Guilds are not Businesses

Guilds in these online games are com­plete­ly vol­un­tary, at-will orga­ni­za­tions of peo­ple. This cre­ates a strange dynam­ic when it comes to leading.

When I was GM, a good friend of mine in the guild–we’ll call him Angus–was excel­lent at lead­ing groups and raids. He was­n’t shy about grab­bing a cou­ple of our more pas­sive guild­mates and mak­ing good things hap­pen like attune­ment require­ments, gear upgrades, and all the rest. In real life, Angus is a con­fi­dent leader who runs his own busi­ness, with employ­ees. His com­pa­ny is suc­cess­ful! I thought, “Wow, he’d be a great offi­cer, maybe even GM!” So he got the nod as offi­cer, and while he was gruff at times, he proved a great asset to the guild.

Over time, I learned that Angus had real­ly been eager to take a shot at lead­ing the guild. We fre­quent­ly had open con­ver­sa­tions among the offi­cers regard­ing whose turn to lead was com­ing. So even­tu­al­ly, Angus got the nod.

The problem–and it took months for us to learn this–is that his abil­i­ty to lead a suc­cess­ful for-prof­it busi­ness involves a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent skill set than lead­ing a suc­cess­ful vol­un­tary, at-will orga­ni­za­tion. Angus turned out to be a good boss, but not a great leader.

He want­ed things done his way with­out fail and peo­ple who did­n’t agree got on his crap list very quick­ly. He was­n’t much of a nego­tia­tor, and was real­ly ter­ri­ble about hear­ing oth­er peo­ple’s point of view. I gath­er that at his busi­ness, Angus’s employ­ees do what he says or he, you know, fires them. This can be a great way to run a busi­ness, because if you can get a group of peo­ple who believe that you’re the benev­o­lent dic­ta­tor, they’ll just do what you say… this can even work in guild lead­er­ship situations.

How­ev­er, his lead­er­ship style was based on tan­gi­ble rewards that came from his author­i­ta­tive posi­tion, in the case of his busi­ness it was a job and ben­e­fits and pay. In the guild, it was raid­ing and zomgepics. In his eyes, it was fine that he was gruff and no-non­sense and all busi­ness all the time, because the guild was a raid­ing engine and you were either fuel or you were baggage.

The prob­lem with that out­look is that every­one’s pay­ing the same mon­ey to play, and so too-strong, demand­ing, unyield­ing per­son­al­i­ties either become inter­net phe­nom­e­nons (nsfw) or end up lead­ing a guild of four alts who nev­er log on. Every sin­gle time I play and spend any amount of time in a cap­i­tal city, I see new guilds recruit­ing, usu­al­ly one right after the oth­er. Endgame raid­ing guilds, casu­al guilds, lev­el­ing guilds, pvp guilds, on and on. There are just too many oth­er guilds out there, why waste time with a jerk?

So we had more and more dis­cord with Angus at the helm, with an ever-increas­ing amount of social man­age­ment being done by the oth­er offi­cers and vet­er­ans of the guild, try­ing to hold it all togeth­er. Final­ly, the guild’s lead­er­ship had a frank con­ver­sa­tion, with­out him at first, and then again with him, about a change at the top. We nev­er stopped lik­ing him, we just did­n’t like him at the helm. Some­one else stepped up, and the guild moved on. Angus’s lead­er­ship brought about a Fall sea­son for our guild.

(We fol­lowed this up with a Win­ter sea­son and now a Spring/Summer, which I’ll relate anoth­er time. Two more articles!)

After a break from the game, Angus is now a hap­py and help­ful offi­cer and ocas­sion­al raid lead. We just don’t talk about his time at GM.

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One thought on “Guilds are not Businesses”

  1. What’s inter­est­ing is that a num­ber of peo­ple are con­nect­ing suc­cess in lead­ing guilds to per­son­al­i­ty traits that make for suc­cess­ful busi­ness leadership. 

    Here’s a blog post that digs into it a bit, relat­ing to a study IBM was involved in. I sug­gest fol­low­ing some of the links in the post if you have the time. I know it made for some inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions at my place of work.

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