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Officers' Quarters: How a guild dies


Every Monday, Scott Andrews contributes Officers' Quarters, a column about the ins and outs of guild leadership. He is the author of The Guild Leader's Handbook, available now from No Starch Press.

This column is a special one for me. A reader wrote an email to the Drama Mamas, who passed it along to me as a topic that seemed more appropriate for OQ. When I read the email, it struck quite a chord, because the issue the guild leader raises is one that led directly to the collapse of my own guild. Yes, my own guild is finished, and so I can now reveal what guild I led and why it is now defunct in the hope that others can avoid the same fate.

But first, the email:
My girlfriend and I are the founders of a casual raiding/leveling guild. It's always been an eclectic mix of people, and it's one of my favorite parts of playing WoW.

We're both friendly and empathetic, and people tend to develop bonds with us. We spend time together to the point where they feel comfortable in asking us for advice with serious real-life problems.

However, the major problem is that our guild is that it's highly focused around my girlfriend and I. It feels like the only people who can lead a raid are the two of us, for example. People help in other ways, like donating to the guild bank or recruiting, but there isn't much leadership in the guild.
I don't mind doing these things, if it weren't for the following issue: If my girlfriend and I can't be on for a week or two because of work, school, illness, travel or Internet issues, the guild falls apart. Nobody takes up the slack, people get in fights, leave for bigger raiding guilds, and when we finally get a chance to log back on, we're looking at a skimpy roster of what used to be "friends."

We've had a few officers throughout the years, but all of them left for one reason or another, usually a RL issue. Some of these mass exoduses have been so severe that we considered either disbanding the guild or at least moving our mains to another guild. Our little guild has accomplished some pretty amazing feats in its two years, and it's heartbreaking to even have to consider leaving.

Is there a way to find people who stay through thick and thin? Should we actively recruit people for officer positions? We have friends in a few powerful guilds on the server; should we put our mains in a progression raiding guild and leave our alts in our old one for nostalgia's sake?

Thanks for your help,

Ditched

Hi, Ditched. Your issue is a very serious one. It is in fact one of the most common reasons why guilds fall apart, as I know well. I am about to go on a long tangent about my own guild here, but it has lessons that I hope will be valuable to you and other readers.

Some background

Friends and I founded the Horde guild <Boomstick Syndicate> of Khadgar (US) on Jan. 18, 2005, less than two months after the launch of WoW. I set up the guild and became the guild leader, mainly because no one else wanted the job. At that time, I had absolutely no idea what I was signing up for. I played a hunter named Grengarm and later a paladin named Morningstar.

We started out as a social leveling guild, morphed into a casual raiding guild when we hit 60 and remained so throughout the years. We managed to run some 40-mans back in vanilla, but despite a massive roster that at times had close to 300 accounts, we were generally more successful in the smaller raids. Two of our key tenets were the absence of a raid attendance policy and valuing real life over WoW. Such policies are not conducive to large raid sizes, and we found it easier to field multiple, smaller teams than one big group on specific nights.

At the start of BC, I had a dependable, diverse, and effective officer corps. I had multiple raid leaders who were all great in that role, a dedicated and effective recruiting officer, a loot officer who knew the math behind the stats inside and out, an officer to manage the website and other tech, and even some officers who were great at handling drama.

One by one, however, the leadership of the guild dwindled, claimed by real-life responsibilities as people earned degrees, started families or new careers, or moved to incompatible time zones. Of course, a few also burned out. For the most part, such things are inevitable.

By early Wrath, the officer ranks had been whittled down to a paltry three. We made it known that we were looking for more help, and several members stepped up. None of them lasted very long as officers. Some ran into real-life issues; a few just admitted that they weren't cut out for the role and asked for a demotion.

I'll admit it: With a mix of casual/social members and members who were essentially hardcore raiders, Boomstick was a difficult guild to lead. It's one of the reasons why I don't advise mixing and matching guild types. It's much easier to run a guild that's purely social/casual or a guild that's purely for serious raiding. Combining the two is merely a recipe for personality clashes, and our guild certainly had its share. Because of our early cluelessness about such things, that's how the guild evolved. At some point between expansions, we probably should have made things easier on ourselves and sundered the community into two separate guilds. We discussed it, but we never had the heart to do so.

And so we forged ahead, with myself and another officer, Kilrajin, handling all the recruiting, raid leading, website management, and drama. It was a lot to manage on top of our own personal lives. Kilrajin had done so much for the guild over the years and was so instrumental in the guild's continued survival that I eventually promoted him to co-guild leader at the guild's fifth anniversary party. A third officer handled loot for us for most of the expansion, and we were grateful to her for taking that off our plates. Our roster shrank as we began to feel the pressure of a reduced officer corps and stopped accepting all but the most exceptional applicants, often not replacing players who grew bored during Wrath's content gaps, never to return.

Regardless, we had quite a bit of success in Wrath. Once every raid could be run in a 10-man format, we set out to conquer all the content that Blizzard could throw at us. We were able to earn the Ulduar drakes during patch 3.2 and downed hard-mode Anub'arak. We killed the Lich King with only a 5% buff, but by that point, the guild was already rapidly falling apart.

The collapse

Kilrajin and I began to burn out from a lack of leadership help during the summer of 2009. We even tried sweetening the deal by guaranteeing officers a raid slot in our hard-mode runs, provided they weren't holding the raid back, but to no avail. By early 2010, we were desperate for more officers. We put out one final request and made it clear, against my better judgment, that we would be willing to promote anyone to the position regardless of their current rank or how long they had been a member, as long as they would take on one or two of the leadership responsibilities.

