The Guild Counsel: Recruitment tips in the age of free-to-play

Free-to-play is here to stay, and in just a few short years, the MMO landscape has changed dramatically. It seems like just yesterday that games like SWTOR and RIFT were adamantly insisting that the subscription model was the best plan for them. And four years ago, if you had suggested that most MMOs would adopt a free-to-play business model, people would question your sanity. Today, if you claim that the subscription model is the best bet, you'll get funny looks.

The change has had an impact on guilds, and it's caused many guild leaders to have to rethink the way they recruit and manage their guilds. Let's take a look at how the free-to-play movement can actually help guilds build and maintain a healthy roster.

Take advantage of the influx

Some guilds resent the wave of new players who decide to take a peek at a game thanks to free-to-play. But smart guilds will see it as an opportunity to boost their roster. After all, those newbies probably aren't new to MMOs, and many will have years of experience under their belts, so there's potential for some good additions to join your guild.

Many longtime guilds have progressed so far that they forget what the newbie zones even look like, but when a game goes free-to-play, those zones are as busy as they were on launch day. Guild leaders shouldn't be afraid to return to those zones to conduct a little recruiting drive.

Time recruitment drives with promotions

Games that initially go free-to-play tend to see a huge increase in the playerbase in the first few weeks. But over time, that dwindles a bit, and it's up to the game company to find a way to attract new waves of players. The easy answer is quick promotions, special events, and good deals on membership or the cash shop. Guilds should keep an eye out for upcoming promotions and hold recruitment drives during these events, since those are the times when they're most likely to see new faces in-game.

Snag returnees who seek new content

Back when subscriptions ruled the roost, members who left a game and cancelled their subscription weren't likely to return to that game later on. Cancelling was a big decision, mainly because once you left a game, it was nearly impossible to play catch up if you chose to return.

Today, it's easier for players to leave a game for a time, but it's also easier for them to return. Games that transition to a free-to-play model attract not only new players who were turned off by a subscription plan but also veteran players who miss the game and want to drop in to see how things are going. Guild leaders should take advantage of that and connect with those returning players. Schedule events around new content, but also consider holding special nights that are focused on revisiting older content for guild members alts and returning players.

Be the glue

Games and guilds both yearn for player retention, and while games make it easier to attract players with a lower barrier of entry, guilds do a great job keeping players over the long haul.

Good guilds find creative ways to keep members happy and engaged, but the rise of free-to-play means that studios will also be focused on designing the game in such a way that it encourages players to stick around longer. Guild leaders can use that to their advantage as they try to keep attrition to a minimum.

Reconsider roster cleaning

I'm a big fan of keeping a tidy roster, and I've always endorsed a periodic roster cleanup to remove inactive members. But free-to-play makes things a little more complicated because there's a good chance some of those members will come back months or even years later. Guild leaders want to avoid a roster that has a lengthy list of inactive members that gives off the feeling that the guild is leaking members and isn't good enough to retain them. But consider keeping inactive members who might have been around for a long time and whom you'd welcome back if they returned. Once you remove them, you lose the ability to reconnect with them if they come back.

It's not easy for guilds to adapt to the free-to-play model. Game servers have gone from feeling like the Cheers bar (where everybody knows your name) to feeling like a bustling city, with a sea of faces, many of them unrecognizable. There's a bigger pool of players to recruit from, but at the same time, attrition within the guild is sure to increase under a free-to-play model. And because of free-to-play, there's a new focus on cash shops to generate income that's lost from dropping the subscription model. The intrusion of real-life money into the game makes it hard, particularly for guilds that roleplay, because the immersion that makes the game so compelling is lost.

Despite the challenges, guilds can benefit from the free-to-play movement. Guilds traditionally look at the content of the game as the real challenge, and once they build up their roster, their primary focus has been on pushing for progression or meeting guild goals. But the bigger challenge is maintaining a healthy roster and an active guild for the long haul. Even the most successful progression based guilds fall apart because once they've reached the end, they lose the ability to hold on to members. In order to endure, guilds need to be flexible enough to take a step backwards here and there, either to help members catch up or to seek out good members who are new but working their way up the ladder. If guild leaders and members are mindful that it's a marathon and not a sprint, the rise of free-to-play can actually fit in well with a guild's recruitment efforts.

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.