Posted Fri, Oct 02, 2009 by JoBildo
JoBildo: I’m here with Dao Jones from the WildCards, one of Champions Online’s premier Supergroups. Dao Jones, welcome to Ten Ton Hammer, and thanks for taking time out of your busy day beating bad guys to do this interview.
DAO JONES: Thanks Jo. And thank you for the opportunity to shamelessly promote ourselves on your fine website. I’ll make sure the second half of the payment hits your paypal account as soon as this interview gets posted.
JoBildo: Tell us (that is the entire world or at least those reading this) a little bit about the WildCards.
DAO JONES: I’d like to start by mentioning that I had never even heard of the George R.R. Martin novels of the same name until we started recruiting. That I formed a superhero genre guild called the “WildCards” while being completely unaware of the (apparently quite popular) series of novels about superheroes called “Wild Cards” is rather ironic, albeit sublimely so. The name was originally suggested to me by a fellow guild member (he himself had used it in a Battletech PnP game long ago), and it sounded snappy, so it stuck.
I get asked about that connection at least once a day, so I figured I’d just get it in print for posterity. Kinda cathartic, really.
Beyond that, the WildCards are the Champions Online branch of the Unrepentant gaming community, which got its start in Age of Conan. We believe the games you play aren’t as important as the people you play them with, and my goal with the ‘Cards was to provide a casual, fun environment for people of a like mind.
JoBildo: How would you guys classify yourselves? Are you a tight-knit role-play guild, a PvP focused group?
DAO JONES: I believe we can best be classified as “iconic rock star celebrity superhero sex gods”, which is what we’ve got printed on our stationary. But beneath our stunning lack of humility lies a guild of what I like to call “fellow travelers”. As I mentioned previously, the WildCards aren’t about anything other than “having fun in good company”. To that end we dabble in a little of everything. We almost always have a group of people PvPing at any given moment, and on the weekends we like to round everyone up and go beat on the “mega threats” like Grond, Kigatilik, Mega-Terak, and the bosses of some of the harder open missions in the game.
But beyond that there is no focus. We disagree with the idea that a guild should constrain or limit your ability to enjoy your hobbies, and to that end we don’t require or restrict how people play. I liken us to a bunch of friends hanging out at a bar: maybe a group of us are off playing darts, or badly singing karaoke in the back, while the rest of us drink at the bar and attempt to see who can commit the most memorably stupid act of the evening.
While I understand that guilds in games choose a focus to help attract a certain type of player, we have taken the opposite approach: we focus on the players, and allow the guild to shape itself around their interests. It works better than you’d think.
JoBildo: How’s the Supergroup run? I mean, is it managed a certain way? What’s the leadership like, and how do you guys delegate authority? Basically, as I used to ask the Age of Conan clans, are you more Hitler or more Gandhi when it comes to how things are run?
DAO JONES: If you ask me, I would say I have the fortitude of Rasputin, the foresight of Winston Churchill and the temperance of Gandhi. If you ask my guild, they would assert that I have the fortitude of Gandhi, the foresight of Rasputin, and the temperance of Winston Churchill.
The guild is run as a mix of laissez-faire anarchy intertwined with occasional bouts of benign oligarchy. (Sorry if I sent anyone running to Wikipedia on that one.) I’m a strong believer that if you recruit the right sort of people a guild should basically run itself, and the WildCards do that in spades. (Pardon the pun.) The “leadership” (myself and six officers) are generally only needed during the recruiting process; beyond that there isn’t much to do. Our position is one of service – not power, and I really consider my only “job” as guild leader to be ensuring that the membership has the kind of enjoyable environment and camaraderie that they deserve.
JoBildo: How many WildCards are there these days? Do you guys spend time across more than one game? I noticed you guys dabbled in Left 4 Dead… is anyone dressing up as a Boomer for Halloween?
DAO JONES: I think we have several members who already tend to spew bile on a daily basis – metaphorical and otherwise.
At last count we had 230+ individual members in the WildCards, with new people looking us up every day. I’m very proud of the fact that the 'Cards have a sizeable international element, and we have quite a few members who hail from the UK, Sweden, Belgium, and parts surrounding (as well as all across the United States and Canada).
