Tuesday, February 20, 2007
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?