GMs Talk: Things We Share, Things We Do Not

GMs Talk: Things We Share, Things We Do Not

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<Apotheosis> must be sick of me whenever I pop into their mumble late at night. That’s Kurn’s guild. Every so often I like to drop in there and have a chat with another GM (who doubles as a blogger herself). Not too many of us around, I’m afraid. She doesn’t know this, but she plays a big part in making sure I remain grounded. When it comes to guild matters, there are certain unspoken rules even among the company of those similar to us. There are topics that we’ll talk about and others that we do not ever, ever discuss. It’s the equivalent of talking shop with others in the trade.

Stuff That’s Fair game

War stories

“And he’s slowly backing up pulling Arthas with him and then falls over the ledge! He just starts screaming over vent, Taunt! TAUNT! I fell off the ledge!”

Everyone loves a good war story. Hilarious events or tales of awesome heroics (that may or may not have been slightly embellished). It’s even funnier if it’s a player that both GMs are familiar with. Typically, whenever war stories are exchanged, there’s usually an important lesson that can be learned and applied. Both leaders walk away knowing more about how to avoid similar situations in the future. The exchange of knowledge means that only one of us would have to experience an event. We’ll then share it with our GM friends in the hopes that they can recognize the symptoms of a problem before it occurs.

In this case, like not tanking Lich King so close to an edge.

Policy

Anytime I’ve wanted to make sweeping policies that affected the guild or the raid, I’d try to consult with someone outside. I search for someone who’s familiar with a similar issue. Even better if the guild leader successfully implemented a policy in the first place. I also to try to get in touch with someone who wanted to put a policy in place but ultimately didn’t and listen to their point of view as well. An outside perspective can shed a spotlight on additional factors that weren’t taken under consideration. I listen to what worked well and what didn’t. Maybe some changes or adjustments were made after the fact to help smooth the transition over.

Speaking of which, I need a consult about whether or not I should implement a policy dictating that all raiders show up with pants worn at all times.

Strategy

This is another reason why I’ll consult with another GM. Sometimes we’ll run into a brick wall when we’re working on an encounter and I like to turn to other people outside who have done the boss. Oftentimes they can offer a little insight into a possible solution. Not everyone’s raid composition is exactly the same. But with strategy changes, you can usually account for that by getting a different class to try and do the same thing. Sometimes it’s a simple solution like moving the raid over slightly or altering the timing! Asking a “How did your guild handle this obstacle?” can sometimes lead to light bulb illuminating moments.

Evaluation techniques

Determining player performance is never going to go away in progression raiding guilds. We’re always looking for methods where we can excel and find tune the players under our raiding core. If a GM happens to be an expert at a class, it’s not a bad idea to pick their brain a bit and find out what they look for when gauging the effectiveness of players.

Stuff That’s Off limits

Current damaging drama

Any active, dramatic issues are kept off the table. I don’t like discussing things like ultimatums, problems or people just giving me a hard time without making certain things really vague. If the guild is going through a really rough time, a lid’s kept on it. However, if a problematic issue has been resolved and passed, I’ll classify it under the war stories category.

Exception: If it really does get to a breaking point, and every option had been considered, I’d probably shoot some ideas and get someone to play devil’s advocate and see if there’s a possible solution that was missed or we walkthrough scenarios of what would possibly happen. Sometimes it isn’t possible to do that within the guild.

Names

I tend to obscure names unless it’s someone well known to the community. If I’m describing a situation, I tend to go with the class or the role.

Example: I think Lodur’s moustache is compromising his ability to heal.  Or worst yet, he’s using the moustache to heal.

Applicants

I’ve had players who leave Conquest apply to guilds of other bloggers and vice versa. As a personal rule, I never bring them up at all. As far as I’m concerned, the business is always between the recruit and the guild they applied to. I don’t ever ask about their application nor would I ever meddle in any guild’s affairs. I have a hard enough time running my guild and it’s not my place nor interest to run someone else’s.

Exception: However, if the player who applied did something particularly heinous like break into the guild bank or exploited in game, I believe it’s the duty of the former GM to relay the necessary information and then let them deal with it how they see fit.

Code 21

We never, ever talk about code 21 unless it’s under extreme circumstances. Sorry guys, it’s a GM thing.

And there you have it folks! If you’ve ever wondered what goes in the GM’s lounge, I can assure you that there’s no plot to take over the world or to gkick everyone from the guild. It’s mostly business and nothing to be worried about!

Tough Call: Real Officer Set-Ups In Cataclysm

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Welcome back for another issue of Tough Call, with me, Viktory.

Disclaimer: What follows is the summation of my opinion based upon the responses I received from over a dozen guild masters when I asked them about their officer corps. Given the content of my last two posts, I felt it would be relevant to take an honest look at how guilds are setting up their government structure these days. This does not mean you should change your guild structure right away.  It does mean, however, that if you were looking to make a change, you can perhaps derive some supporting arguments from a few successful GMs cited below.

A few weeks ago I put out a call for GMs to help me get an idea how their guilds are operating, and, more importantly, what sort of  hierarchy they have put in place to make their guild succeed.  Out of the numerous responses I received, two solid trends emerged:

  1. There are a LOT of different ways to set-up your guild hierarchy, each with their own respective success rates and ease of implementation.
  2. There are far fewer vanity positions in play these days. At least among the sample group at my disposal, it seems there are most GMs expect more output from their officers.

I am happy to see that the days of  “So-and-so has been with us for a long time, so they are an officer now” are largely over.  Only 2 of the GMs who responded to my survey said they had non-specific officer roles (as in “we all do a bit of everything”, which really leads to “everyone assumes someone else is doing the dirty work”).

To get my information, I asked each GM three quick questions, and let them tell me the rest (and believe me, guild managers love to tell you about their guild, its environment and their genius set-up to solve all problems.)

First Question: “What officer positions do you use, and do they report directly to you or is there a chain-of-command?”

Most Common Positions:

  • - Raid Leader (separate from a role leader)
  • - Melee DPS / Tank / Ranged DPS / Healing role leaders
  • - Bank Officer
  • - Recruitment Officer

Some GMs also reported using Morale/Relations officers and an officer rank for Loot Council or Loot Master, separate from other officer duties.  I’m not sure that I’d classify these jobs are something that needs a full-time officer, but I’m also extremely hesitant with the idea of a part-time or “junior” officer.  If it wasn’t so prevalent, I’d lump “Bank Officer” in with this lot.

As for command structure, it’s fairly unanimous that members report to their respective role leaders, who then in turn report to the GM.  I do wish, however, that I had devised a way to get more information about how the recruitment, bank, and morale officers interact with this command structure.

To me this combo represents a stark contrast to the landscape I saw when I started raiding back in Karazhan.  Instead of a GM who ran every aspect and had a few cronies as officers (which is what typically gave loot council-style raids such a bad rep), we are seeing 25-man guilds shift into fully-fleshed organizations.  Positioning the GM as the Chairman of the Board seems to be the clearest way to define duties/responsibilities, and is an efficient way to make sure the various aspects of the guild function at peak performance.

Second Question: “Have you had to add any officer positions since the end of Icecrown Citadel?”

The answers to this question fell in two distinct patterns:

  • Organization increase: bank officer, recruiter, defined class leads.
  • Expansion increase: recruitment officer, 2nd raid leader, PVP leads.

This should tell you that if your guild isn’t growing or refining, you’re stagnating.  12-24 months from now you will be doing things differently; the faster you can figure out what that will be, the better the transition will go.  After all, these are guilds that had 4-5 years of experience and still found roles to add and needs to address after ICC.  Learn from their example and succeed.

Third Question: “If you had to cut one officer position (not person) today, who would it be?”

A few GMs refused to answer this one, or gave responses that never answered the question, but the consensus was either the bank officer or morale officer would be the first to go.

As I stated above, I’m not sure that these are full-time jobs anyways.  In my guilds we’ve always just defaulted to the most likable officer being de facto “HR guy.”  I am very interested to hear any feedback about ways that a bank or morale officer could contribute on-par with what a raid leader, role leader or PVP lead does.

As always, leave any question, comments or epic knitting patterns in the comments below. (I’m trying to get someone to knit me a bad-ass scarf to wear while podcasting).  Also, if you have a situation that you’d like to have me address in a future column, feel free to send it to viktory.wow@gmail.com.

4 Reasons Healing Meters Suck

4 Reasons Healing Meters Suck

Thumbs Down (with Clipping Path)

This is a guest post by Ulkesshern, an EU Holy Paladin from Hellfire

Matticus put a plea out for guest posts and despite it been something I’ve never done I figured ‘Hey, why not?’ and offered up my services and here I am! I’m a Holy Paladin from the EU realm of Hellfire and I’m currently enjoying the delights of the 25 man content.

