“Family Guild”: Safe Haven from Drama?

Posted: June 7, 2007 by Kendricke in General Game Concepts, Guilds

I always find it terribly interesting to read the ideas posted by players who have lead guilds and contrast it against players who admit to not really enjoying the idea of guilds or guild leadership. 

Over at Voyages in Eternity, Damianov posts his “Musing on Guilds“, where he discusses his thoughts on the subject of guilds,  and he cites experiences he’s had in guilds throughout games such as Shadowbane and Everquest as examples.  He points to drama as a key problem for many players in dealing with guilds. 

In my experience, most players who bring up “drama” as a problem with guilds are often players who have simply (and unfortunately) only belonged to guilds which seem prone to drama.  In my dealings with guilds over the past decade, it seems that players have this inherent and built-in expectation that guilds which are more militaristic must be somehow “bad” whereas guilds which are more familial or casual are somehow “good” – and yet these players can often regale you at length with dramatic tales of interpersonal angst and frustration.

I could quote dozens of posts from as far back as the late ’90’s where players in various online games discussed the inherent “evil” in larger, more militaristic guilds.  I could probably embarass myself by posting some of my arrogant posts from those heady days, where I compared “uber guilds” to soulless corporations, devoid of emotion and concern for the drones of members within their ranks.  I’d like to think that I’ve learned a bit since then.   

I’ve come to realize that drama is a necessary part of life for human relations.  I  accept this.  Any time you put individuals in the same basic space for any amount of time, you end up with drama.  Remove rigid roles and expectations from the relationship, and you end up with considerably more drama – not less. 

For many players, this seems a particularly hard pill to swallow.  After all, the players in “hard core” guilds seem to be loud mouthed, insulting, and just plain obnoxious to many players.  The stereotype is that members of large or structured guilds are all followers of some cult-like, meglomanical, control freak guild leader who’s on a power trip.  Why would any sane player subject oneself to belonging to such an organization online, right? 

This is where the utopian ideal of a “family guild” comes in.  Obviously this is the better choice, right?  It has the word “family” right there in the title, so joining this type of guild means you’re practically treated like someone’s brother or sister, right?  It means they’ll listen to your jokes and share recipes with you, right?  If you’re having a bad night online, they’ll drop what they’re doing to help you out, right?

Why would anyone think that? 

Frequently I heard statements like the following: “Family guilds are more accepting than other types of guilds.  A lot of these family guilds are pretty open with recruiting, after all.” 

Response:  First of all, this idea that “family guilds” are all accepting is skewed at best.  Sure, they accepted you.  They also often accept just about anyone with a pulse, a connection, and the ability to click “accept” when the guild invitation pops up. 

I’m not a fan of open recruiting.  Oh, I’m a fan of casual, laid back, voluntary guild structures…but to have absolutely no standards or application process what-so-ever? Well, you get what you pay for, right?

Think about this a moment before dismissing my response as elitist.  The first test of membership is and always will be related to recruiting.  When you receive an invitation to join a guild, ask yourself what it was that earned that invitation in the first place.  If you can’t think of a reason, then ask yourself why you want to belong to a guild that invites members for no reason.

Groucho Marx once joked, “I do not care to belong to a club that would accept me as a member.”

Though obviously told to get a laugh, there’s more than a little truth to the statement.  When you join a guild, it’s probably for a variety of reasons, but in the back of your mind, you want to know that the guild wanted you – and probably for a reason.

That’s a basic human need to find a place to fit in.  Guilds can accomplish that in online games, but there needs to be more to it than just throwing out guild invites.  It’s like trying to build a successful company based on the first 10 people you meet on the train. 

To flip this around though, I think this is also a reason that many players are turned off by guilds which have application processes or standards.  Because we have this instinctual, basic desire to belong, we also have this underlying and often overwhelming fear of rejection. 

Applying to join a guild is an uncertain process.  You have to go through the act of presenting yourself in some fashion for judgement, which can result in a positive or negative outcome.  Even if you don’t really care about joining the guild all that much, you might care about being turned down.

I see this all the time, actually.  My own guild does have a strict application process.  We’re not some uberguild taking down contested targets 7 nights a week, either.  But we have standards.  Often, I receive messages in-game from players who want to join our guild for a variety of reasons.  When I mention the application process, they balk…or we simply never hear from them again. 

Should I worry?  From my perspective, the application process just weeded out players that wouldn’t likely be good additions for my guild in the first place, which itself is based on a fairly rigid structure. 

Even with players who do file applications, we often turn down candidates for a variety of reasons.  On occasion this leads to some fairly angry responses.  Like spurned suitors, these players aren’t really angry about not gaining membership with us, but rather are livid about being turned down and probably don’t know how to deal with the feelings of rejection. 

