Every Monday Scott Andrews contributes Officers' Quarters, a column about the ins and outs of guild leadership. He is the author of The Guild Leader's Handbook, available this spring from No Starch Press.
On most servers, guilds experience a severe lull in interest and activity prior to the release of an expansion. Players get sick of the old content. They achieve the goals they care about. Then they do other things with their free time until the next expansion gives them new goals to achieve and new content to conquer.
These pre-expansion doldrums hit guilds pretty hard during the long wait for The Burning Crusade, especially considering that many raid teams were unable (or unwilling) to progress into AQ40 or vanilla Naxx. The situation grew so dire while players were awaiting Wrath that poaching -- despite its stigma -- became rampant (so much so that I had to rant about it).
Now we are facing the same situation again while waiting for Cataclysm. One guild leader is reaching out for advice on how to recruit in this environment.
Hello, I am writing in hopes that this could be answered in an upcoming Officers Quarters feature.
I am an officer in a small, semi-casual raiding guild. We exclusively do 10-man content; we lucked into having a group of players that enjoy raiding, but not the "cat herding" required for the larger 25-man raids. I use the term casual loosely; we're (mostly) serious raiders, we just don't have attendance requirements for raids nor a complex looting system. We've had relatively steady raid progression thus far, where we're working on a few (normal mode) encounters in the upper spire of Icecrown Citadel. In short, we feel that the 10-player difficulty was designed for our level of play, and enjoy the challenge that it provides.
Unfortunately, we've also run into the problem of some serious guild attrition.
A few guildies have over-exerted themselves, which has led to them being burned out on the game, while a few others have the typical real life issues that require them to step away from the game for an extended period of time. We've gone from having 15 or more sign ups for our scheduled progression raids, to sometimes barely being able to scrape together 10 players (often involving phone calls or out-of-guild friends to fill up the raid). This also means we might not have the required group makeup for encounter mechanics -- the raid leader and guild officers scratching their heads for 5-10 minutes trying to figure out how to use the resources available to down content we essentially have "on farm" does not help guild morale.
As one of our more vocal members pointed out, the Dungeon Finder feature is a curse in this regard; when we use to be limited to grouping with members from our own server for our heroic badges, guild members would get introduced to other members of the server community, get a feel for how those people played in instances, form a connection, and then, if they were unguilded or express unhappiness with their current guild, invite them to give our guild a try. Nowadays, that interaction doesn't occur, so a new means of recruitment is necessary.
So the question is, this late an expansion lifecycle, and with the Dungeon Finder tool now cutting off one avenue of guild recruitment, what options are available to recruit new guild members to counter attrition?
Shadowblades of Gilneas
Aurilia, understand that you are not alone. Many, many raiding guilds are feeling the same pinch right now. Their players are bored or burned out or they just don't want to play WoW right now with a new expansion due sometime later this year. The members who remain get restless as they see other members quitting or taking a break. They wonder what will happen to the guild.
Here's the bad news: This situation will only get worse. The release of the Cataclysm beta will prompt even more people to box up their toons until the expansion goes live. More and more will do so as the expansion release gets closer.
However, there is some reason for hope. For one thing, both vanilla WoW and BC offered no new content at all once their ultimate raiding tier was released (aside from Blizzard's attempt at encouraging world PvP that resulted in the "sandlol" patch). Wrath looks to change that. We'll have a new raid in Patch 3.3.5: the Ruby Sanctum.
It's possible that players who have gone on hiatus will return for this raid. Certainly it will spur the community's interest in raiding again, at least for a while. With only one actual boss and a few mini-bosses, though, Ruby Sanctum may not capture raiders' interest for very long.
Patch 3.9, which will most likely be released a few months before Cataclysm releases, should also spark a return to the game. Presumably it will include the major class and stat changes that Cataclysm will usher in, as well as the retaking of the Echo Isles and Gnomeregan. However, it's going to be a long wait for this patch.
So what can we do now? First, I would encourage you not to guilt-trip or bully players into raiding. If they don't want to, they don't want to. Forcing them will only cause resentment toward the officers, the guild and possibly even the game itself. It may also prompt them to cancel their accounts (temporarily or otherwise) in self-defense. You don't want that.
Second, communicate with your players. Be honest with your guild about your situation and what the officers plan to do about it. Remind them that this happens during every gap between expansions. Tell them that you understand players' desire to do other things at this point in the expansion cycle, and that anyone who quits the game or takes a break will be welcome to return to the guild if they decide to come back for Cataclysm. That way, in the worst-case scenario that your guild simply can't muster enough members to raid for a while, players will be more understanding and more likely to come back when interest picks up again.
Third, let's talk about plugging the leaking ship. Yes, the dungeon finder, while incredibly convenient, has made recruiting more challenging. However, there are still a number of options at your disposal.
Skip the finder. Just because it exists doesn't mean you no longer have a choice. You can still ask people to run dungeons in the trade or LFG channels. There's no reason to be deceptive about it, either. If people ask why you're doing it, tell them you're looking to add raiding members to your guild and you'd like to meet people from the server.
Form an alliance. The gap between expansions is the best time for guild alliances. Since most guilds are suffering the same fate, their officers and other members are more willing to work with other guilds in order to keep raiding. A guild merger is also a possibility. However, mergers during this time can come back to bite you later. When members of both guilds return for the new expansion, you're going to have way too many people for the available slots. It's a good problem to have, in some respects, but you could also lose people if your raids are consistently shutting too many people out.
PUG it. If you're one or two players short on a given raid night, consider inviting PUG players to fill those slots. Obviously you'll want to vet those players to make sure they have some raiding experience and adequate gear, but pugging a couple of raid slots can be a great way to meet players who could become guild members. It can also lead to frustration and drama, but so can canceling raids, so what do you have to lose?
Use traditional recruiting methods. Advertising on your server's official forum, the official recruitment forums and in game is still a great way to get the word out about your guild and its recruiting needs.
If all else fails, you can opt for a last resort: Announce an official guild break. Sometimes it's better for the guild as a whole to take a step back from raiding rather than face night after night of canceled raids. It can actually be less damaging to morale than to keep trying and keep failing. Players who are burned out but still feel obligated to raid will be grateful. Players who were on the fence about whether to keep playing may enjoy some casual WoW sessions without the pressure to raid.
Players who can't imagine not raiding for several months may join other guilds. However, those other guilds may not fare much better, and your former members may return when the Ruby Sanctum opens. Don't hold a grudge against people who leave or make them feel as if they're betraying you. You're no longer offering the gameplay experience they want, so don't blame them for seeking it elsewhere. They may actually help you by facilitating a guild alliance between their new guild and yours.
The next six months or so is going to be a tough time for raiding guilds. I would urge everyone to stay calm, stick to the principles that your guild is founded on, and avoid poaching from other guilds. Work with the other guilds on your server, not against them!
Send Scott your guild-related questions, conundrums, ideas, and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may find your question the subject of next week's Officers' Quarters!