For my inaugural post I’ve decided to focus on one of my major bug bears, the absolutely terrible creations that are healing meters and the issues I perceive with them.

Issue 1: More Healing does not equal Better Healers

Without trying to oversimplify the job of DPS their job is basically to do damage, the more damage they do the (arguably) better they are, boss health is constant so the more damage they do the quicker the boss dies, the quicker people get their loot and the quicker you progress. However that really isn’t the case for healers. Picture this scenario, you’ve all just hit 80, you’re all predominantly in your old Tier 6 or quest rewards and you head to Naxx.

People are going to be taking massive amounts of damage, Tank mitigation will be low, DPS will be low so the encounters will be lasting longer and as such you’re going to be healing your heart out. Fast forward to the point when you go back with everyone in shiny Level 80 epics. The tanks don’t lose as much health every hit, encounters last half the amount of time and you’re not going to be breaking a sweat.

Then out come the meters!

“Oh wow my DPS is almost double what it was when we started here” cries StabbyStabster your top Rogue.
“Yeah mine too, we’re awesome now” join in the rest of the DPS.

Then someone links the healing comparison.

Well look at that, you’ve healed probably half of what you healed last time and instantly the people who don’t get it start moaning at you for not pulling your weight. The thing is we scale almost inversely with the raids gear level, but in the minds of so many people bigger numbers equals better players.

Issue 2: Situational Situations are Situational

This is something that an amazing amount of people just fail to understand, who you are assigned to heal can greatly affect your position on the meters, and I saw a wonderful example of this in a raid I was in last night. We were twenty manning Patchwerk for the achievement (yes I like achievements). Our tanks were a Death Knight, a Druid and a Warrior and our healing team comprised of 3 Paladins, a Priest and Shaman. The Paladins were assigned one Tank each while beaconing a different Tank, so all 3 Tanks had one Paladin and were the recipient of one Beacon, while the Priest and Shaman were assigned to just go crazy on all of the tanks.

We killed him pretty easily and were impressed with ourselves, and then someone linked the healing meter, Two Paladins at the top, followed by the Priest and then the Druid. Languishing at the bottom was the Third Paladin.

At first glance, it seemed that the Paladin was failed as his healing done was absolutely terrible. However when you thought about it, there were reasons.

Firstly, he was topping the over healing meters by a large margin. Then realization sets in, he was healing the main Tank, not the hateful strike soaks, and as such there was a lot less damage to heal and because Beacon of Light only transfers effective healing (of which there was very little). Whereas the other Paladins were hitting with ~14k effective heals and getting them beaconed across for about the same, the “bottom Paladins” heals weren’t needed as much and as such weren’t getting beaconed either.

3 Paladins, 3 Targets, 3 Players spamming the same heals with very different results. To some people that means that one of them was failing, a scenario that had entered no ones mind until the meters were linked. Just seconds earlier everyone was congratulating the Healers on such a good job!

At the end of the day, no one died except the boss and it was a good clean kill, only once the meters were show did any doubt suddenly arise as to the performance of healers.

Issue 3: Some Classes outclass Classes

A sad but true truth is that some classes usually end up beating others, Paladins can’t HoT or multi target as well (if at all) as Priests, Shaman, Druids and a lot of players just can’t understand that.

I once had a Guild Master state that “All of our healers are fantastic except our Paladins”. His reasoning? The other healers always beat the Paladins on meters (Late TBC Content). We tried to explain that no one ever died so we were doing our job but it just didn’t cut it, as far as he was concerned, the other classes were topping the meters so they were better and the Paladins were failing. We weren’t failing; he just couldn’t get his head around the different class mechanics and intended roles of the healing classes. Amusingly all the Paladins left soon after.

I daren’t even poke the sleeping bear that is absorption/mitigation effects. I feel for you Discipline Priests, I really do!

Issue 4: Meters are not infallible

Nothing and nobody is perfect (even me!) and meters are no exception, I’ve seen five people link meters from the same fight that have shown completely different results. I’ve seen WWS reports where I apparently wasn’t even there! I’ve spoken to Paladins who make a deal with a Warlock to keep them beaconed and instruct them to life tap like crazy. I’ve played with Priests who did nothing but spam Circle of Healing relentlessly and Shaman who may have just had a keyboard with one button marked Chain Heal. I’ve seen people of all spec that completely ignore whatever healing assignments they have in order to just spam quick heals on someone the second they take damage, I once had a Warlock point out that they really didn’t need 9 separate people to heal him the second he life tapped. I’ve even known people just type random numbers into raid chat and try and pass them off as a meter!

Final Thoughts

Meters do have a place, they’re amazingly useful for DPS, they also do serve a purpose for Healers, but they sure as anything aren’t something you can just glance at quickly and pick out who is top. If no one in the raid is dying our job is getting done and getting done well. If people are dropping like flies then perhaps consult some meters, look at what’s happening though, don’t just assume that the person on the bottom is there because he is terrible!

I’ve had meters running since Kara and I think I’ve looked at them perhaps once, coming top on a little chart doesn’t make you the worlds greatest Healer, doing your job and keeping people alive no matter how much or how little healing it requires makes you a good Healer.

(And no I don’t live at the bottom of meters!)

Build Your Own Guild Part 9: Ambition

Build Your Own Guild Part 9: Ambition

Once you have your own little Raid Machine up and running, it’s very easy to get a particular kind of tunnel vision. In the context of Burning Crusade, many new raiding guilds or casual raiding guilds worked and struggled to become the kind of organization that could reliably clear Karazhan. However, once Prince started going down every week, these guilds stalled out or stagnated. Believe me, I’ve seen it–I used to be in one of those guilds! One week, the end boss of the entry-level raid is dead and every one is happy. The very next week, the best players are leaving the guild for more progressed organizations on other servers.

So, What Happened?

Many Karazhan-capable guilds encountered problems after they cleared the place for one simple reason. The guild’s wildest dream had come true, and it’s hard for a guild to outlive its founding vision. When you are at the helm of the raiding guild, it is your responsibility to adapt your goals and plans to a changing environment. Always plan weeks or months ahead, and make sure your guild is aware that you have a vision for their future.

Making Plans

Your thoughts and planning should extend to at least one instance beyond where you are. Collateral Damage practiced an extreme version of this. Because we started late, hitting Serpentshrine Cavern only in January, we had a very small window of time to clear two full tiers of content. We are less casual now than we were when we started, and we spent a full five months in T5. However, we started thinking about the next step about the time Leotheras went down. At the time, attunements were still in place for T6, and the officers started planning and strategizing about how we were going to kill Vashj and Kael. We shared part of our plans with the guild, in the first of what became a series of goal-setting posts from our raid leader.

In T6, we knew time was running short. Attunements were lifted just as we were ready to start, and we knew that Sunwell was on the horizon. Our goal, however, was to get through Illidan and Archimonde–we didn’t think about anything beyond that. We made posts promising a dead Illidan by the end of the summer, and all of my recruitment ads promised full clears of T6 by that time. And you know what? We did it. I think that the planning, goal-setting, and above all, the stubborn refusal to accept the possibility of failure allowed us to do it. Mind you, we’re not a hardcore guild, and we were even less so the first time we took a peep at Naj’entus.

On Progress

In order to survive, a raiding guild must always have progression in mind. Some weeks no new bosses will die–that is only right and good, as it is the sign of challenging content. We don’t want it to be easy, right? However, a guild must never be content to rest on its laurels and only raid farm bosses. As your group masters more and more bosses, the farm list will grow longer, potentially leaving less and less time every week to work on new content. There are two ways to manage the dichotomy of progression and farming: the fast method and the slow method. Each way has its own benefits and drawbacks.

The Fast Method

Following this method, a raid leaves farm content behind as soon as it is feasible. The raid may set some essential gear goals, like a certain amount of tank health or survivability, but no attention is paid to the completion of gear sets or the acquisition of best-in-slot items. End bosses in particular, because of their relative inaccessibility and high level of time investment, are more or less neglected. The raid may kill the end boss of an instance three or four times at maximum, and all fights in the dungeon will not be on farm status before the raid moves on to the next boss. Inevitably, gear gaps arise, as people do not have the opportunity to collect all the gear from the instance. In Burning Crusade, players looked to badge gear, craftables, and Zul’Aman gear to fill the gap. Similar opportunities for gear outside of raids may also be available in Wrath. This method allowed Collateral Damage to get through T6 in short order, but if you ask some of our members, the progress was too fast at times. The pressure was consistently high, especially for a casual raiding guild, and members spent a great deal of time outside of raiding optimizing their gear.

