Don't ever let anyone tell you that running your guild is easy. It's not. Likewise, keeping multiple guilds on track can be a living nightmare, and one that you could live without. Keeping things running smoothly often means doing things right the first time and rolling with the punches along the way. There are many "right" ways to run guilds. Each officer, clan leader, moderator, senior member, and casual player is going to have their own opinion about the decisions you make. On a guild-level, that is, you are the guild master and make decisions for others and pass those decisions down through the ranks to be absorbed, things are actually quite a bit "simpler" than what I will discuss here today. There are many similarities in the process of community management and one thing that is ill-advised to forget is that we are here for the people. Everything we say or do will have an effect on those we serve.
Firstly, let me introduce myself for those readers who do not know me very well. My name is Stefen but here at IGC I go by the handle "Grey Jorildyn". I've been an avid online gamer since the glory days of MUDding. Since my high schools days of text-based adventuring on dial-up, I've moved onto what most would consider bigger-and-better things; namely the MMORPG. I dabbled in EverQuest sometime near the end of high school and when I went off to college I began my long stint into the world of Final Fantasy XI. After a number of years there, which ended on a sour note, I played Aion for about a year before founding Neutral Impact and subsequently the Impact Gaming Community. Throughout the years I've been involved in "leadership" positions ranging from recruitment head, to raid officer, to guild leader. Along the way I learned a lot about people and my academic pursuits in Psychology allowed me to perceive a larger view of humanity than the typical leader. I feel that helped me develop as a person and as an officer. My policies are fair and democracy rules where and when it can. It's not all sunshine and rainbows, being on the inside of things, and in fact it can be quite taxing if you're not prepared for it. The experiences I've had taught me things I didn't get to learn in school and so I've decided that it was time to start sharing those things with these editorials. I hope that I can provide a good read to those interested in learning more about all facets of guild management. As I publish future articles, you will also get to see the cogs that turn the IGC grinding wheel. Perhaps that will give you an appreciation for everything the officers here do as well as bring you closer to your individual guild members and those people within the community too.
Type of Gaming Communities
Something to keep in mind about gaming communities is that they come in many different flavors. Typically the term "gaming community" refers to some group of players ("The Core"), who have been gaming together for some time, and tend to stick with one another as they trial different games in an endeavor to find the perfect one for all of them. A tall order, to say the least. This first type of community tends to move from game to game as a body, picking up new players along the way and losing some as well. It's a snowball-effect in which the group grows larger over time even though it also loses some of its mass in doing so. These groups tend to have very strong cores that last for years. One of the side effects is that new players may have difficulty penetrating the core group and becoming part of the nucleus on any long-term basis. These are the most common gaming communities and you will see them almost anywhere you go (just look for the most hardcore players on your server or the largest social guild with a high-traffic website).
The second type of gaming community begins the same way, with a core group of players. The difference being that this community either looks to grow sideways, so-to-speak, or ends up doing so as a product of what the members want. Once the core group settles on what game it will play, individual personalities may desire other things. Sometimes this leads to splinter group formation, which may remain in the same game and become competition. Other times these indifferent players seek greener pastures in another game. They've met many people along the way and wish to incorporate some of them with them where ever they go to start this snowballing process all over again. When this occurs and these, now two, groups of core players remain in close contact with the each other, a multi-game gaming community is formed. These communities can be very difficult to maintain as each newly created guild of players comes with not only their own personalities, but also a different culture. Outlooks on games, as well as tolerance for things like long maintenance, overly dramatic players, and loot distribution systems, all vary a great deal between each guild. Just as no two games are identical, so two guilds also cannot be and thus very few blanket policies can be implemented to govern each core group. IGC is one such community and you'll be hearing a lot more about how we get by in this dog-eat-dog world.
The third type of gaming community is one that simply calls itself a community. This is usually a standalone guild which plays a single game. They may or may not have a core group. In fact you'll find that a good number of these groups began just as someone's dream to build and maintain a guild which flourished to some degree. As the game's life progresses these groups tend to break apart and lose members, most who do not stay in contact with what becomes established as the core group. The remaining core then continue recruitment efforts until they fizzle out and inevitably die. They have a great life along the way and achieve great things for many of their members. Don't misunderstand me on this one. These guilds are also where many great leaders, officers, and players get their start. It's where I got my start. They are not groups to be underestimated!
