The video and the Friend/Ships campaign
I just adored how natural the bond between Alex, Anthony, and Ryan is: You can tell that POOF doesn’t take itself too seriously and managed to keep the fun factor when you note the personalities behind it. I loved watching the highlights of their first raid boss clear because it absolutely mirrors my raiding experience in so many MMOs, not least of which is Guild Wars 2. Forging natural friendships online can be challenging, but all of the barriers between people have been smashed in this guild because of their silly antics and amazing efforts to blend in-game bonding with real support and friendship.
How lovely is it that the POOF guild flag was sent to their members for signing? Each subsequent person to receive the flag got to see a physical contribution to their camaraderie left behind by the members to sign before them, which is just amazing to think of. Alex, Ryan, and Anthony’s bond certainly extends beyond that of in-game acquaintances and I love that such enduring friendships can be found within our game communities. Let’s have a look at what they think makes POOF such a wonderful place, and why their friendships are so important to one another.
Massively Overpowered: Thanks for sharing your lovely guild story with the wider Guild Wars 2 community! What can each of you tell me about your in-game experiences pre-POOF? Did you notice a gap in the game for a guild like yours, or was it simply an organic process to make POOF that was borne out of friendship and commonality?
Alex: I started playing back during early beta weekends with one of my close friends, and we mostly stuck to just playing duo, but I was interested in seeking out a guild to get the full ‘MMO experience’. We went through a few guilds (and servers pre-megaserver!) before I found one that I ended up really liking the people in. I eventually became an admin in that guild, which is where I met Anthony, and after about 8 months of running events in there, we made the decision to branch off and start our own since we found that we really enjoyed working together.
As far as gaps in the game, I feel like that’s only natural. It’s been out for over 5 years, and a lot can change in people’s lives in that time. A lot of us have had drastic work-life and school changes and sometimes we can go a few months away from the game, though we all keep in contact through other means of communication, like texting and Discord and social media.
Anthony: I had been tracking the development of Guild Wars 2 for a couple years, and decided to head into it solo right after launch. Like many players who started off fledging along, I ended up in a couple different guilds along the way. Amazingly, some of the friends I had made from those guilds later ended up joining Alex, Ryan, and me as we went on to found POOF. And we still know them to this day!
Regarding the latter question, folks getting together and forming a community really was an organic process. Especially when you take the time to break the ice (As I have many a time with late night karaoke!) and get to know people. Soon enough we’d find ourselves asking each other if we had all manner of other games, organizing movie nights, and sometimes just sitting and chatting for the sake of it. Gaps in the game came and went for many people, but that never stopped those of us who were close from remaining together.
Ryan: I had been playing Guild Wars 2 since the beta with a few of my friends from other online games. We didn’t have a large guild or group of people to play with and our interest faded in the game. After taking 6 months off Guild Wars Alex invited me to try it again claiming she had a great group of people in a guild she was starting up with Anthony. I immediately noticed a difference in the amount of fun Guild Wars 2 offered when a part of a guild and was sucked back into the game. I don’t know if there was a gap in the game for a guild like POOF, I’m sure there are other similar guilds in the game but I think it’s important for people to find a group like POOF that they’re comfortable with and have fun playing the game with.
Alex: I feel like making the ‘leap’ to meet in person is not even really something to think about after a certain point. You spend hundreds and hundreds of hours talking and playing with these people in and out of game, and in the case of Anthony, Ryan, myself and a handful of our guildies, we had group video calls so we all knew what we looked like, and at that point it more or less becomes; “I want to go do this -THING- with my friends.” By the time you reach that comfort level, I really don’t feel like there’s any difference between friends I’ve made in person and those I’ve met through gaming. They’re really awesome people that I love spending time with.
Oh goodness. My mom was NOT convinced when I tried to explain to her that I was going to meet up with friends I met online. There was definitely some…. resistance with her, and I want to say it took many many years followed by her meeting some of my friends in person that got her to finally accept that internet friends aren’t scary. I got a handful of my IRL friends into the game, so they knew all these people and they had the same outlook about it that I did, but there’s definitely a stigma about it, and when I tell people that don’t game online that I’m meeting up with online friends, I find myself trying to word it carefully to them.
