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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