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The Guild Counsel: Everyone's a critic

Karen Bryan

If there's one truism about MMOs, it's that not all players are equal. It can be frustrating when you're grouped with someone who isn't that great at playing his class. At the same time, it isn't exactly fun to be on the receiving end of criticism, either. Most people want to play well, but they don't want to be constantly reminded of their shortcomings along the way.

In a guild, the fine line between helpful advice and unwanted criticism can often lead to a tense atmosphere and the potential for plenty of drama. "L2p" gets tossed around on forums and in game, but what if someone really does want to get another player to improve? In today's Guild Counsel, let's take a look at some of the factors involved with criticism and explore why this is often a very sensitive subject.

Timing is important

When you're in a group or a raid and see someone who's not productive, it's tempting to say something right there. If it's a minor tweak, that's one thing, but if it's something more complicated that will take time to explain, it's usually better to wait until a quieter moment. There's too much going on, and players are usually more on edge during a group or raid anyway, so there's a high chance that even the most innocuous tip will be taken the wrong way.

So is delivery

It's hard to take criticism without feeling defensive, and some take it better than others. But even the most patient person isn't going to appreciate a smug "learn to play" approach. Being blunt can create a situation where the player resents the tone so much that she ignores any helpful advice hidden within, and that's counterproductive. Giving criticism, especially in an MMO setting where it's so easy to misinterpret, requires patience and a careful approach. It might take time before someone takes helpful advice, but giving breathing room to let players learn on their own terms usually gets the best result in the end.

Fun is key

Everyone needs to have fun in game, but the problem is that what's fun to one person might not be fun to another. Some players really enjoy the intricacies of learning their class and perfecting their output, but others might feel it's a chore that takes away from time they'd prefer to spend just playing the game. The question is, when is someone playing his class "well enough?" Is it when your guild is mastering the content? Is it when every DPS player is parsing at a certain amount or every healer is healing for a certain number? Does gear come into play? What about buffs that have a limited number of targets? And if someone is playing "well enough" but not the best, is that acceptable? There are so many factors that need to be considered, and if each of us had to define "well enough," I doubt we'd come to a consensus.

This is actually something that a guild leader should consider when deciding on the atmosphere and tone of the guild. Some guilds choose to put an emphasis on class ability and might select members to serve as class leaders or set up class discussion forums to outline suggested methods of playing. Other guilds prefer to take a more toned-down approach, letting the players seek advice on their own. There's no right or wrong, and both can work well, but only if it's clear and consistent.

Tone vs. Information

If you're on the receiving end of criticism, it's hard not to take it personally, but it's important to separate the advice from the tone. Start first with the advice, even if it is unsolicited, and be reasonable in assessing whether it really could improve productivity. As for the tone, that's something you should bring to the guild leader's attention if you feel someone came across poorly. And guild leaders should jump on that as soon as possible in order to make sure that the critic and the target of the criticism are on the same page down the road. It's possible that the tone was misinterpreted, but it's also possible that the critic needs an attitude adjustment (or that the recipient needs to grow thicker skin). If you can get egos and emotions out of the way, there is usually a middle ground that both sides will find acceptable.

The Guild Counsel  Everyone's a critic
Approach it as a team effort

Guild leaders, if you can practice here and there, take advantage of that and consider planned sessions when members can choose to meet together and compare notes. Things like training dummies are helpful, but even if your game doesn't have that, you can find opportunities to test parses and gauge player performance. When it's done as a group, there's less a chance that someone will feel singled out, and more often than not, everyone will walk away with something helpful because you implemented several different approaches. One player might have a helpful suggestion about macros, while another might have a handy tip about the best UI or the most productive casting order. It can actually be fun to get together and talk shop from time to time. It's a nice change of pace from the intensity of groups and raids, and players usually end up bonding over shared memories of things that worked (and didn't) during specific battles.

Talk isn't cheap

One of the most valuable questions to raise during discussions on class ability is "Why did you do it that way?" But at the same time, that question can sound completely different based on the context, and it's a great example of why this can be such a sensitive topic. Ideally, you want a scenario where someone's asking the question out of a genuine interest in learning something, or at least understanding why someone is playing one way compared to another. What you want to avoid is someone asking the question in an accusatory way, putting the player on the defensive and leaving him feeling attacked. The more that players talk, the more comfortable people will be about asking questions, sharing advice, and hopefully, improving in the end.

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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