Since we are part of a larger gaming community we are active in other games. Currently, “official” Unrepentant branches exist in LotRO (Brandywine server) and Aion (we already have a level 3 Asmodian legion rocking on the Azphel server). We try to keep involved in Steam games weekly, although the recent launches of our CO and Aion branches have cut into our L4D, AA3 and TF2 time. Individual members also dabble in almost every MMO out there, and we’re already planning to have a presence in upcoming games such as SWTOR Online.
JoBildo: One of the trends we see with some of the larger guilds in most MMOGs is the hosting of server or guild-wide events. Is that something the WildCards ever do? Are you very active in the community, or do you mostly keep to yourselves?
DAO JONES: This is definitely “on the agenda”, if you will; we did this frequently in both Age of Conan and Warhammer Online with much success. Quite often when we gather in force we encourage other people to join us; we’ve taken down the Mega-Destroid several times, and every time we throw it out to the zone to join in. As far as “formal” events go? Well, let’s just say the idea for a “(semi)naked foot race” across Millennium City has been floated a time or ten amongst our members.
JoBildo: If you guys are recruiting new members, can you tell us what exactly it takes to become one of the WildCards? What’s required of a prospective member?
DAO JONES: Well, we have a concrete 18+ age requirement, and most of us are in our late 20s to mid 40s. Beyond that I’ve only ever asked three things of our members, and the people who want to join us: 1) Have fun, 2) Be cool, and 3) Help your fellow guildies. Because the ‘Cards succeeded beyond my wildest expectations (I had expected maybe 25-30 people in the guild at peak, and we’ve seen well over ten times that number interested in joining us to date) I had to implement an application process, but this is much more an opportunity to show off your personality than it is a job application. (Unless your jobs require questions like “what is your zombie plan”, and “tell us the story of why you will no longer drink <fill in name of liquor>”.)
The WildCards are a laid-back, no drama guild. We're not looking for awesome players or hardcore fanatics; what we want are people who will add something to the conversation, you know? My saying usually goes "the ones who get it, get in", and while that sounds extremely vague I guarantee you that every member of the 'Cards knows exactly what I mean.
JoBildo: One more question, and this is the all-important one for fans of the game… what do you think are the most pressing issues in Champions Online today? What, since we know Cryptic’s out there listening, would you request they work on before anything else?
DAO JONES: I'm going to start by saying that I think Cryptic are a solid bunch. I always felt that they did right by City of Heroes, and so far have done an excellent job with Champions Online. If there is one failing that will be the millstone around their necks that drags this game to the ground it will be the lack of community the game engenders amongst players.
As the game currently plays teaming is usually more trouble than it is worth, and beyond the occasional grouping to tackle a tough boss the preferred mode of play for the majority of the player base is to solo the content. Missions cannot be shared between teammates unless all have progressed to the exact same point, and the content is generally so easy that bringing even two people into an instance means an uninteresting cakewalk.
On the guild side (something obviously near and dear to me) the guild management tools in this game are the most primitive I have ever seen. I can't sort by a player's "@ name", we are only given four ranks to work with, and there isn't even a way to see last login dates; something that has been a given in MMO guild management for longer than I can recall. On top of all that we are limited to 250 characters (not players) in a guild. Given that games such as this one inspire experimentation in even the most focused player, this means that even mid-sized guilds need to restrict the number of alts players can have on their roster. This leads to unnecessary alt guilds, which begins to fracture a guild's sense of community.
The poor guild support and lack of grouping incentive in Champions strikes me as the largest threat to their long term success. Nerfs come and nerfs go, but if people don't feel like they're part of something greater in an MMO, then that MMO becomes nothing more than a single-player game with an incoherent story and no sense of inclusiveness.
JoBildo: Alright, that concludes this Champions Online Supergroup Showcase. Thanks so much Dao for taking the time to answer these questions and letting the community know everything they could want to know about the WildCards. See you in Millennium City!
DAO JONES: Thanks for the opportunity to preen/rant/chat. I should probably inform you that - per unspoken guild regulation - I have conducted my part of this interview with my pants off, and a beer in my hand.
Stay classy, Millennium City.