The fourth type of gaming community is the entire body of players of a single game. For example, all players of World of Warcraft would be considered the "World of Warcraft Gaming Community". These players tend to congregate on their game's official forums, where conversation generally devolves into something resembling roadkill run over thirty of forty times too many. The players participating in these discussions generally belong to single "free" guilds (not part of a community cluster). Regardless of affiliation, within these communities, players are presumed to be representing their guild with every post they make. This is a dangerous idea indeed, and in many competitive environments, guild leaders or community managers often create policies to reduce negative encounters on forums. These communities are generally divided into (elitist) hardcore players, (dirty) casual players, and everything in between. These divisions usually take hard stances on things such as random number generator, gear progression, and the worth of holiday events. Their zeal in discussion of these and similar topics often reveal their affiliations for the community to see. Of course the community then uses this as ammo of some kind and nothing really ever gets done to heal the wounds between sides.
So why is any of this important? Well, for one, all these communities are made up of players that come from different walks of life. Players with certain opinions tend towards different types of gaming communities. Some players prefer to be apart of something big, while others are happy settling into guild-life in a small, "where everybody knows your name" kind of way. Other players keep to themselves or find like-minded players in their guild to accomplish content with. With this variety of players, a variety of gaming communities was bound to be created as well. Another reason why it is important to highlight these differences is to point out that no matter how you're organized, every guild eventually comes to an end in some way. It's a hard pill to swallow, I know, but just as we don't think about death until we're quite older, members in guilds don't really consider these things until just before it's all over too. Furthermore, regardless of how the community is organized, someone is always in charge, making changes to the rules, the way things function, or screwing around with the website so you can't find what you're looking for anymore (sup!). You'll find that just as people of different cultures have more in common than they realize, so too do these gaming communities and the players that belong to them.
Taking the First Step
The first step to really understanding what you're getting yourself into is to embrace that you don't have all the answers. That piece of advice will only get you so far however, and so you'll need to surround yourself with people who you can trust. Eventually you'll replace these people with those who you can trust and who also like to disagree with you, but you'll come to realize that later. Honestly there are a lot of "first steps" you'll be taking when making your gaming community, but setting up some managerial and interactive stuff is important on the first day. You'll want to take a close look at this list below.
You can't do this all on your own, so don't even think you can. No matter which type of gaming community you decide to build, you're gonna need a lot of help. People who support you are important, as well as those who play in your guild. At first, you'll be taking the helm in doing both the recruiting and leadership promoting with the end goal being just handling the latter. Recruiting a big job though and it's #1 to getting yourself some exposure (and players). Select a recruitment officer to do this for you and work with this person to create a nice poster that you can pin on the official forums for your game, as well as any other popular fansites affiliated with your game. To go along with this, find someone to help you with designing a nice guild logo. A little bit of cheap art will go a long way. If you want something really nice, be ready to put up a little cash if you can afford it.
Past that, you'll need to identify good officers that can carry out your orders. You can do this a lot of different ways and is something that will be discussed a little later in this article in the Leadership Styles section.
Ah yes, well where are all those people you recruit going to hang out when they're not in the game? Your website, that's where! In this department, you've got a lot of options. Many guild leaders are young and upcoming and need a solution that is either free or cheap. Luckily, there are TONS of services out there matching that description. While I am not going to link those sites, I will name them and a google search can provide you with the answer. Enjin, GuildPortal, Shivtr, Guildlaunch, and Guildomatic are a few that come to mind. The primary advantage to using one of these services is that they almost all have a free way to get a website setup for the specific game you are playing, assuming it is a popular one. Here, a little code know-how goes a long way. Html and PHP knwoledge can provide a new experience for you, but if you knew those things, you'd probably avoid these sites anyway. The point is if you need a site tomorrow, these guys can help you. You'll get to choose a nice template and a bunch of cool features that any guild leader would want (calendars, forums, shoutboxes, etc). The disadvantage to these sites is that you won't get a lot of webspace and unless you shell out a decent amount of cash, FTP access won't exist either. Also, your site really won't stand out compared to other guilds. Since so many people use these services, your site will just be another typical cookie-cutter guild site with all the bells and whistles.
