Some GM Advice

I read a great arti­cle over at the excel­lent Chick GM about offi­cer lead­er­ship styles and what makes a good offi­cer. It made me think about what I val­ued in GMs and offi­cers, and what I learned as GM.

It took me a long time to come up with my online lead­er­ship style, and longer still to iden­ti­fy pieces of what I was actu­al­ly try­ing to accom­plish. I’ve been a leader in mul­ti­ple non-game places, but the MMORPG space is dif­fer­ent. My guild suf­fered a bit while I learned, but even­tu­al­ly I got the hang of it. When it was time for me to hand the reins over, I came up with a list of direc­tives and shared it with the sub­se­quent GMs of my guild.

These aren’t the obvi­ous bits. I’m assum­ing that we’re start­ing with a good-natured per­son who wants a friend­ly and active­ly social envi­ron­ment.

These are vines to help you swing over some of the crocs you’ll come across as GM.

Keep your window of credit as small as you can bear.

A cer­tain kind of per­son will start off with a head full of steam, put in a lot of good guild effort in up front, and then coast for­ev­er. This can be either inten­tion­al or sim­ple human nature, but either way, it hap­pens. Good kar­ma does­n’t last for­ev­er.

I’d like to say that this isn’t keep­ing score, but it is. Donat­ing five rare gems to the guild bank at one point does­n’t mean you get to have rare gems in return indef­i­nite­ly. A sys­tem like that just isn’t sus­tain­able with­out the con­tin­ued good­will of oth­ers, and you don’t want to turn your guild into a pyra­mid scheme with the good-heart­ed ones play­ing the role of suck­er.

You’re going to have your own ratio, but stick with it. The “wow was he awe­some in the dis­tant past” isn’t help­ing you in the cur­rent “I just wast­ed a whole evening clean­ing up this guy’s social dia­per explo­sion”.

Your time is valuable.

Cre­ate mul­ti­ple cat­e­gories of peo­ple:

  1. Lis­ten Always. Peo­ple who always help the guild, you should always lis­ten to.
  2. Lis­ten Some­times. Peo­ple who have upsides and down­sides.
  3. Lis­ten Nev­er. Peo­ple who don’t help the guild, don’t waste your time on.

The impor­tant thing to note is that all of these direc­tives are a func­tion of time. Lis­ten­ing takes time. Talk­ing with peo­ple takes time. As GM, your num­ber one com­mod­i­ty is time. You don’t have infi­nite time, you have under­wear to iron or what­ev­er. Plus, there’s this game that you occa­sion­al­ly like to play, the one you pay the month­ly fee for and have the toons with the pret­ty gear.

Your cat­e­gories don’t have to be inscribed to a stone tablet–I don’t have a list of people–but the prin­ci­ples have to be there.

Also note that this has noth­ing to do with how much you like a giv­en per­son. If you care enough to lead the guild, you like­ly care enough to like most of the peo­ple who are also in the guild’s core. But fre­quent­ly, these groups of peo­ple are just adhoc col­lec­tions and so giv­en a large enough sam­ple size (like a guild) there might be one or two peo­ple who you’d frankly rather not speak at length with. This is no big deal! You can still lis­ten to them, just talk busi­ness and grace­ful­ly exit the con­ver­sa­tion when talk turns to their strug­gles with hard-to-reach itch­ing places.

Schedule frequent officer meetings over a voice-chat system of some sort.

Offi­cer forums are great, but not every­one is a long-time inter­net denizen and are there­fore com­fort­able reading/typing a lot. (This took me a long time to accept.)

These peo­ple need to just talk, as in voice com­mu­ni­ca­tion. No mat­ter how good things seem, keep those offi­cer meet­ings reg­u­lar like clock­work. In your dai­ly deal­ings with the guild, you’re not going to hear every­thing, so it’s crit­i­cal to have a venue where prob­lems could be heard.

“Hey, did you know that X had surgery?”

“No kid­ding!”

And on a prac­ti­cal lev­el, it gives your offi­cers a forum to vent and takes away the option of “You nev­er lis­ten to me!”

