You really can't make a move to join a pre-launch guild without considering the same factors that go into joining an active guild post-launch. Even if the game hasn't launched yet, good guilds have a general idea of what type of guild they plan to be, including things like playstyle, playtimes, size, type of chat, and basic guild rules. And for leaders who are looking at how best to market their pre-launch guilds, you can check out my list of helpful tips. The catch is that it's still a vision, and you won't really know for sure until the game gets started. But in general, it's better to look for guilds that at least know what they intend to be, rather than one who can't answer those fundamental questions.
A site isn't all that
Yes, a nice guild website is an indication that a guild is serious about carving out a presence in an upcoming MMO, but don't rule out guilds that don't have one. Websites really have only one purpose, which is the sharing of information in a central hub. And in many MMOs, that information sharing can be done right in-game, thanks to guild email and guild message features. What a guild needs is a place to communicate and share information, and that can be done just as easily on any number of social media services as it can on a website. There are plenty of guilds that have gorgeous websites but lack any substance and aren't even visited that often by members. It's what's under the hood that counts.
Chances are, most pre-launch guilds are ones that were active in another game and have come over as a team to a new game. Taking a little time to find out what the members were like in a previous game can give you a good idea what to expect if you end up joining. Guild progress sites that track what content guilds have completed and a quick trip to a game's forums could reveal whether that guild might have caused any drama in the past. On the flip side, if a guild had a positive presence on the server, through running server events or helping players, that will probably show up on game forums as well.
If a guild is coming from another game, it's up to you to decide whether you want to merge into a pre-made guild or prefer to be part of one that's starting from the ground up. Each offers a different experience, and it's really a matter of your playstyle and personal preference.
One thing to keep an eye on is if you sense that many folks in the guild are choosing the same class. If you're going to be doing content that requires a large force, you're probably going to want a guild with a nice spread of classes to fill roles. So if you see lots of potential members indicating they are all playing the same class, your guild might be setting itself up for some problems after launch.
No guild will retain all of its members after a game launches, but how those members leave is an important indication of whether you're in a healthy guild or not. If they're leaving because they just don't like the game, that's not the guild's fault. But if they leave and go to another guild, you might look more closely at what drove them to leave. It could be issues with leadership and organization or a disagreement over the guild's vision. But it also could indicate a poor screening process that allowed in members who were not a good fit with the guild, and if that's not fixed, the guild will continue to invite bad matches and all the drama that can come with them.
Buyer's remorse, part 2
What if you are one of the above, and you decide that you don't care for the game now that it's live? Try to leave as honestly and as cleanly as possible because you never know when you might end up crossing paths in a future game. In every new MMO that's on the horizon, I always recognize familiar guild names that go back over a decade ago, and several still had the same players leading the guild as they did when I first met them. If you part on good terms, there's always a chance that you'll find a game you do like, and that guild would be the perfect home for you.
As you wait for the game to launch, keep an eye out for what the guild does and does not do. Even though you're not in-game yet, you can get a sense of what potential problems the guild might run into once the game launches. Mass invites can be a big red flag because they mean the leader isn't putting a lot of thought into screening for the best matches, and he's also not gauging what numbers he'll need to tackle the game's content. If a roster becomes bloated with hundreds of players, will there be enough to do in-game together?
Excitement level is another area to watch. You'd normally expect that someone who joins a pre-launch guild is enthusiastic about the game, to the point that she'd take that extra step of seeking out a community in advance. So if you join up with a guild and you hear crickets, that could mean that there's a lack of commitment to the game and to the guild. And if the leader goes quiet, that's especially concerning. It doesn't mean the guild needs to be constantly posting and cheering for the game, but you should see chatter when a game announces development news or game information.
In fact, that sharing of news and information is the main reason to join a pre-launch guild. You can't do anything in game yet, but good guilds will use their teamwork and organization to pass on useful information about the game and get their members prepared for when the game does go live.
There are lots of good reasons to seek out a guild before a game goes live, and for those gamers who are excited about an upcoming title, what better place to share those feelings than with others who are equally passionate? But choosing the right guild is as important before a game goes live as it is once it launches. Even though you can't see a guild in action just yet, there are plenty of ways to evaluate a guild and get a read on what it'll be like. Taking the time to consider these signals could make the difference between a fun launch with a good circle of guildmates and one where you're too busy looking for the disband button to even enjoy the game.
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.