Now if you're ready to get into the big leagues, you'll want your own site you can customize and upload stuff to. Going back to staffing for a moment, that might require a web designer. However if you can manage a little reading, know how to use FTP, and are savvy enough to find a good webhost, you can probably do it yourself. It will take a lot of time to get what you want, but there is something out there for everyone. This site runs on Joomla! but Drupal and some other website software is available on the internet at free or low cost. These back-end pieces of your site have a lot of free support out there too. Google once again becomes your best friend for troubleshooting. There are tons of free templates out there and just as many paid ones too. You will find something you're looking for in the end and be a lot happier with it than if you used a website service.
Past that there is designing your own website from the ground-up. This will obviously take longer, cost you a lot more money (unless you can do it yourself), but you'll get even more than you could ever hope for should you hire the right person to do this. Professional gamers go this route and some of the stuff out there on the net is absolutely stunning. If you've got the money, definitely go this route! You'll never regret that.
It has become the standard these days for you to have a voice over IP server to go with your guild or gaming community. There are several services available out there, all with similar features and varying levels of security, control, and customization. Most commonly you'll find Ventrilo, TeamSpeak, and Mumble. While all three are great services, one may have what you want in greater amount than another. IGC uses a Teamspeak server which is hosted by an external service. We chose TeamSpeak because it allowed us to assign icons for different community groups and the security meets and exceeds our needs.
All these services can be acquired for paid hosting or you can host your own server. If you want to host your own server then you're probably going to need an amazingly faster internet connection as well as a box to run the server on somewhere in your home. Doing so has a big startup cost, assuming you don't have the tech on hand, but can save you a bundle over time. Getting heard is your first priority so however you can make it happen, do so. Use your website and guild message features to disseminate your VOIP address and get your players on there as often as possible.
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These are "The Big Three" you want to focus on to get things off the ground. Unlike the latter two, the "first" first step is an ongoing and very involved process. For that reason the next section will address some of the concerns about staffing and provide some pointers on leadership style.
Whenever I am integrating a new guild into IGC (something that has happened 5 times now!) I often tell this story about where I came from and where I am going. I feel a bit like Captain Sheridan on Babylon 5 in that respect. Oh, that was really nerdy... Anyway, leadership style is something very important to the survival of your gaming community. Regardless of how you approach it you must always remember this one very important word: Consistency. No one likes a leader that changes his or her mind about something. There is no backsies in leading unless you change something written in stone first. That being said, I view leadership styles as being divided into styles which put everything down on paper, those which don't, and something in between. Any of those three can work depending on the personality of the community manager and/or guild leader.
As Community Manager I do my best to construct blanket policies that can be implemented in all the guilds. For example, where staffing is concerned, I encourage each guild to utilize a Recruitment Officer, a Raid Officer (one per event if possible), and a Media Manager (non-officer usually). There is also a Guild Leader which delegates the direction of the guild to each other officer. This direction is then executed in the form of a plan that moves the guild in that direction based on what their assigned task is. Delegation is the key to it all, but division of power is the lock itself. Modeling is a crucial tool as well. Whatever you do will be watched and mimicked to some degree. This bleeds down into everything and is part of the duty of maintaining the community.
My philosophy, and consequently that which is maintained here at IGC, is that a leader should clearly understand exactly what their duties and responsibilities are, both in and out of the game. A recruitment officer is required to bump recruitment posts, send out and response to emails, and run voting polls for new members outside the game while recruiting and guild inviting those inside the game. Raid officers schedule stuff on the raid planner and write and post strategies up on the website outside the game and remind players of start time, form parties, and give direction during raids while in the game. Those familiar with general guild structure and MMO end game will understand the necessity for such division of power. Sadly, too few Guild Leaders are willing to delegate enough and that leads to burnout which I will discuss in a future editorial. While that delegation is important for the Guild Leader and the guild as a wholer, the additional responsibility is that he or she must be able to step up and tackle and and all tasks required of any position at any time. In other words, if your Raid Officer is sick, then you had better be ready to lead the raid. That will require you to be as familiar with the raid and each encounter within it just as if you were the Raid Officer.
