One of the most frequently asked, and yet unaddressed questions that I find on MMO forums involves how to go about creating and running a guild. The responses do a rather thorough job of outlining the basics, such as how to establish a guild and with whom, how to manage the guild menus, and perhaps some advice on recruiting, however, I have yet to see anyone go into detail about the personal aspects of leadership.
Most of what I'm going to tell you in this article is culled from 3 years worth of experience in leading a guild (linkshell) in FFXI, and countless years of acting as an officer or co-leader in most MMOs and games I've been a part of.
Let me tell you where most guild leaders go wrong from the get-go. They don't realize they're leading a group of people who play a game. Who wants to log into a game and feel as though they've just stepped into a nazi internment camp? I simply shake my head in disgust when I look at guild websites, or forums, and I see pages and pages of rules, policies and procedures, like the guild is some sort of government agency. I can tell you from experience, it's no fun to spend your time in game tiptoeing over broken glass, worrying about getting kicked out for dropping an F bomb, or missing a raid.
To me, every guild can function on three simple rules. 1) Listen to your leader and officers; 2) Respect other members of the guild; and 3) Use common sense. You don't need article 51b, delineating the circumstances in which it is okay to drop your pants and moon another guild member during an instance, or equally ridiculous things such as that. If you issue too many rules, you are essentially designating yourself a babysitter, and you will spend all of your time monitoring guild members and checking everything they say against your expansive list of irrelevant rules. You will sit in your chair pissed off, and your guild members will resent you for being big brother/sister.
Conversely, by limiting the effective rules, you are empowering your guild members by making them responsible for their own actions, while still giving them the freedom to joke around with each other. The guild that plays together, stays together and all that. The old saying is very true in this case. If you make too much of an effort to censor your members, you will create tension so thick that you can stick it with a fork. Eventually, when it becomes too much, your members will leave in droves to join a guild where they can be themselves without worrying about repercussions.
Please note that this doesn't mean you simply let people say and do whatever they want. The way you control what lines are crossed, and who gets offended is twofold, watch who you recruit, and make absolutely sure that you keep yourself open to discussing problems in the guild.
For the former, there are certain types of people who are undesirable for recruitment purposes. These types can all be classified into one master type, however. The extremes. You do not want to recruit anyone who is too much of anything. Too combative, too sensitive, too quiet, too casual, too hardcore. You want people who fall in the middle, because the various extremes will clash with each other and create problems that can't be solved short of picking sides, and as a leader, the worst possible thing you can do in a disagreement is choose sides.
The #1 job of a guild leader is that of peacekeeper. You need to make sure that you cultivate an atmosphere conducive to communication and openness, both in public and in private. Members who feel that they can't talk to you about problems they're having with the guild will talk to their friends, or other members of the guild. In both cases, this can cause problems, because it leaves members to freely speculate and build themselves up to a frenzy over something that may not even be an issue in the first place.
Just as an example, there may be somebody who has been in the guild for awhile and has not yet received any raid loot. The guild leader knows this, and they also know that this member has been steadily making their way up the list. In our example, lets say that this member is up next on the list, but he doesn't know it. In his last raid, he again didn't receive any loot and he's frustrated and pissed off, feeling that all the work he's put into the guild is for nothing.
There are two different ways this can go. If the member feels as though he can speak freely with the leader, he will send a tell. At this point, the leader can tell him that he's been doing an awesome job with the guild, his time and effort is appreciated, and he is next on the list for raid loot. Problem averted.
Conversely, if this same member has been led to believe for any reason that the guild leader is aloof, unreachable, impossible to talk to, or downright rude, he will instead focus his anger and frustration in tells with other guild members who he believes share his plight. People naturally flock to those in similar situations. These members will then have a pow-wow in tells, and they will dredge up various conspiracy theories as to why people are not receiving raid loot that they feel they're due. Eventually, these two will whisper two more, and those two will talk amongst themselves and with friends, until you've got a whole clique of people crying guild favoritism and working themselves up to a mass exodus the next time someone so much as squeaks "injustice." Suddenly, a molehill becomes Mt. Everest, and at this point, when things have escalated this far, there is simply no reasonable way to resolve the situation.
That is simply one thing you need to look out for.
More important than cultivating your image as a guild leader, is keeping track of your members. There are certain individuals among every guild who I like to refer to as "key members". In a guild, these are the ones who have the potential to be your biggest allies or your worst enemies. They are usually sociable, maintain friends and contacts in other guilds whom they speak to frequently, they may bring 1 or more people to the guild with them when they join, they speak up during guild events and raids to offer opinions and advice, and generally speaking, they are very vocal about anything and everything.