Some of the most familial guilds I’ve met are actually seen as “hard core” or “uber” or what not.  Many players see rigid ranks and applications on web forums, and immediately file the guild under “get a life”.   They ask to join a guild and receive any answer other than a guild invite and don’t know how to respond. 

In my mind, it comes back to the strange pairing of those basic human tribalistic nesting instincts and a desire to remain relatively anonymous online.  For myself, it’s almost self-contradictory:  How can you join a “family” online when you don’t really know anyone.  I can imagine a reality show where everyone is required to live with each other for months – all while wearing disguises, and being keeping all of your most private information hidden from everyone else.  See how long that takes before there’s drama.

In real families, we annoy each other over holidays, we pull each other’s hair, we make inappropriate comments about each other at public events, and we share our deepest pains. 

That’s drama.  It’s also family. 

Now, to a certain extent, all guilds have drama.  Then again, every human relationship comes with forcefed drama built right on in.  Don’t want any drama at all?  Don’t interact with people. 

Of course, here’s where I believe family guilds often have it worse.  In most family guilds, one of the defining factors which marks a “family” guild is a relative lack of rules and requirements.  You don’t have to go through an application process most of the time.  There’s no required attendance or events.  There’s no DKP system for loot typically.  Usually the rank structure is fairly small or lax. 

Ok, these don’t sound like bad things to most players, right?  Great.  So, how do these guilds handle drama?  Are there rules against drama?  Do the leaders jump in and privately confront the persons creating the drama?  No, of course not – or you wouldn’t hear about the drama! 

Seems to me that the biggest common problem many self-proclaimed “families” online suffer from is either an ill-defined set of rules, or inconsistent enforcement of said rules (or both).  Even real world families have rules, and typically the most functional ones have some pretty solid enforcement.  If Dad says do your homework before you go play and he catches you playing while your Math books sit closed in your backpack, you’ve got to know something bad is coming when he finds out, right?  If the “bad” is bigger than your desire to play right now, chances are you’re not going to risk it.  It works in real families…so why not “family guilds”?

What’s the stigma regarding rules and structure in online games?  Is it because it’s “just a game” and players don’t want to deal with structure and rigid rulesets in order to enjoy the “game”?  How do these people enjoy sports then?  Or board games?  Or game shows?  How do they even enjoy the MMO they’re playing if they don’t like structure and rigid rulesets in their entertainment?

Too many aspriring guild leaders out there seem to think that leading a guild is easier without structure or defined rulesets.  They’ll learn soon enough that’s just plain erroneous thinking.  Set up a guild if you want, but without structure, rules, and an underlying focus, there’s little way to prevent, contain, or minimize drama.  At that point, you’re not really forming a guild or a family, but really just rallying a mob to your cause of the moment…and most of the time, that “cause” itself is defined only in the minds of those followers.  If leaders don’t set the expectations up front, then the members will fill in the blanks with whatever comes to mind. 

Want to mimimize guild drama?  It’s not going to come from more laxness and less obligations.  It’s going to come from setting expectations, touching on those those expectations from time to time, and good old fashioned communications.  So, by all means, continue to run a “family guild”…but just add in some more structure, standards, processes, and expectations.  If that doesn’t sound like a family guild to you, then let me know how well you’re doing at preventing drama (and let me know how many members you have while you’re at it).

  1. damianov says:

    I agree, you are likely to have just as much (or more) “drama” in a loosely knit guild as in a rigidly structured one. That’s been my experience as well. Setting expectations properly, and adhering to them once set, are key to managing it. The question each player faces is, do you really want to bother?

    The stigma re: rules and structure I do think stems from “it’s a game”. Plentiful examples of that basic meme can be found in the far more substantial refusals to follow simple rules even on things such as hacking the client, using exploits, gold farming/RMT, and so on.

    And those are rules imposed by the service provider itself, the closest thing to a true authority figure any MMO has. Rules imposed by another _player_, at their own apparent whim? Pshaw.

    I also think a major determining factor in terms of acceptance of such rules is strongly related to why the player is playing the game in the first case, and specific facets of their personality, of course. For me, the burdens of most guilds in most games outweigh the positives. For others, the reverse would apply, and I can certainly understand that.

  2. kendricke says:

    The fact that you find the burdens outweigh the positives is just another reason I wrote “Are Guilds Still Important?”

  3. damianov says:

    Yep. My perspective on the answer to that question has largely been “if the devs work to make them important”.

    So far, it’s been kinda hit or miss… which is where the questions at the end of my post came from, in case it wasn’t obvious (I rambled a bit). Essentially trying to figure out if there is really anything they can do, design wise.