The challenge for a Community Manager is getting the Guild Leaders to buy into this system. If your Guild Leaders are born and bred within your system from the start then the transition will be relatively easy. Most of the time you probably won't get off that easy and so a bit of training is required. From the Guild Leader standpoint you must get your officers to buy into your system, or the one the CM wants you to buy into. This is all very similar to the organized play of a professional hockey team. A team plays a certain way and if members don't catch onto or embrace the type of play the coach is laying out for them, then that player probably isn't going to see a lot of ice time. Similarly, officers that don't follow the system have a hard time leading others and don't earn the respect of their fellow guildmates.
Whatever system you choose is ultimately up to you, but be consistent. Remember that delegation is important as well since you don't want to burnout and you certainly don't want your Guild Leaders and Officers to burnout either. Be prepared to step up and take the reigns as needed no matter what happens. Everyone on the other side of the mic is a person and they deserve the respect they have. Come to terms with those that are never going to help build your community to what you want it to be. Being transparent (a lengthy topic for another article) with everyone goes a very long way. There is never a need for secrecy among a community unless you're planning a big April Fool's joke or something.
Along those lines, another aspect of leading concerns friends. We all have friends. Often these are players that help establish our core groups and stay with the guild for a long time. These relationships are healthy in the real world but can be dangerous in a virtual one. Be careful about playing favorites. Don't develop systems which cater to the playtimes or behaviors or those close to you. Attempt to inject as much objectivity as possible into every policy you create. Maintaining such policies is easier as you'll come to realize that you've created a less technical environment to work within and a more common sense based one. This paragraph leads naturally into the next.
That being said, another very important aspect of being an officer of any kind is distance. Distance is the emotional space between you and your members. While not every guild or community is run like a business (IGC leans more towards the business model), there is something to be said about maintaining boundaries with your members. This goes straight back to modeling. Having been the Guild Leader for Neutral Impact now almost two years, I would like to believe that most of our core members know me pretty well. I've gotten fairly personal with them over time and yet they don't call me by my first name or call me to chat on the phone. They know they can text me if I'm needed for a raid and am not online, or to shoot me an email if something requires my attention. Since I act this way, so too do many of other members. Essentially I've established this norm over time, for better or worse. You might say all this is just a typical internet relationship, but it isn't. It's quite special and yet it is also not tattooed on me. When I removed the headset, the relationship ends for awhile. When I logout, I put it out of my mind until next time (mostly). Finding that place between professional and friend is difficult. It has to be felt out and happens over time. Keep that in mind at all times.
Don't fool yourself into thinking this only has to do with personal relationships either. That is a big part of it, and so is the way you conduct yourself within the game as a player. One thing I always thought was taboo was lending money to people. We all know how this goes down in the real world between family and friends. Having learned from that I almost never put myself in a position to owe something to, or be owed something by, another member. Transactions have to occur fairly and equally. Never take a handout and don't offer them either. Here again we're modeling a leadership style and other members will embrace that too. It's not a sin to have a few optimistic players in your guild that give items out regularly or place a lot of gatherables in the guild bank. Just keep an eye on this behavior since you want to make sure that if those players are also officers, that they aren't playing their own game of favorites. As a leader you can very easily create an altruistic guild environment. My advice to this end is to be prepared to settle member disputes over such things. It isn't pretty, but in the end your members will have learned something about one another and those teachable moments are invaluable.
At first I did not intend to include this section but here it is! Handling disputes is something that is going to happen. Don't bother trying to plan too much as sometimes the most unlikely shouting matches will happen. Instead, be prepared to utilize your leading style to handle disputes consistently. Blanket policies like zero tolerance do very little good when players are yelling at each other in a passionate rage. Spouting policies at them during a live match will only serve to display what zero tolerance really means (toward what you have to say). Instead determine what you would do when two players are having it out. Are you going to address it within the game in a group chat? Will you pull them into a separate channel in your voice chat server? Will you talk to them individually and ask them to work it out on their own? You have a lot of options. Find something that works for the players you have on hand. If you decide to do it one way all the time, you're gonna find someone will deny you what you want. Be smart about disputes and handle them quickly and effectively. Don't ignore any dispute, ever, for any reason, whilst you lose two or more members.
