Lessons from a Failed Guild Leader

August 5, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Posted in Guild Wars 2, mmorpg | 25 Comments
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Tasha was talking about her new column at Dragon Season on Twitter the other day. It’s about guild leadership and her experiences at the head of Mystic Spiral, her Guild Wars guild.

She’s a very outgoing person I find. She’s been one of my favourite co-hosts on Relics of Orr, hosted her own Guild Wars related show on Split Infinity, has her own blog, now this column. She’s eager to participate, cool to talk to, and I guess she has many qualities that make her a great guild leader.

Me not so much. I’m not outgoing. I’m sometimes short-tempered. I’m frank, blunt, brutally honest, a bit sarcastic (that was sarcasm), short with people and always willing to criticize. So you might think I’d be smart enough to never make the mistake of being an officer or, god forbid, a guild leader. Not so.

Mistake #1. Do not criticize a guild member in a public forum.

Years ago I was helping a friend run a guild when he tired of the game. I had been having a really good time and agreed to be the interim leader until he returned. It quickly became apparent that he wasn’t coming back any time soon. Thus I was left to my own devices and learned a thing or two about running a guild, unsuccessfully. I guess I thought I’d share since learning from successful guild leaders is great, but you can always stand to learn from mistakes too.

One day in guild chat a female member with many admirers was talking with her flirtatious suitors. They had basically taken over chat with some very salacious conversation. I’m no prude, but this kind of talk was making me and some of the other members slightly uncomfortable. As I said, I’m blunt. I mentioned in guild chat, very politely, that perhaps this conversation was best left to private messages.

I suppose I thought it was such a mild rebuke of that behaviour that it didn’t need to be said in private. We were all friends right? No need for a fuss, just stop talking about penis and vagina in guild chat and we’d all be good. It seems like an obvious tip, and it is, but I honestly thought we were on such good terms with one another that it wasn’t a big deal.

It was a big deal.

Criticizing a few members in guild chat caused an uproar in the guild chat. You don’t want that. The argument was viewed by all, people took sides, things got ugly.

Mistake #2. Make sure everyone has a general idea of the rules, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.

I’m a laid back person most of the time. I don’t need a bunch of crazy rules and regulations, guild application forms, activity requirements. Just don’t be a dick, you know? But no, it would have really helped if at some point prior to this incident I had said no cybering in the guild chat. My bad.

I’m still against having a lot of rules but you do need some basic starting point for behaviour. Even if it’s as simple as “Don’t be a dick.”

Mistake #3. Do not make up rules on the spot.

I laid down the law. This was how it was going to be. Stop your silly sex talk you hormone riddled hooligans! Suddenly I had alienated virtually every member of the guild by dictating this new rule. Three people left the guild over this nonsense.

Mistake #4. You have to be outgoing.

Keeping up activity is always a worry amongst guild leaders and the best way to do that is by having a lot of people in your guild. Unfortunately a lot of guild leaders think the best way to do this is to constantly spam chat channels to recruit new members. In my opinion you’ll lose as many members as you gain with that method.

Be active with your guild. Be around. Help them level, help them do dungeons, help them do jumping puzzles, help them craft.

Even if you don’t like it.

And I did not like various parts of that game, and did not participate with my guild. I went off and did things on my own and often I’d play with one singular person to the exclusion of all others. I’d play with the guild sometimes, when they did what I wanted to do, but otherwise not so much.

This hurts morale, it makes it hard to recruit people, makes it hard to retain people. You have to play with your guild and you have to play with them the majority of the time. I didn’t. It kept us small, and frankly a bit boring.

5. Don’t let it fester.

One thing I’ve seen as a guild leader and as an officer in various guilds is drama. Lots of drama. Everyone has their own way of dealing with it but the one thing you must never do is let it continue.

If you try to reason with the drama, if you try to calm it, or leave the situation unresolved, it will come back to haunt you. These people sew dissension in the ranks, they always do. They always leave after much effort is made for their benefit and take others with them.

This is a common occurrence and having no luck dealing with it myself and also observing others struggle with it I have only one solution. Cut off that civil war era gangrenous leg and be done with it. No mercy.

I was stunned to see this in action in a game some years ago. A friendly guild leader dealing with a player who had constantly questioned our endgame raiding methods and rules. After much criticism from this player and attempts to convince people that he was right and our guild leader was wrong, he threatened to quit the guild. Boom, the guild leader dropped the hammer and he was gone. The drama disappeared like condoms after the prom.

