New guilds tend to start out in an idealistic mode. Guild masters and officers alike make ambitious plans–possibly including world and server domination–and they put in the kind of policies that they believe will get them to their goal.
However, sometimes plans go awry. In my experience, guild rules fail for two primary reasons.
1. Rules Have Unforeseen Consequences.
Despite the officers’ and guild master’s good intentions, new policies sometimes have unintended effects. A clause that was meant to help and support potential members may end up alienating them. Collateral Damage has make several mistakes in policy over the past few months, and it was always with the best intentions. To offer one very recent example, at the outset of our planning sessions for Wrath, CD’s officers talked about putting in a Raider Status. At the current moment, we don’t have a guild rank that corresponds to raid eligibility. While we thought it might be a good thing for organizing purposes, as it would let both infrequent and regular players know clearly how often they might expect to raid, our members did not. Most players were vehemently against having any kind of rank associated with raiding, and so this policy never made it to live, if you will. The reason? The mere suggestion of a special designation for raiders felt divisive to our members. Ironically, the very players who would exceed the standard we put forth were the ones who argued most passionately against it. The label “raider” was unwelcome, and as such, we’ve jettisoned it entirely.
2. The Guild Identity Evolves.
Guilds are organic entities, and they do not remain static for long. Part of the reason for this has to do with personnel. In the virtual environment, turnover is high, and the identity of a virtual organization depends heavily on the personality of its members. In addition, the guild’s successes or failures can determine its direction. In Collateral Damage’s case, we progressed farther and more quickly than we thought we would, and as a result, we became a more hardcore guild than our original design envisioned. Gradual change can also alter power structures. Guilds that start with lofty goals and a strict hierarchy may find that, over time, they can loosen up. What starts out as a totalitarian state led by a benevolent philosopher-king may end as an association of friends and equals. It is my belief that healthy guilds shift towards this model over time as they develop trust among members. In the case of gradual institutional change, you may find that the initial policies you wrote may have very little correspondence to guild reality.
How Can I Change Things?
When something isn’t working, it tends to be pretty clear. You will hear little grumbles here and there. This is normal for a guild, as QQ is eternal, but pay attention when you start to hear the same thing from many different parties. When that happens, make a new item on your officer meeting agenda and do something about it. If a policy is bad, get rid of it as soon as you can. Sure, you’ll look inconsistent to your members, but in the end, no one wins a prize for persisting with a bad strategy. However, in order to set your organization up to be able to change with the times, or with your better judgment, certain structures have to be in place.
1. Give yourself an out.
Sometimes a guild’s charter seems graven in stone, when in fact it’s a functional document that should always be changing. Let your members observe a tradition of keeping the charter up to date. That way, if a big change needs to be made, they won’t say: “You can’t do that because it’s not in the charter.” Believe me, CD made the mistake of having a static charter and rule set. Members will read the charter like a Blue Post, and we all know what happens whenever Ghostcrawler appears to change his mind.
2. Have a Decision-Making Structure
Make sure that your guild rules set up a procedure for proposing and ratifying changes to policies. For some guilds, it may work best for the GM to have final decision-making power in all cases, but in others, a vote among the officers will guarantee better support for the decision. The worst thing you can do is poll your members and let them vote on guild policies. People tend to vote their fears. You’ve selected your officers (hopefully) because they’re capable of thinking through problems logically. Polls are useful for information-gathering, but leave the decision-making power in the hands of a few well-informed individuals.
3. Have a System for Reporting to the Members
Transparency is a good thing. I believe that the GMs and officers should be making the decisions, but I also believe that they should explain any major policy change to the members. Document the reasons for the change carefully. It’s very common for disgruntled guild members to accuse the GM of making arbitrary decisions. Don’t give them ammunition.
The advice in this article should enable a new guild to make the small adjustments that are necessary to keep an active organization healthy. These kinds of changes are usually acceptable to all members with a little explanation. However, what happens if you want to radically change your guild’s identity? Is it possible, for example, to mold a casual guild into a hardcore raiding team?
Yes and no. In order to explain how a gradual shift might work, I am going to borrow the rather disgusting metaphor that my fellow CD officer, Bruug, used in our last officer meeting. Imagine that your guild is a cute little froggy, and you’d like to boil him up for dinner so you can snack on some delicious frog legs. If you drop Mr. Croaky into a pot full of boiling water, he’ll jump right back out. However, if you stick him in room-temperature water and turn up the heat a few degrees per minute, he’ll be perfectly happy to sit in his nice warm bath and cook.
Gross, huh? I’m not suggesting that you eat your guildmates. However, if you think that your guild has the potential to grow in a certain direction, take gradual steps to get there. Members tend to resist change. They like what’s comfortable and what works. Many people would say that you can’t take a casual guild and turn it into a hardcore one, and they’d be right in principle. Yet, CD has done that in practice, and without consciously trying (apparently we figured out how to poach a frog all on our own). If the will to be more competitive is already out there among your membership, you can help that along. Change will occur organically, but it will do so more surely and effectively if the hand of leadership gives it a nudge or two. Like a careful gardener, you can influence your guild to grow in certain directions. However subtle the changes, I do urge Guild Masters to be as transparent as possible about their vision for the guild. This is only fair to your members who, after all, did not sign their guild contracts in blood. Well, all except the warlocks anyway, and that was because their other pen ran out of ink.