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One thing I'd like to get across in this section is that while I will often describe what I know best, it is not the only way to lead. Everyone has their own style. Some are more straightforward while others tend toward eclectic. The main points I want you to get out of this are to be consistent, to delegate duties and responsibilities, and model behavior you want your members to display. These three concepts are quite general and no matter what approach you take to leading, you'll find that making them part of your repertoire will take your community much farther than if you neglected them.
Have you ever come downstairs on Christmas morning hoping that you'd get that one thing you wanted, asked for, or otherwise made it plainly obvious to your family you desired more than anything else in world, only to find it wasn't among your gifts? If that's you then you had very high expectations of those people you shared a home with for so many years. Likewise, avoid having higher expectations of your members and officers than you have prepared them for. One great example of this is a guild that has set out to recruit the most badass players ever to play video games. Months A month later you've got this great group and they've powerleveled each other to max and are ready to start raiding. Your expectation at this point is that your group of ultimate badasses is going wreck face. Only, on the first raid night, that isn't quite what happened. Wipe after wipe occurs and next thing you know people start coming down with strange illnesses, are having bad cramps, need to walk the dog, or are creating any number of excuses to get the hell away from the computer for the rest of the evening. Are you mad yet? You have every right to be! Not with them however; just with yourself.
One thing that can creep up on us without us noticing is our changing expectations of players over time. Sometimes this is a good thing. It means you're acclimating to the reality of what types of players you actually recruited, as opposed to those you went out to recruit. Sometimes it's a bad thing. That means your recruitment poster probably has nothing to do with what you actually wanted your guild to be and so you attracted the wrong people entirely and now you're stuck with what you've got (remember what I said about staffing and delegation here). Our expectations can form without us really realizing. They can also decline or increase. That can lead to terrible realizations or momentary surprise. To avoid this happening to you it is best to keep your finger on the pulse of your guild at all times. Remember that your guild has a life of its own now and while you do what you can to model, delegate, etc., things that want to happen are going to happen. It's best you be prepared for them. Expect those things to happen. I cannot tell you what those things will be so while I type this I am trying not to be cryptic but that's not really working too well.
What I am trying to convey is to be real with yourself and with your members. You can let transparency take over here sometimes. Talk to your members, have a meeting, a roundtable, or whatever to get that across. Lay things out for people. Get to know them and let them get to know you. Say "this is where we are" and "this is where we want to be". Discuss your plan to get there, then delegate parts of the plan to various leaders as appropriate and then monitor it. Keeping apprised of your guild's passions will allow you to create more accurate expectations (please note I did not say better expectations). This is going to help reduce that burnout phenomenon named earlier.
Communication is an essential tool for keeping everybody in the loop. How you communicate things is mostly based on your demeanor as a person and your leadership style towards the group. There are a number of different ways to communicate with your group so try to incorporate as many of them as possible in a consistent manner.
Email is a powerful tool. Everybody has an email address these days and there is no reason not to write someone an email if you've got something to say. Emails are good for reaching one or many people in one go. Having mailing lists for your guild leaders and/or all your community officers is a great way to get started. Emails are the plan your officers should communicate with outsiders. Utilizing website-related email addresses, rather than personal ones, is a great way to show others you mean business. IGC for example has a policy that all recruitment officers and guild leaders must use the email address assigned to them when communicating with new applicants. So instead of seeing some funky email from who-the-hell-knows, they see an email address that is familiar to them based @impact-gaming.us.
Generally seen as the preferred method for direct contact of players, texting can cross many boundaries. Some players may not want to be texted, so setting a standard sooner than later is preferred. Many hardcores guilds utilize texting as the standard, whereas semi-hardcore, hardcore-casual, or full casual communities have varying opinions on texting as invasive. Some love it, some hate it. Find out what your community is willing to do with this and let it flourish if possible.
