The Guild Counsel: It's a playground, not a sandbox

Last year, I volunteered to be a playground monitor at my daughter's kindergarten. Armed with nothing but a whistle, a dodge ball, a few jump ropes, and a box of chalk, I took on a class of 15 adorable, energetic, screaming kids. The first day, I left with my ears ringing, my pulse off the charts, and a desire to run far away and never come back. But over time, I began to learn how to organize fun games for the class, keep things under control, and provide enough flexibility and freedom that everyone could find a way to enjoy recess. Let's take a look at the lessons I learned on the rough turf of the playground.

Make it fun
. It doesn't matter if you're a bleeding-edge, hardcore raiding guild or an all-gnome, tinkering, global domination guild. If you're not having fun, something's wrong. "Fun," of course, can be up to interpretation, and a hardcore guild might have a completely different way to find enjoyment from a game than a family-friendly guild. Try to figure out what your guild enjoys doing most. I have fond memories of long nights of pulling trash and farming components for Shissar bane weapons in EverQuest. As we waited on respawn, one of our guild members would run movie trivia contests. The process of farming was tedious, but because a guildmate took the initiative to make it fun, it's still on of my favorite moments in EverQuest.

Keep things simple. Often, you'll hear comments made about members being lazy or not caring enough to learn their class and pull their own weight. While this can be true sometimes (and I'll cover this in a future article), it could actually be that members have jobs and kids and school and all of those things take time from the game. Take that into consideration when you come up with expectations for guild members. Yes, sometimes members do expect everything served on a silver platter (and hopefully you've screened them out in advance). But sometimes, the reason people don't have stacks of potions, helpful add-ons, or handy macros is because they just don't have the time to farm materials or comb the forums. The more you can help to make those tasks manageable for the time-challenged, the better off the entire guild is. Believe it or not, this even applies to hardcore guilds.

Include the ones who want to play but are timid. All guilds have members who are vocal, visible, and active. As a guild leader, you barely have to point them in the right direction, and they're off and running. The group that's easy to overlook are the low-key members who don't make waves and can, as a result, sometimes be left out of things. One sunny day out on the playground, I was playing a game of tag with the kids and saw one of the quieter kids standing on the side. She looked like she wanted to play but was hesitant to jump into the chaos of 15 kids running frantically all over the playground. I asked her if she wanted to help me be a tagger, and she gave it a try. After a few minutes, not only was she smiling and playing, but she was actually tagging more kids than I was! In Revelry and Honor, I have had a few members whom I never would have expected to start raiding with us. Turns out, not only did they participate, but they were some of the best raiders on our force, and they even commented that they never really cared for raiding because they had bad experiences in the past, but they were pleasantly surprised at how much they enjoyed it in our guild. As a guild leader, you can't force someone to raid, but you can definitely make things easier for someone to roll up his sleeves and give it a try. That goes for anything you organize with the guild.

Keep the noise down! Let me tell you, playground games can get extremely noisy. Fifteen kindergartners and a dodge ball can lead to ear piercing decibel levels. Half of the kids are cheering in happiness, and the other half are angrily yelling back in frustration. While guilds aren't quite as noisy as kids on a playground, you do have similar peaks and valleys of emotion. I've had times when a new member would tell me something like, "This guild is awesome, I'm so totally happy here, and you're the best!" I always joke that I'm going to screenshot that message, so I can break it out later on when things don't look so rosy. Everyone loves it when things are clicking and the guild is doing well, but it makes it that much harder when the guild hits a snag. It's important to level off those peaks and valleys as much as possible, just as it's important to reduce the noise levels of victors and vanquished on the playground.

Let everyone chip in.
This is one of the hardest things a guild leader needs to do, but the more you can make all of the members feel like they fit in, the stronger your guild will be in the long run. Hopefully you've come up with some short-term and long-term plans for your guild, because now it's time to present ways for members to reach those goals, and the more ways the better. In Vanguard, when we set about trying to construct our guild hall, there were ways for everyone to contribute, no matter what his playstyle. We had group harvesting nights, where we'd all don our harvest clothes (love the PJs!) and gather up stone or wood. Others took up diplomacy to parley with NPCs in town and collect the necessary cards for our plot commission. Crafters were busy making bricks and tiles; adventurers were out hunting for valuables to build up our bank; and every time someone logged in, the first thing he'd ask would be, "How are we doing on the guild hall, and how can I help?"

As challenging as it was to get everything done, I loved the fact that there were many different ways that people could help. Everyone was excitedly involved, so when we finished it, all the members felt they shared in the accomplishment. Sometimes, when MMOs don't easily present those options, it's up to you to find ways for members of different playstyles to contribute to the guild's progress and feel included in the end achievement.

It's about them, not you. It's not World of Guild Leader, but sometimes that's how leaders start to see the game. Guilds work best when things revolve around the game, not the leader. Yes, the guild leader is the one who sets the tone, orchestrates raids and events, and keeps things running smoothly, but members don't log in to play for you -- they log in to play the game. Your rules and policies should always reflect that fact. When you ask someone to do something, make sure you have a really good reason for it. Out on the playground, when the kids would come running out to play, they were always happy to see me, but what they were there for was fresh air, a fun game, and some excitement. My job was to facilitate that and then get out of the way.

Hey, play nice! As everyone settles in, elbows start to come out, and often, you'll have personality clashes with the more outspoken members of the guild. Yes, you have to play referee and step in at times, but try not to disrupt play too much. If I stepped in each and every time one kid nudged or bumped another kid, no one would ever get to actually play. It's the same in guild. Not everyone will get along, and that's OK. But as long as some one's behavior does not directly affect another member's gameplay, I take a hands-off approach. No harm, no foul!

Allow for outlets for individual fun. Not everyone has to be playing dodge ball (or raiding). When I was working as playground monitor, there were always three or four kids who just weren't interested in whatever game was being played. While most kids were thrilled at playing dodge ball or kick ball, a few wanted to go off and set up a hop scotch area or play with jump ropes. It's the same with a guild -- most might enjoy raiding, for example, but if someone in your guild enjoys doing something else, that's OK. Through the years, I've had many members who were a part of Revelry and Honor and who enjoyed their time in guild and the friendships that grew from it... but never raided with us. Some liked to chat with the guild while they crafted or soloed. And others loved to write fiction or channel their creativity by creating artwork or signatures for members. As long as they're happy in the guild and following the rules, I'm perfectly happy to have them.

I said, keep the noise down!
I'm just repeating this one because it's something that guild leaders always need to stay on top of. It's amazing how the second you turn your back, emotions run high. Keep managing those expectations and leveling off the roller coaster!

Hopefully, my long days of rolling kick balls and twirling jump ropes have helped shed some light on handy lessons for running your guild. And if all else fails, remember that you always can resort to blowing the whistle, although I'm not sure how well that would go over in voice channel.

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.