Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
 
Guild governance

I believe that in the real world democracy is the best possible form of government. Politicians always need to balance their interests against the possibility to get voted out in the next election, and that keeps them reasonably honest. More tyrannical forms of government in the real world are bad, because it is very hard to escape from them and change your nationality, and because in the worst case you could get unjustly imprisoned, tortured, or killed. In the virtual world we have guilds instead of nation states, and the best possible form of government isn't that obvious.

Guilds are curious beasts, because any member can leave them at any time, the ultimate form of democracy, voting with your feet. Small guilds, which are just a gathering of friends, and which have no real goal, don't need any other form of governance. The guy who coughs up the gold for the guild charter gets to design the tabard, and that is about the extent of his powers. But as soon as the guild gets larger, and wants to go raiding, there are three major fields in which the guild leadership needs to take decisions: recruitment, raid spots, and loot distribution. And it turns out that in these cases democracy doesn't work well. You can't vote on every single decision, and I haven't heard of any guild yet which has legislative periods and votes guild officers in and out ever so often.

A few guilds are lead by a single person, sometimes the whole guild is even called after that guy. That sort of organization usually crashes sooner or later, because people have a natural dislike of tyrants, and the oversized ego it takes to even attempt to lead a guild on your own sooner or later clashes with the egos of the other guild members.

So most raiding guilds are lead by something which eerily resembles the communist party of China: A bunch of unelected guys forming an authoritarian government, having equality written on their banners, but favoring "party members" over the others. But that might actually be the best possible form of guild governance, because unless you make totally unrealistic assumptions about human nature, it is difficult to design a better system for a raiding guild.

The reason why guilds work with "officers", which are favored, and normal members, which are not, is that guild organization requires a certain amount of work. Running a website, sorting out problems, recruiting, organizing raids, setting up a system for loot distribution, all that takes quite some time away from playing. But if you take the time to organize a raid, you bloody well reserve a raid slot for yourself. So the people organizing raids automatically go raiding more often, and under any reasonable loot distribution system end up with more loot than the others because of their higher attendance. I have yet to meet a raiding guild in which the officers weren't also the core raiders and had the best gear in the guild.

That can work quite well, if the officers have sufficient leadership skills. If you communicate guild policies well, and take the time to explain your decisions, people easily accept being governed by unelected guild officers. And most people can also accept the "I'm the raid organizer, I get an automatic raid slot" argument, and some sort of DKP system that favors those who attend raids most often. But communication is usually a weak point in guilds, in spite of guild forums and other communication channels. Guild policies are often only discussed among the officers, and then either executed without explanation, or only communicated with an "because we said so" reasoning. That usually leads to members not being interested in guild policies at all, because they don't have any influence on them, and then when a decision doesn't go their way they just leave the guild.

Now I'm sure I'll be getting a lot of "my guild is much nicer than that" comments from people in small, family-like guilds of friends. But please remember that is not the type of guild I'm talking about. The "band of brothers" model of guild doesn't scale up very well to the size necessary to regulary field 25-man raid groups. Makes you wonder if Blizzard should cap raids at 10 persons in the next expansion, because that is about the largest a fully democratic guild of friends can handle.

But here is my challenge: Come up with a better system of guild governance. Should guilds have elected officials with limited terms? Should they have direct democracy in which every guild decision is discussed at length among all members? Or should people just keep hopping from one guild to the next until they find one with a reasonably nice and competent leadership?
Comments:
Both of us agreed that guilds on WoW are mostly driven by loots. You don't raid much, you lose members to other guilds. Friendships? Loyalty? Nah, they dont apply to most WoW guilds.

In order to keep WoW guilds ongoing, a fair loots distribution system is very important. People get motivated to become more involved when they gain loots. On WoW, we need constant players who know their roles to keep progressing. If a guild gets stucked on an encounter, they will lose members very quick.

I miss the unity of guilds on everquest, we hanged on to one another and loots were not the main concerns for most people. EQ had like 40-60 bad vs good players in terms of personality not skill. But on WoW, it is like 70-30 bad vs good players.

Guild leaderships on WoW is measured by how much loots you can get for your guild members and how well you can distribute them without much dramas. Otherwise, people will hop guilds faster than whores drop their panties.
 
Hmm.

Has there been any research done as to whether guilds tend to fall apart when they hit the 120-man barrier?

The reason I ask is that there's a lot of research from management theory showing that humans aren't really programmed to deal with larger communities than about 120 people - above that size is a prime time for companies to fail.
 
Has there been any research done as to whether guilds tend to fall apart when they hit the 120-man barrier?

