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ID Merlin

Clan/Guild/Alliance system help

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Because of the excellent, very thought-provoking feedback to my earlier post, I am trying to resolve a way to build a system for clans/guilds/alliances in Aragon. The goal is to answer the question that was posed earlier "What do players get from inviting their friends?" This was brought up in more than 1 reply. Many popular games allow players to form Clans (to use the shortest word), becoming the leader, and then to get their friends to join them. I haven't played many of these games, but I imagine the benefits of being in a Clan vary quite a lot. The biggest benefit is that players will get a sense of community with their Clan brothers (and sisters). That sense of community is lacking in the Aragon design. The existing system allows a player to ask another player (or NPC) to be an Ally. Our thoughts on this were in the real world, different countries have differing ideas about friends and enemies. So each player would have different allies and enemies. But, I am having a hard time coming up with a way to have this or a similar (individual) system, and yet still give the player a sense of community when playing the game. I am not hugely invested in the design of the current system, so feel free to suggest any modification that could be made to resolve this problem. I hesitate to copy the Clan system used elsewhere, but that still may be the best solution if there are no better ideas. Thanks for your help. We really appreciate it.

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Disclaimer: On the one hand, I would like to help you flesh out a good, workable system for organizing players into social, political, military and industrial groups. On the other hand, this is something that I brood about, in the dark, when nobody else is around, and I'm afraid that if I dive into this topic I'll come off as a total raving lunatic and not really wind up helping you at all.

So I'll start out being blandly general and hope to contribute to a discussion of the topic's subject matter, but if the conversation doesn't take on a life of its own, I'm liable to go into full-on Mr. Hyde mode and hijack it for my own ranting puposes, posting huge, semi-coherent blocks of text in the spirit of our good friend the space pirate football simulation expert.

The existing system allows a player to ask another player (or NPC) to be an Ally. Our thoughts on this were in the real world, different countries have differing ideas about friends and enemies. So each player would have different allies and enemies.
This sounds to me like a buddy list and a punk list. Useful features in any online game, but not comparable to a clan/guild/alliance.

You're right when you say that the benefits of membership in a clan vary from game to game, but social MMOs tend to have a few core traits for them. They usually come with shared, exclusive communication channels: Chat windows, message boards, announcement mechanics or mailing lists that only members can view and participate in are fairly common. Similarly, there's often a common treasury for goods and currency, accessible by members, with adjustable access privileges. You'll usually see a "rank" system, where titles, privileges and general esteem are somehow made available in-game.

Also, there are sometimes activities that are only available on that level. Some contests might accept participants on a "per clan" basis, or certain activities (operating a starbase in EvE Online, for instance) must be done by an organization, rather than by an individual.

Another key distinction between the "buddy list" and the "clan" in the entrance fee. There's some hurdle, either fiscal or participatory (EvE corporations pay bills, WoW guilds require a petition with x number of signatures in order to be brought into existence) for the group to be formally recognized.

The entity itself generally has very little life to it. EvE corps can tax members and some jobs can be done in the corporate name, but by and large the group is nothing more than the sum of its parts. This is where my bizarre madness is manifested in my drive to make the clan the base unit in the game world, and subjugate player characters to them.

So I'll stop here.

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You don't have to stop. I'm looking for ground-breaking, revolutionary ideas, not the standard, "this is what everyone else does" ideas.

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Okay, you asked for it.

I'm all about the clan serving as a social hub for friends, and in order to do that, all you really need is the chat channel and a little flag on "mates" on the screen, so you can see who's on your team and keep in touch with them. I find that much interaction ultimately unsatisfactory, though. There are two main types of clan members that you'll encounter, the rank and file "proles" and the leadership.

The general members log in, play the game, chat and generally enjoy themselves, grinding their levels and doing their quests and upgrading their characters and scoring teh phat lewtz. For them, the clan is a chat interface with a familiar cast and inside jokes, as well as a fairly reliable source of party members for cooperative jobs that crop up from time to time. It's easier to pull a mate or four from the clan chat than to try to advertise for a pickup group, and there's familiarity and accountability there, reducing the risk of boring, incompetent, or back-stabbing wingmen.

