You're in our world now
My life as a guild leader began not long after EverQuest launched, when I pretty much stumbled into the job. I had seen several guild names over and over during my adventures and even attempted to talk to someone about joining, but I never followed through. At the same time, I was crossing paths with a Paladin who always seemed to show up just when I was getting overrun with orcs in Greater Faydark. We'd lend each other a hand and got to a point where we looked for each other when we logged in to start a new hunting session.
Our eventual decision to form a guild just seemed like the logical next step. We were more successful together than as individual entities, and we wanted to seek out even more like-minded people to join us, since there was strength in numbers. Being in a good guild meant protection from tough mobs and griefers alike, and the more recognized your name, the less your chances of being hassled by other players. There were no extrinsic reasons for forming a guild -- no guild levels, guild hall, fancy buffs, or guild perks. We formed more out of necessity, and the game's design was a not-so-gentle nudge toward social gameplay.
Guilds in EverQuest also reinforced the notion that reputation mattered. It was nearly impossible to play the game solo, but if you were a player who caused headaches for the community, word spread pretty quickly, and your chances of getting invited to a guild went way down. That was a painful prospect because it took a long time to level up in EverQuest, and there weren't many other MMOs around to turn to if you blew your rep with the community.
In hindsight, if my first MMO experience had been in one of today's MMO titles, I doubt very much that I'd form a guild, let alone join one. It's too easy to play alone. On top of that, server transfers, name change services, and the never-ending list of MMO titles (and the free-to-play revolution) mean that a player can always recreate his identity if he ruins the reputation of his character. If all else fails, it's easy to just reroll and level up a brand-new character.
As we began to recruit players who showed interest in joining, we had the inevitable wake-up call that we had no idea what exactly was required of us in order to lead a successful guild, and by successful, I mean a long-lasting guild with a generally happy guild atmosphere. We were flying by the seat of our pants, and while we made a good attempt at drafting a charter and listing rules, I cringe at some of the things we wrote. We definitely had flashes of naivete, but we had little to turn to when it came to resources and advice. I remember often thinking that I couldn't wait to see how everything played out because I had no idea how long we'd last or whether we'd be able to handle the problems that we were bound to encounter.
Thankfully, some guild leaders have put together websites and published books that delve into the challenges of guild management, so there are more resources available today. EverQuest didn't offer much incentive for guild leaders to share advice and experiences. Open content created a highly competitive atmosphere, so guild leaders kept their helpful secrets close to the vest. Recruiting was also tight among rival guilds, so it wasn't in a guild leader's best interest to offer helpful advice to his adversary because that made it harder to attract good members. With design features like instancing and scalable spawn rates that adjust to population fluctuations, modern guilds aren't directly butting heads as much, so there's more room for cooperation among guild leaders. Running a guild can feel like a lonely existence at times, but with a little legwork, it's possible to find kindred spirits who are in the same boat and are eager to share ideas and advice.
At the time, one unofficial motto that I always repeated is that in our guild is that real life always comes first. I didn't want people to sacrifice grades, jobs, or family in order to be part of our guild. But in reality, we had to run a tight ship, and our guild (like pretty much every other guild in the game) had a pretty strict set of rules when it came to behavior, participation, and contributions to the guild. It's not that we wanted to be little Napoleons and strut around shouting commands; it's that the game was unforgiving when it came to mistakes. A silly mistake that triggered a raid wipe could mean a potential loss of days of gameplay and even the possibility of lost corpses, which meant that all the gear and supplies on that character were gone for good. Items that were stolen from the guild or ninja'd on a raid were often difficult to replace because they were very rare drops and they came from very challenging content. And if a member did something that worked against the overall aims of the guild, the effects could be catastrophic. We really had to run a tight ship because there really was no room for error.
Most MMOs today are far less punishing, which means that guilds don't need to be as structured and draconian with rules and organization. There are many safeguards designed right into MMOs now that prevent players from exploiting a guild or the community in general. And player mistakes don't hurt nearly as much as they did in the early years of EverQuest.
There are many guilds that stick with a no-nonsense approach and a fixed chain of command, and they make it work well. But there are a growing number of guilds that succeed with more relaxed or unorthodox philosophies because many MMOs are less demanding and not nearly as punishing. EverQuest was influential in establishing many common guild practices, and many of them have carried over to other titles through the years. But MMOs have changed in many ways, and guild leaders should take those changes into consideration as they shape and mold their guilds' philosophy and culture.
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.