Guild Guide: Always Have a Focus

If your guild goals is described as "social with no drama," you might want to head back to the drawing board.

You can always tell the guilds that are going to evaporate quickly, because they're the ones that don't have a good reason to exist in the first place.

I've been playing online games for nearly half of my life now and writing about them for the better part of a decade, which means I've come across a lot of guilds.  But it's not just guilds in MMOs.  Clans for shooters or more casual affairs, teams for MOBAs and the like, so many groups clamoring for players and so many of them failing because they don't observe the very simple rule that you need a focus.

But instead, you get an endless parade of people offering a "fun group that helps each other."  And then in a month, it evaporates.

Social is not a focus

Let's say you're the person starting one of these guilds.  You want to have a guild because there are tangible in-game benefits to having one; what they are can vary, but that's also not important right now.  So you want to form a guild to accomplish... what?  What are your actual goals in the game?  What do you want to achieve while playing?

"Having fun" isn't a plan, it's a goal.  It's also the most basic possible definition of why you're playing a game in the first place.  You don't log into World of Warcraft every day out of a feeling of obligation, and if you do you're probably not far away from no longer logging in to the game.  Possibly ever.

Casting a net that broad has two downsides.  The first is that it doesn't attract people who do have a specific goal in mind.  If I'm looking for a roleplaying guild, I'm not going to be tempted by your group that doesn't offer anything beyond "fun."  But it also attracts people who are similarly aimless and just looking for whatever, with no real distinctions drawn between the various player types that might be entirely incompatible with one another.

Honestly, this is more depressing than anything, because you know that the person in question is looking to build a group of friends to speak with out of nothing.  But all of the longstanding groups you see became that way because you have a core of people working to accomplish the same things in the game.  It's a relationship built over time, and the fun social aspects came after the fact, or simply as a natural side effect of working together.

If you want to run a guild, you need it to be something.

Setting rules

"Our only rule is no drama."  Hey, great, but that's ignoring the things that cause drama, like having mutually incompatible viewpoints in the same guild.  Which is much more likely to happen when your guild has no rules beyond "no drama."

Just as important as having a focus, you want your guild to have rules.  No, you don't need to have rules to cover literally everything, but you need to decide what sort of speech is appropriate or inappropriate for public chatter.  You have to decide what behavior is and is not acceptable.  It's not a matter of preventing people from having fun, it's a matter of ensuring the people in the group are having fun without being uncomfortable or upset.

I know there are people who are very rule-averse and basically prefer to make decisions on whether or not something is acceptable on a case-by-case basis.  When there's an issue, then it gets addressed; until then, anything goes.  That's a potential solution, but it also leads to situations where people bring problems after the fact and more hurt feelings get generated over arguments.  It's far better to lay down some basic ground rules ahead of time.

If you're making a rule of "no drama" because you don't like dealing with silly arguments over ridiculous game stuff, you might want to consider not actually running a guild.  Sometimes you're just not cut out for it.

Benefit analysis

Part of what having a focus means is that you can assess something very important: whether or not your group is actually achieving its goals.  If you form a group on Steam with the stated goal of "play a group-wide Team Fortress 2 match on a weekly basis" and that's not regularly happening, it's a lot easier to see at a glance that there's an issue than if your goal is just "talk about games we like."

In days of yore, big social groups worked mostly because it was a lot harder to find someone to play with.  Smaller games can still benefit from this, in fact - if you're one of the few people who had a love for Tomb Raider's multiplayer formats, for example, having a group where you can arrange matches is a good thing.  But most modern games have robust matchmaking services, and so long as the game is still a modern and happening thing people do not need a group solely to find other players.

Other players will always be looking at your guild with a critical eye, because they can and they should.  Look at your group as if you were the applicant, not the person in charge.  Your group plays together and has fun?  Well, so does that guild, and they actually have tangible benefits to joining and being a member.

If you want to start a guild for new players, that works - focus on teaching, offering guided runs, and explaining the game.  But forming a group just for the benefit of having a group will get members only so long as it takes for them to find what they'd rather be doing.  That's not a viable strategy over the long term.

Better no group than one sub-par

You also have to examine why you'd even consider forming a guild when you don't have a strong drive to accomplish something.  It's a bit like writing a novel just because it's something to do.

Forming a guild to meet people is a fine concept, but the problem as mentioned above is that the sort of people you're going to meet when casting that net are the sort of people not already guilded for good reason.  If you're recently unguilded and want to have something back, that's all well and good, but you should already have a core of people with you, otherwise you're trying to recreate something with none of the building blocks.

The majority of people - and, I'd guess, nearly everyone you would want to be in a group with - would prefer to be alone than be in a group that doesn't serve any purpose or have any drive.  If your guild offers nothing beyond the most basic perks of being in a guild, then you have an uphill battle to convince people that it's worth the effort.  And let's face it - not dealing with guild drama is a natural benefit of not being in a guild.  So a step could be saved.

If you want to make a guild, make a guild.  That is great.  But you should only do so if you already have a focus in mind.  Otherwise it's just going to fizzle out in a couple of months, and you'll be left wondering what went wrong.

Looking for a group, guild, or clan? Planning to start one? Check out our sister site, Gamer Launch.

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Published Feb. 23rd 2015

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