The management is working harder at running the clan than at actually playing the game. They're administrating forums, overseeing meta-game elements, like paying miners in EvE or distributing DKP in WoW, and supervising group activities. They are more active in recruiting and they manage the shared bank. They have dozens of Excel templates and are tracking different kinds of productivity.

There's a conflict between these two groups. The members are usually annoyed by the leadership's unfathomable access restrictions, the obscure reasoning behind promotions and the distribution of wealth, and the nagging for more ore, more participation, and more "work" in what's supposed to be a game. The bosses always feel like they're herding cats, with the whimsical members wandering around, wasting time, selling useful stuff to vendors, refusing to contribute or participate in activities, and whining about not having unfettered access to the stuff that other members donate to the vault.

The root of this problem lies in perspective. The members see the clan as a means to an end. It's a source of camaraderie and resources and hilarious cock jokes. The bosses see the organization as an end in itself, a sort of meta-character that can be buffed and debuffed by the actions of its members. The members imagine that the selfish leaders are somehow screwing them all the time, fleecing them of their hard-earned swag and spending it on themselves, and the leaders think the selfish members are holding out, keeping or peddling stuff that could help the group, because they'd rather get fifty cents for the stuff and let their mates pay a dollar to get it somewhere else than put it in the community chest. Attempts to make the processes transparent winds up hurting twice, since the members are bored by pages and pages of audit logs, but will focus on one or two transactions that look like embezzling and grumble about those when the managers aren't around.

Who is right? That question usually leads to the conclusion that there is no "right" perspective, and it's up to everyone to find the style of play that best suits them. In this case, though, it's more clear than that. The individual members are right. The bosses are effectively role-playing, and then trying to project their bullshit ego-trip fantasy onto other players. If you're lucky, they'll be good recruiters and you'll have a lot of cool guys in the clan. If you're not lucky, they'll spend all their time bitching at you and you'll quit the clan, if not the game.

MMOs are designed from the bottom up, with the individual player character as the base unit for everything. All social, political, economic, industrial and military operations are possible for him. Party-based challenges and complex tech trees can mix it up a bit, but they're an exception, and not the rule.

To get around this, and to make the clan the fundamental entity, there has to be an inversion, a top-down organization of the system.

It's late. I'll post this much, and revisit it later, either to add, edit or shamefully delete.

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It seems like I am on the right track, with the individual determining his/her own allies. Now, how to make that a part of a community system, where there is not a *boss* who allows entry and kicks players, but the players control the alliances. And make it a community.

I still have no idea how to do that, though.

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Been a strange weekend, I didn't really get around to following up. Sorry.

The gist of my idea is to link player groups into the system that's currently used for NPC groups. Build standing, gain faction-based "points" that can then be used as currency, and generally allow players to grind levels within their own clan.

An effective abstract description of the mechanics involved would be boring and is probably beyond me at this point (late, tired, etc.), so I'm going to use an example, which I'll put in terms of EvE Online but which will hopefully be general enough that non-EvE players will grok it.

Current System: A player goes out mining, gets a big sack of ore, takes it home. He can sell it for cash, or he can refine it, then sell the minerals for cash, or he can refine it, manufacture items from the minerals, then sell them for cash, or he can refine it, manufacture items and then use them. At any time, instead of "sell for cash", he can opt to "donate to corp for general use". Some of the more organized corps, with a lot of Excel and management going on, will track and acknowledge his contribution. Most of them do not, and his standing in the group is based more on his ability to pad the killboard and amuse his fellows than on any tangible in-game contribution.

Proposed System: At any point, he can "sell" the fruit of his labor for the corp. Having those resources available will enrich the organization, and he gets "standing points", a unique, corp-only form of currency. The amount may be set by management, or be an absolute value set by the game designer, or calculated based on prevailing market value, or whatever. I'm staying pretty general, so that's a bridge to be crossed another time.

Later, an industrially-minded character finds the ore in the hangar and conducts an operation on it. He "buys" the ore from the corp, refines it, and "sells" the minerals back. The process can be streamlined by just letting him refine corp ore and awarding him the point difference between the ore's value and the minerals' value.