Mistake #6. Don’t reason with insanity.

This is a Guild Wars story. I was an officer in a mostly inactive guild. The guild leader was constantly away on work trips. The membership was dwindling and one person was upset about it. They went on a rant in guild chat about how the guild was dying and how the guild was their family, and they were depressed that so many people would dare be so disloyal as to leave the guild and what were we going to do because this was a disaster and we were all doomed! DOOMED!

I replied that you shouldn’t get so attached to a guild in a video game because they come and go, players come and go, games come and go. It isn’t healthy and there isn’t much that can be done about it anyway.

I was removed as officer within the day.

The upset member left the guild a week later.

I still don’t know what I should have done in this situation to be honest. Should I have ignored his long demoralizing rant? Should I have reassured him that everything would be alright? Should I have organized a group hug?

I don’t know. One more reason I probably shouldn’t be in a guild leadership position I guess.



  1. I was lucky to find a group of five or six guys that got along (for the most part) and stuck together throughout my time in Guild Wars. We all ended up being officers in the guild. One of the few, I guess.

    As for the cybering in chat, kids will be kids. Sounds like you did everything right, imo. Although the “don’t be a dick” rule is great, something along the lines of “if you wouldn’t say that in a crowded mall, don’t say it in guild chat” may work better.

    • Just to be clear, calling it cybering was just me exaggerating for comedic effect, it was pretty sexual but short of cybering.

      I agree though that just the one “don’t be a dick” rule is probably too vague and a few basic guidelines couldn’t hurt.

  2. Aww Hunter *blushes* Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your mistakes! Looks like you went through the wars a little.

    Like you, I’m not a huge fan of lots of rules (which may seem odd to anyone who’s perused that section of my guild’s website) but they’re useful for avoiding the scenarios that you described. Unfortunately “Don’t be a dick” is ambiguous when it comes to some activities, and there are some people out there who will use a lack of rules (or conversely too many rules) to cause havoc given the choice. Sometimes they’re reassuring to the people you want to keep too.

    I absolutely agree with your points on drama and recruitment. They’re topics I’ll be bringing up on the column later, but drama is something you need an element of in any guild and also requires swift and determined action. Spamming recruitment messages doesn’t help either. You need to make sure you’re getting the right people in your guild, you need to spend time them and nurture a community, even in a PvP only guild.

    You last point, like you, I’m stuck with. I went through something similar before I founded MYST. 5 years later, I was still being asked about my involvement in the drama. Advice welcome!

    • That brings up some questions I think, like what is a perfect amount of rules? I think that comes down to the community you’ve developed. Each guild is probably going to be different, in which case maybe DBAD might be right for some guilds, but otherwise I agree.

      I do admit that a little drama makes things interesting (otherwise you don’t have funny stories to tell or blog posts to make) but in my experience it gets out of control so easily and so quickly.

      • How many rules you need depend heavily on your guild focus, but I think I can take a stab at how few you should have. These are experiences gained as 2-3 years as officer and at one point GM of a “casual wow raiding guild”. That description there is an example of the reason why you need at least something, because what does “casual raiding” mean, exactly?:

        If I were to make any one suggestion for a new guild, it is make a charter; A document of about a page or two that outlines the basic rules and more importantly focus of the guild, then make everyone agree to abide by or be kicked. Never assume common sense is something you can agree on, rather spell it out!

        Guilds are never a democracy if they are to be anything but a small circle of RL friends, but for this limited (or indeed unlimited if you want) dictatorship to work, you have to be sure expectations of what should be done by members and officers are aligned, and what is and is not allowable behaviour is understood. For the officers this is absolutely imperative to have something like this to reference, when a members attitude comes down on the wrong side of a /gkick.

        In my experience, drama, when not caused by loot which seems to be able to turn even grown people into gibbering jerks, almost always spring from those grey areas you never really bothered taking a stance on. “Don’t be a jerk” is too vague even, I would say. A functional trick for things like what can be talked about in guildchat is to give a guideline PEGI or ESRB rating: gamers usually have a decent idea of where those lines go.

        At the very least, I would say you need to outline in fairly specific terms: Guild mission (for what purpose does the guild exist?), activity focus (if you do stuff as a guild, what are you doing?), standards for guildchat topics, requirements for continued membership, by rank if applicable. You should also describe how officers are appointed (if that is “GM decides”, write that), how disciplinary action is handled and what may end you on the wrong end of this (verbal warning -> written warning -> /gkick is a good place to start).