However, the great benefit of this method is that players never get bored. The challenge is consistent, and the raid doesn’t stagnate. Even if they farm on Tuesday, they know they get to wipe to fun new content all night on Sunday. If you are a guild behind the curve of progression, which many guilds that start up at the dawn of Wrath might be, this is probably the best progress model to adopt. Before you do, however, make sure your players are up to the pace.

The Slow Method

According to this tactic, the raid farms instances until the majority of its players complete their gear sets. These guilds do spend time on new content, but they happily farm the old until they reach a comfortable overall gear level. If the guild follows this method, the members have little need to acquire gear outside of raid instances. They can spend their non-raid time in less stressful ways. The risk, however, is that members will get bored. Over time, a good raid can master so much content that it is impossible to go through it all in a week. There will always be people who want one last thing out of an old dungeon. Take, for example, all those raiders, casual and hardcore alike, who farmed Karazhan into the ground.

The slow method, however, can backfire as easily as the fast method. Raiders may become complacent and sloppy if they’re not motivated to reach new content. It feels terrible to wipe repeatedly to farm content–this is what happens when players do not pay attention or, worse, stop attending farm days.

The Happy Medium

Is there a way to combine the approaches? I would tend to say yes, but from my experience, certain types of guild structures manage the struggle between farming and progression better than others. Naturally, hardcore guilds are the best at farming–they have structures that ensure their members’ attendance, and those members tend to be really interested in raiding anyway. Smaller guilds will always have an easier time leaving instances behind than guilds with deep benches because they have less members to outfit. However, small guilds run the risk of not filling farm raids if members lose interest. However any raiding guild, regardless of size or structure, can both farm and progress, as long as its leadership is actively managing the relationship between the two. The key idea here is responsibility: farm responsibly, and progress responsibly. Here are some tips on maintaining the equilibrium between these two opposing terms.

1. Farm it like you mean it.
When you do farm old content, or clear the front half of an instance in order to get to new bosses on the back, play as if every fight were a progression fight. Many raid leaders will be tempted to be more inclusive on farm rosters, letting more casual members of the guild see the content. Do this with caution. Make sure that whoever you bring along will not slow the group down. Your highest commitment should be to your regular raiders–make them happy, and you will have a stable guild. I also advise against allowing raiders to bring alts in farm content. In the long run, they will be sorry they spread their DKP over more than one character, and their play may even suffer because they have not concentrated adequately on one class and role.

2. Always have progression time.
In a 12-hour raid week, which seems to be a typical raid schedule, try to dedicate at least 4 hours to new content. That is enough time to take down a new boss if it’s fairly easy or to make significant progress on a difficult one. I have seen bad weeks and good weeks of raid progress, but the only thing that guarantees a stagnant week is dedicating insufficient time to the fun new stuff. Make sure your people have a reason to farm quickly–they should know that, at the end of their raid week, they get to challenge themselves with something new.

The key idea here is reasonable progress. Don’t force your raid through content at lightning speed, but don’t let your group stagnate either. Remember that a guild that makes steady progress will be happier and more stable than the server-first guild that rushes through thanks to sleep deprivation and a Raid Leader who knows how to crack the bullwhip.

After all, what are you going to do when you run out of content? At that point, it’s all farming until the next patch comes out. Make sure that when your guild gets to that happy point, the members all like each other enough to stick around through some slow farming weeks. That’s the kind of organization with real staying power.

Build Your Own Guild Part 8: Dealing With Feedback

Build Your Own Guild Part 8: Dealing With Feedback

Successful guild masters and officers are always attentive to the concerns of their membership. It is your job to understand your guild’s psychological makeup and status. If your raiders are happy and enthusiastic, you’re probably aware of it, as people tend to be demonstrative about positive emotions. However, little worries and concerns can bubble below the surface of an otherwise stable guild, and, without the leadership ever being aware, a small problem can turn into a guild-breaking one overnight. How can you address these explosive problems before they grow to dangerous levels? Read on for some tips on eliticing–and dealing with–feedback from your members.

How Do I Get Them To Talk to Me?

Face it, Guild Master, you are one scary dude or dudette. You are The Man (or The Woman), and that means most people will tiptoe around subjects that might be controversial when you’re around. Rest assured, however, that your guild members have opinions, and they want the leadership to listen and to react to them. Here are four things you can do to get your guildies to tell you their little secrets.

1. Have Guild Meetings on Vent
Collateral Damage does this every couple of months, and it’s quite helpful. The officers start out with a little “state of the guild” address and then turn over the floor for member questions and concerns. Now, when it’s time for members to talk, don’t expect the discussion to start immediately. I learned through teaching my college classes that a little silence is ok at the outset of a discussion. People are getting their thoughts together and mustering the courage to speak. You can ask little questions to prompt them, but make sure you let people have time to get the ball rolling. From what I’ve observed, the first person to speak will say something really positive. Others will comment on it, but the feedback will start to roll in. Eventually, you may get people’s most passionate objections to your guild policies. The important thing in such meetings is to listen. Let people know that you will hear their concerns and take them to the table at the next officer meeting.

I can tell you, sometimes CD officers have felt frustrated and under-appreciated at our open meetings. Try to think beyond yourself and your immediate reactions. Is there something helpful you can learn from a person’s complaints? We’ve found that even the most ardent whiners aren’t able to sidetrack the guild from its most cherished goals. However, we’ve also discovered some useful information in open meetings. In at least two cases, at the next officer meeting, we changed policies based on public opinion.

2. Post Officer Meeting Notes
Officers spend a lot of time discussing policy in meetings–earn credit for that time with your members by posting notes. You don’t have to expose every controversy, and naturally, anything pertaining to specific players should be kept quiet. However, when you’re writing new policies, a little item in your notes that says something like “Discussed Revisions to Attendance Policy” will let your members know that the officers are actually responding to the changing conditions in the guild. CD allows members to comment on officer meeting notes–we get many good ideas this way.

3. Have a Feedback Forum
CD has a forum in which only officers can post and everyone can reply. The purpose is to elicit member opinion on major policies. Recently we have decided to implement a Raider Status and attendance requirement for Wrath of the Lich King. Our policy drafts went up in this forum, and there was a lively exchange between officers and members. We were able to clarify our intentions, and the final document is, as a result, very clean and easy to read. Of course, some members disagreed with the officers’ decision and thought that we should continue without Raider Status. We tried to assuage their (mostly unfounded) fears, but we did hold firm to what we had decided. However, some of those objections led to clearer policy, and as such, they were a very fortunate thing.

4. Allow Members to send PMs to Officers
Your guild website should have the capacity to send Personal Messages. These are like emails, only less formal. When CD members have personal complaints–either something they want to keep private or something that only affects them–the best way to communicate that is a PM to one of the officers. If they do not request that the note be kept private, often we share these with other officers so we get a balanced solution. A good example of this kind of issue is the perennial loot quandary. It has happened several times that a CD member has felt that loot was distributed incorrectly. Sometimes the members are right. Inevitably, things go a little bit awry with any loot system. These member issues have actually helped CD officers revise the loot system for Wrath so that it is more fair to all raiders.

The Two Types of Feedback

As a guild leader you can expect to get two types of feedback: legitimate concerns and QQ. Here is how I suggest that you address each type.

Legitimate Concerns:
Sometimes members are able to see around officers’ blind spots. Often the members are first to know when someone has been treated unfairly. Even in the best guilds, this can happen by accident! Make sure your policies are flexible enough to change if they are really not working.

Here are some common examples of legitimate concerns.
1. One of your guild members is behaving in an offensive manner or specifically antagonizing someone.
2. One of the guild policies has had unintended consequences. For example, there might be a loophole in your loot system, or you might be distributing BoE items like Hearts of Darkness in an unequal manner.
3. A specific member or subset of the guild is feeling overworked or burned out.
4. Something in your raid strategy is not getting desired results.

Sometimes you’ll get a PM and just know that the person has a valid point. When that happens, don’t panic. Reply to the person and let him or her know that the issue is going on the next officer meeting agenda. Make sure you talk about it, and make appropriate policy, rostering, or strategy changes.

QQ

The letters QQ are meant to resemble crying eyes, and QQ is synonymous with whiny complaints. QQ is constant and unavoidable. I am going to make a radical suggestion here for how to deal with this. As you read or listen to the complaint, try and imagine that it is legitimate. Even if you end up disagreeing with the person or even reprimanding her, hear her out before you do that. QQ is called QQ because it’s communicated in a less-than-constructive way. However, separate the content from the means of delivery to find out if, behind the tears and snivels, there is actually a valid issue to be addressed. If the person has a point, put their issue on the meeting agenda just like any other member concern.

