The Mittani explains a typical chain of events on the guild level as: "Those loyal to their individual corporations campaign to have the corporation leave the alliance, blaming players from the other corporations for the failings of the entity as a whole. Finger pointing happens at every level; alliance leaders are lambasted, imagined slights are magnified and oftentimes massive witch-hunting for spies takes place across the whole organization. As those targeted by the witch hunts are almost always innocent, this causes ever more strife as people line up to defend the accused."
What happens at the terminal stages isn't pretty. Imagine you decide to sit down and play for an hour. You log in, and a guild member is blaming the leader for letting such a defeat happen last night, screaming at him over TeamSpeak. Fifteen minutes in, a friend you mentored when he first started tells you that he's leaving to join a rival guild. You'll still see him around, but it won't be the same. Thirty minutes in, an associate that started playing when you did says she's quitting. Forty-five minutes in, you decide to leave your guild. Why stick around a guild where your leader can't inspire, your friends are becoming enemies and the people you grew up with are leaving to play World of Warcraft?
Avoiding the Cascade
A high susceptibility to failure cascade is a symptom of how guilds define themselves. Many try to lure new members by saying they control money-rich locations. Others boast about their unmatched PvP skills. These kinds of selling points set guilds up for destruction by hinging on a culture of success. Things are fine while members make money and win battles. When these conditions change, people don't have any incentive to stick around.
One group in particular has remained strong due to its members' nationality. The primarily Russian Red Alliance has been to the brink of collapse and back. In 2006, several of Red Alliance's rivals took all of their territory except for a small pocket, and all of the non-Russian guilds left the alliance. Those who remained persevered because they shared a common lineage. Finding help from new allies, Red Alliance was able to reclaim its lost territory and become a superpower.
An alliance's structure can provide it some immunity. One glowing example is GoonSwarm. Instead of having members spread out between member guilds, the majority of the alliance's members belong to just one guild, GoonFleet. With this setup, there's less inter-guild fighting, which diminishes the chances of a failure cascade.
Of course, GoonFleet's members, like Red Alliance, share a lineage of sorts. GoonFleet is the EVE representation of comedy site Something Awful's forum members, called goons. Their allegiance isn't to an in-game entity, so what happens in the game doesn't shake the membership as much.
An effective protection for any guild is to simply have fun. GoonFleet regularly provides events for its members with no purpose other than having a good time. One of these is their famed "suicide ops" where members that take part are expected to die by the end of the night. While conquest is on the GoonFleet agenda, the first priority is to make sure everyone has fun.
A failure cascade is about how people react when they hit the valleys rather than the peaks. Looking for ways to sidestep a unit's disenfranchisement when enduring a loss is as old as congregation itself, but there's much to be learned in the real world from the people in EVE, even if the chief lesson is blood is thicker than water.
Joel Gonzales is a game developer in upstate New York and secretly a power ranger.