For event time, Voice Chat is an indispensable tool. Having a stable VOIP server is a key to a happy community. Less bitching from them about downtime means more time you can spend working on other things. VOIP is a useful tool for reaching a lot of people at once for a low cost and in a live setting. With the aid of meetings, you can get a lot of points across quickly to everyone in the guild. Having an open door policy for guests also allows your players to get pick-up groups onto your VOIP. Welcoming outsiders into your home is another thing that goes a long way (I've said this a lot haven't I?) and it can be a pseudo-recruitment tool which happens naturally. I probably don't have to go over the merits of voice chat if you're reading this anyway and I'll just stop by saying it's a great tool for community management and building.
Ah yes, the boards. I put this one last for a reason! The forums ought to be the #1 place in your community where everyone can get all the information they need about the community and your guild. It's important that you also remember that outsiders may want to take a peek into your community's personality too. For that, maintain a few public forums for conversation about various things. This will go a long way to providing a common meeting ground for players from different genres, even if your gaming community does currently have a large group of players involved in these games. Private Messaging is a feature of most forum software by now and is an easy way to send out messages to everyone in a way far less invasive than email. Plans and meetings (below) can be posted up on the forums. A forum-centric community is a healthy community and part of the job of a Community Manager or Guild Leader is encouraging everyone to register and see the website as a tool for everything in your community.
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Obviously communication is a big deal when you're trying to keep a community informed and on-the-go at the same time. How you communicate is going to be determined by your writing and leading style. Some do the former better than others. I'm certainly no writer, if this article is any indication, and yet I do have my own style about things. I wanted to use this little space to emphasize an important point about communication with players within your community. One of the things that I am careful about is being in a situation where it becomes my word versus the word of another member. Because of the influence that officers can develop over time, members detached from cliques in a guild can lose their credibility in scenarios where it comes down to what a leader might have said and what the member might have said. As such I make it a point never to communicate with a member of my community without another officer or objective community member present. I convey this to all officers within IGC quite storngly and it comes up most often when handling disputes. Find a way to prepare for these types of things and you'll be fine.
A community is only as strong as its direction sometimes. Planning things is particularly important when you need adjust your expectations, be transparent, require staffing, or any other number of things already touched upon. You will find, no matter how you lead, that planning is important. Community Managers have a lot on their plate and in order to keep it all straight, there a lot of small things you can do to stay on track.
Just as guilds run on schedules, so too should you. Let everybody in your communications know when, where, and why you want to meet. Get everyone on the same page. Furthermore, making special features like raid planners or game calendars available to people is a fantastic way to allow players to see what is going on each day of the week in your community or guild. Schedules are bred into us as kids in school and continue with us throughout our adult life. Don't neglect this very important aspect of our daily lives. Work with human tendency!
Not everyone likes meeting (I do), but they are part of our lives as well. A good way to reach the most amount of people in your guild is to schedule a meeting. Plan the when, where, and why ahead of time and plaster it in as many places as possible, VOIP and guild MOTDs are good places to start, and don't website features such as forums and front pages. Use what you've setup in communication to schedule these meetings (see what I did there?). At these meetings lay out your plans, just make sure you've planned them first. Use meetings as more than just planning tools. Take questions, give answers, and listen to members. Present new directions for your community at meetings and be prepared to give reasons for wanting to go in that direction as well. Don't let opportunities to get a lot of people in one place go to waste. People are giving you their time so many the best use of it.
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For those unfamiliar with the general planning cycle, it goes a little something like this: Assess Situation > Identify Possible Solutions > Determine Best Solution > Implement Solution > Monitor the Situation. Planning is ongoing. Once you implement another plan you're likely to start on another. Commonly plans are used to solve problems, but they can also be used simply to improve a situation in the guild. Use plans often and take feedback from your members continuously. Once things seem okay, you can feel confident that the plan worked. If it didn't, then back to the drawing board with you!
Well I think I've said about as much as I can about this topic for now. I hope that this has given many of my fellow IGC members an idea of all that goes on upstairs around the clock. Just as important though typing this up has given me an opportunity to show others that even though it is difficult, it can be done. Everybody needs help and I'd like to think I'm one of those guys that can provide that. Writing stuff like this has been on my mind for some time now and I finally got around to just doing it. For those that still have questions or feel there are gaps here that just went completely unmentioned, feel free to email me at
. I am more than willing to answer and all questions about IGC, it's policies, and general day-to-day operations.
Alrighty kiddies, have fun in the gaming world and don't take yourselves too seriously!