The following is a list of issues people tend to feel passionately about in the game. As such, they are likely topics for QQ.

1. Loot Issues.
This will always be the number one cause of weeping and gnashing of teeth in the World of Warcraft. Most of these complaints are unfounded. If you have a loot council, you will be dealing with this often. Try to make the person reasonable, or at least resigned.

However, sometimes loot issues are very much legitimate. If someone is concerned that he consistently gets passed over for loot or that others of his class and spec with similar attendance have significantly better gear, he is probably right. Loot systems of whatever type tend to have loopholes through which many purples flow. These complaints are a way to discover if your system is really working the way you intended it to. It may be that “unlucky” players, or players in certain roles, truly are not getting their fair share. If this is the case, do something about it! Whenever you find injustice in your guild, stamp it out!

2. Personality Conflicts.
In a raiding guild of 35+ members, not everyone is going to get along. Members who are at the high end or the low end of the competence scale may attract a lot of complaints due to jealousy on the one end and resentment on the other. Evaluate each of these complaints for validity. As an officer, you need to know the difference between one of your raiders having a bad day, or a bad week, and just plain out being a bad egg who either does not play up to the standard of your raid or makes everyone miserable. You should also ask pointed questions to decide if harassment is involved. For example, if one of your female members is having to field consistent come-ons from a male raider, this is a legitimate complaint and you should probably kick him. Many guilds let rampant sexism, racism, and all-out prejudice go on in g-chat or vent. In my opinion, this kind of thing isn’t very funny–or very conducive to successful raiding. I would rather play in an organization that’s open to different types of members. Sure, Collateral Damage cuts loose a bit late night on vent, but on the whole we’re an organization that 10-year-old girls could happily and safely belong to. “Cutting loose,” by the way, is different from encouraging prejudice. No one minds a little innuendo or even well-meaning jokes at someone’s expense–the problem comes when members harass each other. As a guild leader, you should be able to tell the difference.

3. Bench Issues
The #1 topic of PMs sent to officers in Collateral Damage has to do with raid scheduling. Long story short, people want to be in when it’s convenient for them and out when its not. A lot of people feel frustrated that they’re not in full control of when they get picked to raid. For the most part, people just have to deal with it. Officers can lend a sympathetic ear, but we know that we have to balance the needs of many different people. Bench happens, more often than some people would like. However, if a person complains that they are consistently being passed over for a raid spot, you need to investigate that issue. Look at that person’s attendance and performance. Does he have a legitimate complaint? Has he been forgotten, or is there a deeper issue? Is someone getting preferential treatment and not sitting their fair share of time? If so, rectify that immediately. No one–especially not officers–should get out of sitting the bench. Sometimes, however, the raid leader is perfectly justified in sitting a player frequently, especially if he’s not performing up to the standard of the group. This can be a good opportunity for the class or raid leader to work with this person on improving his play. After all, raiders are supposed to want to play up to their potential. If that interest isn’t there, it could be time for a frank talk about that player’s status in the guild.

Conclusions:

Don’t fear feedback from your members. Embrace it, and deal with it in a timely manner. After all, you are in service to your guild members. They’re really not trying to ruin your day. When members complain, they do so because they care about the quality of their in-game experience. Never fall back on the “it’s just a game” excuse for unequitable behavior. Sure, it’s a game, but games have rules. They’re only fun if you follow them. One of the rules of being a GM is to create an environment your members feel comfortable in. Otherwise, you’re no better than the three year old who kicks over the Monopoly board and then sticks the house from Park Place up his nose.

Build Your Own Guild Part 7: Day-to-Day Management

Build Your Own Guild Part 7: Day-to-Day Management

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that you’re a new GM, and your guild is finally up and running. You have enough members to start scheduling events, and you’re running at least some raids every week. It might be logical to think that your task as GM is done–if you’ve put in good policies, the guild will run itself, right?

No, dear reader, it won’t. Think of the guild master as the helmsman of a large and unwieldy ship of state. All you can control is your pressure on the wheel–storms will rage above, and whirlpools will draw from below. Heck, in the context of WoW, it wouldn’t be at all out of place to have to deal with a nasty Kraken or two, or at least a few Bloodsail pirates.

The day-to-day business of managing a guild takes time and energy. Many prospective guild masters don’t realize quite how many of their personal resources will go into keeping their organization healthy. At this point, many GMs get frustrated and hand over the leadership. Others fade into the background, letting officers or vocal members de facto lead the guild. A good GM, however, will always be a strong presence in the daily life of the guild.

But…It doesn’t seem like GMs do much!

Most of the work of a GM or guild officer occurs behind the scenes. For many valid reasons, guild members may not be made aware of every little argument or controversy. It’s important to maintain the appearance–and by extension, the reality–of peace in the guild, so discretion is key. For example, my guild is having a bit of a difficult time right now differentiating between friends and family applications and raiding applications. It’s been a multi-hour topic of discussion in officer meetings and the subject of lively debate. We wanted to make sure that the policy we put in–which is now fairly strict–suited our overall guild ethos. However, those hours of talk led to a policy that could be expressed in 50 words or less. What our members see is those 50 words, not the work that led up to it. When I mentioned, in an offhand way, the “F&F controversy,” to a member, he was surprised to learn that officers deal with so much stuff that just doesn’t filter down to the members. This is a good thing. Members are there to play and have fun, and the officers and GM make sure that they are able to do so.

A GM’s Weekly Quests

To borrow a metaphor from the game we all love so much, think of the GM’s job as a series of repeatable quests. The following list details the essential duties that GMs or officers must perform every week, just to keep a healthy guild on an even keel. In WoW, a week is like a year of real time. Guild morale can sink fast, and virtual organizations require constant maintenance.

1. Be Present

The GM and the officers must be a part of most guild events. You should have a hand in the planning for the raid events, and you should raid very regularly. I also advice GMs to put in some face time outside of raids. If you invest your officers with enough authority, this task can be shared. In general, if a significant portion of your guild is interested in doing something, the leadership should participate. Make sure that you don’t simply disappear for several weeks if you get occupied with real life–the guild should know what’s going on. Otherwise, when you return after 6 weeks in Paris, your guild might not exist anymore.

Never underestimate, moreover, the power of just hanging out. Let your voice be heard in g-chat and vent–that way, your guild will come to know you as a person, and not just The Man or The Woman in charge. Don’t censor your personality too much. For example, I let my guild see my silly sense of humor and my love of pets, in-game and out. One guild member referred to me as our guild’s personal lolcat–and I took that as a compliment. I DO like to run around in cat form before raids asking if I can haz mage bizkits. However, don’t let things get too personal. You can share your deepest issues with good friends, but as GM, you need to maintain a degree of professionalism–which means a little distance between your guild and your personal life. If you’re having a fight with your girlfriend, you probably shouldn’t discuss it in g-chat.

2. Keep Your Ears Open

If you’re the GM, you probably don’t have to fish for members’ opinions too often. More than likely, they will share them with you unasked. However, some might not feel completely comfortable talking to The Man, so enlist your fellow officers (particularly any understanding or nurturing types) to keep their ears to the ground, so to speak. If there is a dip in morale in the guild, you should know about it. The person who does recruiting for your guild can probably help you out here. A good recruiting officer will be an advocate for applicants and initiates, and long after they become full members, they will probably feel comfortable talking to that person.

3. Respond to Member Concerns

If a major issue arises–like a serious argument over loot that plays out publicly–don’t just let it drop. Meet with your officers as quickly as possible, make a decision, and explain it to both parties. Someone will inevitably be unhappy, but you want to let your members know that you are capable of handling problems. It also might be a good idea to write a summary of any major decisions–especially if the controversy affected several players–and post it in a read-only forum in the website.

If a minor issue comes up–and they do all the time–make it a topic at the next officer meeting. Officers and GMs alike will receive many tells, emails, or website PMs per week about specific member concerns. Sometimes the member asks you to keep the complaint confidential, but more often, the member wants the leadership to know about and address the concern. Collateral Damage talks about all such requests–both legitimate issues and whiny QQ–at officer meetings. If a member sends one of us a PM, and doesn’t tell us to keep it quiet, it goes on the agenda. Sometimes the decision we make is to do nothing, and sometimes that’s the right call. However, most often something is done to resolve or clarify the issue.

It is important that your members know that their requests will be considered. Once the officers have made a decision, be sure to communicate it to the person who originally asked the question. Even if the answer is “no,” for the most part, people are glad that their ideas were considered.