Anthony: We had spent so much time together in-game, over voice comms, and in video chats that we were completely comfortable with each other. So after we spent some time talking about going to PAX Prime 2014 in Seattle, I decided that hey, this sounds fun! Not just going to a con for the first time, but doing it with people I legitimately consider to be my close friends and partners in crime. However, it was then I thought “Well this seems good and all, but even though I live near Seattle, I’m not in any financial capacity to attend.” Thankfully, and I still feel blessed to this day for it, my friends ended up helping to finance my trip so I could see them. I was floored by the kindness I had received.
Regarding what my family thought, they were completely cool with it! We had been gaming and part of other online communities in the past, so it felt more natural to them. Plus at the time I was playing near my living room, so as they would come and go, I introduced them to the guild and vice-versa. In fact, they were pretty excited and happy that I had such wonderful friends willing to help me like that. Being in a family of nerds has its perks, haha.
Ryan: After playing games, voice, and video chatting with each other for months or in this case years it doesn’t feel all that strange to want to meet in person. During our voice and video chats with guildies, we’re always talking about things we are doing outside of the game and it seems really natural that we go ‘well…I wish I could be there and do these things WITH you guys!’. So I think it’s a natural progression to want to meet up in person. I remember normal it felt to meet for the first time, you really know these people well so you’re not really waiting for a stranger at the airport as much as a familiar friendly face.
I still get some strange looks sometimes when I tell my friends and family that I’m travelling so far to meet someone I’ve only talked to online, but after explaining to them how many thousands of hours we’ve spent together they start to understand.
Alex: Don’t take yourself too seriously, and definitely find the ability to laugh at your mistakes. It can be difficult trying to create an environment where a LOT of different personality types are coming together. Don’t be afraid to put your foot down if someone is genuinely causing issues, but be completely willing to listen to both sides of the story.
Don’t ‘force’ fun either. We found that hosting events that involved getting everyone something they could benefit from or enjoy were our most successful ones. For us, early days guild missions, trivia where we gave out tons of crafting mats, or guild Hero Point trains tended to have our largest, and most enjoyable turnout.
If you’re comfortable with VOIP, that’s actually a really big plus to growing a community, in all the instances that I’ve found. It’s easy to goof off in voice chat while doing something where typing responses out can be difficult, which in turn gets everyone to know each other a lot better.
MOP: GW2 is deeply special to me because of the friendships I’ve made in-game and because I share it with my real-world friends and family too. Have you any thoughts on what makes the game such a particularly great space in which to forge friendships?
Alex: The game really, genuinely promotes working together. I found that I would get excited to run into other players in the overworld, because there was no PK system, kill stealing or node sharing. Events were easier with more people and I found that I would actively run over to go pick up dead players indicated on my minimap, because others had done that for me. I believe that all directly translates to bringing people together community-wise.
Ryan: A lot of the Guild Wars content really encourages you to be social while playing through it, you’re never really competing with other players, instead you’re working together towards a common goal. This can be in a map-wide meta event like Dragon’s Stand where everyone is coordinating and communicating in multiple lanes, or even in smaller fractal parties where everyone works together to reach the end reward which everyone shares equally (there is no rolling for loot like in other games). I think this sense of working together instead of competing against one another really promotes the forging of friendships with people in the game, and in our case this lead to close friendships outside of Guild Wars.
Anthony: Really, the fact that GW2 is really designed around cooperation is what I would say fosters that sense of camaraderie. Plus the fact that there is so much to explore and find, that you inevitably have to put yourself out there and talk to people to find all the nooks and crannies. It’s delicately weighed balance of letting the player roam free and “play how you want” along with providing enough incentive to group together with people. Not penalizing you for doing so or locking you out of loot, XP, etc.
MOP: I adored the story about sending out your guild banner to your members and love how you’ve managed to share something tangible with your roster in such a creative way. Where will the banner end up once it has done the rounds? Is there a story behind your emblem? Finally, have you any other ideas for pushing the POOF friendships forged in-game into the physical space?