Still later, another member dips into themineral reserve, whips up a big batch of missiles, and drops them back into the box, getting paid for his effort.

Now, the corp has acquired a sack of missiles, and three separate members who haven't necessarily been online concurrently have worked together to make it happen. Each contribution they made has been immediately rewarded, and everyone has profited, including the corporation itself.

Now we take it a step further, making the corp the key to individual success and enjoyment. The players don't own spaceships. When that miner wants to take a mining barge out to the asteroid field, he hits up the corp hangar and "signs out" a ship by putting up a large block of his points as collateral. He gets the ship, uses it for the afternoon, and when he turns in his ore, he also parks the machine back in the hangar and collects his deposit. Assuming he doesn't get the barge blown up, he turns a profit and the corp still has its mining fleet available, even when he's not around, assuming they can muster enough manpower.

If it's a casual pick-up job, they pay for the ships, guns, ammo and modules, and hopefully get that "money" back when they return safely to HQ. If they get dusted, then they lose. If they bring back resources or plunder, or destroy targets that the corp has put bounty value on, then they come home richer than they left, and the operation is a succes. If it's a corp-sponsored op, pilots will be issued ships, at no cost to them, based on their rank in that field. If the corp only has one Hulk-class exhumer to field in a mining op, it'll be issued to the highest-ranked miner in the fleet. If there's just one Sleipnir-class command ship in the fleet, the pilot with the highest rank on the "command ship" ladder will be able to pull it.

Pilots will be certified for the use of different ship classes based on past performace and/or ability to pay, depending on the situation. Since the in-corp points can only be earned by actually benefiting the corp, and not by grinding for your own profit or transferred from other accounts or bought on eBay, there's no risk of a member cleaning out the corp hangar and making a break for it. After all, even if he spends all his points on gear and heads for the hills, he hasn't gotten more out of the organization than he put in.

And so, the same mentaility that drives individual players to work hard at levelling and earning wealth will drive them to support the infrastructure of the group, allowing a powerful organization to be formed that can support its members reasonably well even if the "officers" are offline or drunk or stupid. The grind will be codified into the social element of the game.

That's just half of it, though. Problems arise, like some jackass using all the minerals in the hangar to build a huge pile of afterburners, or miners flooding the coffers with the most plentiful ore. The solution to most, if not all, of these troubles is to give the managers the same love we've given the rank-and-file, and build their tools into the system as well.

Let the value of the contributions scale based on need or desire. Have a stock quota, so that the corp always aims to have ten Rifter-class frigates and 50,000 units of small EMP ammunition in the box. If supply gets below this objective, start offering members point for refilling it, but if you've got enough, don't pay people to make more, and don't let corp minerals go to the manufacture of more. A more sophisticated variation would be to have payment scale based on need. If you've got 9 of the 10 frigates, but only 500 bullets left, pay a higher premium to players who are meeting the greater need. If the ship costs as much to build as 30,000 rounds of ammo, then the ammo should be the top priority, and topping off the ship hangar while the ammo hangar lies empty is fiddling while Rome burns. So only offer full price for the most direly needed resource, and pay 50% on less crucial services. Same with minerals. If you're hurting for zydrine and some guy signs out the Hulk to mine five million units of isogen, pay less for it. Rebalance the rewards to make the most worthwhile tasks for the corp also be the most worthwhile tasks for the individual. This has the dual benefit of keeping the corp running on an even keel and mixing up the most rewarding activities, so players don't get stuck in a rut always raiding the proverbial Molten Core and ignoring the rest of the game.

So all that money-grubbing and Excel-mathing and participation-tracking that was the domain of the obsessive-compulsive douchebags everyone loves to hate becomes core gameplay mechanics, and every has less stress, more wealth, and a more refined sense of purpose when they log in. "Hey, guys, what's up?" "You're just in time, Bloodclaw missiles are down to 10% stock, we're mining the shit out of this scordite and topping them off. There's a Retriever left in the hangar, fire it up and come put some lasers on these rocks."

The next level is inter-clan balancing of a similar system, but that gets a little weird, and its where I start to stall out, so I won't go nuts with half-baked theories.

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