Two members requested officer status. One never followed through at all. The other agreed to take on recruiting and raid leadership duties. He excelled at it for a short while and even managed to put some 25-man, all-guild Icecrown runs together. Everything was going smoothly. Then one day, he simply never logged in again and never provided me with an explanation why, even via our website. I heard a rumor that his brother (also one of our key raiders) had decided to stop playing after meeting a lady friend, and our new officer didn't want to play if his brother wasn't online, but to this day I just don't know.

With the abrupt disappearance of two of our best raiders, our runs faltered. We were back to inviting PUGs if we wanted to run 25s, and Icecrown in the early days of its release was not a PUG-friendly place. A few other raiders who had joined us during Wrath decided to leave for dedicated 25-man guilds. Their departure triggered a chain reaction. In a matter of mere weeks, a guild that had been running 25s could barely field a workable 10-man team, and that ultimately caused further departures.

Kilrajin and I were in no shape to rebuild the roster. The greater part of the past year had been an enormous struggle. With no hope of any leadership help on the horizon and a roster that was no longer capable of putting together a balanced raid, we made the decision to cancel all future runs. That, of course, scattered our remaining raiders to other guilds. Amidst the disappointment, for us, there was also relief. The long struggle was over.

We used the time to consider our options. The two of us are raiders to the bone, and so it was either find another guild to raid with or quit the game entirely. Eventually we were lucky enough to find a Khadgar guild with some truly excellent and active officers who were willing to invite our mains as raiders for the remainder of Wrath. At the time, we left our alts as Boomstick's guild leaders and kept the guild as a purely social shadow of its former raiding self.

A few days before the release of Cataclysm, we met over drinks and decided the fate of Boomstick Syndicate. We considered turning over the guild to one of the remaining members. By that point, however, the guild hadn't been doing much of anything for about 8 months and only a handful of dedicated casual members were left. We decided to keep the shell of the guild in case we ever wanted to revive it, but to shut it down otherwise. We were done, at least for now, with leadership. We were very happy with the new raiding guild that we had joined and it was refreshing to enjoy the game as ordinary players. We had also managed to bring a few friends from Boomstick with us to our new home.

Five years and change is a long time to be a guild leader. It was an extraordinary experience, and I have no regrets. I met a lot of wonderful people in that time, and I still keep in touch with quite a few of them. I'm proud of everything we accomplished together, from our early Dire Maul tribute runs to our one and only Lich King kill.

Since I've never actually been a regular member of a WoW guild, I'm learning quite a bit from the experience that will help me when I become an officer or guild leader again some day. It's always helpful to see things from a new perspective, and I'm making the most of that.

Lessons learned

For a guild to survive as long as ours had, we'd overcome quite a few challenges, including prior periods of defection. However, to move past major obstacles requires leaders who are willing to put in the hard work. We'd done so countless times. Finally, the two of us just couldn't do it anymore, and with no one else to step up, the guild ceased to function.

That's why you are in perilous territory, Ditch. I'll answer your questions one by one.

Is there a way to find people who stay through thick and thin?

There is not. They will emerge as the ones who stand by your guild when it encounters setbacks. Thus, you will eventually know who they are. But there is no way to recruit for loyalty. Even if there were, loyalty from your members is something you as a leader have to earn. It is not freely given.

Should we actively recruit people for officer positions?

I don't recommend it. Players are generally reluctant to become officers, and pretty much no one wants to join a guild and immediately become an officer of it. Besides, it's a bad idea in general for someone who doesn't know the community to be thrust into a leadership role.

The only way to find officers is from within your own roster. If you don't have any members who want to help you right now, then you probably won't have any help for quite a while. Most likely, you'll have to wait until a member you recruit down the road is around long enough to become an officer. Until then, I suggest scaling back guild activities to a level that the two of you can manage.

Don't fool yourself into thinking that it has to get better at some future time. It may always be just the two of you doing all the work. Can you handle that? Can your guild survive it? These are two very important questions to ask yourselves right now.

Should we put our mains in a progression raiding guild and leave our alts in our old one for nostalgia's sake?

It all depends on how you answer the two questions above. For Kilrajin and I, that became a temporary solution until we made the painful decision to shut down Boomstick for good. It was a bittersweet ending for us. Our new guild is a rock-solid organization and we are excited to be there. (I even switched to a death knight main because the guild had so few.) However, it was excruciating to watch our own guild sputter and die.

My advice to you is to make it clear that the guild can't continue without some additional help from members. Hopefully, someone will answer the call. If not, then try to be realistic about your own abilities and the guild's future, and make your decision accordingly.

The lesson in Boomstick's demise for everyone is that even a long-established guild cannot survive without an adequate number of active and motivated officers. I urge any nonofficers who are reading this column to help your officers if they seem to be struggling. For all but the smallest communities, one or two people cannot handle all the tasks that go into leading a raiding guild, at least not indefinitely.

You don't have to be an officer to help. There are minor tasks, such as helping to moderate your guild's forums, managing low-rank bank vaults, or organizing a PvP night, that anyone can do. In Cataclysm, guilds are more crucial to an enjoyable WoW experience than they're ever been. If you value your community, volunteer to lend a hand. Believe it or not, your guild's survival may depend on it!

On an unrelated note, the site is still having problems forwarding messages through our old wow.com email addresses, so please use my updated email address -- scott@wowinsider.com -- moving forward. If I haven't replied to your email, that means I haven't received it, so please resend it to the updated address. Thanks!

/salute

Join us to learn how to survive the leveling process, deal with guild perk freeloaders, and discuss the guild talent controversy or the guild reputation system. Send Scott your guild-related questions and suggestions at scott@wowinsider.com; you may find your question the subject of next week's Officers' Quarters!

Filed under: Officers' Quarters (Guild Leadership)

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