Alex: So, the banner already has a home! It was our guild’s 4th anniversary present to ArenaNet as thanks for creating the game that brought us all together. I made a guild heroes banner where one side had ANET’s guild emblem on one flag, and the other flag was our emblem with all the signatures. We presented it to them at the 2016 PAX Prime anniversary party. Last I checked it used to be in the streaming room in their main office, (which is where Caithe’s dagger that we gave them for the 3rd anniversary is too!)
The guild emblem is one part because my very first character (going back to pre-release) was named after a webcomic character that did… a party trick with a pineapple and a yo-yo, another part because of all random things… a PINEAPPLE was available as a guild icon, and during one of our group’s more rowdy, drunken hangout nights in VoIP, a bit of a meme arose about what… people could do with pineapples and the benefits of eating them. Honestly, it’s rather inappropriate, and a bit ridiculous which is really what we’re all about. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and like to just goof off. Anthony and I would sometimes change the emblem of the old guild we admin’d into the pineapple during events, so when we founded [POOF], we decided to roll with it as our main icon.
MOP: Have you planned any wider guild meetups for the future?
Alex: We try to always aim to have a meetup annually at PAX Prime with as many of us as possible since it’s a great excuse to hang out and do the convention together, but tickets are a nightmare to get, and it is a large financial commitment. Usually, outside of large events like that, we tend to have smaller group meetups, mostly to fit within all our work schedules and it’s actually a lot of fun to get to see where everyone is from! One of our guildies had a few meetups at his place since he’s in a central location in the country too, so it really just depends on how we all manage to work it out!
Ryan: The biggest guild meetup of the year is at PAX Prime, other than PAX we have smaller meetups between guildies. It’s really hard to schedule between 3 or 4 people’s work schedules and travel availability so my visits to people have been smaller in the past. I’m hoping to make it to PAX this year to meet up with more POOF members who I haven’t had the opportunity to meet yet.
Anthony: Definitely another meetup later this year. PAX would be amazing if that works out for people, though I might end up taking a road trip if that doesn’t work out!
MOP: Talk to me about your guild structure and organization: How have you decided on ranks, permissions, and other control structures? Where and how do you promote events, and what are your top recruitment tips?
Alex: We have a founders rank, and then we have a few admins that have the full power that Anthony and I have, and then underneath that, we had a rank to denote members that had been around a while and felt comfortable answering questions/teaching content, and then a standard member rank. Permissions would be about what you would expect out of that, aside from a trial period with inviting new members. I learned that not everyone is the most honest sort, and we had an issue where someone joined just to wipe out our guild bank, so that’s really the only thing I kept restricted.
Event promotions were all done entirely in-game in the early days before megaserver. I never really knew how to Reddit and I didn’t visit the official forums and there was definitely a much closer-knit server identity back then too, so we actually used to only recruit/promote events within our server, Tarnished Coast. After HoT dropped we would put advertisements in the party finder, along with making a Reddit post, and now recently we have a community events discord where I announce upcoming community events. Anyone is welcome to join us, but we are on the NA servers.
I find that being clear with recruitment about what sort of guild you aim to build is a MUST. Don’t be afraid to steer people away, even if you’re in full-on recruitment mode if you think their aspirations and desire of what they want out of the guild isn’t what you’re seriously offering. Lurk the recruitment subreddit and official forums, and reach out to people personally to see if they’re looking for what you’re building. People that make the effort to post on those places tend to be more interested than someone you’ll pick up from a mapchat spam.
MOP: If people want to join POOF, how or where can they do that?
Alex: I think first and foremost I would encourage people to join our community events Discord, and if they’re actually interested in joining after that, I would encourage them to message me directly on there. Due to real life.. being real life, I personally haven’t had nearly enough time to run/promote/keep a substantial presence in-game anymore, and the guild has basically fallen a lot quieter in more recent days. Most of us just keep in contact through means outside of the game, but we all try to get on for our events. So, definitely start there if you’re interested in seeing what we’re about.