  4. Broom says:

    Many points I can agree with. In addition to the lack of rule sets, Family guilds may have players more emotionally invested in the game/guild than raid guilds. Anytime players have their emotions involved, the more likely they are to act upon them. Family guilds are no haven from drama as internal drama often rages. That being said, I did experience a family guild that was drama free for years while playing EQOA. The guild had so many loyal members, even when some decided to part for raid guilds they remained close to their former guildmates. I remember talking to the guild leader and asking her what her secret to success was. First off she had a guild mission statement, charter an admission process and application (as per your point of view Ken, she understood structure brought stability). She also did something rather odd for a family guild leader…she really didn’t fraternize that much with the guild. She always kept this arms legnth distance from everyone and her best in-game friends were not in the guild at all. She said the distance kept everything in balance and objective for her and that none of the guild ever felt she was favoring one over the other. Anyway I thought her outlook was interesting, especially coming from the Leader of a “family guild”.

  5. I have a concept that I mentioned in my comment response to Damian’s blog which used the term ‘families’, ‘raid guild’, and plain ‘guild.’ The difference would be that you can belong to any and all of them. Families are there for your closest friends, and wouldn’t have open recruiting. Their wouldn’t be a point to it. It’s simply a social thing so you can have a guild-like friends list of sorts. Then you have your raid guild where the people don’t really give a crap about each other (which is often typical in this type of guild) but are there for the purpose of high head count questing and raiding.

    I think as mentioned, guilds are only as useful and needed as the developers create them to be.

  6. kendricke says:

    First off, thanks for stopping in. Counting yourself, I think that means I’m up to 5 readers. It’s a milestone, to be sure. 😉

    Secondly, many of the the concerns currently existing with “Guilds” will most certainly exist with “Families”, wouldn’t you think? If I’m reading you correctly, I would think the idea of Families as the safe haven is no more solid than the presumption that Family Guilds are.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of the concept (in some different forms – post is half written already), but not as a solution to guild drama. If a family is intended as little more than an in-game place to set up what essentially amounts to a myspace ring where everyone who joins is immediately linked to everyone else already there, then that’s going to create the same basic drama that exists within loose-knit family guilds right now. In essense, all this is would be creating a different type of “guild”.

    A guild by any other name is still a guild. Call it whatever you want (i.e. – guild, clan, association, family, etc.), but the general mechanism remains the same. Even in games without guild structures, players form up as such (what was the first FPS with actual “clan” support? How many clans existed before this?)

    Without structure or drama or expectations, there’s always going to be drama. The solution then lies not with the developer per se, but ultimately on the shoulders of the guild leaders. That said, developers can certainly make design decisions to make it easier to create and lead structured guilds in the first place. However, just providing the right tools won’t suddenly turn me into a master carpenter any more than the right in-game tools can turn any player into a master guild leader.

    That said, even if the right tools are given out, without some similar thought put into systematic constraints and preventative mechanisms, then the game’s design won’t matter toward affecting overall drama. Or, rather, let me use a different way to explain what I think on the subject, perhaps from a bit of a development side perspective:

    I’m a PM consultant who works with software and applications development. One of the constant truisms I try to remind UI and application designers is that “If it can be done, it will be done.”

    In other words, just because you intend that a system be used in a certain way does not mean that the system will be used in that way. You say that there won’t be open recruiting for families in Forbidden Dawn, but I have to wonder what mechanism would be designed in place to prevent such a thing. If it can be done, it will be done.

    I apologize for the rambling response, but hope I’m coming across at least as partially coherent with my reasoning.

  7. I see your points, and we are looking at all those things in the design of ‘families’ in Forbidden Dawn. I just didn’t want to drop the entire design doc on your lap 😉 What we do is have a very limited amount of people who can join, around 20. We may even cut that to 15. The average gamer doesn’t have 20 ACTUAL friends online. They’ll have a few friends, and the rest are merely guildies. The family idea is basically just a glorified friends list where you don’t just drop everyone you’ve ever quested into it. We also have a democratic system for the families. You vote who’s going to run the family, and you vote to allow others into the family.

    You wouldn’t want just anyone in your family, as you only get 1 family and you don’t want to have to constantly drop people to add the ones you really want in, in. I don’t know that you’d eliminate drama no matter what you do, and I’m not sure I’d WANT to eliminate drama. Drama is apart of life and apart of the social workings of everything, and actually does belong. What you want to eliminate is the drama queens, and that’s what the family can help do.

  8. kendricke says:

    And now, of course, you have my attention. 🙂

  9. Don’t even get me started on player cities… 😉

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