        Finally, make sure you keep it up to date if and when the rules change or are expanded.

        • I agree with quite a few of these points, the use of universal yardstick especially. I don’t think there is a set “right” number of rules, but in my opinion it’s very very hard to cover every scenario with enough clarity in one rule to avoid enough headaches. Having a guild mission/charter is a very useful thing to have for use in recruiting and staying on track, but I disagree that you necessarily need to have all of that on display for people to read.

          Drama wise (going back to Hunter’s point), it’s important for any community to have “villains”. People often talk about communities coming together after times of crisis or loss, and drama can often fill that role in online communities. It’s not even really about entertainment, but about creating defined boundaries of membership and coming together for a common cause. Getting enough of that to bind people together while not letting it tear people apart is the tricky bit.

          (See Sense of Community on Wikipedia for more info)

          • I think I’ve actually blogged about this a couple years ago on this blog when I talked about some of the villains on my Runes of Magic server and how they sort of made that server feel more like a community. We’re on the same page as far as that goes.

        • I’ve never been in a guild with more than a dozen rules and certainly not pages worth. I’m sure this works for you, all I’m saying is that isn’t 100% necessary to have an extensive amount of rules, just a group of people that want to play together.

          • A page or two really isn’t a lot, if you allow for a bit of room for paragraphs and such. Much of it becomes overkill for suitably small guilds, but that is part of my point: small guilds can grow and it tends to avoid headaches down the line to at least give it some thought up front. The “rules” I mentioned are really just the areas that I think any prospective guild owes themselves to at least give some thought, and since you are thinking, you may as well write the conclusion down. The risk is that the guild gets to a size where more structure is necessary, and often the first hint you passed that point is some sort of falling out among the members.

            I can recognize some of what your blog post talked about in not being naturally suited for officership in myself; I’m too nice and very much prefer when people get along or at least tolerate the ones they may not enjoy spending time with. As such, while I can appreciate the community feeling that comes from a good villain, I would probably not consider it a good idea to allow for that villain to be inside my own ranks. I detest drama, in the sense of arguments growing beyond the proportion of what triggered them, which online communities excel at, and for what good they might do to getting people to stand together, in all my experiences drama has destroyed or soured more than it ever benefited. If a couple of lines on a forum page and a pointer to go read them can avoid even one such incident, I would consider it well worth it.

            • Just thought of one more thing: Come GW2 I’m going to roll with one of the larger online communites, and I am looking forward to the first MMO in a long time where I can be just another foot soldier. This guild has basically just the “don’t be a jerk” rule, and whatever the officers decide to do (who are of the “if you make us step in because you cannot deal with your own business, expect harsh and swift justice” pursuasion). It could be that some time in the trenches may cause me to reevaluate my fondness for structure.

  3. All of this very much reminded me of my time as a moderator on a forum. It wasn’t a huge forum (about 200 active members at its peak), but we were from all over the world and all ages (officially 13 to 56 but we now know we had a few 11 year olds as well) + being a group leader in a strategical browser game for several years. The latter is time-intensive but easier to manage as there are only up to 12 people in one group and I make it very clear that I am the group leader and I decide which direction we go. 😉

    The admin didn’t have much time, so she appointed moderators and we were there to moderate and run the forum (it was pretty much like a guild in that we came up with activities to do, games to play, etc.). She had, however, given us two basic rules: “Be nice” and “This is a family-friendly forum”. So whatever we said had to be backed up by either of those two rules. That whole incident you wrote about would have been covered by it.

    And yeah, I would have told them to moderate themselves, too. And I would’ve been just as surprised to see such drama as a reaction.

    We had wanted to create our own guild in Guild Wars 2 but decided against it because we really don’t have enough time for a guild. It’s a pity, but a good guild really needs time and dedication to run.

    No. 6, I guess, could have been handled by involving everybody who was left, asking them what they think about it and to come up with solutions on how to “revive” the guild and get it to be more active again. But then, who knows if that works. 😉 It’s just what I always do when somebody has complained on the forum or in my browser game’s group, because I always told them that I am not responsible for everybody’s fun and that we all have to work together to have fun. So, I’m not saying I know how to handle it. Just that in my situations it’s worked – but those are different than an MMO guild. ^^

    • The inactivity in that guild would have been a barrier to bringing absolutely everyone together to talk about it, and the person in question did pick a time when more people were online than normal. I suppose it could have been arranged but again this is where me as a bad guild leader comes in. I do not like the idea of catering to one persons insecurity and calling a guild meeting to meet their demands for drama. I don’t think i would have liked that solution at all.

