A missing leader is an all-too-common problem, but unfortunately, few MMOs offer any in-game process of amending the ranks and putting someone else in charge. In many MMOs, the leader is the only one who has the ability to perform certain actions in guild, so if he's missing, the guild ends up in a holding pattern. The longer the leader is MIA, the harder it is for the guild to stay together.
Some MMOs have an in-game feature that allows an officer to move up to leader if the current leader is inactive for an extended amount of time. And by extended amount of time, we're talking several weeks, so it's not like the guild leader will get demoted for taking a family vacation. It's a good solution to a problem that comes up surprisingly often. With more and more MMOs attaching perks and levels to guild progress, game studios need to add in a way to preserve the guild leadership structure when the leader disappears. Otherwise, guilds are stuck in limbo, with few ways to keep the guild functioning properly.
Don't jump to conclusions
Your missing leader can really make life difficult for everyone in the guild. When it comes to everyday tasks like bank management, roster promotions, or giving specific member access to various guild features, even high-ranking players in the guild are probably limited in what they're able to do. It really falls on the guild leader's shoulders to perform these tasks.
But don't assume that just because your leader is gone that you'll have to break up and reform the guild in order to fix the ranks. If you've tried other options and are hitting a wall, it's worth a shot to contact a GM or put in a customer service request for some help. In many games, GMs will lend a hand with promoting someone else to guild leader, and every time you petition a GM about it, the more likely they are to roll up their sleeves and code something that will accomplish the task automatically.
Leader as a threat
Sadly, if your leader has disappeared for a long time (several weeks or months), you should take care to demote him to a lower rank that carries fewer guild privileges. It's not that he should be punished, but that there's a chance someone else will be able to get into the account, giving that person authority over areas of the guild that are ripe for abuse and exploitation. Inactive accounts can be targets for hacking, or the leader might choose to pawn off the account or pass it along to a friend. Massively's Terilynn Shull experienced her guild falling victim to a similar situation, and it cost her much time and effort as they had to break up and reform again, starting over. The best way to approach it is to treat the inactive leader's character as if he were a newly turned zombie because if he comes back it might be someone else playing him, and there's a chance "he" won't recognize anyone, nor will he feel any remorse as he does harm to your guild and your members.
While game studios need to do a better job of helping guilds deal with unexpected leadership vacuums, guild leaders themselves need to do a better job of staying in touch with the guild members and being upfront about their playtime (or lack of it). We've looked at leadership burnout before, and it's completely valid for a leader to need a break or even walk away completely from both game and guild. But if you plan on doing that, set things in motion that pave the way for a new player to take the reins and continue moving forward.
Leaders should also pass along contact information to their officers so that they can at least check in to see what's up and figure out what course of action to take. That doesn't necessarily mean passing along personal phone numbers or street addresses; an email address is sufficient. In fact, setting up an email list that members can voluntarily join is handy for everyone in the guild because there are times that a member might not be able to play for an extended period, and it helps the guild to know who's able to play and who's not so they can properly plan. The key is to make it voluntary because not everyone is comfortable sharing personal information.
What's surprising about this guild problem is that it's increasingly common, and while it usually doesn't come with much drama, it can be one of the most serious threats to a guild. Leaders have always played a key role in shaping and directing the guild, but now there are actions in game that are tied to the guild leader's rank. Without that leader, the guild ends up withering on the vine, and the longer the problem is left unsolved, the greater the chance that the guild will break up. On top of it, this is a problem that the members really can't resolve without help from the game studio staff. Hopefully, more studios will work to resolve this problem with an in-game process to adjust the ranks and replace the leader. Until then, guilds should explore every option available, including contacting a GM to step in and lend a hand.
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.