4. Do Your Homework

It’s highly unlikely in an organization of, say, 50 members, that the Guild Master would happen to be the best player. That usually is not the case–statistics are against you, future GMs. You may not be able to control your natural aptitude for fast-twitch movement, but you can control the amount of information you can master. A Guild Master should do everything possible to be a better player and a better leader. Know your own weaknesses, and work to overcome them. For example, my own personal weakness is panic–sometimes I’ll do the wrong thing in a raid if I get startled. What’s the solution? Never be surprised. I read up on the fight mechanics and rehearse them to myself. I still feel the panic when I see a boss ability for the first time, but with a little coaching, I can usually control my reactions. It’s not enough to know, for example that Illidan does a Dark Barrage in Phase 2. For me to handle it adequately, I need to have linked the ability to the counter in my head, as in: “Okay, Dark Barrage–when it’s my turn in the rotation, that means I target the affected player and hit my Nature’s Swiftness/Healing Touch macro.” Figure out your personal kryptonite as a player and find ways to work around it. It might seem a little petty, but I have seen many players criticize their guild masters for being bad players. I know that different skills are involved in being a great raider and in being a great leader–but try not to give the QQ machine any more ammo than necessary.

It’s one thing to master your own class and spec, but as GM, your research needs to extend beyond yourself and your immediate needs. You are your guild’s visionary, and if you don’t have a sense of the future, your guild is lost. Always know what’s on the horizon, both for the game in general and for your own guild. For example, a guild master at this moment should be very informed about raiding post patch 3.0.x and in Wrath. The GM should have a sense of how things have changed with the new patch not just for her own class, but for every class. A good GM will be checking the news sites daily, and he or she will be leading the officers in discussions about how the guild will change once the expansion hits. My guild is extremely forward-looking, to the point of already having our first Naxx 25 on the raid calendar. We already have many policies in place for Wrath–with some major changes to suit the new raiding paradigm–and we are planning a mini-retreat (virtual style) in which we meet for multiple hours two days in a row and hammer out the final details. It’s entirely possible that some members will be just as interested and informed as the officers, but they certainly don’t have to be. When the game changes, you, the GM, will have to guide many of your members. The information is out there–inform yourself so that you can teach.

If you are also the raid leader for your guild, your task multiplies. You must absorb all of the information available about the bosses you will be taking down, and you should stay several bosses ahead of your guild’s raid progression. Once again, your task will be to teach others, and your ability to communicate information will help you construct your authority as leader. However, raid leading is truly difficult. The only way to get better is to practice, practice, practice. If you’re new to leading, let your guild know, and be humble about it. Usually, people will be understanding. The worst thing you can do is to get defensive. Try to master your task and keep a strong command of the situation, but if that fails, don’t be afraid to take suggestions.

5. Maintain Dialogue With Officers

I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a weekly officer meeting. Do not make all decisions yourself. Even if you are the final arbiter, discussion and negotiation are helpful processes. The officers’ meeting has a very significant benefit when it comes to making new policy. Even with only three or so officers, there will be a diversity of opinion. The give-and-take from an officer’s meeting will help you workshop your ideas. By the time you present new rules to the guild, you will have already worked out many of the problem areas.

In addition, officers should participate in the little daily tasks of guild management. Make sure that members are aware of what officers do and the authority that they hold. If members don’t observe the officers making decisions, they’ll take all further concerns and QQ directly to the GM’s virtual door. Moreover, they might feel resentful toward a too-powerful GM. No one likes to feel like they belong to an organization led by a tyrant! Where the balance of the the day-to-day work in your guild falls–on the officers’ shoulders or on the GM’s–is entirely up to the individual organization. Collateral Damage is quite unique, but we’ve been extraordinarily successful without a true GM. Instead, we’ve got 8 officers fully invested with GM-level powers, and we all serve as checks and balances for each other. I can tell you, our bargaining and negotiating skills have gotten quite good over the last several months.

Conclusions

Guild management always takes more time than you expect, and it will scale with the complexity of your organization. Raiding guilds in particular are delicate to manage. If you want to maintain your own authority–and a stable guild–you have to get used to working for the good of your organization on a consistent basis. Yes, this means that the GM is held to a higher standard than the members. For you, it’s not all about fun and games–you have responsibilities too.

Build Your Own Guild Part 6: Scheduling

Build Your Own Guild Part 6: Scheduling

It seems obvious, right? Every guild has to have events. If you have no events scheduled, then your guild isn’t really an organization, is it? It’s more of a dis-organization, if you will.

While all guilds have events, their success with scheduling and filling these events varies widely. This post is all about organization. After all, the main reason that most of you members were looking for a guild in the first place is that they wanted other people to schedule their leisure time activities for them. You, as guild master, will be providing a useful service to members through your events calendar.

The following suggestions are some common-sense tips that will help you keep your rosters full and your guild members happy.

1. Keep A Consistent Raid Schedule

Let me give you a real-life example of the pain and suffering that can occur if weekly schedules don’t stay consistent. I live in a historic district, and I get a flyer every month telling me which days the city will pick up garbage. This month, there are two Friday pickups, a Monday pickup, and a Wednesday pickup. Now, what are the chances that I’ll put out the garbage on the wrong day at least once? I’d say close to 100%. In addition, since the Monday pickup follows a Friday pickup, I just won’t have much garbage to share with the city–but believe me, by the Wednesday after that, it will be a different story. The same thing can happen if you don’t raid on the same days every week. Your members will get too much–or too little–of the raiding goodness that they all love.

If your guild is a raiding guild, the schedule needs to show that raiding is your first priority. My guild raids Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, which seems typical of guilds that raid for a moderate number of hours. More hardcore guilds often raid Monday-Thursday and leave their weekends free, or at worst, clean up an end boss on the weekend. Remember that any guild has to give its players time off. I’ve seen guild schedules that essentially say “we expect you to be on every night, and we’ll go raid something.” With that more chaotic model, you risk either 1)raiding 6 days a week or 2) never raiding at all. Either one will lead your guild on a quick stroll down the Path of Anguish.

As for the hours you choose, Collateral Damage found it helpful to poll our members about their schedules. We have some west coast players and some east coast players with small children to put to bed, so we’ve ended up raiding more of a west coast-type schedule, with a start time at 10:30 EST. For an east coast guild, more typical hours might be 7:30-11:00 EST. Make sure you plan carefully before you slap hours up on the schedule. Everyone will have to make compromises in order to stick to the raid schedule, and the earlier you can determine it, the better you can communicate this schedule to recruits.

2. Use Your Guild Website for Scheduling

Even though WoW is about to implement an in-game calendar, I urge you to use your guild’s forums to schedule events. The reasoning is twofold. First, signing up for or reading about raid events will draw your player base to your website every week. Once they are there, it’s easy to participate in discussions or use the forums to ask questions or share ideas. You want an active website! It’s a sign that your guild is healthy. In addition, if you schedule on the website, you will have an easier time taking attendance in the long run. Even if people don’t sign up for events, you will know exactly when and where all of your events took place.

3. Make Rosters Ahead of Time

This piece of advice is fairly controversial. Most hardcore raiding guilds simply expect their members to attend every raid, and they fill the roster and bench only when people arrive for that day’s event. I advise you to plan ahead. I’ve watched many other guilds cancel events during this period of expansionitis because their members simply did not show up. If you roster ahead of time, people will also know when it is their turn to sit the bench, and you will have a written record of their presence on the pine pony. This way, if someone complains that she always sits bench, you will be able to evaluate that statement accurately by going over past rosters. If you absolutely don’t want to make rosters, I urge you to create forum topics for events anyway and have people reply ONLY IF they cannot make a raid. This practice will let you know whether you have to cancel a bit ahead of the event.

4. Let Members Schedule Fun Events

As the guild master, you cannot expect to everything yourself. Either some tasks will be done badly, or you’ll get burnt out on guild management in short order. I suggest that you and your officers take control of all progression raid scheduling, but that you allow members to schedule 5-mans, PvP, holiday events, or nostalgia runs to old content. Many players will do this very enthusiastically–encourage them, and support these events with your participation. It is helpful if the GM isn’t in control of everything. Sometimes it’s nice just to play along and let someone else be in charge.

5. Think Ahead

You will have to do some week-to-week planning based on your raid’s weekly successes and failures, but you should always have a master plan. Share your vision with your guild. Periodically, Collateral Damage’s officers throw “raid progress” on our weekly meeting agenda. We tend to sketch out 4-6 weeks at a time and try to come to some agreement as to our immediate goals. Then–and this is important–one of the officers shares this vision with the guild through a forum post. My experience is that when you put it out there in writing, it shows strength and confidence to your members. For example, our raid leader posted in May that we’d be standing on Illidan’s dead body by the end of the summer, and guess what? We did it. I’m not sure we would have without a clear sense of purpose.