      • Ah see, I was automatically assuming it happened on a forum. They’re far more patient when it comes to this and every other member can read it whenever they come online again. 😉

        I agree that it’s difficult to address when it happens in a chat, etc., with not many others around.

  4. Sounds like you only lost a few, I know it sounds harsh but who cares if you lost a few people that werent compatible with the guild. Id add a thick skin to you list of requirements.
    I have the utmost respect for guild leaders. If they want to get the shits with some people after being provoked that’s fine; the amount of work they do, for so little amazes me. Even failed guild leaders have done more for their guilds than most members can ever be bothered with

    • Eventually the guild demanded that the former leader come back and that I be removed as guild leader. The guild broke up not long after it realized he wasn’t going to be around.

  5. I think the biggest mistake in #6 was implying they were unwell. It’s one thing to talk someone off a cliff and another to pass judgement on them for being on the cliff in the first place. However spot on the judgement might be, it only escalates the problem. Plus you never know what’s going on in someone’s offline life.

    • I don’t think it was necessarily passing judgment, just trying to give advice on past experience. He took it personally and ran with it but a more reasonable person would have understood it wasn’t an attack.

      • I totally get what you meant, and yeah, most people would have taken it in stride, but I can also see how it would set someone off who was clearly on edge for whatever reason. If you’re already questioning someone’s mental well being, it’s best to assume their reaction will not be that of a reasonable person. The discussion may not have gone well no matter what but I think it was the “unhealthy” part that did you in, and you otherwise would have been right by the guild leaders at least.

  6. The experience you had with the first one sounds a bit ridiculous. Honestly, if they were so touchy as to get all upset over you politely suggesting they move the conversation somewhere more private, then they probably weren’t a good fit for the guild anyway. I would think that it would go without saying that cybering in guild chat is frowned upon (at the very least), unless it’s an ERP guild or something…

    • Well as I’ve said elsewhere in the comments, calling it “cybering” was more of an exageration for comic effect but they were overly touchy about it. It’s unfortunate that we had gotten along that well up until that point that one disagreement splintered and alienated so many guild members.

  7. I help run a public group in a game that does not have guilds. In just the last six months or so, we’ve encountered just about everything on this list. I’d say in that last scenario you did nothing wrong except join a not-so-great guild — looks as if the guild leader heard one side of the story and took action on it, without really thinking it through, perhaps without even checking your side — or just took the side of the person willing to raise the greatest stink, never a good path.

    I think some of these scenarios with different people involved could be handled the same way but end differently. There’s never one answer — don’t be too hard on yourself. I get what you are saying though — I’m also kind of a jackass without much patience with niceties, from time to time, and am only willing to take support rather than lead admin roles.

    • Well, except mistake #4, that one is actually a mistake in almost any context, unless you are intentionally running a sort of temporary home leveling guild, but those aren’t really “run”

    • The guild leader did rush to judgment, but there were a few other factors involved that would take too long to explain.
      So much time has passed since these events occurred that I’m not really being hard on myself, just honestly reflecting. There has been a lot of time to think about it.

      • Ah bad choice of words on my part too I suppose. I think what I was really trying to emphasize is that many of the mistakes you feel you made aren’t always mistakes, depending on the people.

        ha! just occurred to me that maybe many of them boil down to #4, and you just needed to know more about the players to predict their reactions. Maybe not, but maybe!

  8. The trick is, #1 and #6 are both possible to handle the way you did, but they require a massive amount of finesse. As others have alluded to, what you say is not necessarily as important as how you say it. I agree that the fact that your handling of these situations created more drama is evidence that your responses were not in line with what a good leader should accomplish.

    But don’t get me wrong: it is extremely difficult to do this, and even more difficult to do it in real time. This isn’t just a problem for you, but for anyone; even the sweetest tongue can have a bad day. Being in crisis management mode 24/7 is inherently exhausting and the potential for any momentary lapse to result in massive issues is far too high. Being a guild leader is like being a politician; it’s a thankless, difficult job that only has two states: people take for granted what you are doing, or they complain about it. There is no reward state.

    It isn’t surprising that your friend faded out: many people take on the job because they believe in a higher purpose or don’t understand the complexity, and then quickly get burnt out. I think #1 on your list should be: know what you are getting into!

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