The Guild Counsel: A closer look at guild management

Ask an MMO player what he thinks of when you say the word "guild."

The common image is that it's militaristic -- a highly structured organization with draconian by-laws, a rigorous recruitment process, and high demands.

It can be, but today's guilds have evolved into many different forms, and in some cases, have a different name entirely (clans, corporations, etc.). Some guilds are more like a sports team, to which the guild leader is more of a motivational coach. There are set expectations, but members have a bit more room to freestyle. Still other guilds are similar to a book club, in which players gather to share their common appreciation for an MMO but aren't required to sweat blood for their guild. There are some basic minimal expectations (don't be a ninja raider), but you don't always have to do what the pack does.

About nine months ago, I again jump-started my guild-themed podcast, called A View From the Top. It's a podcast that's focused on guild leadership and social networks in MMOs. Originally, my co-host and I focused on interviews with guild leaders, community managers, and game developers. But over time, we've found that what people really wanted was advice on guild issues.

For the bulk of the past 10 years, I've been leading guilds in EverQuest, Vanguard, and EverQuest II. I've also gotten to know guild leaders in several other MMOs through the podcast and hear their stories of guild management. What I've learned is that no matter what the MMO, there are common issues that every guild deals with. Some issues are so big, that if not handled well, they can lead to guilds disbanding and players leaving the game entirely. Unfortunately, because MMOs tend to encourage competition among guilds, there really aren't any central hubs for guild leaders to get together and counsel each other on how to deal with some very difficult issues. I hope that this column will serve as a spot to seek advice about guild management and look at the variety of guilds across MMOs.

Given all that, where should we begin?
It seems appropriate to start my first column with a look at the question, "How do I build a guild from the ground up?" It's a question that we've handled a few times on the podcast, and it's a very important one. You really can't begin to run a guild without having a clear idea of who you are as a guild leader and what guild you want to be. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Who are you, and what do you want to achieve in your guild?

These two questions are always at the center of everything you do in guild. And the better you can answer them, the easier your job will be. Let's look at the second one first: What do you want to achieve? Maybe it's to be a progression-based raiding guild. Maybe you want to make a PvP-oriented guild with an eye for territorial control. Maybe you're a small group of friends that wants to complete dungeon content. Or maybe you're a band of gnomes who want to establish a monopoly on the tinkering market. It seems like a simple question, but lots of guild leaders start off without having thought that through. If there's one thing that every single successful guild has in common, it's that they have an objective and their members are focused on reaching it. Take time to come up with that vision, and once you do, make sure you convey it clearly to every member and applicant and remind them of it often.

The second question is much harder, and it's one that even a seasoned guild leader might not be able to fully answer. Who are you as a leader? How do you lead, and what's your general philosophy? Are you the second coming of Dives, or are you more of a quiet motivator? Do you use humor in tough times, or do you prefer a "win one for the Gipper" speech? Have you ever heard the saying about how dog owners often resemble their dogs? It's the same for guilds. Often, the tone, demeanor, and atmosphere in a guild resembles those of its leader. The better you understand yourself and your leadership style, the better you'll understand your guild -- which is priceless.

Rules are made to be broken.

Every guild needs some basic outline of what's expected from its members and how key decisions will be made. If you're a raiding guild, you need some clear loot rules (which we will look more closely at in a future column). If you're a roleplaying guild, you need rules on what chat and behavior is appropriate and what isn't. If you're a gnomish tinkering global domination guild, you need rules on how guild resources will be allocated. Make sure that every member knows these rules before he joins and that he subscribes to them.

However, do not fall into the trap of trying to write a rule to cover every possible situation, because I guarantee that you will have an exception to it at some point down the road. Despite your good intentions, it's easy to legislate yourself into a corner. Keep it simple and accept the fact that there will be unusual cases that don't fit well into any rules. That's where you come in as a guild leader. Sometimes, your best judgment is the best rule to follow.

Clearly convey what you're seeking in your recruiting messages and posts, and do not take people who don't fit your guild playstyle.

When recruiting, make sure to cut to the chase and be as clear as possible. In short, take your answer to "What do I want to achieve with my guild?" and advertise it. Are you hardcore or casual? What nights are your guild events? What faction are you on (if it's a faction-based guild)? Do you require voice chat? What level range are most of your members? What are your typical playtimes? (This one often gets overlooked, but it's one of the most important pieces of information.) Make sure to list any specific requirements (resists, gear, spells, flags, keys, etc.).

Once you start to receive inquiries, be careful in your selection. Don't take people who don't fit your playstyle. In EverQuest, I remember when a guild I was an officer in brought in a handful of hardcore players. They had been members in the top raiding guild on our server, but the guild was drying up and they were friends with a few of our members. In the short term, they helped us sprint forward in progression. But very quickly, they became frustrated at the pace and the management of the guild, and the drama that ensued put our future in peril. Any time you have someone in your guild who doesn't match your guild's philosophy, you have the potential for drama and conflict. In this case, it's OK to be picky.

Create "chance encounters" that connect you with potential recruits.

Revelry and Honor was formed up through a friendship that developed between a Paladin and me up on orc hill in Greater Faydark. We had a few chance encounters during which one of us would be overrun by orcs and the other would step in and lend a hand. After a while, we began to group up and hunt together, and then we decided to aim for something a bit bigger than orcs.

Today, many guilds have the advantage of starting off with a core of networked friends -- sometimes in-game friendships from past games, and sometimes real life friendships. Whether you're building on top of that or starting fresh, a great way to build your roster is to make your own "chance" encounters. If you're making a group, leave a spot open and invite someone who's LFG (preferably someone who's not already guilded -- poaching is generally frowned upon). Don't give the hard sell, but if it turns out that your groupmate seems relatively nice and might fit your guild's style, follow up. Add him to your friends list, look for him to be included in future groups, or even ask him along to raid if you have room and he's free. Yes, you're recruiting, and it does take some work, but it is more subtle, and in many cases, much more effective.

Get organized and do stuff!

Remember that answer you gave to "What do you want to achieve?" Well, do it! Plan what's needed to reach your guild's objective and organize your guild toward that endeavor. Advertise your raid nights, announce your roleplaying events, and if you're that gnomish tinkering guild, set up some harvest nights and player bazaars. Giving members that horizon and showing them a viable path to reach it together is an important part of creating a successful guild.

As we continue to look at guild management, you'll see those two questions come up again and again -- "What type of leader are you?" and "What do you want your guild to achieve?" These simple questions are at the center of every important decision you have to make as a guild leader. Once you can answer these questions, you'll be well on your way to building a strong, successful guild.
Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.
This article was originally published on Massively.