You don't have to invite them back
In previous columns, we've talked about the importance of keeping a clean and up-to-date roster, which means removing members who haven't played in months. If you've been doing this, then you'll be thankful you did when an expansion launches and you get a bunch of tells asking for a reinvite. Even though someone's carried the tag in the past, you don't have to accept him back. It's actually best to take a little time to rescreen those asking for reinstatement and even hear out your current active members. That way, if there was someone in the past who didn't really carry his own weight or who clashed with others, you can avoid repeating history and opening up the potential for drama.
As your roster grows with returning players, there's bound to be a little culture clash between the active members and the ones just coming back. It's even understandable that active members might resent the returnees because the latter group didn't stick it out when the going got rough during a previous expansion's end of life. Rescreening and member feedback can certainly help reduce that resentment, since members will be more accepting of members they have "voted in." But you'll still need to be cognizant of the gap between the two camps. It's worth taking some time to go over guild rules and clarify the changes that might have taken place during the time that members were away. You might have transitioned from a hardcore raiding guild to one that's more casual, for instance, and it's important that returnees don't come back with the wrong expectations. There's also a need for some bonding, but leaders can't force that as much as encourage and allow it to happen through guild activities.
State of the guild
The lump of returning players also brings an opportunity to reassess guild goals and objectives. You might suddenly be able to push things more and get into content that you wouldn't be able to try without the returning members. On the other hand, you might have to readjust guild goals and take a step back for a bit, to help re-gear returnees and get everyone properly prepped for the new stuff. Again, it helps to gather member feedback because those who stuck it out deserve a say in the direction of the guild. Re-gearing might help the guild progress in the long run, but if you linger in old content too long, you risk losing the loyal members who will naturally want to see the new expansion as soon as possible.
Those who are suddenly returning should be prepared to shoulder the work of gearing up on their own and really shouldn't expect guild help. That's something to discuss with each player who's coming back, and if you see a returnee spamming the guild for help, it's crucial to jump on that as soon as possible. Ideally, you want members to come back with the willingness to contribute to current guild goals, not with the desire for the guild to fulfill his own personal game goals.
Murphy's law definitely applies to loot, so be prepared for the first and best drops to end up in the hands of players who were MIA for months and months. Alternatively, you could take a little time to go over guild loot rules and adjust them as needed so that those who stuck it out have the priority on new drops, at least initially. One way to do this is to add a rule that if you haven't raided in over a month (or whatever time you determine), you have to actively attend raids for a certain amount of time before you can put in for raid loot (unless it's going to rot). That's a rule that would apply all the time, so while it helps avoid drama when an expansion launches, it helps ensure that loyal and active members get first dibs on new loot on all raids.
One big happy family
Ultimately, it comes down to the same basic philosophy that applies to most guild-management issues: Your decisions should always match up with your guild vision and the guild culture that you've created. Fortunately, many newer MMOs are going with gameplay through which everyone walks away with something, so some of the loot issues and re-gearing will resolve themselves.
The sudden arrival of old members can often be time for celebration as friendships are renewed. But it's also complicated because there's bound to be resentment, concerns over fairness, and a lingering mistrust. After all, if someone's left once, there's a good chance she'll do it again, and you don't want to invest a lot of time and guild resources in someone who's not sticking around that long. Leaders and members alike should be free to enjoy the expansion with friends and not get overwhelmed with drama and clashes. If you keep a tidy roster, rescreen well, and shore up guild rules, you can help reduce a lot of the potential for problems and have a blast diving into a new expansion.
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.