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To Rule an Empire

Sean Dahlberg Posted:
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To Rule An Empire

Sean Dahlberg gives us an editorial on guild management

"I don't know what the hell this "logistics" is that Marshall is always talking about, but I want some of it." - Admiral E. J. King

In today's online gaming market, player affiliations have become immensely popular. This is particularly true in the massively multiplayer online (MMO) gaming portion. I can remember back to the days when one of the first MMOs launched called Ultima Online was initially released. Players could purchase a "Guild Stone" and plant it in player-owned housing to form a guild, which is the most common term for a collection of players. With this Guild Stone, players could invite other players to join their guild, assign titles to each one, and declare war against other player-run guilds. That was almost ten years ago.

Today, MMOs are vastly more complex than their first generation forefathers. The graphics alone are light years ahead of what we had with the original Ultima Online and Meridian 59. Server architecture has advanced as well, allowing virtual worlds to allow more players to connect simultaneously. Even chat and communication systems have become more elaborate; allowing players to send private messages to each other, communicate globally with but a few keystrokes, and create their own custom channels.

With all of these advancements happening in virtually every aspect of MMOs, why are guild systems not making the jump into the future too? While guilds are technically not a necessity for a MMO (and even that point many would argue), they are an integral part to the communities and lifeblood of each. Furthermore, many of these guilds have migrated from one MMO to the next one or have opened new "chapters" in them, bringing at least a large portion of their membership with them.

Why are guilds so important? Well, just consider what an MMO is; it is an online game where players can group and interact with literally hundreds and thousands of other players at a time. We all play these games for this interaction. If we just wanted to play a fun and entertaining game by ourselves, we'd purchase and load up one of the numerous single-player titles out there. And if we were just interested in playing with a few of our close, personal friends, we would just use the multiplayer aspect of those same single-player titles. No, we play MMOs because we want to interact with players, most of whom we do not know from the "real world".

Guilds are but smaller segments of these communities. They are formed by players who band together for the sake of camaraderie or share common in-game goals and aspirations. These affiliations then use the mechanics of the games they are playing to help coordinate and socialize with their guildmates.

Guilds are great for a wide variety of reasons. They are great for spreading word-of-mouth about upcoming changes to games. They are helpful to new players in a game because members can share some tricks of the trade or information they have shared to help each other out. And, especially with the current generation MMOs, most of the elder game is geared towards large group and guild activities.

So, if guilds are so beneficial to MMOs, why aren't the mechanics used to control them as helpful? As a developer on an MMO that is based on guilds and being a former guild leader myself, I can say this; running a guild is hard. No matter what MMO you are playing, that statement is true. The larger a guild is the more in-game politics and drama there usually is. Being the head of these player affiliations can seem like a full-time job just in that regard. Unfortunately, there is a lot more to do when running a guild.

In today's MMOs, most games give Guild Leaders and their membership the basics to get the job done. They allow them to form the guild, give them a chat channel or two, usually give them a way to have a symbol or emblem that denotes their affiliation, and give them an internal ranking system so the Guild Leader can assign a few basic roles and responsibilities to members should he or she so desire. And while the interfaces for these elements have improved over the years, the exact functionality of them has not made any major leaps and bounds.

Peter F. Drucker once said, "No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings." While there are some Guild Leaders out there some would declare as geniuses, they are few and far in-between and even they feel the vast burdens that come with running a guild.

Having run a few guilds before myself (and being a designer so I'm always trying to think of ways to fix problems), one feature that would have made my life so much easier would have been a way to collect guild dues using the game's mechanics. Truth is, it takes (in-game) currency to run a guild successfully. You need currency to form the guild usually, to purchase various amenities that either the guild as a whole can use or for individual members. Having a simple system where Guild Leaders can assign how much in-game currency members have to pay by certain intervals in time would be beneficial to almost every guild leader out there. These dues can be a blanket fees for every member or can be denoted by their rank or status in the guild or even on an individual basis. And, of course, a way to track those dues collected would be practically a necessity.

On the flip side of that coin, it would be nice to be able to pay guild salaries. Guilds come together many times to accomplish certain goals. Many times, these goals take members, especially high-level members, away from the activities they would be performing otherwise. For example, there are some individuals in guilds I am a part of that go (well) out of there way to help lower-level members with quests or dungeon crawls they have already performed numerous times themselves or with "farming" so that members can get certain items or in-game currency. It would be nice to have a simple system to award these members through a simple salary system.

Something much more important than guild salaries, though, would be a Guild Bank or Vault. These would be like player's individual item storage except it is open to guild members. How many times have you come across items you do not need but you are sure other guild members could use? I would guess quite often. Wouldn't it be nice if you have a Guild Vault where you could put those items into and allow other guild members who need them to withdraw them from the Guild Vault? Of course, to make a system like this useful, Guild Leaders would need a way to limit and track who is putting things into or taking them out of the Guild Vault.

Finally, a feature I think all MMOs could use is something I like to call a Guild Ledger or Activity Log. This feature is something that tracks all the actions of Guild Members. It shows all the basic information such as when a member joins or quits the guild, it can show their progression in the game (if applicable), when he or she is promoted or demoted in rank (and by whom). This can easily be extended to cover information from other features, such as allowing Guild Leadership to track who has participated in certain dungeon crawls, raids, etc. The best part of this system is that it allows Guild Leaders to not only track participation of membership but also have an easier way of keeping those in power accountable for their actions. For instance, you could use this to actually see who let Leroy Jenkins into your guild if no one will fess up to it or see who kicked out Legolas04 from it.

Another excessively useful idea is an in-game Calendar of Events for a guild. It doesn't even have to be something overly complex but rather just a rudimentary calendar that Guild Leaders can annotate with brief notes about upcoming events. This would keep membership up-to-date with ongoing events without having to leave the game.

I think functionality like the above can be used (and useful) in practically any MMO today. And that is just the tip of the iceberg of new features and systems that can be beneficial to Guild Leaders. While some may question adding in features that are only used by a small portion of the playerbase, they do need to realize that while Guild Leaders are generally one person, they are the chief representative of anywhere from 10 to 500 players. These are our community leaders and one of our greatest sources for delivering information to players.

All in all, it's about time for some new tools for Guild Leaders in MMOs. Guilds can play a large part in the success of a title. Making a Guild Leader's logistical nightmares a little easier will go a long way in not only attracting guilds but in keeping them there.

Editor's Note: Sean "Ashen Temper" Dahlberg currently serves as a Designer and the Senior Community Manager of Wolfpack's Shadowbane until May 15th, 2006. For more information and you can visit his personal website at http://www.ashentemper.com/.

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Sean Dahlberg