6. Beware of Breaks

Burnout does happen in raiding guilds, and at some point, either you, one of your officers, or some of your members will suggest that the guild take a break from raiding. I have seen breaks backfire many times. My former guild, Random Acts, used to take breaks from Karazhan pretty regularly, and even when notices were posted on the website, people worried that a break meant that a guild meltdown was imminent. My suggestion is to have some events every week even during dry times. For example, Collateral Damage has scheduled our first Naxx 25 raid for the first week of January, but that doesn’t mean there will be no events between the Wrath release date and that time. We plan to schedule events every week on our regular raid nights. We’ll do group quests and 5 and 10 man dungeons, and maybe even go back to Sunwell if we’re feeling the itch to raid. Our players badly need a break from raiding, and most of them want a long chunk of time to enjoy leveling and spending the holidays with their families, but the guild isn’t just going to be sitting idle. For the benefit of those members who need a break while the guild is still raiding, I suggest putting in an attendance requirement that is less than 100%. That will let people safely take a day off here and there with no dire consequences, either for themselves or the guild. In turn, you should recruit until your guild can comfortably run its raids if a few players are absent.

Conclusions:

The health of a guild can be judged by the quality of its organization. I’ve seen guilds full of great players flounder and bleed members because they just couldn’t schedule properly. My guild, on the other hand, has used its great scheduling skills to outlast many other guilds on the server. I’m sure that we’ve climbed the ranks not just because we’re good players but also because we’re consistent. That kind of stability can only come from the top down, so it’s up to you, the GM, to make sure things are done right.

Build Your Own Guild Part 5: Membership

Build Your Own Guild Part 5: Membership

Once you decide what kind of organization your guild is going to be, sketch out rules and policies, and design a leadership structure, you are ready to build up your membership. Ideally, if you have an ambition to start a brand-new guild, you already have a stalwart band of friends and associates to sign your charter. I would go so far as to say that it’s essential to start any new organization with at least a couple of members–it will be extremely hard for just one person to follow the recommendations I’m going to make in this.

1. Get the Word Out

I hate to break it to you, but a guild of one–or even ten–isn’t going to be able to accomplish much. Ideally, you need to bring in a lot of people quickly. How can you do this with a new organization? If I were starting from scratch, I would do the following four things. This set of tips assumes that you want to muster your troops right now, ahead of the expansion.

a. Go through your entire friends list and send everyone a note about your new guild.
b. Advertise on your realm forum and bump it once per day.
c. Start pugging instances obsessively and talking about your guild to everyone you meet.
d. Sponsor and lead open events, like a pug Karazhan, or for the ambitious or more experienced, ZA bear runs, Magtheridon or even Hyjal. The events you lead depend on your level of experience in the current content and the number of members you have at startup.

At this early stage, you may choose not to have an application process and may invite all who are interested. This is not a bad idea when you’re getting off the ground, but it could make raiding difficult later. It’s hard to get people to apply to an organization that doesn’t have a track record, but some people will take a chance if they’re offered a spot in a more informal manner. I advise you to find a middle way and only invite players you or another officer have had a conversation with. You want them to know ahead of time what kind of organization they are joining.

It bears mentioning, also, that prospective members will judge your guild by your behavior and the behavior of your officers. Now is the time to watch everything you say and do on your server–make sure that you reflect your guild’s values in how you treat other players. Now is NOT the time to spam trade channel.

2. Get Friendly With Other Guilds

Alliances between guilds can be formed on the basis of just a few friendly words passed back and forth. My current, very successful guild began when one of our tanks saved one of our healers from certain death in Blade’s Edge Mountains. They got to talking and found that they were both officers in Karazhan guilds with the ambition of moving on to 25-mans. At that moment, the seeds of an alliance were sown.

Alliances and cross-guild friendships have many different uses. You may want to partner up with another small guild at some point and run instances together, even if you keep your two guilds separate. Friends in other–ideally more progressed–guilds can be a source of help and information. For example, many members of Collateral Damage have friends in Cohors Praetoria, a more progressed guild on our server. The lovely people of CP have sold us Hearts of Darkness for cheap and have advised us on many boss fights as we’ve gone through T6 a few months later than they did. Some of their players have even offered to fill spaces in our runs if we need them. In return, CP has used our raid ID at least once to get an Illidan kill without farming the whole instance. These kinds of cross-guild arrangements are golden–they are mutually beneficial, and they tend to leave everyone with a good feeling about the virtual community. In addition, at times we’ve shared information about recruits, particularly about certain bad apples. Ideally, if one raiding guild on your server recruits and later /gkicks a whiny, greedy player, their recruiting officer will inform other guilds about it. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell what a player will be like from an application alone.

I urge you, as a prospective GM, to open a line of dialogue to the recruiting officers of other guilds on your sever. It’s a recruiting officer’s job to talk to people–if this person is halfway competent, he or she will be happy to have a conversation with you. Something I’ve done in the past, whether or not I knew much about the guilds in question, was to refer good applicants that were not right for my guild, either because they were not prepared for T6 or because we didn’t have space, to other guilds on the server that happened to be recruiting. I judged these guilds based on their ads and on the players that I knew, and have referred people to the ones that seem like class acts. Especially with the changes leading up to the expansion, there are enough players to go around for everyone. If you get to know some recruiting officers, they will probably be glad to help a new guild out. Established guilds can’t take anyone and everyone who comes their way. I know CD can’t even take all of the good applications. I always try to help anyone who applies to find a new guild home, when I can. If I knew of an enthusiastic new guild that was trying to build itself up, I would certainly point people that way. In turn, I know that many of Collateral Damage’s players have filled spots in other guilds’ T4 and T5 runs when particular classes are needed. If you reach out to others–particularly players that you know are classy, friendly individuals–people will most likely support you.

3. Recruit Creatively

Once you get a few members on the roster, you can fine-tune your recruiting a bit. In order to find players to fill specific roles, follow the 10-step guide I wrote on this type of recruiting. The guide assumes that you already have an existing player base, so you may have to adjust some of the advice to suit the needs of your brand-new guild.

What Do I Do if I Want to Start Once the Expansion Comes Out?

It may have occurred to you that most of the advice in this article applies to those who want to get their guild off the ground ahead of the expansion. It is true that the time is running short, and that you may prefer to start building a membership base during the leveling phase of Wrath. That approach has a set of advantages.

1. Many players may return to the game at that time, and some of those will be free agents.
2. It’s easier to leave a guild during a leveling phase than during a raiding phase, so some raiders will suddenly be free once Wrath hits.
3. Expansions in general are a time of change–some old guilds will implode when it hits, leaving their raiders homeless.
4. Some guilds will downsize to 10-man content, and some of their players will leave.

It sounds great, right? The only drawback to starting your recruiting drive when Wrath hits is that with everyone leveling at the same time, you may not be able to distinguish the kind of player that you want from the herd. If you pick up lots of players as they level, it will be hard to tell who will be able to make a commitment to raiding. This is in some sense an unavoidable problem for a new guild. My advice is to plan for continuous recruiting. Bring in more people than you think you will need, and sort out the difference between raiders and non-raiders once you actually start tackling 10 or 25 man content in the expansion. And yes, if you do general recruiting early in the expansion you may have to draw some distinctions in your guild roster between raiders and non-raiders, but that, dear readers, is a topic for a different entry in the series.

Happy recruiting!

Build Your Own Guild Part 4: Leadership

Build Your Own Guild Part 4: Leadership


If you can, dear readers, stretch your reflective faculties for a moment and recall the first article in the Build Your Own Guild series, in which I urged future GMs to start forming an officer corps. This entry will delve a little deeper into the question of leadership and show you how to construct and maintain your guild’s hierarchy. The principal lesson here is delegate, delegate, DELEGATE! This article will show you how officers and GMs work together to govern the unique virtual organizations we so casually refer to as guilds.

History Lesson: Getting Medieval

I would like to meditate for a moment on the word “guild” and its history, as I think its origins are rather instructive for MMO players. A guild, in the medieval sense of the word, is an association of tradesmen, artists, or craftsmen. Guilds oversee the production and distribution of material goods, and they regulate both practitioners of a trade and the larger market in which that type of product is bought and sold. My favorite guild example dates to cinquecento Italy. Imagine Renaissance Venice, her canals a-stink with the smells of a thriving fishing industry, her now-white palazzi ablaze with murals in every color of the rainbow. Somewhere in the Serenissima, probably next door to the leather-curers guild or the paper-makers guild, Tiziano Vecellio runs his own workshop. He sees himself as a craftsman, rather than an artist, producing goods for sale. He is the Master, and his is the signature on most of the products. His employees, however, are also craftsmen, some of them as talented as the master, and Journeyman and Apprentices work together to create great pieces of art. Sure, Tiziano himself may be the one to sketch the Madonna’s face, but what about her hands? Guess what? Renaissance art was a cooperative enterprise, and just look at the product. Pretty fantastic, eh?

