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The Guild Counsel: Looking at loneliness in guild leadership

Karen Bryan

Last week at SOE Live, one of the most interesting player panels was the one on guild leadership. As I mentioned in last week's write up, the advice given was helpful, but what was really valuable was just the opportunity for guild leaders to meet face to face and openly discuss a variety of issues. The panel lasted for an hour, and yet it felt like it went by in just a few minutes. The speakers had to roam from their slide presentation several times to answer questions, which isn't surprising because for many there, it was probably the first time they could actually do that.

Running a guild is unusually lonely. If you look at other roles that involve leadership skills, like coaching, running a business, or teaching a class, there are lots of resources and opportunities to meet with peers and share advice. For guild leaders, there are a few places to seek counsel, but given the number of games, and the massive number of guilds overall (and when I use guild, I'm using it as a catchall for online communities like clans, corps, etc.), there just aren't many outlets that share tips on guild management.

In this week's Guild Counsel, we'll look at some reasons why guild leaders live such an isolated life, and take a look at a few ways to help break down the walls.

The history

In some cases, guild leaders have good reason not to want to share the secrets of their success. In many MMOs, the competition over things like content progression or control of territory and resources give little incentive to want to help your rivals. Heck, some members themselves will resort to infiltration, betrayal, double-crossing, and spying in order to get a peek behind closed doors of other guilds and seize the upper hand. The race to win can create a nasty atmosphere in MMOs, and in the most competitive circles, it's hard to want to play nice when you're faced with a barrage of taunting posts, tells, and creatively photo-shopped screenshots.

The pride

I think there's also a culture among some guild leaders that it's a sign of weakness to seek help. We've looked at how that can affect the atmosphere within the guild, as leaders sometimes neglect useful feedback from members because they don't want to look like they don't know what they're doing. The same applies to guild management. Some leaders don't have a problem sending a tell to another leader for advice, but that's pretty rare overall. The irony is that guild leadership is a fairly new role compared to other leadership roles, and yet instead of a flood of communication and sharing information, it's almost the opposite. And while it's often helpful to consult resources on leadership in other fields, they can't address some of the unique issues that pop up all the time.

We need to talk

MMOs come in all shapes and sizes, but no matter the game, when I talk to guild leaders from various titles, they touch on a number of commonalities in successful guild management. Guild leaders need to talk, not only to reinforce those common philosophies, but also to spread the word to the rest of the community.

In addition, guild leaders could benefit from peer criticism. The SOE Live panel could have easily included at least a dozen other leaders in attendance. In fact, about halfway through, you could barely distinguish between panel members and the audience. I think guilds would benefit overall from regular discussions and opportunities for face to face meetings. Even veteran guild leaders who run drama-free and happy guilds could benefit from talking to other leaders. I've met leaders from a variety of MMOs, and whether it's Flyff or EverQuest, I always walk away having learned something new. In fact, guild leaders who do attend a panel or meeting with the attitude that they know it all are the ones who will probably walk away with an eye-opening experience.

The Guild Counsel  Looking at loneliness in guild leadership
Even beyond the advice on the daily issues leaders face, I think guild leaders need to occasionally take a step back and do a "state of the guild" assessment in general. I don't mean an assessment of an individual guild, but a look at guilds in general and whether they need to evolve given the changing face of the MMO industry. Guilds adopt certain practices today that are the same as they were a decade ago, but they never stop to ask whether they're still relevant. Are ranks that important these days? How extensive should we make our guild charter and rules? Do we need to require players to formally apply on a guild website? Do we even need guild websites?

Guild leaders need to keep up with the times, because if not, they hurt their chances to recruit players and maintain a healthy roster. But even more importantly, they give guilds a reputation as being old, unchanging, unenjoyable, and even draconic. Games have grown much more friendly to casual players, but have guilds?

It's time for guild leaders to step out of the trenches and begin to really examine the craft of running a guild. They're often so busy just "doing" that they don't take the time to do a self-assessment, and more importantly, consult with others to compare insights. We need more guild summits at conventions, and no, I don't mean the ones where guilds arrive with laundry lists of developer requests for game changes. I mean guild summits where guild leaders look at their leadership approaches and how it affects their members, as well as whether game changes should call for a new approach on the whole.

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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