The guild management services offered within a given game can offer a lot of useful functionality, but are inherently (and understandably) limited. Features like managing the guild roster, setting various levels of access to guild features and activity planning calendars aren’t too much to ask from game developers, but there are plenty of fairly common use cases where the built-in features just don’t cut it. Luckily, for socially-minded gamers, several third party companies have stepped up to the plate to offer web-based services that help fill in some of the gaps. I’ve spent some time rounding up and comparing the merits of four of these, and have compiled my observations here as a handy resource to help you quickly decide which service will be most useful to you.
ESTABLISHING A BASELINE
For the purposes of this roundup, I took advantage of the fact that each service offers some kind of free account and set up a site on each one. I spent some time playing around with templates and different module layout options, and brought up the various feature lists to compare side-by-side between each service. Obviously, this kind of overview prevents thorough testing for reliability and long term viability, but hopefully members of the MMORPG.com community can help anecdotally answer those questions in the comments below.
The four sites covered in this article are, in no particular order: enjin.com, guildlaunch.com, guildportal.com, and shivtr.com. I'd only had experience using Enjin before writing this piece, and then only as a member of various guilds. All four of these sites offer similar basic functionality. They all have calendar widgets for scheduling guild activities (of course in a game agnostic fashion), they all have recruitment tools that allow guild leaders to let visitors know what roles need to be filled, and they all include basic rosters and DKP merit tracking systems so guilds can fairly document who deserves what loot. Taking these features as given, looking a little deeper into the feature lists for these sites reveals some finely tuned differences that could sway guild leaders to choose one over the other.
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
Having a common internet-based hangout for a group of people immediately creates an opportunity for communication. Most games have built-in guild chat, but for any kind of time delayed guild wide communication outside tools come into play. All of the candidates have forums for guilds to write posts with responses, identical in function to game forums such as the ones we host here at MMORPG.com. These are excellent, practical tools that offer clearer and more robust two way communication than the message of the day system that is common in many MMORPGs. There are also shout box and wall widgets available, which imitate social networks like Twitter or Facebook, but are available only to acknowledged members of the guild's site.
More important to well attended guild activities, and an offering with three of the paid options for these services, is voice chat. The only exception to that is GuildPortal, who offer Ventrilo and Mumble servers as an additional service to their basic subscription and free offerings. Shivtr currently only offers Mumble support with their service, Enjin adds an option allowing you to pick between Mumble or Teamspeak and Guild Launch offers the most options with Mumble, Teamspeak and Ventrilo support. If you or your guild mates prefer one client over the other, or have found the quality and reliability of one of these services superior, that might be a deciding factor in which site you choose to host your guild page. The number of chat participants allowed generally increases with the level of subscription you choose when paying for your service.
THE BELLE OF THE BALL
Cosmetics might not be the first item on your shopping list when looking for a home for your guild, but an elegant, friendly, legible page is not something that should be taken for granted. This site is going to be the public face of your group, and probably across multiple games. Especially in the cases where it becomes a recruiting tool, taking the time to find a site design that allows potential members to find the information about you they need without having their eyeballs burned out by a late '90s Geocities color scheme shows that you are invested in this group and are willing to put in the time to make sure everything is smooth and easy to use.
Shivtr definitely has a leg up on the competition in this regard. The look and design of their sites is one of the banner features that they tout on their website, and it shows. This, of course, assumes that we're talking about using the templates provided by the site. They all have options to customize sites using web standards like CSS and HTML, so if you're comfortable rolling your own site the service essentially becomes a web host with some built-in gaming related features. For us mere mortals, however, the rest of the sites have out of the box template options that run the gamut from pretty nice, to "gamer chic" gaudy, to so bad it's laughable that they’re even available as an option. As mentioned before, all of these services offer some form of free or trial account so you have a chance to browse the templates and make sure you'll be able to create a site that won't scare off that potential rare healer that you need to round out your Tuesday night raid group.
BUT AT WHAT COST?
Eventually, it may come time to plunk down some cold hard currency on your guild's landing page. Voice chat server support is the first feature that jumps out, but there are several other features that might convince you to make the financial investment in maintaining the site. Paying for services will remove advertisements from your site, further streamlining the design. Paying for a subscription to these services also unlocks the ability to customize the site more using HTML and CSS, and provides your guild with more storage space for hosting gameplay videos and screenshots.
GuildPortal has a very simple, two tier plan where either you pay or you don't. The one big caveat to keep in mind is that their paid option does not include a voice chat service like all three of the other sites. This can be great if you already have an established Vent server, for example, either one you host yourself or through another service. In that case you don't need to worry about overlapping with that service or losing guild members in a Vent server switch. They also offer their own reasonably priced services on the side, either Ventrilo or Mumble which seem competitively priced. In this case, if all you need is a free site you can pay for the voice chat service separately and potentially save money on website features you may or may not need. It’s also noteworthy that if you sign up for six months at a time, Guild Portal gives a dollar to feed the hungry. This is a nice offering for more socially conscious guilds.
Enjin offers three tiers of service and it should be clear which level you will need based on the size of the group you're planning on hosting. Both Enjin and Guild Launch have default widgets that enable guild members to chip in for the price of the subscription via PayPal. This seems like a very smart way to make sure a few people aren't left holding the bill when it comes time to maintain the service that (hopefully) everyone in the guild is using.
Guild Launch and Shivtr both offer four tiers of pricing, including their free options. In the case of Shivtr, the most useful additional feature to my mind is adding Multigame slots, which Shivtr handles better than any of the other sites from what I saw. Games are linked as separate sites making them related but individually manageable, so a different cosmetic can be applied for each game. In the case of Guild Launch, the lowest paid tier does not include a voice chat service which makes it look more expensive than the other options. However, at the $12 per month level, guilds can have 25 member chats which seems fairly generous when compared to the other services.
WRAP UP THIS ROUNDUP
Hopefully this leg work will give you some idea of what differentiates these services, and helps you pick out or pick off one or two that seem most likely to suit your needs. While we're on the topic of guild services, don’t think I forgot about our own offering here at MMORPG.com. While it's more of a Looking for Guild tool than an online hangout for members, we'd love to hear some feedback on features our community would like to see to make it more useful. We'd also love to hear about your experiences using any of the services mentioned here, or even less conventional tools that you use to keep your guild on task and on time. Use Google Calendars, Skype, smoke signals or semaphore? Let us hear about it in the comments below!