In guilds, much as in life, the ones who talk a lot are the ones who receive the most attention. Many times these people will use their influence with other members of the guild to leverage guild policies and decisions in their favor. When responding to these people, you need to be absolutely sure to tread lightly and with tact, or you may illict a furor from which your guild can't recover. These are the members who are popular. When they leave a guild in anger, they will take 10 people with them. Those 10 all have friends, and their friends will leave with them. And their friends. And their friends. In one drama-filled afternoon, a simple misunderstanding can reduce your guild membership by half before you can even blink your eyes.
I have witnessed so many guilds disband because of this exact scenario. Because the leader did not keep track of who these ringleaders were. The best way to head off a situation such as this, is not to let the ringleader recruit other guild members for their exodus. In order to effectuate any sort of change in guild policies that this person desires, they have to build a network of other guild members who feel similarly (or who can be easily convinced). If they can't do that, their tactic will fail, because they lack the unified voice required to put pressure on you. Make sure you constantly gauge the moods and interactions in your guild. Watch silently without saying anything. Do people argue a lot? Are there complaints about trivial matters? Have people been leaving due to lack of assistance with their quests/instances/what-have-you?
To be a good leader, you have to know exactly how every member feels about each other and about the guild in general. You need to know if there are people who have problems with each other (and not place them in the same groups during raids), you need to know who your package deals are, and your couples (both the ones who met online in the guild, and the ones who know each other in real life). Offending one will mean you automatically offend the other(s).
Large groups of friends who join your guild may become miffed at one or two other members of your guild and attempt to start a civil war, or use their unified voice as leverage in a "it's either him or me" ultimatum. This happens so often that I can see it coming a mile away. When one of these people sends me a tell, I know right after that first, tentative, "Hey are you there?", what's going to happen. Who the problem is, why they're a problem, who started it, and what needs to be done about it. I have learned, however, that if I intervene and play my hand too early, these people can then fold their cards and pretend there's no issue when there is.
This brings me to another mistake that MANY guilds make. How often have you been having a heated discussion with another member/officer/someone in the guild, and the leader or another officer offers this gem; "Take it to tells." In other words, don't talk where everybody can hear you. This is a mistake on so many levels, and it frustrates me to no end when people try to discourage others from venting their issues. Things that are a problem for one person may be a problem for multiple people. It's far better to allow the guild as a whole to iron out their problems, then to, again, facilitate that environment where everyone is talking in tells, behind everyone else's back, drawing their own conclusions, forming their political alliances and electing "key members" and ringleaders who can later cause problems in large groups.
Another type of member that you need to watch out for, and curtail as quick as possible is the sensitive gamer. This is usually an older, religious type, who is offended by every single earthly thing that is said in guild chat, from the vulgar to the benign, and will not hesitate to lord their "maturity" over the rest of the guild. Here's a little tip, those who are truly mature are not easily offended.
A guild is most closely compared to a sports team. The team functions well when everyone gets along, when everyone can joke and tease each other good-naturedly without worrying about who is mortified by the word, "asshole". When recruiting, I like to spend a good amount of time talking to a potential member as if I were a typical member of my guild. I warn them that there is cussing, light-hearted teasing, sexual innuendo, deep discussions and opinionated people of all ages, genders, religions, sexual preferences, creeds and persuasions. I tell them that if they are easily offended or have thin skin, then we're probably not the guild for them. It is better to head off the sensitive types before they join, because they can disrupt the dynamic of your guild and keep other members from being themselves. Again, a dangerous situation in the works, depending on who gets offended.
Balancing the membership of a guild is a difficult task, and one that I don't envy anyone now that I've experienced it. There is something to be said, however, for the feeling that you get when something you've built from the ground up succeeds at difficult content. Over time, you are going to develop and see core friendships develop between others and extend to other games. In a way, as the leader, you are partly responsible for giving these people a positive environment to interact with each other in. When guild leadership really becomes rewarding is when you've been leading a guild long term, and have watched some of your original members grow up from the people they were when they joined. Perhaps it's a bit egotistical of me, but I enjoy the fact that I have had a hand in helping members to unwind from their lives.
If you keep tabs on what's going on within your guild, make sure that you recruit people who are familiar with and conducive to the type of environment you're striving for, and do your best to head off drama, personally, before it reaches the Mt. Everest level, you will have a guild that will last a long time, a loyal following, and maybe even some lifelong friends.