When I was running a guild in Vanguard, we felt the sting of the population drop right away. We started off having to elbow in for mobs because the servers were so crowded, but within just a few weeks, the world looked as empty as a desert. (It didn't help that Qalia was mostly desert, either). Our guild was doing OK, but it was hard to deal with the desolation. One guild leader ended up reaching out to several of the larger guilds on the server, and together we formed a council. The main purpose was to keep an open channel of communication so that if one of our guilds needed players to fill a group or was running an open event, we could all stay informed and fill our needs.
Over time, the guilds grew closer together, and that also helped the server as a whole. We coordinated server-wide events like crafting fairs, boat races, and trading bazaars. We also pitched in to help each other craft boats and build houses. When guild halls made their way into the game, we passed along extra diplomacy cards and bartered for crafted stonework and woodwork. At times, we also stepped in to help resolve disputes among players. Even though our server was shrinking, we had built a community that felt active and thriving, and players were happy overall.
Your server might give the impression that there aren't enough players, but it might be more of a case of finding a way to find each other. Games with large open worlds can still feel healthy if you have a way to connect with other players. Even if the population isn't at critical mass, you might be fine if you can link up with other guilds and build your own community.
Know when to fold 'em
Sometimes, there really is no other option than to move to a more populated server. Psychologically, it's hard for people to enjoy a virtual world that's devoid of people, and that can really wear on a guild. If you do consult with the members and choose to move to a healthier server, do a little advance scouting first to find a server that you'll be happy with. Maybe you know another guild that you can connect with when you transfer over. And there might be certain guilds that you'd like to avoid
. Get a feel for the community because servers really do have personalities, and you want an atmosphere that matches your guild's style. And don't be too surprised if you lose a few members along the way. Some might choose to stay behind, while others might use the opportunity to transfer over to a different server (and potentially a different guild). The short-term loss will hopefully be mitigated by the fact that you'll be moving to a server where it's easier to recruit and pick up new members.
Vigilance is key
We've done this dance so many times that I am always amazed at how many studios do such a poor job of managing server populations. The post-launch drop in player populations is no surprise, so why do players have to languish on empty servers waiting to hear news about transfers or merges? It gets to a point that players actually cheer the news about a server merge, which isn't really something to celebrate. It's bad enough when individual players run out of patience and leave the game, but when an entire guild decides to pack up and move on, that means dozens if not hundreds of players who are now gone. Hopefully, guilds can find a silver lining in a low population server, but studios need to do a better job of anticipating population dips and working to prevent further attrition because of it.
Overall, an empty server poses a variety of problems for a guild, but it's something most guilds will eventually have to deal with. It's hard to pick up stakes and move to another server, especially if your guild is part of a larger community. But that has to be weighed with the fact that happy players make for a happy guild, and if the emptiness is causing morale to drop, your guild will begin to take on that empty feeling as well, first figuratively and then literally. Hopefully, more MMOs can find better ways to proactively manage server populations because guilds and games are in the same boat.
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.