MOP: What’s the biggest in-game achievement your collective has accomplished?
Alex: Endgame PvE wise, aside from a Spirit Vale clear, I suppose I’d say that a group of us got T4 Fractals and Nightmare CM when that dropped on a nightly farm basis for a LONG while.We really love fractals, and some of our members were actively teaching and helping our other guildies learn/gear up to make the climb up to T4. Our focus was never on hardcore endgame, and more on the community aspect of a guild, so we never did anything too crazy that people would consider a big in-game ‘achievement.’
Aside from perhaps… Breaking the chocolate banana market.
Anthony: And thanks to that, one of our friends is sitting on a throne of close to 20,000 bananas. Some might ask, was spending an indiscriminate amount of gold to crash the market for a low-level food item worth it? Just to see the confused and bewildered reactions from people? Absolutely.
Ryan: Practicing for weeks and working towards a POOF raid clear felt like a huge accomplishment for us, but I don’t think completing hard endgame content would be our biggest in-game achievement. I feel like running successful community events is a bigger achievement, whether it be a trivia night, dungeon or fractal training nights, hero point trains, or more recently touring starter zones to help introduce new players to the game. The Guild Wars 2 community is great and sharing a successful event night with them is very gratifying.
Ryan: I think POOF and Guilds as a whole in the game are best suited to help people with their real-world problems simply by being there as an outlet for people to vent to, understand, and provide some words of encouragement during people’s tougher times. It’s also comforting for people to have a stable group of friends in the game that they can go to each day and unwind, laugh with, and work off some of the everyday stress.
Anthony: That network of friends, with everyone’s diverse backgrounds, is really at the core of it. That said, having a group of good, honest people who are willing to pick each other up and also lend an ear is critical. I know in some of my more dire circumstances, these guys were the first people I could trust and go to without judgement.
MOP: To wrap up, tell me a bit about your players. Do you tend to attract a set demographic? Do you know any interesting facts about the geographic spread, age brackets etc. of your members?
Anthony: While I am subscribed to r/dataisbeautiful, I am terrible with numbers. I can say for sure though that while yes, we do have a lot of 20-somethings, there is a lot of variety age wise. Even more so with regards to cultural spread and location. We’ve had people from the UK, Germany, Australia, Taiwan, all over North America, some in South America, Hawaii… Even South Africa!
Regarding demographic and mentality, I would refer to our original name, Potentially Offensive. A tongue in cheek nod to our crazy sense of humor, yet deep respect we had for each other. Like the Wu Tang Clan. All joking aside, while we all hailed from many different backgrounds and philosophies, it’s our ability to be open and willing to learn from each other that allowed us to grow as a community.
This friendship trio makes me smile from ear to ear: They sum it up simply by the end of their video by pointing out that the friendships forged within their guild are “100% real” and that having such a supportive place to relax in with people who you’re so close to is confidence-building and generally inspiring and motivating. Although POOF’s path is special, I know from experience that this sense of belonging isn’t unique to this one guild or one game: Part of why I adore writing Guild Chat is because it helps people to find this same sense of belonging and community with their own guilds.
Strong leaders inspire strong communities such as this one, so it really is a testament to Alex, Ryan, and Anthony that POOF is the sort of guild through which such meaningful friendships can be forged. Note that the guild started from an idea and a shared experience: You don’t need to have amazingly complex plans, real-world management skills, or a whole troop of willing participants to make your mark on your little corner of your chosen MMO’s community. Organic growth due to having honest-to-goodness fun with your guildmates and those they invite along far surpasses mass invites and other soulless methods of recruitment. If there’s anything to be learned from POOF, it’s that if you put yourself and your friendships at the heart of your guild, you’ll not go too far wrong.
I’d love to hear more stories about your in-game friendships and the guilds that helped form them. Sharing these stories is brilliant in that it helps inspire us all to keep forging those connections that make MMOs so special: Knowing that the exchanges we have in-game are meaningful outside the gamespace is incredible. Let me know what you think on the subject in the comments.