Rules vs. regulations
I'm going to borrow these two words for a bit, and my definitions might not be picture-perfect, but I'm using them to show an important facet of guild life that can end up determining how much fun a guild can be. In sports like baseball, there are basic rules and then there are regulations on top of that. The rule says that if you hit the ball over the fence, you get a homerun. But there are regulations on the size, shape, weight, and even materials used to make the bat that's allowed to hit that homerun, and if you don't follow them, it doesn't count. If a pro-athlete puts pinetar too far up the bat handle, for example, not only will his homerun be taken back, but he faces ejection and other possible penalties later on.
I like to think guilds are similar, in that they have basic general rules, and then as time goes on, all sorts of regulations get lumped on top. The two main areas governed like that are chat and loot drops. In chat, for example, a guild leader might make a general rule that everyone needs to be respectful of one another when talking in guild chat. That seems sensible and fair, but suppose a guild member complains to the leader about a possible offensive statement that another member made. The leader decides to make a regulation that no one is allowed to make sexual or racial comments in guild chat. Again, that seems fair and reasonable, but if I had a nickel for every time that led to problems in guild, I'd be rich because more often than not, players begin to obsess over the specific regulations put in place, and you get long-winded debates about whether or not someone should be allowed to tell the "three Irishmen walk into a bar" joke. I've said it before, but the more legislation a guild leader puts in place, the less fun the guild becomes. If a leader keeps it simple with some general rules and leads wisely, everyone ends up enjoying things a lot more.
Mistakes are OK
Remember Filch during the film version of Harry Potter and the Tri Wizard Cup? No spoilers -- he was the one who signaled the start of the Wizard events, and he had a rather itchy trigger finger. When he prematurely lit the cannon at the start of the first event, it threw everyone for a loop, and it triggered the ire of Dumbledore. By the third and final event, it became quaint, and it was a light moment of humor in the story.
There are mistakes that are serious and need to be fixed in order for a guild to function. And then there are mistakes that are minor yet endearing and end up taking on a life of their own. Good guilds know the difference between the two, and really good guilds take those little mistakes and spin them in a positive way to make them a memorable moment that brings a guild together. A hastily mistyped word could end up becoming a rallying cry, a ranger death could become a guild legend, and a guild wipe, believe it or not, could live on as a shared laugh.
I was once part of a guild that had a popular guild website. Why? We had one talented officer who put together a regular installment called "The Gnus," and in it, he summed up some of the funniest bloopers both in the guild and on raids. He had a particular talent for pulling out hilarious quotes from chat and adding his own commentary to them. You would think it would have caused hard feelings and mistrust, but he did it in such a way that people took it as a badge of honor to be included in the Gnus, and he actually got tells all the time from other players on the server who hoped their private message was quotable enough to be included in the next installment. His Gnus was a way of making light (in a positive way) of our missteps in the guild, but it was also a way of bringing everyone closer together in the end. No one wants to make a mistake, but then again, no one is perfect either, so it's important to recognize that and not make every mistake seem like the end of the world.
The toughest thing about fun when it comes to guilds and MMOs is that the definition varies so widely. I'd wager that those who read this column will define fun in as many different ways as there are ways to play an MMO. That's actually why careful recruiting is important
: If you can add players who all share common philosophies and similar tastes in gameplay, you'll have less conflict in general.
The only thing I can say is that for guilds, it does get better over time. You can spot the older guilds at cons and meet-and-greets because they have a zen-like calm surrounding them. They've had rough spots, and I'm sure the guild has stories of strife and stress, but they figured out how to get past it, and now that they've survived, those potential guild-breaker issues aren't as threatening anymore because they know how to deal with it. Newer guilds are more untested, but the drama that comes early on is more an issue of human behavior than game design. Plunk a group of strangers into a room and you're bound to have some trouble. There are ways to minimize those early roadbumps, and we've looked at many in previous columns. But even in the greenest guild, there are plenty of fun, memorable moments, and with careful recruiting, a clear vision, and a little organization, it's not impossible to have a great time as your guild grows and (hopefully) matures with age.
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.