Yes there has. That number at which social networks tend to fall apart is called the Dunbar number. It is based on an extrapolation of the observation that the group size in primates depends on the size of the neocortex region of the brain. I've written about it here and linked to the science.

For guild sizes the number can be anywhere between 50 and 150, as a guild isn't a group forged together by a need for survival. The most successful (but not necessarily nicest) guilds in World of Warcraft have about 60 members. But of course that means that everyone of them needed to be present in 2 out of 3 raids to get 40-man raids together. Now that the raid size has gone down to 25, you can have guilds with lower participation rates have less than the Dunbar number of members while still being able to fill up a raid every night.

Unfortunately casual players have an even lower participation rate, which explains why casual guilds still sometimes had problems going to 20-man Zul'Gurub raids.
 
Small guild - more social, less able to be successful in group activities. Probably have to PUG to get anywhere, as have hopeless mix of character classes.
Big guild - less social, more able to be successful in group activities. Class numbers tend to be a lot more structured. A lot of the members are just there to get guild loot, and don't care less about making friends with their guildies.
 
I wrote a lovely piece explaining the democracy of New Dawn, the non-guild raid group on EU Earthen Ring, but the internet ate it.

Essentially, we have the understanding that all members are equal, we vote on all issues after they have been discussed, and raid spots are not guaranteed for people who take on administrative duties.

We vote in players to lead raids, i.e. to give orders and commands during the raid, but all other times they are just normal members and have no special standing outside of any raid they lead. We have several raid leaders at any one time, and only one leads any particular raid.

For a group built on democracy, and sticking to our guns about everyone having equal say, we have still achieved what other groups haven't, having fought all the way through Molten Core and Blackwing Lair, getting to the second stage of C'Thun and killing a couple of Naxxramas bosses. We see democracy as a strength, not a weakness.
 
My guild is big (160 accounts), and just celebrated its second year anniversiary.

We have been fairy successful, defeating all bosses up to naxxramas, where we stopped at 11, and just took down maulgar in TBC. Were the best guild on our server.

However, if you look at the guild members, there is just a core of about 30 players that are left from the formative period. This funnily only includes two signees of the guild charter.

All through the period satelite players have been joining and leaving the guild. They have maybe spent a year, then left to become less active and more causual. I guess at least 400 accounts have been through the guild during the two years.

The core is not neccessarily the most active players at any given time, but over time they have been the cohesive thats held it all together.

Out guild leader is an example, he hardly raids, and noone knows where he is most of the time, but he posts executive descisions from the officers on the board. Everyone knows him, but hes just the bearer of news, bad or good.

I have no doubt that without good achievements our guild would be gone long time ago. Good players gravitate towards the guild, improves the performance, and makes all happy to be a member. Good achievement makes it easier to keep the normalizing element of casual players, of which there always is a majority. A raid is always made up of approx. 60% casual players.

There was at one point a talk of making the whole thing a democracy, but so many people was against it, there just wasnt momentum for it.

We do have or share of people quitting in a huff, but most people leave to be more casual. There is a whole guild of about 30 people who is just ex members callede "just enjoying myself", whom fill in when we are short for groups and stuff.

So the officers making descions have worked for us, we have low drama, high efficiecy, and some cancelled raids due to lack of hardcore players. But we still have fun after 2 years, and thats what counts, i think.
 
Human nature trumps guild design philosophy especially since many guild members are <18 years of age.

No matter how honest, organized and fair your system is, somebody is going to get greedy, get angry, cause drama, and the rest is history. Just have a steady stream of new apps on your guild's shiny web forum to replace the troublemakers with.

It’s a lot less work for everyone to run the guild via the communist or dictatorship model than the democratic one and the results are normally better (as far as progression is concerned).
 
Democracy is not always a virtue.

My more casual, family-oriented guild is incapable of achieving much past putting a 5-man together (and often can't do even that) despite the fact that many members have multiple characters in order to facilitate grouping.

More powerful personalities tend to dominate groups and actions within the guild without taking any real responsibility for what they want (getting guild groups together to go to Scholo/Strat in order to help gear up their alts, for example).

The assumption in a democracy is that most senior members know how to play and are interested in achieving something within the game. However sometimes this just isn't true - and players like myself have to choose between leaving a close family and persisting in perpetual failure.

Finally in response to Tobold's original question, I think guilds should be led by unelected officers with clearly defined goals. If you don't like the goals, leave the guild. If you do, stick with it despite the need to respec / reroll characters.
 
“I haven't heard of any guild yet which has legislative periods and votes guild officers in and out ever so often”
Here is a link to a guild site that did elect leaders for set periods. http://www.freecorps.net/ Freecorps was formed to play Shadowbane. Every 3 months they elected new leaders both before and after release of SB.
 
