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The Guild Counsel: Fighting the flames of burnout

Karen Bryan

Everyone, and I mean everyone, who plays MMOs will face burnout at one point or another. It doesn't matter what your playstyle is; it doesn't even matter whether you're in a guild or not. Raiders log in and find that they can't wait till the raid is called, even before it began. Soloers log in and ask themselves why they should bother doing that shard- or token-run for the billionth time. Tradeskillers log in and realize that their hatred of crafted stew has carried over to their real lives.

In this week's Guild Counsel, we'll take a closer look at burnout. While it is unavoidable, we'll examine ways to get through it, for you as well as your guild.

Everyone gets a break -- except you

The very first thing to understand is that it's not your fault. The game is different from any other team experience. Soldiers get R&R, sports teams have an off-season, teachers have summer vacation, but there is no "break" in an MMO. Every time you reach a milestone, there is another one in your path. It's little surprise that guilds are most vulnerable right after having reached a major goal -- you've worked together as a team for weeks and months, but you have little time to savor it before another objective is put in your path. Whether you're a leader or a member, if you're part of a guild, you're going to need a break from time to time. Blame it on bad game design if you like, but for now, most MMOs do not offer any way for someone to step back and take a break without penalty.

Given that fact, it's nearly impossible to participate in the guild experience without needing a break. Even among guilds that have lasted for years, there's a good chance that there's either been a change in the leadership at some point or the guild itself has taken a break, whether official or unofficial.

Fish or cut bait?

If you're burned out and in need of a break, the question is, what kind of break? Maybe you need a few weeks away from instance-grinding to just quietly harvest and craft. Maybe you need a night off from raiding to take in a movie. Or maybe you need to take an extended break. I've had members step away from the game entirely, and that leads to a difficult issue of trying to fill that spot. Do you recruit more or try to get by until the person comes back? That's something each guild leader needs to decide individually, and it's best if you make a clear policy on that upfront, since it will come up.

Some members want to play but don't want to keep up such an intense pace. They want to log in, run some quests or do an instance, and camp for the night. I always quietly grumbled to myself when that happened, but over the years I came to realize that someone's enjoyment of the game is far more important than filling a raid spot. It's not a philosophy that necessarily goes well with a hardcore playstyle, but then again, if you have a loyal member who's been consistently participating in guild events, he probably deserves a little downtime. In the long run, I've found it better to give members a breather here and there -- not having them for a couple of raids is far better than losing them completely and being faced with trying to recruit the unknown.

Catch me if you can

It's possible that just mixing it up a bit can get you out of your rut. Lead a raid pants-less. (Not for real!) "Kidnap" yourself and make the guild find you. Declare war on another guild and see who comes out on top in a PvP battle. Take the guild into an entirely new zone, even if it's a stretch. To change things up once in EverQuest, I tanked one of the NToV dragons as a Ranger. It was a small moment on the surface, but to this day I still have members who will bring it up and laugh about it. The unexpected can sometimes breathe new life into the game for you and get you back on track.


If you need a break, take one, but don't leave people hanging. Keep members informed, turn over responsibilities as soon as you can, and do it cleanly. It's better to do that quickly instead of trying to convince yourself to log in, only to realize that two weeks later that you haven't played and the guild has no idea what's going on. Make no mistake, this is a major decision, and one that does have consequences. But if you are at the point that you don't enjoy the game anymore, you owe it to yourself and your guildmates to deal with your burnout the right way.

Accept reality

Again, blame it on game design, but you have to accept the possibility that if you leave, you might not be able to return to things the way they were. If you have decided to make the major decision of turning things over to someone else in the guild, you need to make peace with the fact that it's his now. He might not be able to hold things together, and if you come back, you might not have a guild to come back to. On the flip side, he might take the ball and run with it, and the guild might flourish. You can't blame yourself if things don't work out, and at the same time, you need to give credit where credit is due.

If you do come back, understand that things most likely will be different. You'll probably see some new faces, and even the atmosphere of the guild might feel foreign. This is one of the biggest reasons that guild leaders try to hang on to things even after they're beyond burnout. In the end, though, it's better to take action and allow someone else to keep things going rather than letting things slowly dry up.

Guilds that transcend the games where they were born

On the bright side, you are not alone. Your guildmates will also face burnout, and in some special cases, entire guilds will take a break from one game together, either moving on to another MMO or switching gears entirely and getting into other types of games, like tabletop or console. This is a trend that I hope grows, because what's far more valuable isn't the number of raid bosses downed or the list of achievements -- it's the bonds that develop among players.

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.

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