“We are all very close, like a family. It isn’t just a game… It’s real.”
The world of MMOs is a popular genre, growing with new releases every year. On December 20, 2011, BioWare, Electronic Arts, and LucasArts released the much anticipated Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO.
At the time of it’s release, it was rumored to be the most expensive video game ever made – having cost between $150 and $200 million. Within three days, Star Wars: The Old Republic – better known as SW:ToR – reached 1 million subscribers, breaking another record by making it the fastest growing MMO ever.
Unfortunately, SW:ToR declined sharply after release, leading to EA making the game free-to-play. Since then, SW:ToR has regained some of its lost player-base, and is now relatively stable – it’s currently rated as one of the world’s top-ten grossing MMOs.
Unfortunately, the free-to-play system isn’t the strongest. Unless you’re willing to spend your hard-earned cash, SW:ToR limits a lot of what you can and can’t do – such as a whisper restriction until you reach level 10, and a lack of races that you have to buy. So what is it that brings both subscribers and new players back day after day to SW:ToR?
We had the pleasure to sit down with two officers of Unhinged – a highly active Sith guild on the roleplaying server, Ebon Hawk – as well as two members, K’trakoth and Solid Raven, to find out what exactly brought them to SW:ToR and the culture of guilds within a galaxy far, far away.
First thing’s first: we couldn’t help but ask if they had friendships which ended when they logged off, or if their relationships went further than that. They were all very quick to agree on one thing. “We are fortunate for our friends and our members,” one member tells us. “We’ve had some of the best friendships grow from the moment of joining Unhinged.”
We ask if there were any relationships that went further than in game, and are greeted with a story of two members who had met through the guild and grew close enough to the point where they’re now preparing to be married. “It’s so easy to have friendships spill over to reality from the game.”
We also hear stories of how the guild has organized fundraisers, to help members who were having trouble paying for real life bills. Now that’s commitment.
“We had a member that was going through a rough patch.” says K’trakoth, “so we got together as a guild and collected enough money for them to pay their rent, as well as getting them enough funds to even pay for their late car payment.”
We think that everyone can agree that friends like that are few and far between.
It isn’t unheard of these days to find relationships that started in MMOs; nor is it strange to see guilds getting together in real life to spend time together as friends. “I have plans in the next few months to go see another member of the guild, a good friend that I’ve made,” says one member we sat with. Many guild members from Unhinged spend time with each other out of SW:ToR - either in person, or in other games. Strong relationships have grown since members began to join, and have only grown closer as time has elapsed. We ask them if perhaps they felt that new members would feel left out with how close they all were already, but they quickly reassure us that that was never the case – and that they are always quick to welcome anyone new who needs or wants a “family”.
We think that it’s pretty safe to say that a guild, in any MMO, needs to have close friends and an appealing attitude inside of its ranks. But in an MMO like SW:ToR, guild relationships and compatibility is needed. The members of Unhinged told us about how there were things in SW:ToR that you could never do by yourself: reaching end-game content, or having friends at your fingertips to make completing tasks – from leveling to raiding – much easier. We ask K’trakoth to explain.
“We are content driven. A few of us roleplay… I roleplay, but we don’t focus on anything but end-game. And when we do our raids, we try to include everyone. We’re quickly getting to the point where we can start running more than one group at a time, and we’re really excited to be getting this far.”
Many of the members of Unhinged joined because of friends that were already members of the guild, but a handful of people – such as Xulltana – joined out of the blue, having seen an advertisement for the guild in the SW:ToR general chat in-game.
“I joined the guild off a whim, back when it as just getting started,” she says, “I saw an advertisement in general chat and whispered them and now… Bam. I would never leave. I love these guys.”
There are a good many things which come from being in a guild in SW:ToR, other than just the benefits of having a helping hand. Members of guilds in SW:ToR earn an extra 5% to all experience gained; this increases your leveling speed while doing quests, Flashpoints – the game’s terminology for instanced dungeons – or even PvP. But if that isn’t enough, that 5% increases with every five people that are recruited to the guild – gaining an extra 1% with every five recruits. The max bonus a single guild can have is 10%, but that’s still quite a lot, especially when you’re just starting out.
Most guilds that we’ve seen over the years of work with a single guild leader and officers. Not Unhinged; they have two lovely guild leaders, who work hard to keep their group together. The two of them share the workload that comes with leading a large group of players, successfully keeping their members busy with events like Raids and Flashpoints. But those aren’t the only things you can do on SW:ToR. Some guilds – and even a few members of Unhinged – take part in role-playing. Though Unhinged isn’t a role-playing-based guild, a few members do interact with each other in that aspect outside of raiding and leveling. Ebon Hawk, the server where you can find Unhinged, is known for it’s role-playing community – making guilds on that server even closer than you would think.
