plan, unfortunately. We did later produce some documents, an FAQ, etc, but by then, I think it was too late. It seemed like every other time I logged in, I found someone leveling solo or doing something pretty obviously outside the “spirit of the Pox.” Many of these were the multi-toon folks looking to bide their time in between groupings (because this guild was now the main focus of their WoW play), I suspect. I was frustrated because we had members playing outside the restrictions we’d set, and in turn, the folks playing outside those restrictions were frustrated because were were not a Real Guild. I thought of the guild more as a collective, or maybe just a sandbox where we’d give teams the basic resources to get their groups going and let them form whatever experimental groups they’d like to try. I began to feel as though starting the guild had been a mistake.
For as controlling as I felt like being, I rarely said anything to those other teams about how they were playing. I mostly just kept to my own group. We were playing exactly as I wanted to play. I tried to accept the idea that although the other teams had deviated from the original plans, in the end, they were likely playing how they wanted to play, too. Just because I thought they had the potential for a more fulfilling experience doesn’t mean it was necessarily true.
Still, the founders were concerned that new people coming in might do well with a bit more direction from the start. The ranks were restructured such that only founders could add new members. This would mean anyone who wanted to add an alt would have to ask the founders to do it, and we could potentially turn them down. Some time after the green team dissolved, Nas and I started talking a bit about making leadership more visible, as well. We felt like we had a choice to make: start policing things better to get everyone back in line with the original vision for Pox Arcanum, or just let it go completely and leave if things got too bad. We already had a fair amount of energy invested in Pox Arcanum, so we started cooking up some documents to get folks back in line, laying down even more explicitly what we’d felt should be understood as new teams were forged. If we could get new teams off on the right foot, at least, maybe the guild would have a better chance of being cohesive. We’d also be offering a bit more leadership, so perhaps despite the new enforcement of the old restrictions, those being made to change their ways might still be a bit happier.
Unfortunately, the Purple team also dissolved as we were in the process of preparing these documents. Somewhat ironically, one of the documents I was working on was a “what to do when your group breaks up” set of recommendations. There are a couple of obvious options, but the one that made the most sense to me, given the spirit of the project, was to start over. If your level 30 joins a group of other level 30’s that have had someone drop out, it’s just not the same. You didn’t “grow up” together. You don’t have history, and to me, creating that depth history was the purpose of the experiment.
At that point, I felt like my choices were to stick around, roll another toon, and hope to get into a new group, or just move on. I decided that moving on was best, because if I stayed and took control of the guild, I’d potentially be raining on others’ good times by imposing restrictions that only I wanted. This would suck for everyone. I really didn’t want to have to police people. I also really didn’t want to lead a guild and I was about to become the leader by default. Almost all the founders had moved on and those that remained weren’t interested in running things either. One of the multi-toon folks had pretty specific suggestions for how to handle guild stuff in the months before, so the guild was ultimately passed on to him. I think this was for the best. I wish him and all of Pox Arcanum the best of luck.
I confess I was relieved to leave Pox Arcanum behind, but still very sad about the Purples. I won’t go into what disbanded us except to say that it was due to events that happened outside of our weekly play. I always thought we had a wonderful group dynamic, particularly for people that didn’t ordinarily play together (aside from Mr. Ess and I). We seemed to have a good balance of personality types, having both people that were interested in planning things for the group (right down to where hearthstones should be reset each week) and people who were willing to happily follow along with whatever the planners decided. Everyone had a good sense of humor about the screw-ups (ugh, Madja pulled aggro with her big butt again!) and I always looked forward to Pox night. Even though the guild itself didn’t quite turn out the way we’d thought, the Purples were an amazing group of people, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to play with them.
Here’s a screenie from our last adventures, in which we did the 225 fishing quest together and prepared for ZF, which was to be run the following week.
I miss you guys. 😦
I’ll close up this post with some advice for those interested in playing in static groups, based on my experiences with the Purples and Pox Arcanum.
1) If possible, group with people that you already have a connection with, either in RL or in game. If there already exists a relationship, it will be easier to keep that group relationship strong. It also guarantees at least minimally good group chemistry. Our first two founding teams were seeded with married couples, which also ensured that at least two people on each team would have similar availability each week.
2) Set a weekly day and time to play. Always meet at that time. Send out an e-mail in the days before to your group members and have everyone confirm that they’re available.
3) Define your ideas about how the group should run at the very beginning. Will you twink? Will you share resources? Will you do BGs with your toon when the rest of the group isn’t on? Will you do some minimal solo leveling and just stay within a level or so of your group, or will you level exclusively together? Whatever you decide, make sure everyone is on the same page from the beginning.
4) Stay independent and self-contained. Create the group outside of a guild or form your own five-person guild. If you and four of your current guildmates decide to try this within your guild, others may perceive what you’re doing as exclusive. (You could just say to hell with them, but I think it’s easier to just avoid the drama.) A guild just for your static group will help you share resources more easily, but I’d be wary of ever expanding it further. It really complicates things.
5) Be sure everyone accepts that these characters are potentially not going to be optimized in the way folks are accustomed to. If you’re in a static group, it means you won’t get to play whenever you feel like it. It will be tough to level your gathering skills without getting a bunch of xp for kills or exploration, so let go of that idea as well. The point is not optimization — it’s the group experience. If everyone truly embraces this idea of putting the group experience first , you’re on your way to having some great adventures together.
6) Avoid collection quests. They suck. 😀