I've been involved in the running of a guild that has existed since the early 90's. We started with playing shooters/flight sims, but have morphed into MMO's now that we're old and can't hack it with the young joystick/mouse jockeys anymore. The important thing is we adapt our structure based on the game we're playing.

In an item-centric mixed PvE/PvP game like WoW, we're an employee-owned privately held company.

We have a CEO (leader), an Executive Committee to handle day-to-day operations (officer corps), and Board of Directors providing oversight (WoW leader + other leaders not playing WoW).

Our members are our shareholders. Your shareholders don't vote on day-to-day decisions, but you'd be crazy not to get the opinion of your major shareholders/core members before making a significant change. If you piss them off, they'll turf you (hasn't happened yet!) or sell their interest and walk away.

In PvP heavy games, we take on a more military structure with a chain of command, members divided into squads led by a squad leader. Like the military, it is mostly a benevolent dictatorship.

Communism is ideal for a crafting/economy approach to a non-item-centric game (i.e. SWG, VG), as long as your leadership is transparent and accountable to your people.

As for a democracy, we've never been crazy enough to try it. There's a reason successful businesses are not run democratically.
 
I agree that communication is absolutely essential for a guild to run smoothly. Also, I'd say that if the members can at least give their input on general guild policy and know the policy reasonably well, then that would make most actions taken by officers predictable, which could be just as useful as good communication.
 
You pegged my previous (raiding) guild to a T! I left because the Officers weren't communicating well with the non-Officers. The Officers invited a seemingly-random Rogue to the guild when our Rogue slots were more than full and others had been turned away. They explained the reasoning to me as I left. It pissed off a lot of people - ending up with 3 of us leaving the guild.

In any case...

Good post!
 
Just to give some background so you know where I am coming from:
I have been the leader of the online guild Ginnunga since 1999, the guild is run in a dictorial way with strong communistic tendencies (guild tax, forced sharing of wealth and virtual goods etc). The philosophy is rather simple: One for all, all for one - Support and uphold weaker links by taxing the strongest, the guild is one entity, there are no individuals, we are all part of the one big, greater blob. ;)


Now, to get down to your post:

I agree with you that in the real world, "democracy" is one of the best possible forms of government. But in online games, a military structure tends to work better.

You wrote (snipped):
"A few guilds are lead by a single person. That sort of organization usually crashes sooner or later, because people have a natural dislike of tyrants, and the oversized ego it takes to even attempt to lead a guild on your own sooner or later clashes with the egos of the other guild members."

I think you are wrong here Sir. You seem assume that the "dictatorship" guilds tend to crash, while in my experience, only the dictatorships tend to survive. Your references to collapsing tyranny guilds would only be pointing to a bad of children (or dumbasses) grouped together and hence they will fail due to lack of proper leadership, not because of the "form of state" the guild uses. Not a single one of the dictatorship ruled guilds I have encountered over the 10 years i have been in the "business" have folded by any other reason than the leader disbanding it - never because the members abandon them. The size of my ego and e-penis is enormous, my guild still hasn't folded, nor have members left because of any ego clashes with guildmembers. There is a huge difference from being a jackass or being a good leader - It's really not the same thing and shouldn't be compared.


"So most raiding guilds are lead by something which eerily resembles the communist party of China: A bunch of unelected guys forming an authoritarian government, having equality written on their banners, but favoring "party members" over the others."

On what base do you draw the conclusion that there would be any favouring? You cannot use your own limited experience of this and just pull everything under the same wire. None of the real guilds out there are favoring any members, yet again you seem to be talking about vapor guilds or a band of children. You cannot use kindergardens football teams to draw conclusions on how to govern a world cup football team. You have to look at real guilds with real leadership and real success, longlivity and progress.


"But that might actually be the best possible form of guild governance, because unless you make totally unrealistic assumptions about human nature, it is difficult to design a better system for a raiding guild."

You will be hard pressed to find any major guild that is goverened in any other manner (than tyranny) in any game.


"That can work quite well, if the officers have sufficient leadership skills."

If they do not have sufficient leadership skills they shouldn't be officers in the first place, then you have failed as a leader by picking the wrong people to do your mundane tasks, no? It's like saying that if you are better at football than the other team you will win - no shit Sherlock =)


"And most people can also accept the "I'm the raid organizer, I get an automatic raid slot" argument, and some sort of DKP system that favors those who attend raids most often."

Of course they accept that the raid organizer gets a slot in the raid - It's pretty hard to sit in Freeport, Norrath and lead a raid in Naxxramas, Azeroth, no?


