The Guild Counsel: The problem with guilds

EverQuest Rangers
Last week, I put up a poll asking you, the Massively readers, to indicate whether you had a character in a guild or not. The response was great, and many of you voted and posted your thoughts as well. While this was a very unofficial survey, the results are interesting because it turns out that only a little more than half (56.6%) of those who replied are in a guild. (And for the record, the word guild is used as a catch-all phrase to refer to any in-game organization of people.)

There are some overall factors that might account for the results. This website, for example, covers hundreds of games, and the results might be much higher if the survey were done on a particular MMO's official website, where the playerbase is more focused on one game. But there are some valid reasons why players choose to forego guilds, and they're worth taking a look at. I chose three in particular that many commenters seemed to echo in last week's column, and in this week's Guild Counsel, I'll examine why they contribute to giving guilds a bad rap and whether it's possible to turn things around.

It's too stressful

This one tends to come up a lot, but guilds can feel off-putting because they're stressful, not only for the leader but for everyone on the roster. Stories of players scrambling to get to the required level, stats and gear in order to participate with the guild can make guild life sound incredibly tedious for some players. And several readers commented that they'd never consider taking on a leadership role in a guild because it would feel like work and they wouldn't want to be subjected to the constant tug and pull from members' demands.

This one is all too true in many guilds, and you can often spot the guild leader because he's usually running around looking a lot like Henny Penny. But this doesn't have to be the case, and in fact, many of the "very important" responsibilities don't need any micro-managing at all. Guild leaders who contrive busywork for themselves can sometimes drive away potential recruits who want to use game time to relax and dial it down a bit from their busy day. (And we'll look at some ways to reduce guild task clutter in a future column!)

Join the Borg? No thanks!

Several readers commented that they avoid guilds because they don't want to be forced into doing things in game with the guild -- they want the freedom of determining what to do with their time in game. But of all the reasons against joining a guild, I think this is one that's easiest to solve. There's a certain mentality around guilds, and part of it is from the design of games themselves. MMOs have content that requires a set number of players to complete it, and then the games put it on the shoulders of players to figure out how to make that happen. For guild leaders, the easiest way to deal with it is to just say, "We're doing this as a guild; if you're online you're expected to be there." And in the end, you run into what Eliot described in a recent soapbox: Players end up playing out of a sense of duty, rather than for enjoyment of the game.

But it doesn't have to be this way, and in recent columns, we've looked at ways to run a guild that gets stuff done and still allows for the wiggle room that players need. All it really takes is a change in philosophy, and often when I speak to guild leaders of long-running guilds, they all have that same approach. They might not have started off with it, but at some point, successful veteran guild leaders tend to reconcile in-game guild goals with the fact that it's a game and that people need to be able to find their own fun, even if it means not doing things with the guild all the time. There are plenty of guilds that walk that tightrope successfully. I hope the readers who have avoided guilds for this reason will reconsider and search these guilds out.

EQII guild hall fence
Barriers to guild entry

Out of all the comments, this one I found most interesting because I can see how it would be even more daunting to try to join a guild today compared to five or even 10 years ago. There are many players who are already connected with a guild, but to the new player or to the outsider looking in, it's a lot harder to break through and become a part of an established guild. With a game like EverQuest or even World of Warcraft in the early years, there might have been a few circles of players who were already connected and ready to play together, but it was largely an open field at the time, and most guilds were still on the ground floor and only beginning to build up. Today, that's not the case, and even new games that haven't launched yet will do so with a never-ending number of guilds pre-formed and ready to bolt from the gates. Star Wars: The Old Republic's pre-launch guild database system seems to confirm that a large chunk of the playerbase will arrive with a guild tag already overhead.

For someone on the outside looking in, it probably feels easier to just skip guilds completely rather than try to be the new kid at the high school dance party. And that's understandable because it's not easy to join and then have to try to learn all the little inside jokes, nicknames, and personalities of the guild. On the other hand, I've recently met, and even joined, some guilds in other games, and what I've found is that the members have gone out of their way to be welcoming and accommodating. I expected that the burden would be on me to make myself known to the guild, and it ended up being the opposite. Obviously not all guilds are alike, but I think in those guilds that do extend a warm welcome, they do so because they recognize that no matter how different the players are out of game, everyone shares that common love of MMOs and gaming. From there, it's surprisingly easy to build a community, and it's the best part of MMOs and guilds.

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.