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The Guild Counsel: How reader replies identify larger issues in MMOs

Karen Bryan

Each week in The Guild Counsel column, I try to take a common issue or newsworthy topic that's related to online communities and look at it in depth. Often, the reader discussion that follows has led to some very valuable insight into guild leadership and has even spawned new topics for columns.

This week, I'd like to look at three noteworthy topics that have often popped up among reader comments: nostalgia in MMOs, the clash between "the brotherhood" and "the game," and why guild leadership often feels like a thankless task. Let's look at a few reader responses to these topics and consider the larger issues with MMOs and guild leadership today.

Meridian 59 post-mortem with Damion Schubert

At GDC Online, Damion Schubert produced an insightful commentary about the development and early days of Meridian 59. It led reader Grutzmek to share some of his favorite memories from his first MMO:

It filled me with nostalgia for a lot of similar things that occurred during the birth and rise of Ultima Online. On the shard I was on, there was a similar period when what happened wasn't saved, usually around midnight, and I'm not really sure how the wars started, but the graveyard to the north of Britannia became a battleground. Total mayhem. It usually involved hordes of PKs vs. RPs (regular players).

Some of the best memories are of unexpected, player-driven mechanics that spawned due to various additions, changes, or "flaws" to the game.
This comment seems particularly relevant right now because I think we're reaching a crossroads with MMO evolution. "Back in the day," the strongest MMO memories usually did come from unintended results of certain design ideas. But studios today can't afford to make those types of "mistakes" because there's too much money riding on it and because the gaming audience is much larger (and much less forgiving). Meridian 59's Blood Frenzy is probably near and dear to the heart of loyal, longtime Meridian 59 fans, but if a current title had something similar, there would probably be a sea of complaints to customer service and the possibility of mass exodus to the dozens of other MMOs out there right now.

The other reason I think we're at a crossroads is that many of those early MMO memories are pretty much seen through rose-colored glasses. Blood Frenzy was a blast for some, but for many others, it was an unenjoyable experience and something that they logged off to avoid. I hear fellow EverQuest fans talk about how they miss things like waiting for the boat, and while I completely share that nostalgia, I know I wouldn't tolerate an MMO today that made me wait for transportation. What makes me miss it, though, is that back then, I bought into the world and the rules that were in place because it felt like a world. MMOs today are games, and are focused on progress and achievement more than the worlds that surround the game. Heck, MMOs are so extrinsically minded that many of them build entire achievement systems right into the game to steer our gameplay and give us those little dopamine hits. I miss waiting for the boat because it reminds me of a time when it was about the unknown, and each night, my character had a completely unique adventure in game. It would be nice to see more of that in MMOs.

"It's the brotherhood!" "No, it's the game!"

When I looked back at the past several months of columns, it surprised me how many times these two viewpoints came up, not only in comments but in my column topics as well. One camp believes that guilds are about the bonds, the friendships, and the loyalty to the other people in the guild. The other focuses more on the game, and while these players do want to play an MMO and even play with others in a guild, they are there for the game, not for the social side.

These two groups don't go together that well in general, and I've noticed that in columns when I lean more toward one side than another, there are plenty of comments that strongly remind me of the other side's view. I do believe that both are completely valid playstyles; you can run a successful guild with each of these philosophies, although it does mean some differences in leadership style. I actually feel that it's something guilds should consider adding to a guild description when recruiting (although you can often read between the lines of recruitment messages to get a sense of things). From the comments in the past, my guess is that the Massively community leans more towards a game-minded approach, but I've included a poll at the bottom to find out, so chime in and let me know your thoughts!

The Guild Counsel  How reader replies identify larger issues in MMOs
Loneliness in leadership

Lastly, one area that I continue to feel gets neglected is the isolation guild leaders face. Some of it is self-imposed, but some of it is from the culture of online communities, where leaders try to deal with everything internally and hesitate to look to other guilds for advice. Reader Azurdane gave a candid look at some of the things leaders experience and why he leads in spite of it all:
The title of this article really reeled me in; as a 10-year veteran community leader it hit home. One of the things that has for years caused me the largest degree of isolation as a leader has been, as you mentioned briefly, the lack of support. Most players will clamor for promotions or positions with absolutely no desire or intention of actually fulfilling the requirements of the role. This leaves leaders without the support of their officers as they simply wanted the power and title and none of the responsibility.

We are the target for every backseat guild leader on the block who wants to critique how things are done yet would never actually step up to the plate to assist. Running a guild/clan/corp/etc. is a thankless task that more often than not drains the better majority of your "gaming" time from doing any actual gaming. However, for some of us, it is what we are drawn to do. It is the way we feel that we can do the most good, and in that regard we put it upon ourselves. But thank you for the write-up. It is nice to know that while we are far too often alone in our guilds, we are not alone in the gaming community.
His last statement is something that I hope becomes a central tenet of guild leadership: It's easier to juggle the challenges of guild leadership when you have the support and camaraderie of other guild leaders. As Tom Hanks said in Saving Private Ryan, "I don't gripe to you, Reiben. I'm a Captain. There's a chain of command. Gripes go up, not down. Always up. You gripe to me, I gripe to my Superior Officer, so on, so on, and so on. I don't gripe to you. I don't gripe in front of you. You should know that as a Ranger."

Guild leaders can't necessarily complain, vent, and share their inner frustrations with the guild to the members because it can lead to a lack of trust in the leader and all sorts of potential for drama. So it's important for guild leaders to have a chance to meet up with other guild leaders who often go through the same challenges of guild leadership, whether it's on a forum, a blog, or a convention panel. When you're running a guild, it can seem like a thankless task because you feel alone, but when you have a chance to connect with other leaders, not only do you establish a solid support network, but you get much more satisfaction out of the leadership role.%Poll-79764%
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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