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 from No Starch Press.
Last week, I discussed how players interested in Cataclysm's guild perks can get into guilds without becoming "freeloaders." Today, I'll look at the issue from an officer's perspective. I'll examine the drawbacks of having freeloaders in your guild, steps you can take to filter them and methods for dealing with them if they make it past those filters.
What do I mean by a freeloader? A freeloader is a player who is in your guild purely out of self-interest, who has no desire to contribute to the guild in any way. In short, a freeloader is there only for your precious, precious perks.
Are freeloaders a problem?
A few freeloaders on your roster won't be a major issue, in most cases. You can simply hope that they'll keep to themselves and won't actively cause problems. They may even chip in some guild experience when they have an active day. Small guilds may actually decide to seek out such players to help them level up faster. I don't recommend it, but you will level faster with more players, up to a point.
Larger guilds won't benefit much from inviting freeloaders. You'll get all the experience you need from the players you trust, so there's no real advantage (aside from a little extra cash) to inviting more players. In fact, doing so carries a bevy of risks.
For one thing, having too many freeloaders can be bad for morale. It's depressing when you've got 15 people online and no one responds to guild chat or wants to participate in guild activities. On the other side of the coin, if they're talkative, your guild chat could quickly turn into trade chat.
Players you don't know and haven't screened thoroughly can cause all sorts of problems, from the merely annoying (constantly asking for help or for free stuff) to the outright devastating. Imagine they attend a raid out of curiosity. Your guild makes it halfway through the Bastion of Twilight and then calls it quits for the night.
The next day, one of the freeloaders uses the ID to finish the zone with a PUG. You zone in for the next scheduled raid to find the place cleaned out. It's a far-fetched scenario, perhaps, but the bottom line is this: You don't know what freeloaders are capable of until they do it.
There's also the issue of what they do out on their own and how that reflects on your guild. Guild reputation is more than just another rep grind. You have to consider your guild's actual reputation on the server. If you've got freeloaders who are running around harassing players, spamming chat channels and ninja looting, that's going to have a genuine impact on how players on your server perceive your community.
Once most guilds have leveled up, your perks will not be unique and freeloaders can go anywhere to get them. They'll have no investment in your guild at all. Not every freeloader is going to be a jerk, but why take the risk?
If you do invite freeloaders on purpose, I recommend creating a special rank for them and warning your players to be careful when grouping with them.
How to filter freeloaders
As officers, we'll have to be on alert for freeloaders once our guilds have leveled up a few times.
Reviewing applications carefully will be critical. Most guilds ask, "Why do you want to join?" If you don't ask this question on your application, you should, because the answers are often quite telling. It never ceases to amaze me what players will say. I've seen players write things like, "so I can gear up with you and then apply to [ultimate hardcore guild X]" or "because you guys have the Lich King on farm and I really need the sword from him." Such replies make it very easy to filter someone. I have no doubt that someone, somewhere, will eventually answer that question with "because you guys have all the perks."
Rarely will it be so obvious, however. Here are other warning signs:
- The player doesn't have a clear idea what your guild is about or what you do.
- The player doesn't seem interested in participating in guild activities.
- The player doesn't know anyone in your guild, and no one in the guild has heard of him or her before.
- The player lies about their experience or accomplishments. You can check achievements and such using the Armory.
- The player hasn't belonged to any guilds in the past. You can check his guild history via Warcraft Realms.
- The player is also applying to six other guilds on the server, or the player has applied to a series of guilds who have turned him or her down. Check the websites of your server's other guilds.
Dealing with freeloaders
Even a very thorough application review may not reveal a freeloader, particularly one who's deceptive. It's possible you'll wind up with a few on your roster. However, you can still protect yourself:
- Have clear, written policies explaining expected member behavior and consequences for misbehavior. That way, you have a valid reason to kick freeloaders if they cause any problems.
- Restrict bank access for lower-ranked members.
- Don't automatically promote players to higher ranks based on their time in the guild. Promote players only after you've gotten to know them. For players who keep to themselves and avoid guild chat, you may never reach the stage where you feel comfortable with promoting them.
- Label members' alts using the officer's note function in the guild UI so you always know who you're dealing with.
- Institute a "no freeloaders" policy. It's your guild, so the language here can be as specific or as vague as you want it to be. Just keep in mind that it may be difficult to distinguish between a genuine freeloader and your younger brother who mostly just collects noncombat pets, so don't paint yourself into a corner. I recommend language like this: "Any player who demonstrates, either explicitly or through repeated behavior, that his or her reason for membership is solely to take advantage of perk bonuses can be removed from the guild at an officer's discretion."
Send Scott your guild-related questions, conundrums, ideas and suggestions at email@example.com. You may find your question the subject of next week's Officers' Quarters!