Why the long excursus into metaphor, you ask? For you, the prospective GM, the setup of your guild is your masterpiece–the way you do things at the beginning will prove to all your members that you are a capable leader, someone they can trust. But like Tiziano, you can’t go it alone. You will need help, and the end “product” that you create–namely, excellence in raiding–will be a group effort.

Choosing Officers

If you’re contemplating setting up your own build, you probably have a few people in mind for officer positions. Make sure, however, that your officer corps is not composed entirely of your best friends and your significant other. For a raiding guild, you need a balance of power, and this means bringing people into leadership positions who represent different constituencies and have different perspectives. You will also need to limit the number of officers to a manageable size–too large, and every member who’s not an officer will start to feel left out. The following are my quick tips for forming a workable officer corps.

1. Size

If you plan to focus exclusively on 10-man raid progression in Wrath, your optimal number of officers (including yourself in this number) will be three. That means that there will always be a tiebreaker vote. The percentage of officers to members will still be rather high, especially if you are a niche guild and limit yourselves down to 20 or so players. I think this model will be extremely workable in Wrath. The good news is that if you form a guild of this size, your work as GM will be much less, and you will not need to define each officer’s role to the nth degree. The three of you would each probably be capable of handling any questions your members have, and all members will know the officers personally.

For the 25-man size, the task is more difficult. I suggest either three or five primary officers (including yourself of course). Three will be just fine if you plan to also have class or role leaders to do some of the work, but if you do without them, expand up to five so that you can cover all the necessary tasks. I actually recommend against having class leaders. That model worked better in Vanilla WoW, when specs were less differentiated and there were more people to manage.

2. Diversity of Talents

All of your officers should not excel at the same aspect of the game. They should not be three healers or three dps. You should include your primary Raid Leader in the officer corps, but the other members do not have to be your best players or best strategists. One of them, at least, should be computer-savvy enough to build and maintain your website, if you cannot do so yourself. Try to find people with different interests. And yes, sometimes this means looking beyond your immediate circle of friends. Caution: it may seem attractive to a new GM to appoint as an officer someone who has been a GM in the past. Be careful–this person might be so used to leading that he chafes at just being an officer and effectively undermines the officer corps’ decisions. Have a very thorough talk with any officers with GM backgrounds so that the guild hierarchy–whatever it is–is clear to them.

3. Diversity of Perspectives

Your guild is a raiding guild, so most of your officer conversations will be about raiding, and almost all of your planning will be dedicated to raid progress. You do not, however, need to find officers who agree 100% with your vision. It is best, in fact, if officers to some degree serve as checks and balances for each other. For a real life example, in my guild, raiding is important to every one of our eight officers (yes, too many!) but within that general category, our priorities fall under several subheadings. For some real-life examples, in Collateral Damage, our Raid Leader wants everything to be well-organized, transparent, and planned out ahead of time. The officer who manages our Loot system wants all policies to be fair and all goods to be distributed equally. Our personnel officer focuses on the human side of things–she wants to make sure that no one feels left out. And me? Believe it or not, I’m always the one pushing for faster progress and stricter requirements.

4. Open Positions

When you introduce your brand-new guild to the world, you probably won’t have the perfect balance of officers yet. I suggest starting out with yourself and one other person (or for the large guild model, two) and promoting the rest of your officer corps after you actually begin raiding. You need to see how people operate in their new guild context, but you can’t do all the work alone at the beginning.

Your Management Hierarchy

Let’s imagine that your guild is up and running and you’ve identified and promoted four other people to work with you. Now what do you do? I have seen guilds flounder at just this juncture. People become officers, but it’s a vanity position. There are no clear duties and no opportunity for leadership. In practice, the GM runs the guild by himself. Or worse, no one runs the guild. No events are scheduled, and people associate with each other only in guild chat. Here are 5 ways to avoid the no-leadership quagmire.

1. Weekly Officer Meetings

Schedule a meeting at a mutually convenient time, and hold a meeting every week. Believe me, you’ll have a lot to talk about–some of CD’s run upwards of three hours, and they were longest at the very beginning. You should at the very least check in with the guild’s progress, set the raid schedule for the week, and vote on any potential recruits. This is also a good time to talk through the inevitable member complaints and make plans to address them.

2. Give Each Officer a Specific Task

You chose officers with different talents for a reason. Assuming you’re a large guild with 5 officers, here’s a sample breakdown. As GM, feel free to snap up the role you like best, but if it’s your name at the bottom of the guild panel, expect a secondary job as QQ filter. Your five officers could best divide into the following roles:

a. Raid leader and strategist
b. Loot system manager (if you use Loot Council, this person tracks drops received)
c. Personnel officer (this person takes attendance and tracks raider status/performance)
d. Recruiting officer (woot! This is what I do)
e. Website manager (don’t underestimate this one–it’s a TON of work)

As GM, you need to funnel any specific questions or complaints to the officer who specializes in that area. People will want to talk to you too, but if you get a loot-specific question, pull the loot system manager into vent with you when you talk to that player. You will find that your officers will become experts in their area of expertise.

3. Strive for Consensus

When there is a decision on the horizon, particularly if it’s an important one, don’t just flex your GM muscles and make the call yourself. Discuss any decision that has far-reaching implications in the guild meeting, and let each officer present his or her opinions. Very likely, some of you will disagree on any issue that’s halfway worth talking about. As GM, you may feel tempted to go with your own opinion after nominal discussion, but I urge you to wait it out and let people make full arguments, especially when they feel passionately about something. There should be give and take. If two parties disagree, have them propose compromise solutions until each of them can live with the new policy.

4. Hold Votes on Important Issues

Your officers can only serve as checks and balances for each other if you give them power. Try for consensus first, but what you may find is that not everyone speaks up every time a new policy is on the table. If everyone cannot agree after a reasonable amount of discussion, as GM, it is your responsibility to call for a vote. Except in dire circumstances, abide by that vote. Remember: if you have power as GM, it is only because others entrust you with it. Allowing them a voice will convince your fellow officers to stick around and support you. My guild–which has no GM, only officers–has just now put in a voting policy. We felt that compromises were sometimes worked out only among the most vocal officers, and in any case sometimes we would have 12 hours of discussion over many weeks with no solution reached. We’ve decided to hold votes after 2-4 hours of discussion on a topic when we can’t come to consensus. I am in full support of this idea–even though I’m one of the loud people! If you never vote, you may create a situation in which one person can veto any idea by holding out on the compromise. That can lead to guild stagnation, particularly if it’s a regular occurrence. Sometimes your officers will have to agree to disagree.

5. Know When to Play the GM Card

If you’re going to be the first among equals, you have to know when to step in and put an end to debate. Maybe votes are inconclusive too, or your officers just can’t come up with a decision. In those cases, use your best judgment and lay down the law. Don’t do this too often though–a GM whose attitude screams: “It’s my guild and I can do what I want with it!” won’t be in power for long.

Conclusions

It’s not very fun to be the Supreme Emperor of a nation of one. If you want a happy, healthy, resilient guild, you will need a power structure that puts some of the authority in other people’s hands. Build trust with your officers, and always treat them with respect. They are both your friends and your work colleagues, and the relative unity that the officer corps presents to the guild will determine your success or failure in endgame raiding. People want to feel that their leaders are both well-organized and fair. Use the GM/officer dynamic to create that feeling, and you’re well on your way to climbing up the rankings on your server.

Build Your Own Guild Part 3: The Dreaded Loot Question

Build Your Own Guild Part 3: The Dreaded Loot Question


Congratulations, New GM! You have your Guild Charter and Rules ready, and that website is up and running. Even though you’re not raiding yet, your next step is to decide what to do with the funny purple stuff that drops when you kill things. And yes, you must make this call even before you have enough members to stare down High King Maulgar. When I interview new recruits, they almost all ask me how my guild handles loot. If you create a fair means of distributing shiny epix, and you’re well on your way to having a healthy, happy, boss-destroying raiding guild. You must pick a loot system from the beginning and stick with it—the worst thing you can do is vacillate between systems and potentially cheat your members out of their just deserts.

Loot system basics:

Almost all raiding guilds use some variation of one of two types of gear distribution systems. The first is Loot Council, in which the officers or other elected body decide who gets each piece of gear that drops based on a complex ratio of need and merit. The other system is DKP, an archaic gaming term that stands for Dragon Kill Points. DKP systems allow raiders to earn points for killing bosses (or anything else the guild leadership decides is fair) and spend them for gear. There are benefits and drawbacks to both types of systems. Not everyone agrees with me either–based on her own personal experiences, Wyn gives you almost the opposite advice that I will. Listen to both of us and draw your own conclusions.

