Guilds are a staple of the Massively Multiplayer gaming world. Guilds fill a number of important roles in the gaming world, but by and large they are short lived. Several hundred guilds rise and fall on a daily basis throughout the various MMOG universes, and the average lifespan of a guild is less than six months.
Nearly every guild will voluntarily close its doors or implode and cease to exist before reaching the two-year point. Less than a tenth of a percent of all guilds reach the five-year point. That is why a guild that has thrived for nearly 10 years, with more than 550 members (the vast majority of whom have been members for more than a year, and some up to nine years) is a noteworthy anomaly in a sea of guild names floating around the MMOG universe.
The Syndicate is such a guild. In fact, it is the only juggernaut-sized guild that has lasted that long in the history of MMOGs. The Syndicate has spanned numerous gaming worlds in its history including Ultima Online, Everquest, World of Warcraft and brief times in numerous worlds helping to beta test future games. Among the reasons for The Syndicate’s long-term success as a guild are its underlying philosophies, its recruiting practices and its structure.
Every guild needs an underlying purpose and an underlying philosophy about how it will approach gaming, other guilds and its own members. The Syndicate has several core values that compose our philosophy.
We are a friend-focused guild. While we do have great relations with many other players and guilds, first and foremost we are about our own members and we view every member as a valued friend and teammate.
Second, we require all members to have a “Guild First” attitude. By that, we mean that it is never acceptable for a member to make a decision that places the guild second or causes harm to the guild. Every member is an ambassador of the guild in his words and deeds, and we require that those reflect positively upon all of us. We are, after all, a team of friends, and you wouldn’t do something to make your friend look bad or stab them in the back, would you?
Third, we are not a power-gamer guild, yet we do participate aggressively in end-game content. Simply put, we enjoy mastering a game but we don’t view it as a race against someone else to be first. We don’t measure our personal self worth against another guild. We don’t brag if we do something earlier or better or more efficiently than anyone else.
Games come and go, and in the long run, pixels are meaningless. Our guild is all about the long-term view and our focus is on building friendships and having fun together. By keeping that focus, and by valuing each member as a friend and important member of the team, we avoid infighting. We don’t have implosions. We don’t have mass exoduses of members. And we grow a stable environment where every member trusts every other member.
Whether explicitly defined or not, every guild has a recruiting policy. In some cases, a guild forms simply to be a communications tool for real-life friends. Other times, it can be a chop shop that needs warm bodies to serve the goals of the few in power. Many times a guild’s purpose fits somewhere in between those two extremes. The Syndicate is a very large guild. That huge size very frequently leads to the misperception that we have a very open recruiting policy and recruit large numbers of people. In fact, just the opposite is true. Although we receive more than 4,000 applications to join the guild each year, we chose only a few of those applicants to whom to extend an offer.
It is our experience that a guild cannot become both large and long lasting, if mass recruiting is the norm. More than 80 percent of The Syndicate has been with us anywhere from one to nine years. Because of our low turnover, we recruit only to fill newly open spots in our ranks, usually coming from members needing to leave online gaming for medical, parental/spousal or job-related reasons. Once in a blue moon, we have to remove a member or someone quits for another guild, and we will recruit to replace that person.
To join The Syndicate, we require several things. First, a recruit must share our goals, vision and play style. It would do us no good, and the recruit a disservice, to add someone who was looking for something from the guild other than what we offer. Second, we only add people who are team focused and who are friend focused. Part of why we are successful is that members are just as happy helping a fellow member achieve a goal or in seeing a fellow member winning a piece of loot, as they are advancing their own characters. Third, we seek members who understand the hierarchy in the guild and wish to be in a guild that operates in such a manner. Membership won’t last long if the recruit is constantly at odds with how we do things internally. Fourth, we must know the recruit well.
The first three conditions cannot be accurately judged with a simple questionnaire. We must really get to know the person well, often over weeks or months, and then we will consider encouraging them apply to join.
In order for a guild to succeed, decisions need to be made and a method for accountability for those decisions needs to be designed. There are a number of different structures a guild can take to achieve that goal. Some guilds use a council. Some guilds use democracy. The Syndicate uses what we term a benevolent dictatorship. In a nutshell, the guildmaster, Dragons, makes all decisions and guild policy, and ultimately takes responsibility should any of those decisions turn out to be incorrect. However, decisions are not made in a vacuum. Feedback is strongly encouraged and decisions are made based on that feedback and past experiences.
Under Dragons are two advisors (Grif and Dargus). In the event a policy decision has to be made, and Dragons is unavailable, they do so. Under them is a cadre of Squad Leaders. Often, but not always, these are long-time members. In all cases, they know the guild inside and out. The squad leaders are charged with enforcing guild policies and helping to run the guild on a day-to-day basis. Every squad leader has an assigned portion of the guild that they keep informed, help resolve issues for and generally help move toward the guild’s goals. The squad leaders are also a primary source of feedback for future policy decisions, as they take the pulse of the guild by talking with their squads on a day-to-day basis.
Creating a guild is relatively easy. Becoming a large guild isn’t all that challenging either. Becoming a large, stable guild, which lasts for many years, is an epic achievement in the MMOG world. The Syndicate leads the online world in that feat with more than 5,000 man-years of combined membership. Creating a guild like that is impossible to sum up in a few points or a single article, but the above three factors are certainly huge contributors, when applied in the correct way, to any guild’s long-term success.
Sean “Dragons” Stalzer is the leader of The Syndicate, one of the largest and oldest online gaming guilds with over 550 members.