Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Blizzard's Secret Club for Selected Guilds

Did you know that Blizzard has a special program for selected guilds?

I bet you didn't, since they don't market it very much. I happened to stumble upon this as I was exploring one of the darkest corners of Blizzard's official European website, the part which they have dedicated to community related information. Upon further investigation I found a similar page on the US equivalence, where they also linked to a list of the participating guilds. (I dcouldn't find any list for EU, so I guess we're just not good enough.)

Currently there are four guilds in the world who are subjects for this special treatment, if I should believe in the list. And why shouldn't I? Admittedly there isn't any "latest update" information, which I really think this kind of website should have, but you would expect a company as Blizzard to keep their information correct and relevant, right?

The privileges
So what privileges do those four guilds enjoy? Well, among other things they get:
  • "Eligibility to participate in upcoming beta tests" and
  • "Invitations to live online chat sessions with Blizzard game designers".

Wow. Who wouldn't want that for your guild? Especially since they also add the exciting sentence: "Additional features and benefits to come!". I wonder what that would be. Let me guess... an exclusive vanity pet? Guided private tours in the Blizzard HQs? An authentic GC pony? The sky is the limit.

And how do you become a member of this illustrious club?

It seems as if you qualify by doing good deeds for the community. If you read the list of examples they provide, it's apparently a merit to participate in constructive discussions at the official WoW discussion forums. The guild relations section is especially mentioned as a place where you should be active. You can also write fan fiction, create gaming guides that you make available for the community or do WoW-related movies.

They don't mention running a WoW blog, but I suppose that the work that some of the more prominent and informative kind of bloggers do would count as a merit. "Anything else that demonstrates a genuine willingness to help other members of the World of Warcraft community is welcome", as Blizzard states.

How to apply
I know there's more than one guild out there hosting a bunch of bloggers, making movies, guides, even podcasts, guilds that would be more than willing to become beta testers and have exclusive chats with the designers. And of course you're wondering: how do we apply?

I'm sorry to tell you: you don't. They seem to have a "don't call us, we'll call you" approach to the recruitment to the program. On the EU info page, they put it like this:

"Once enough members of a particular guild begin to stand out in this fashion, the leader of the guild will receive an invite via the email address registered to his/her World of Warcraft account, along with further details".

Kind of exciting thought, isn't it? Which guild leader wouldn't become extremely flattered to get such a recognition from Blizzard themselves? And to such an exclusive club! Only four guilds in the entire world are included in this!

To be realistic though, would you really trust such an e-mail if you got it? I probably wouldn't. It's a never-heard of program with benefits that sound very much like the ones that are offered in the scam letters filling our spam boxes. Probably I'd rather tear it into pieces, trying to erase every trace of it from my computer to prevent those bastards from stealing my account. Sad, isn't it?

Does it exist?
Honestly, I'm not certain that this guild program still exists. My website browsing instinct tells me that this looks more like the leftovers from an idea they had once upon a time. It never took off, it was replaced by something else, faded away and they've just forgotten to remove the information. Why else would they be so silent about it? There are also more evident signs that the information is old. The European article mentions the "now Guild Relations forum", and as far as I know this has been around for years. On the other hand the four guilds that actually are on the list seem to be active and running, which speaks for that they at least pay some attention to it, otherwise there would probably have been some dead links around.

Alive or not, I think it's a bit of a shame that the program is dwelling in the shadows. There's nothing wrong about the idea as such. It wouldn't cost Blizzard that much effort to handle out some beta keys and possibly chat a couple of times with the players who build and maintain the community. Day after day those players enhance the gaming experience without getting as much as a "thank you" in return.

The question is: why not pick it up again? I reckon there's a beta for Cataclysm incoming in a not too far distant future. They say that they plan to encourage guilds, for instance by the idea of guild levelling. Wouldn't a selected guild program fit pretty well into this? All it takes is a brush-up of the webpage and a little bit of marketing.

By the way Blizzard gods, in case you're stumbling upon on this post as by a miracle: I wouldn't mind if you sent an invitation letter to my guild master. It's perfectly OK with me. I won't sue you. No kidding.


Tony said...

I know they still hooked those guilds up during the Wrath beta.

kaozz said...

It's been something since the early days of EQ. Guilds and feedback with the developers. Guilds that are on the cutting edge, at that.

Though I've never seen that page, I do know that certain guilds have gotten recognition (voices heard above others) and benefits in WoW in Eq over the years.

Jujee said...

You know when a mmoprg has gotten beyond huge when an elite (secret society) develops. What next?

Ben-M said...

Yeah, I remember this from vanilla. Back then, the pinnacle of WoW was in exponentially harder (5, 10, 20, 40-man) group content. And back then, raid content was only getting completed through dedicated guild efforts and therefore it was in Blizzard's interest to see the guild community improve.

