Being part of a guild has its clear benefits. There's the social aspect, giving players a constant and protected channel for in-game support and camaraderie. There's the ability to coordinate special events, from running quest groups, dungeons, and raids to allying up for PvP. Guilds build a sense of companionship, accomplishment, and often grant access to bonuses and content not normally accessible to the solo player.
But what about leading the guild? A guild leader gets the same benefits as any guild member, but what other benefit is there to someone taking the reins and driving the carriage forward? The truth is, there's very little personal benefit outside of a sense of accomplishment and appeasing one's masochism.
Running a guild is one of the most stressful tasks that can be done when playing an MMO. The stress begins with the task of recruitment: like-minded individuals have to be found, possibly tested, and then persuaded to join the guild. For a new game, forging a guild is easy: all the niches are waiting to be filled. For players creating a guild in an established game, however, difficulty becomes increasingly harder as players become set in their preferences and current guilds. It's not just about finding warm bodies, either; there's the challenge of finding players that want to be more than just protected by a guild tag, more than those that just want to be carried by high level players or guild mates through everything. That's just the beginning.
Once a guild leader gets a group of people together, there's also the challenge of balancing people who have different ideals and beliefs stemming from differing religious, political, ethical, and gaming viewpoints. What one person may believe as good or right may be opposed or ridiculed by the rest, and then the guild members turn to the guild leader to solve these problems. A guild leader has to be fair in these situations, but more importantly, they have to take action. Taking the wrong action can alienate guild members; taking no action can leave them feeling leadership is ineffectual. Retention is key, but so is active leadership. Issues that need solving aren't always easy, either – perhaps banning cursing or sexual innuendo in guild chat solves some easy issues, but what do you do when your officer's boyfriend breaks up with her, mocks her openly in guild chat, and threatens to take everything out of the guild coffers if she kicks him out?
Active leadership is also required to inspire guild members into action. Despite the social nature of MMOs, some players are innately selfish, and refuse to do anything that doesn't directly benefit them. No experience, loot, quest completion, or other progression involved? They can't be counted on. It's up to the guild leader to inspire the “deadbeats” into action by offering them some sort of benefit – whether it's earning DKP for something they want later along the way, offering a trade off for something they need in return, or, alternatively, threatening punishment if they don't come along.
Let's also not forget the great nemesis of any MMO: loot. Who gets what, why, and via what system out of dozens also puts a great strain on guild leadership. Give that legendary axe to the wrong person, and oops – there goes half a dozen of your best in protest. Loot drama can be the most vicious, especially as many MMOs are focused on a time grind for those last “best in slot” pieces on the way.
So we return to the guild leader, who has put in extra time, resources and emotional investment into a social construction in a virtual world. The rewards he or she reaps are, at its best, a cohesive and fun group of players who accomplish the goals they set out to do; the same reward that each of his or her guild members do. However, there is nothing more – no tangible reward that the guild leader can collect other than pride, accomplishment, and the satisfaction of the agony they have gone through to get that far.
Guild leaders deserve more than this. While MMOs push the incentives of a guild system, they do not offer incentives for guild leadership. Although the difficulty of leading a guild is well established, the idea of a guild leader getting benefits for doing so is not.
Some games, however, recognize this commitment and offer perks for guild masters. These are many and varied, but the fact they're even acknowledged for what they do speaks volumes. It may be something like experience, loot, coin in the form of taxes, or other gains. It may even be something as simple as a cosmetic title to tell everyone they're a leader. Whatever it is, a small recognition is sometimes all that's required by a player from a company to keep them going. An epic medal of shininess is that much more epic (and shiny!) when it's in recognition of getting together the same bunch of people week after week to do things some people see as mundane, pointless tasks.
Ultimately, while generally a thankless job for some, being a guild master is a development of skills necessary in real life. From how to deal with difficult situations and people to planning and logistics, a guild master has to treat their position as work more often than strict enjoyment. Obviously, this mindset may not apply in all situations – sometimes guilds are formed just for sheer amusement sake, for instance – but as MMOs have developed and grown over the years, the change has been in a hierarchy style guild for questing, leveling and raiding. Those that put in the time and energy towards this goal can even result in real life benefits.
Many thanks go out to the great guild leaders that have stepped forward over the past years to lead with patience, diligence, and wisdom. They've put up with the ignorant and oblivious, the spiteful and mean, the selfish and greedy, all while keeping the respect and attention of the hard-working and eager players that filled their membership ranks. They've made accomplishments possible not only for thousands of MMO players, but even gone above and beyond developer expectations from time to time to face a game's toughest and even “impossible” challenges and won. So while the developers may seem to pass by the nod you deserve, the community salutes you and looks forward to the next great wonders accomplished by the leading players of our worlds.