Who are the Syndicate? I had no idea who these guys were. Everyone I asked seemed to have heard of them, but knew nothing about them. I like a good mystery and so they became like the Masons of the video-game industry to me. My assignment was to collect information on the games that were being shown, but it became my own personal mission to find out what I could about this elusive guild.
Sean Stalzer founded the Syndicate guild in 1996. SyndCon, which started in 2002, is a yearly conference held for the Syndicate guild and they are on their ninth gathering. Syndcon has been held in DC, Orlando, Vegas, Myrtle Beach, Niagara, San Francisco, Boston, Austin and San Diego, and next-year's conference is currently in the works. The guild has a “recruiting presence” in WoW and UO, although, I am under the impression that recruiting does not happen all that often.
According to Sean, they have members participating in every MMO. They write strategy guides for Prima Games. They have a close affiliation with Alienware and Bigfoot Networks, both of whom had a presence at this event. They also have a consulting and testing relationship with multiple game-development companies.
This year’s event was hosted by Sony Online Entertainment. Sony let us see some of their games, such as DCUO and Star Wars: Clone Wars, and also hosted some panels. The president of SOE, John Smedley, was around quite a bit, as was the COO Russell Shanks. At any given time, you could see them both talking to Syndicate members about some type of gaming. Both guys seemed to be approachable and available, which is something I’m not used to seeing at any of the conventions I’ve been to.
38 Studios also had a strong presence at Syndcon, with founder Curt Shilling, chief marketing director Denise Kaigler, and executive producer Jason Roberts in attendance. Shilling and his team seemed to really enjoy talking to the guild about gaming in general. Again, unlike at other conventions, this event had a casualness that allowed for this type of communication between game player and game maker.
Syndcon had a highly organized schedule including panels, tournaments, gaming, dinners, and a charity raffle. Alienware provided a LAN area with games, including CoD MW2, Portal, WoW, AvP, and Bioshock 2. Dinners were held away from the hotel at different places around San Diego, and, thanks to some friendly Syndicate members, I always had a ride to get to them.
I spent a lot of time listening to guild members asking questions in panels and discussing MMOs in general. The biggest thing I noticed people talking about was not powerful weapons, super armor that ended up not matching, or a new IP, but, the ability to engross oneself in a gaming world and a the ability to play casually for those with families. This seemed very important. These guys want something they can build a family around, something that they can play in an informal way, and not necessarily a game where they have to raid for hours.
I also noticed that Sean is a machine. I don’t know how he does it. This event runs with military precision and everyone knows his or her job. He is able to organize, send a million emails a day, and still have time to have fun with everyone.
This was also a charity event. These guys raised $8,000 for two charities: Youth Opportunity Unlimited (supporting after-school programs for inner city kids) and the American Cancer Society. This group has been affected personally by cancer and it’s just lovely that they are giving back.
What I found out about this guild was way different than I anticipated. I had figured that with a group this size, which is large enough and popular enough to have the industry support that it does, that I would not “be seen”. I’d just do my job and go home. I was so wrong.
One of the Syndicate members that I got to know was David or “Sole”. David has been a part of the Syndicate for just over two years, a relatively short amount of time compared to most people at the event I talked to – the average “time served” seemed to be five years or more. David is very passionate about his ‘family’ and he had this to say:
“The syndicate to me isn’t just a guild, it's my family. Unlike your real family, you get to choose this one. The Syndicate is a self-made family who just so happen to meet by gaming. A friend will help you move; a Syndicate member will help you move, and then set up a raid afterwards. Via the fact that I am a disabled vet, I thought I knew what brotherhood feels like. After being in this guild, I now know. LLTS (Long Live the Syndicate) isn't just a battle cry, it runs in my blood. Think about your best and oldest friends, now let them do the same hobby you do and multiply that by 1000. That is the Syndicate. Why do I go to Syndcon? Because I love my self-made family.”
This was by no means the only time the Syndicate was mentioned as a “family”. I heard it every time someone described what “The Syndicate” meant to him or her. This guild is made of families, single people, older folks and young folks. I sat and listened to a couple talk about how they met online, married in play, met in real life, then married in real life. This guild has been through births and deaths, and has stuck together through it all.
I’m sure there are many other guilds that have this kind of family connection; this was my first experience with it.
As I told Sean, I feel like I’ve not just come away with articles this time. I’ve come away with friends. I met some special people; I hope to be playing with them very soon. I would love to personally thank each member that I had a chance to talk with, but there’s too many. So, I’ll say a big one here.
Thanks so much, guys. I had a blast and can’t wait till next year.