My guess is ultimately this was made obsolete because you can change the game, but you can't change human nature; getting 40 people with only a minor gear advantage to pay attention for cutting edge content was always going to be hard. So it's been easier to (a) make the LFD tool, (b) reduce the group-management skills from 40-man to 25-man, (c) introduce other methods of progression (pvp, crafting) with similar rewards, (d) make all content available to everyone in "non-heroic" versions, (e) increase the ratio of "epic" iLevel to player Level from ~1.1:1 a year into vanilla WoW to ~3.3:1 a year into WotLK.

All of which means there's no pressure to be in a guild any more - it's not necessary to see the sights nor to achieve progression.

Dwism said...

That was a long time ago, and I do believe that the guild relations-program died a horribly and embarrassing death. Which is also why Blizz do not talk about it at all anymore.

Sort of like Google Wave.

tankforlife said...

What a nice find, never knew about this.

"Participating in constructive discussion in the World of Warcraft General Discussion or Guild Relations forum"

Haha, unfortunately it's screwed right there!

Tim said...

"Don't call us, we'll call you" pretty much summarises Blizzard's approach here. In practice, the number of people that get such a call is so infinitesimally small, you need not worry about confusing the email with phishing.

The cruel reality is that they need you to care, but they don't need to care about you. That shouldn't be read with bitterness: It's a simple fact of the 1-to-10 million relationship corporate Blizzard enjoys. Like all the best tech' companies, Blizz' presents itself as an almost individual entity, not the corporate monolith it actually is. Read carefully when people call them "Blizz". It's almost like their talking to their dog. People want to feel that a 1-to-1 relationship is possible, even when the maths tells you it cannot happen for everyone.

Now, there is a largely unseen, highly informal network structure that will never appear on any webpage. So informal, you'll probably never know that you're in it. Organisationally, I suspect informal structures are much more productive, which is probably why the formal structures (like guild relations) are so infrequently used.

Anonymous said...

Sleeper Cartel on Perenolde is still part of the program, and it's alive and well. They were recently featured on WoWInsider if you want to read more about them. They do a lot of charity work IRL, and hold their guild members to high standards in terms of the way they represent themselves in the community (helpfulness, generosity, etc.) They have server-wide parties with live DJ's several times a year with contests and prizes and, over the holidays, they run around the newbie starting zones giving gift-wrapped crafted gifts to Level 1 players. They are eligible for beta, but don't speak about when or if they get it out of respect for Blizzard and their release timelines.

Fitz said...

How do you find such pages to get good inspiration for a post? Seriously, sometimes you amaze me with an off the wall topic like this.

I would not be surprised if this program were still running in the background, but there's no reason to bring hate down on the members of such a guild by publicizing it (and there will always be hate for those with beta access). On the other hand, if you could inspire more people to just be nice in game, maybe it would be worth it. Heck, just getting people to behave like normal human beings in LFG would be an improvement some days!

River said...

Tell you the truth I grow tired of Betas. I'm tired of working my arse off just to have it wiped at launch.

I'm done with that.

Larísa said...

@Tony: Ok. Well, maybe they still do. Just not talking about it.

@Kaozz: Well, they said the guilds would be presented. Maybe the program still is there, it’s just that it isn’t public?

@Ben-M: Yeah, I guess the need for having a guild in order to be able to play the game isn’t as urgent as it was once upon a time. On the other hand it really is a dimension that I wouldn’t want to be without! And I don’t think Blizzard has given up on guilds quite yet – the guild levelling in Cataclysm points in the opposite direction.

@Dwism: Google Wave… Hm. I was invited to it, but I haven’t tried it out quite yet, since it turned out I would have to install another internet browser in order to do so. I guess I’m a bit lazy. Maybe many of us are?

@Tank for life: actually the guild relations forum has always been pretty ok. The general though… it’s more or less like the general channel in the major cities in game.

@Tim: Hm… you sounds as if you really know something about this. You’re a member of the secret network? Can you somehow talk me into it as well?

: oh yeah, I think I read about them at wow.com. They seem ambitious indeed.

@Fitz: oh, I’m a junkie for scanning my surroundings for more or less useless information. I just can’t help myself, I sniff around and most of the things I see are just junk, but sometimes I dig up those little nuggets, like this one. I guess it’s just a habit from work.

@River. I’ve never quite gotten the idea of betas myself. To play the game one extra time just so you get bored quicker when you play it for real? Hmmm… However, if Cataclysm will wait until late autumn, as some prophets think, it might become more tempting.

And I definitely wouldn’t say no to direct and exclusive communication with the developers!

Wolfshead said...

Companies like SOE and Blizzard have had special relationships with uber guilds for many years now.

Despite the fact that Blizzard has their own extensive testing department full of many top notch gamers, these guilds are essentially unpaid employees of the respective companies.

These guilds work hard and do a lot of "free" testing for Blizzard.

Now one program I do object to is the Blizzard MVP program on their official forums; these are the posters with the green names and green text. To my knowledge there have only every been a handful of these so-called MVPs.

As far as I'm concerned this low number is ridiculous. When you read the posts of these MVPs you'll often find that the content is sycophantic and pro-Blizzard.