"But communication is usually a weak point in guilds, in spite of guild forums and other communication channels."

Yet again you are refering to kindergarden guilds - Communication is a REQUIREMENT for a guild, if the communication is bad within a guild, then it is not a guild, it is a kindergarden and you have failed in your leadership and organization.

"Guild policies are often only discussed among the officers, and then either executed without explanation, or only communicated with an "because we said so" reasoning."

..... in your kindergarden guild.

"That usually leads to members not being interested in guild policies at all, because they don't have any influence on them, and then when a decision doesn't go their way they just leave the guild."

Kindergarden again.


"Now I'm sure I'll be getting a lot of "my guild is much nicer than that" comments from people in small, family-like guilds of friends."

We have 340 members spanning across 4 games at the moment. Your whole article is not talking about guilds, your article is talking about failiure in leadership and incompetence amongst some of the hundreds of children/teenagers/dumbasses that form guilds on a daily basis in whatever online game. But in all honesty mate, do theese guilds ever accomplish anything of any sort, may it be game progression wise or humaniatarian? Really, no, so why even try to use them as examples of trying to decide which way of governing is the best?

Take a look at some real guilds/clans/orgs/linkshells/teams instead and check how those are run. Hell, take a look at any sports team (outside the virtual world) with any form of longlivety. It's e-sports we are doing afterall mate.
 
In the old-SWG, guild leaders needed to have a certain number of guild members to pledge allegiance to them in order to hold their leadership. The guild leader could then appoint guild officers and give different officers different guild powers through a guild interface terminal. I quite liked that system as maintaining your guild leadership was a sort of mini-game unto itself. It allowed many different kinds of organization structures to be created, depending on what the players preferred. You could give the guild officers all the powers of the guild leader and then have a sort of guild council.

In A Tale in the Desert (ATITD) you are free to join more than one guild.(as many as you like) This comes in handy for creating different guilds for different purposes without having to quit/join guilds all the time (ie. special events guilds, raiding guilds, social guilds, mentoring guilds, trade guilds ... etc.

In WoW, I found non-raiding guilds to be kinda useless as its unlikely that members will ever be playing together unless they are near the same level. So in a guild of ,say, 40 members with a wide range of levels then there will only be a couple of people who you can adventure with.
 
I'm mostly a soloist. I do instance runs when I have the time and when the spirit moves me, but that isn't all that often.

Nonetheless, I'm a member of a rather large guild on my server.

Why?

Well, for one thing I like the name of the guild and I like the fact that my flag shows it when I'm running around.

For another thing, the guild has a slightly more cluefull collection of people, so guild chat is generally entertaining. And often helpful. That leads me to contribute what knowledge I have when someone asks a question. It's much better than the zone chat in whatever zone I happen to be running around in.

Finally, once in a while the guild is very helpful. One time I was questing in Tanaris and a bunch of high levels from the other faction started camping the exit doors. I'd poke my nose out on my way to wherever I was going and *bam* I was dead. After dying four or five times I squawked on the guild chat and identified a couple of the players who were doing this. A bunch of my guild's 60s (this was pre-BC) flew down to Gadgetzan and I got to see the campers get pwned and camped in turn, before I went on my way.

I do favors for guildies and sometimes they do favors for me. My main is not yet lvl 70 (or even lvl 60) so raiding and piling up the purples is not that important to me. We'll see how I feel when I get to the level cap.
 
So I know this is an old thread but I still wanted to share... Our guild has no officers... just the GM and everyone else. Everyone except recruits has access to the officer chat channel. We have lots of ranks including "Loser", "Yay", and "Azn Farmer". When people annoy you and they are your rank or lower you can demote them and when they do something nice you can promote them but it basically doesn't mean anything, and ranks change rapidly. Guild invites are decided by the GM but people are not invited to be members until they get 10 "Yes" votes and no "No" votes from the members. Whoever wants to can Raid lead and people usually self select. People get kicked out of the guild constantly or they /gquit for fun and then get reinvited. Coming from a very traditional guild with officers, and leaders, and secret officer forums this guild is like a breath of fresh air. Everything is out in the open. If the GM is telling someone off he will do it in guildchat. No secrecy = no drama. We roll on loot in Kara and take turns taking class appropriate loot. Also classes of which there is an overload like DPS take turns going to Kara. Everyone farms their own consumables and there is no guild bank. We have made it most of the way through Kara and it is the happiest wow experience I've ever had. I guess it would be easy for a jerk to take advantage of it but then they would have a short walk to the door. No secrecy and no heirarchy. try it.
 
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