Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Web Review: The Guild

Finally, after what seems like an eternity, September is here to deliver millions of Americans the kind of hard hitting game play and entertainment that they’ve been craving. But we’re not talking about the NFL here; we’re talking about the freshest nerdnip on the interwebz: The Guild.

For those of you who wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between Kirin’s Osode and Baron Rivendare’s Deathcharger if we spotted you a dozen Emblems of Conquest, The Guild is an online show that focuses on the online and offline lives of a group of gamers who are obsessed with an MMORPG (that is, online role playing game) similar to World of Warcraft. Created and written by lead actress Felicia Day, who you may otherwise know from her stint on Buffy the Vampire Slayer or her role in Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, the series just released the first episode of their third season.

Their timing couldn’t have been better, of course; though the season premiere has been available to Xbox 360 gold members for a week, today is the first day it’s available to the wider audience and I think it’s no coincidence that Tuesday was chosen as the drop date for it. After all, Tuesday is maintenance day for World of Warcraft and (as usual) today’s maintenance was extended due to technical problems, meaning that the 11 million plus WoW players who comprise The Guild’s primary audience have essentially nothing else to do all day to pass their time. And with future episodes also coming out on Tuesday, this is likely to continue.

This is just one example of how Day’s savviness in both gaming and internet promotion has paid dividends. When The Guild was launched two years ago, it was essentially a shoestring operation put together by Day and friends to film the first three webisodes she had scripted parodying her own online gaming addiction. The show clearly struck a nerve with viewers; donations sent in by fans actually financed the rest of the first season, and the resulting DVD sales were enough to fund the entire second season as well. Since then, The Guild has only become more popular, thanks in large part to the viral sensation caused by The Guild’s promotional music video “Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?” Co-written by Joss Whedon’s brother Jed, the video scored over a million hits on youtube in the first two days of release while the song itself soared to number one on the UK iTunes chart. Plus, at Comic-Con, Day announced that she will soon be doing a Guild comics for Dark Horse as well.

With so much hype building over season three, then, the question is whether Day and company can live up to expectations. That’s a bit of an impossible goal, though; with the music video and Xbox distribution creating a huge new audience for the show – some of whom aren’t gamers at all, much less MMO fans – there is bound to be some griping about whatever product comes out, from one side or the other. However, Day has proven so far that she has a good feel for the community that has grown up around The Guild, and I think the first episode of season three is proof that she’s on the right track: as long as she continues to write for gamers like herself, the show will continue to be successful, it’s only if she tries to change to fit her new audience that problems would arise. And that doesn’t seem likely.

Indeed, the only thing in the season three premiere (and trailer) that hints at The Guild’s new status as a cult hit is the presence of the King of all Geeks himself, Mr. Wil Wheaton, a.k.a. Wesley Crusher. Wheaton guest-stars in season three as the leader of a rival guild, but his appearance here is less of a stunt than a coronation; an acknowledgment of the fact that, like himself, The Guild has begun transcending its humble roots and has reached the top of the geek heap.

Or to put it more plainly, after two seasons of questing, the Knights of Good have finally reached the level cap and are now ready for some serious raiding. And that means one thing: epic drops for all their viewers.

<a href="http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-US&from=sp&vid=6f31eb66-4360-439a-ad62-f2bdf28f550e" target="_new" title="Season 3 - Episode 1: Expansion Time">Video: Season 3 - Episode 1: Expansion Time</a>

My Grades: Season one gets a B+ for spirit; season two gets an A- with a special A+++ for Vork; and the season three premiere only gets an A- for reminding me what it’s like standing in one of those lines waiting for an expansion to come out. Not cool, guys.

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Felicia Day may be a person, but it's also a holiday that I celebrate in my heart.