But websites come with their fair share of drama and potential problems, and game changes through the years have put into question whether guild sites are still relevant. Have guilds outgrown guild sites? Let's look at whether they're worth it in this week's Guild Counsel.
"What are we doing?"
One of the most important roles of a guild website is serving as the central hub to communicate guild events and goals. Leaders can post up short- and long-term plans so that members can stop by at their leisure to check the schedule and (hopefully) log in knowing what's going on and what time it all starts. That saves the guild leader the hassle of having to constantly type out a scheduled event each time someone logs in and asks what the guild is doing, and it saves the members plenty of unnecessary spam in guild chat as well.
The problem is, not everyone visits the guild site to check the forums and look at the schedule. So even though the leader might have everything neatly listed on the site, there will always be a percentage of members who will log in and ask, "What are we doing?" And it actually takes more time to explain to each member that the schedule is all posted up in the forum and that they should make it a habit to visit and keep up to speed (and in the end, they won't visit anyway).
Thankfully, many more MMOs now offer a variety of ways for leaders to communicate with guildmates. There are many MMOs that have in-game mail, and several even give leaders the ability to send out messages by rank, so they can send a mass-mailing to everyone on the roster or send out a message just to officers, etc. MMOs also have guild windows with an option to enter a guild message of the day, although that often gets overlooked by members and it's more of a hassle for leaders to explain how to access it than to just tell them what the message is.
My personal favorite for guild communication is EverQuest II's magic mouth, and it's something that every MMO should have. The magic mouth is a sign board that can be placed in a house or a guild hall, and it fires off a big, red, text message on players' screens any time they get in range of it. When we first started messing around with it in the guild hall, it was seen as more of a funny toy or trinket, and we'd take turns writing silly messages about each other that would be broadcast on our screens. But after a "lightbulb moment," we realized that it was the most effective way of passing along important information, from guild events, to major game changes, to urgent announcements to the guild.
In short, leaders should try to use any and all tools at their disposal to relay important information in-game, rather than making members visit an out-of game website. Some won't make it a habit of visiting forums because they just aren't into "the forum thing," while others can't because their job or school won't allow it, and both types of member are perfectly justified in their reasons. Even if you have to resort to some unusual methods, it's better to find ways for members to stay current on guild news without having to actually log out of the game to do it.
Another main purpose of a guild website is recruitment. Potential applicants can visit your website to learn more about the guild beyond a forum post or an in-game chat message. And they can post up an application if they're interested in joining. From there, the guild can continue the process, which could vary from a quick invite to something more extensive like a waiting period, voting process, or even member sponsorship of the candidate.
But again, the problem is that it makes the potential member leave the game in order to join an in-game guild. And while extensive application processes attempt to weed out bad matches, they risk causing potential good members to walk away because they don't want the hassle of jumping through hoops. They can also paint the guild leader into a corner because there are always exceptions to every rule, and that can also go for rules during an application process.
Thankfully, MMOs have also made strides toward adding in-game features that help with guild recruiting. Many games have recruitment windows that let players sort through lists of guilds that fit their criteria, like playtimes, playstyle, size, and guild atmosphere (family, hardcore, social, and so on). Some even have in-game means for players to directly contact assigned recruitment officers of particular guilds to either chat with them in game or send them an in-game mail inquiring about joining. Again, the more ways that guilds can provide in-game avenues for joining their guilds, the better their chances of bringing in good guild members that they might otherwise lose. Some players simply don't have the patience for having to log off and visit a guild website or fill out an application post in order to join, and thanks to improvements in MMOs, they really shouldn't have to anymore.
Keep it optional
A guild website has its purpose, but everything on the site should be something that members can opt into visiting if they choose to do so. Websites can be a helpful place for members to post up guide and game links to valuable resources. They're also a place for fun "off-topic" chats and (back in the day when games had long and unexpected downtimes) a place for members to go and commiserate together as they eagerly waited for servers to go back online. But times have changed, and many of the key things that made websites so important years ago are now built right into MMOs. So while a website is still a great place to show off your guild to recruits and serve as a fun place to "let your hair down," it should be something that members can visit voluntarily.
Website as historical record
There is one key role that guild sites do serve, and that's as a historical record of the guild. When I go back to many old guild sites from EverQuest from a decade ago, many are long gone, and all the screenshots, funny posts, and great memories are gone with them. No one really thought about it at the time, perhaps because no one thought about guilds as a long-term enterprise, but players and guilds are making their own history, and guild sites are a great place to preserve that. Major guild achievements, screenshots of quotable chat messages, and even those "Stargell star" moments should all be preserved somewhere, and what better place than a guild website? A quick post about a notable guild moment might seem minor at the time because everyone's busy in the trenches and grinding along. But months and years later, it's nice to be able to step back and look at old memories, not only to see how far the guild has come but to see how things have changed. Websites might have a different purpose today compared to years ago, but it's not time to unplug them all just yet!
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.