Hey, it hap­pens.


You don’t have to eat that steamy work pie all by your­self. Offi­cers aren’t just a foun­tain of opin­ion and a vote on how they feel things should go.

This is good for both pre­vent­ing your own burnout and for the future of your guild. As a leader of a social orga­ni­za­tion, your goal is not just to have a suc­cess­ful group, but to have a suc­cess­ful group that out­lives your time at the helm. That means divid­ing the work and set­ting up a sys­tem where tasks are moved around.

Once the cul­ture of shar­ing the load is in place, it will tend to per­pet­u­ate itself. Work extra hard to nur­ture your replace­ment, so that every­one can see that it can be done.

Nurture leadership in non-officers.

This is the social struc­ture com­ple­ment of “guilds are always in recruit­ment”. Your guild’s lead­er­ship is, too.

Let guild­mates, espe­cial­ly non-offi­cers, vol­un­teer. Encour­age lead­er­ship in small tasks. Rarely is some­one going to step up and say,

“You know, I real­ize that being an officer/GM is a lot of busy work, what can I do to help?”

I can hear all you officers/GMs laugh­ing now.

I’m not say­ing you have to trick peo­ple into doing it, but… ok, well yes, that’s exact­ly what I’m say­ing. I’m not proud. Trick them, cajole them, a lit­tle brow­beat­ing for sea­son­ing, what­ev­er you have to do.

Guildie: “Hey, I’d like to see more X events on Sat­ur­day nights in the guild.”

GM: “That sounds great! How’s Sat­ur­day at 8pm?”

Guildie: “Per­fect!”

GM: “I’ll put it on the cal­en­dar for you. Just be sure that you com­mu­ni­cate with every­one in case the groups don’t work out even­ly.”

Guildie: “Wha, wha, what do you mean?”

GM: “Aren’t you going to lead it?”

Guildie: “*chok­ing sound*”

Once they get out of shock, help them see that run­ning one guild event is basi­cal­ly about 20 min­utes of man­age­ment and then play­ing… on paper. In fact, try to be on hand dur­ing of their lead­er­ship attempt, so that you can whis­per sooth­ing plat­i­tudes to your leader-in-train­ing.

“You’re doing great!”

“But three peo­ple just quit the guild!”

“They were no good any­way.”

This is also my guild’s pre­ferred way to groom peo­ple for an offi­cer’s role.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

MMORPGs are social. You don’t have to be friends with every­one, but you do have to be approach­able. Being approach­able means peo­ple feel­ing com­fort­able enough to talk to you. This is going to be dif­fer­ent for every­one, but it nev­er hurts to whis­per some­one and say, “Hey, how you doin’?” You can imag­ine the De Niro accent, or Richard Sim­mons, what­ev­er works for you. The sim­ple act of chat­ting, even a lit­tle, makes you human to this per­son. And humans can be talked to.

This can be the dif­fer­ence between some­one say­ing “Yeah, I’ll just log for the night.” and a thun­der­ous gquit. Dra­ma is reg­u­lar and con­stant, the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion are a buffer that min­i­mize that impulse.

It took a lot of time to be a leader in this way. It meant stay­ing online for an extra half hour when I said my guild good­nights and then I got a mes­sage:

“Do you have a sec?”

I think,

“Actu­al­ly, no, I just said good night.”

But what I say is,

“Sure, but I’m log­ging out short­ly.”

More Words!

2 thoughts on “Some GM Advice”

  1. It isn’t just Chick­GM who writes awe­some blog­posts about guild lead­er­ship. You do it to. And I just can’t under­stand why noone giv­en you a bit of love in a com­ment. So I just felt com­pelled to do it.

    I haven’t dis­cov­ered your blog for real until this evening. You apper­ent­ly had dis­cov­ered mine. I feel a bit ashamed. Any­way I’ll keep track of your writ­ing from now on.

    I guess you haven’t yet reached the Hall of Fame of Wow Blog­gers. (Nei­ther have I.) But I would­n’t be sur­prised if you end­ed up there one day.

    Cheers for you!

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