Of course, with every aspect of socialization in life, there are always things that we don’t look forward to. We ask the members of Unhinged what they think are the downsides of being in a guild, and we receive a varied response. The one thing that members worry about the most is potential drama. “The drama… End of story. There’s drama sometimes, and it’s the worst,” K’trakoth tells us. He speaks with a heavy tone, a tired expression in his voice. While they’re not willing to divulge the details, Unhinged has recently been part of some internal guild drama; but they were happy to say they’re through the worst of it now, and moving onward and upward happily.
From what we’re told, there are times where people join guilds just to cause trouble or try to break them up. Xulltana explains it to us in her own words: “I don’t like the people that join guilds just to start trouble or break up the guild. They’re the worst kind of people. We can usually catch them off the bat, but they’re out there.” Terrible! But a strong guild with friendships like Unhinged gets through it, even if they lose a few members.
It isn’t unnatural to lose people, of course – MMOs are designed to last for years, so it’s only natural that people’s interest in a game waxes and wanes. Unhinged tells us how much it affects them when people leave SW:ToR – either for other guilds or even other games. Sadness isn’t an unknown feeling for any member of any guild, and members told us how they come to befriend people, only to feel as though they’d lost a childhood friend when they left the fold.
“The biggest downfall to being in a guild is that it’s a lot of work. Sometimes, the balance of the workload teeters and things get out of hand,” Vaffet tells us, speaking of the work it takes to be an officer in Unhinged. It isn’t unknown that running a guild – both as a leader and an officer is hard work at times – and it takes a lot of organization and participation, on everyone’s part. But K’trakoth is quick to balance that out. “My favorite part [of being in a guild] is having such a rich franchise at my fingertips – but being able to share it with friends makes it even better.” At least they can have a positive outlook on everything, despite the work.
Though player numbers have fluctuated significantly – and not always for the better – members of Unhinged are happy to tell us that “the SW:ToR community is stronger then ever.”
Players of SW:ToR are there because of their passion and love for the franchise, and their adoration of MMOs. SW:ToR effectively brought both aspects together in one game, bringing fans a new kind of MMO. SW:ToR plays a lot like Bioware’s older games – such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. When you speak to NPCs, you’re given choices on how you want to respond, and at times you can even kill the NPC you are talking to (though you’ll be given Dark Side points). But it also brings fans together, allowing players to team up and take on special areas with higher-powered enemies, or even the infamous world bosses. The social aspect of SW:ToR is something we don’t see often in an MMO – general chat is a constant stream of interactions between characters and many “looking for group” requests.
The members of Unhinged can’t get enough of this franchise, or of SW:ToR. They come together a few nights per week to play together, and even meet up off-schedule to do other things. “My favorite part of being in a SWToR guild is playing with great peeps,” is how one member put it. “It’s an MMO… It’s Star Wars.. Put together? How can it not be awesome?”
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
In some games, such as the ever popular World of Warcraft, you don’t have to be in a guild to raid. But in SW:ToR, having a guild is almost essential if you want to experience end-game content. Though SW:ToR has a group-finder tool, it sometimes take a while (to put it mildly) to group you up. Besides, wouldn’t it be better to do these things with people you can have fun with? Unhinged tells us about how they love to have fun, and be silly with each other – sometimes distracting themselves from what they’re doing with silly antics and humorous personalities. “My favorite part is the [social aspect]. There’s big groups, and with big groups there’s lots of silliness. It makes it even more fun, better then playing alone,” Xulltana explains.
Solid Raven is then quick to include that: “My favorite part is the ability to have instant groups and being able to reach end game content.”
With any MMO, looking for a guild can be stressful. Not all guilds are as friendly and game-focused as Unhinged, leading players into small communities where they won’t benefit from much more the chat spamming and a guild name tag over their heads. But if you look hard enough, you can find the diamonds in the rough like Unhinged. Almost every MMO has a forum page on their official website, and SW:ToR is no different. They offer a forum for each server, allowing guilds to openly advertise and recruit new members. And any guild worth its salt has officers and guild leaders that you can find online and speak to, willing to answer any questions you may have. Unhinged tells us that if there was anyone who wanted to look in to a friendly, active guild, their members are always willing to talk to anyone and help them out – even if they are new to the game.
Joining a guild, especially in SW:ToR, offers subscribers and free-to-play members a variety of things. Friendship; bonuses; socialization; and if you find a guild like Unhinged, a family of like-minded players that you can count on. We’re starting to see why guilds are so important and appealing within MMOs, and why so many people stay with a guild for years at a time.
Though guilds have their downfalls – and it may take a few tries before finding one that fits you – we think that the benefits outweigh the risks.
Besides, you can never have enough friends.