How do I choose?

Before you pick either DKP or Loot Council, you must decide what you want your loot system to accomplish. The following is a basic guide to the implicit goals of both system types.

1. Loot Council

This type of system is designed to optimize gear drops by placing them in the hands of those who will have most use for them. This may sound like the best players receive every item, but in practice, this is not true. A well-functioning Loot Council uses gear drops both to reward players for excellent performance and to help raise players to the group standard. Sometimes–perhaps often–the Council will reward the weakest player in a class and spec. All decisions are made for the good of the group, and no good items are sharded. Each member of the Loot Council must be extremely well-informed about the loot tables themselves and about the needs, wants, and skills of the player base. If a player on the Loot Council is interested in a gear drop, he or she generally bows out of the discussion on the item in question.

2. DKP

All DKP systems invest their players with “buying power,” and players get to decide what is most important to them. In all such systems, players tend to save for the best drops for themselves, assuming that they can identify them. DKP systems award gear based on attendance–more boss kills means a larger share of the loot. In this way, they can help a guild retain players over the long haul, because they can objectively track the benefits of consistent raiding. These systems are democratic in that they do not distinguish among players based on skill. As such, however, they do not always place items with the player who will get most use out of them. In addition, middling quality items will often be sharded as players learn to prioritize.

Drawbacks: Nutshell Version

Neither of these systems is perfect. Assuming real-life implementation, with no extreme chicanery, shenanigans, or other forms of bad behavior on the part of officers or raiders, here are the typical problems each system type experiences.

Loot Council:

1. The drama llama rears its ugly head

Human nature dictates that each player will be more aware of her own skills and contributions than those of others. This kind of blindness virtually guarantees that some people will not be happy with any given loot decision.

2. Inefficient use of raid time

The Loot Council will probably discuss most items as they drop. This could cost the raid upwards of 5 minutes at the end of every boss kill, which may put the guild in a crunch for longer instances with large numbers of bosses.

3. Inaccurate tracking

Unless the guild uses a mod to track drops awarded, loot may be distributed unevenly. The memory is a notoriously inaccurate instrument. Without hard numbers for attendance or drops rewarded, the Loot Council may unintentionally give more to some and less to others.

4. Bias

Human error plays a large part in the Loot Council system. We are all biased–our thoughts and feelings affect us at every moment, even though we don’t realize it. I’m not talking about malicious prejudice–I’m talking about the little unconscious leanings that occur even when we mean no harm. It would be nigh-impossible for a Loot Council to be entirely neutral toward every raider in the guild.

5. Lack of inherent structure

If you choose Loot Council, you will have to come up with the operating rules yourself. Guilds accomplish this in highly unique ways–poke around some websites and copy good ideas. You will have to determine on what basis loot is awarded, who gets to participate in the decision, and how much time will be allowed for debate.

DKP:

1. Sometimes people don’t know what is best for them

Your players will spend dkp as they like, and some of them will use their points unwisely. You cannot force people to research your loot system and their class drops and come up with the absolute best strategy. People may hoard points, or they may spend them on the “wrong” items. Many perfectly serviceable pieces might end up being disenchanted or given away for off-spec.

2. It won’t stop the QQ

I can almost guarantee that the drama will be less than with Loot Council, but people will still be upset when they don’t get what they want. The complaints will be more intense as the item value increases. Remember that random loot is random, even though your dkp system is not.

3. Inaccurate tracking

If you’re using a pencil-paper system, errors will happen, and they may render the system meaningless. I strongly advocate tracking DKP with a mod if you can. If that is impossible, make sure you deputize one officer to update it, and beat him with your Riding Crop if he misses a day.

4. Every system can be played

Any time you put power in the players’ hands, there will be ways for an individual to work the system to his advantage. Most players won’t try–they will play because they enjoy it, and they’ll put in the exact same amount of participation no matter what loot system the guild uses. Others will find the exact right equation of play time to maximize their drops. It doesn’t mean they are bad people or bad players–sometimes it just goes right along with other types of min-maxing behaviors, which most raiding guilds encourage. For a concrete example, if your guild uses zero-sum dkp, points are only awarded when players take loot. For a certain player, this practice de-incentivizes progression nights, because they may earn nothing at all for a night full of wipes. Alternately, if your guild uses a positive sum dkp system, you might weight progression raids very heavily and in turn de-incentivize farm content.

5. You will have to choose a system flavor carefully

People have been playing MMOs for several years now, and there are many types of systems. In order to choose a specific DKP system, you will have to do a level of research that the Loot Council folks won’t even dream of.

DKP system types

If you’ve thought through your decision, and you’ve decided to go with DKP, here is a basic guide to system types. They all have the same core principles–democratic distribution and rewards that increase with attendance–but they manifest those principles in radically different ways. Each of these systems assumes that the person with most DKP will be offered first choice on items.

Zero-sum DKP

This system is for math nerds only–the basis of the system is that the raid’s total DKP always sits at 0. Points are awarded when a piece of gear is taken. For example, if I take the Thunderheart Helmet from Archimonde, its value will be subtracted from my DKP. For the sake of argument, let’s just say I lost 240 points. The other 24 people in the raid will be awarded 1/24 of the points I just spent, or 10 points each. This is one of those systems that really, really requires a mod to track, because you will have to recalculate after each piece of loot is awarded. The guild will also have to decide how many points each item is worth, because after all, not all pieces are created equal.

Positive-sum DKP: Additive

This system is similar to zero-sum dkp, but it allows the guild to add points to the system for anything and everything, including attendance and progression. As with zero-sum, each item is worth a certain number of points, and when a player receives a drop, the item’s value is subtracted from her total. Players may go below zero. These systems tend to get very, very inflated, and the gap between the bottom of the top can be just crazy.

Positive-sum DKP: Relational

The basic system of this type is Ep/Gp, which I must say is my favorite of all possible systems and the one my guild uses. A person’s DKP is a ratio calculated from her Effort Points divided by her Gear Points. Effort points are typically awarded either for boss kills, with each boss assigned a specific value, or for minutes of participation. My guild awarded points for boss kills in TBC but we’re switching over to an easier, more automatic points per minute system for Wrath. Ratios always stay above zero, and if you implement the system as intended (which I STRONGLY suggest), decay controls inflation. To decay the system, you reduce everyone’s EP and GP by a certain percentage at determined moments. The system designers mention 10% per raid as a good figure, and I tend to agree. The purpose of decay is to shrink the gaps in the list–this practice lets new players move up faster despite lower total attendance. In addition, players who have a long dry spell with no loot will remain near the top of the list even after they take their first item, making things more fair over the long haul. This process, in combination with the decay, also tends to discourage hoarding. The cherry on top of the system is the excellent mod that comes with it. The item values are built-in, and anyone with the proper clearance can update the system during the raid. I’ve been master looting for my guild using this system since January, and it works like a charm. The only caveat is that you must back up the data every week–content patches almost always wipe the system.

Suicide Kings

What would happen if you had 100% decay on Ep/Gp? You’d have Suicide Kings. This sorta-system belongs in the DKP list, but just barely. To use Suicide Kings, random roll all of your members into positions and arrange them in a list with number 1 at the top. Person #1, regardless of attendance, skill, or whatever, will have first crack at anything that drops. When he takes something, he will move to the last position. Suicide Kings is extremely easy to track, even with a pencil-paper method, but you may see extreme problems with hoarding or with raider apathy. Expect some raiders only to show up if their names are near the top.

Other rules:

Any system works better if you have some courtesy rules or guidelines in place. Heck, I’ve even seen random roll work for the top alliance guild on our server, and it’s because their guild has a culture of sharing. All guilds should encourage players to be kind to their fellows and to pass things when they can afford to. In addition, no matter what system you choose, your officers or class officers should not hesitate to give advice on gear choice. If possible, persuade people out of bad decisions. Sometimes you will have to lay down the law. For example, if a paladin wants to spend her DKP on cloth healing gloves that are also a significant upgrade for your priest, don’t let her do it. In addition, some guilds make a special exception for their main tanks and gear them up first. We have never done that, and our tanks are well-geared just because their attendance is good. If you want to move very fast, though, you may need to get that gear on the tank regardless of his DKP. Likewise, if one of your players needs to perform a special role, make sure he or she has the gear to do it. For example, my guild awarded the first Void-Star Talisman to our warlock tank for Leotheras. Every member of the guild was happy about the decision, because we all wanted to get to Leo as fast as possible.

And lastly, good luck. You’ll need it to get through the loot system minefield without life-threatening injury or, at the least, major scarring.