My name is Sean "Dragons" Stalzer and I am the President & CEO of the virtual community known as The Syndicate (www.LLTS.org). I will be participating on MMORPG.com as a guest columnist covering many of the same types of things as the existing, esteemed columnists. Given I have a large focus on growing successful communities, topics revolving around harming or helping communities tend to be a passion of mine and likely will be a regular focus. By no means do I profess to have the "only" view on a topic and I would welcome debate, counter-ideas and differing viewpoints and with the vocal readership at this site, I don't think that will be a problem. Hopefully we can get other successful player communities to share their thoughts and some developer community teams to share theirs as well to seed the debate with even more points of view.
So, what are my qualifications to talk about communities or MMORPGs at all? To begin with, as I mentioned above, I lead The Syndicate which is a roughly 1200 person entity (yep, I know the size was incorrectly reported in an article on this very site very recently) that is over 15 years old. As has been pointed out before, simply being large or old is not necessarily a mark of success. I would agree with that statement. In addition to being both very large and very old, we are also extremely stable and drama free. We have operated continuously for our entire life; with no implosions; no change in leaderships; no break-ups and reforming; no years off from gaming. Continually operated, stable, drama free, very large communities are pretty rare within the gaming space. So in terms of building an actual community (not just a big list of names on a roster) where members literally have hundreds of friendships that grow over many years of time, I am unable to name another similarly sized and similar age success story. In fact, since our inception, millions of guilds have been created and ceased to exist. With a retention rate of 99.8% annually, I would submit that I have a few opinions about building successful, stable, drama free communities that would be worth both sharing and debating.
One of the comments that is sometimes made in regards to any news about The Syndicate is that we come off as egotistical or elitist and I can see how the above paragraph of facts, figures and achievements could be read that way. My intent, however, is not to thump my own chest but rather to explain why I feel there are lessons we have lived through that both can be shared for great discussions and debates and that do provide a perspective on the every changing MMO landscape in so far as those changes help or hurt the stability of communities. The experience of leading The Syndicate is one of the qualifications that I bring to this column. We can discuss and debate other qualifications in future articles.
Why is a column that has a slant towards how communities are impacted by game changes and events relevant to a site that is about MMORPG gaming news? It is my belief that the success of the MMO industry is linked directly to the success of communities. While there are certainly players who enjoy gaming solo, the vast majority of players are a member of a guild. Nearly everyone I know in the online space has been a member of multiple guilds throughout their gaming career. Some of those guilds were great groups of people and they died out and the members moved on. Some were cesspools of drama and backstabbing where people often chose to leave rather than subject themselves that environment any longer. Regardless of the reason, for all but a small percent of you, the guilds you were once a part of are no longer around. There are some awesome communities that stand the test of time in the MMO universe but they are outnumbered many many times over by failed groups.
When a community fails, regardless of the reasons why, the members and the game suffer. When a person invests themselves into a community and that community ceases to exist, it is not uncommon for that person to also leave the MMO they were playing. In some cases, especially when its a heavily drama filled implosion, the person can leave gaming entirely or take an extended break. So communities failing hurts the members of the community itself, the bottom line of the game developer and the overall macro community. Communities failing means less people PvPing... it means less people buying and selling in the auction house... it means less people posting on forums to share tactics or raise issues that need addressing. So when communities fail, everyone pays a price for that.
Thus it is my contention that every decision made within the MMO space needs to consider the impact to the community. Everything from class balance, to raid content, to raising a leveling cap, to mandatory versus optional pvp, to crafting systems, to methods of transportation, to grouping with buddies many levels below you all have an impact on communities. I am not saying that community impact is the only consideration but it needs to be one of the considerations.
So, with your help, I would like to spark some debates in the coming months over the impacts of various things in the gaming world and how they impact communities in a positive or negative way. I would like to discuss and debate how things could be/should be done to improve things for everyone. In the end, I don't really know exactly where this column will go or which topics will strike me as ones worth writing about.... but at my core, I am a firm believer that better decisions can be made to support each of you and the communities you are involved in (whether directly through guild membership or indirectly through the things you choose to participate in) and it seems that far to often collectively we are having a "WTH!" moment when we see decisions made that seem to overtly, negatively impact the great communities success.