Back in 1978, the Pittsburgh Pirates were struggling and languishing near the bottom of their division. Willie Stargell decided to award players with a gold star any time they had a good game or made a good play. While the stars weren't valuable, they were a symbolic acknowledgement of a player's positive contribution to the team. As the season went on, the team gelled, and the best players earned so many stars that they practically covered the entire cap. Not only did it motivate players to always give their best, but it helped the team bond and work together to win.
As the season came closer to the end, the Pirates surged in the standings, going from fourth place to striking distance from the first-place Phillies. They had a chance to overtake the Phillies in a head-to-head series for the final games of the season, but they fell just a bit short. However, their momentum continued into the next season, and they were victorious in winning the World Series. During that season, they used "We are Family" as their team song, and it goes without saying that they were indeed a tight-knit family, partially thanks to the Stargell stars.
A guild thrives when it has objectives. MMOs are at their best when players are working together to reach a goal, whether it's progressing through raid content, taking over another guild's stronghold, or running the most talked-about player events on the server. Good guild leaders find objectives that are challenging but doable and match the playstyle of the overall guild. Usually, there are plenty of guild challenges woven right into the content of the game, but there are times when a guild has to get creative and create its own "horizon" to strive towards. Without some sort of path, though, guilds usually become stagnant and eventually can fall apart.
But players sometimes need morale boosts along the way -- the MMO equivalent of Stargell stars. The reward doesn't necessarily have to be valuable, and in fact, the more valuable it is, the greater the potential for clashes over fairness. Ideally, you want the reward to create a positive, collaborative atmosphere rather than a negative, competitive one. Let's look at a few options.
This is probably the most common way to recognize a player, but it does have the potential to cause problems. Promoting a player from recruit to member is a great moment of celebration, but it's a different case entirely when you're promoting a member to the rank of officer. It's common and much easier (as it should be) for a recruit to become a full member, and if you're filtering potential members properly, every new invite should have no problem getting promoted. But when it comes to promoting someone to officer, you need be ensure it's not seen as a reward as much as a vote of confidence in that person's ability to help take on the responsibilities of managing the guild. So while guild promotions are a nice morale boost, you can't really treat every promotion equally.
Player of the month
In one guild I was part of, the leaders revamped the guild website to make it one of the cleanest and impressive of its time. One thing they added was a little side bar titled "Player of the month," but because it was sort of a pain to constantly change it each month, the sidebar just sat there with a blank space where the player's picture was supposed to be. Today, it's much easier to put together a customized guild site with easy ways to update it, so it's much easier to do a player of the month on your guild's site. However, you don't even need to have it on the site -- a quick announcement at a guild meeting or a monthly guild email would have the same effect.
Badge of honor
You can't really add stars to players' helmets or hoods, but you can reward folks with a little trinket that could be used as a badge of honor. Perhaps your game has a little wand that shoots off fireworks or an orb that makes your hand glow purple. There are plenty of items that aren't necessarily valuable but still allow a player to take on a unique look and stand out from the crowd. Presenting something like that to the player has the same effect as the Stargell stars.
An event in the player's honor
This one is a little more grandiose, but if someone in the guild has really done an outstanding job helping the guild succeed, you might choose to hold a player event in her honor or set aside an evening to assist her with a quest or need. If you want to go the more light-hearted route, you might set up a player-run party to celebrate someone's contribution. Or you could go big and make it a serverwide event.
Guild site highlights
One I always enjoyed doing was giving some shout-outs in the news section on our guild website. If someone got an epic, I got a picture and posted a little blurb to announce his achievement. If someone did something memorable during a raid, I would add it in to the raid highlights. What's really nice about doing this is that you're not only acknowledging the member's efforts but compiling a nice history of the guild at the same time. I still love going back and reading entries from years ago.
It's a real challenge for a guild leader to keep morale high in a guild. In fact, it's impossible to avoid some peaks and valleys as you work through challenges together. Those peaks are that much more satisfying when paired with a valley or two. Individual players also get a boost when their efforts are acknowledged. It doesn't even have to be something listed above. A simple /highfive or shout-out might be more than enough to keep your players motivated and upbeat. Stargell stars played a big role in the Pirates' becoming a cohesive team and even a family, and if you can find something similar for your guild, you'll have a much easier time reaching goals and avoiding drama along the way.
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.