Virtual worlds like World of Warcraft have long been known to mirror certain aspects of real life. It has often been supposed that people play games like World of Warcraft exactly because of that fact; some elements are so comfortably similar to real life that it makes the gameplay experience a lot easier to adapt to.

A game that is completely foreign to gamers would have a very limited appeal. We can embrace and enjoy the known, with a small amount of unknown thrown in to spice things up. The inverse is often quite disturbing — it’s hard to enjoy ourselves if we can’t predict with some kind of certainty what our future holds.

While there are many facets of online games that I could look at, I’m going to look at one that I’m very intimate with: social and power structures. With Patch 3.1 and Ulduar fast approaching, and the promise of some taxing content, it would definitely make sense to ensure your guild is structured in a way to support strong progress and a thriving community. From guild leader through to the grunts and peons of the guild, I’ll try to break down what makes the difference between a good guild and a truly great guild.

The structure of a guild

WoW, like real life, has a very well defined social structure. While there is an over-arching hierarchy for an entire server, I’ll be focusing more on the structure inside a guild.

What real life structure does a guild most represent? A large solely owned company, or perhaps even a small autocratic country. There is often a single leader, a board of executives or advisors, department chiefs and then the workers or citizens themselves. These real life roles map perfectly to the ‘common’ ranks you will find in a guild.

The Guild Leader

Real world equivalent: Tyrant, Dictator, Monarch, Pope, President.

At the top of every guild or society you will have an ultimate leader. In rare cases this can be a title without the attached powers or responsibilities (such as a ‘token monarch’ in Britain or Sweden), but almost always this will be the the primary decision-maker in the guild. Guilds are very much like smaller autocratic states in that there are often other roles filled out — executives and advisors — but the leader always has the power to veto any decisions made, and to enact new rules (laws) as his fancy and whim dictate.

As I touched upon briefly in other articles, some guilds might have more than one leader — there might be 2, 3 or more if formed out of a group of real life friends. In almost all guilds this is a single figure, though. Many people play games like WoW for the power it gives them over other humans…!

Primary Tasks

  • Decision maker — I’ve discussed it in previous articles, but the primary role of the leader is simply to make decisions. Good, bad or ugly, the decisions have to be made in a timely, and hopefully fair fashion.
  • Chief justice — The guild leader plays the arbiter and justice maker in almost every argument that raises above normal every-day strife.

If you are interested in the other roles of the guild leader, just read some of my collected writings — that’s what this blog is all about!

Assistant Guild Leaders

Real world equivalent: Vice President, Home Secretary, Joint Military Chiefs, Secret Police Chief.

Behind every great leader there are great advisors. Even in fully autocratic states leaders know that they simply can’t govern an entire country (guild) on their own. They can’t keep track of everything that’s going on. They can’t keep abreast of every eventuality or developing situation; there is simply so much to do, so much going on.

While a guild, being a small subset of real life, is relatively restricted in what actually goes on, it can still be very hard for a guild leader to keep his finger in every pie. Factions might develop amongst nationalities, or perhaps a raider harbours resentment that he refuses to tell the guild leader about. This is where your assistant guild leaders — your most trusted advisors — step into the fray. They are distant enough from the leadership that they can see situations from a different angle, and discuss problems with members of the guild that the guild leader might normally have difficulties with.

Primary Tasks

  • Secret police — There’s a lot of stigma attached to such a phrase, but it does best suit their role of ‘information gatherer’. Assistant leaders can get into places that the guild leader can only dream of. They can play the good cop to the guild leader’s bad cop. They are the guild’s rottweiler!
  • Decision making — In the guild leader’s absence the assistant guild leader inherits the mantle of decision making. You’re not expected to be as competent as the guild leader, but they should certainly try to limit the number of people that leave the guild during their temporary reign!
  • Management — It’s common for assistant guild leaders to get lumped with tasks like DKP management, or recruitment. It will vary though, from guild to guild, guild leader to guild leader, and the size of the guild.

Class/Role Officers

Real world equivalent: Department of Defence, Education Secretary, Senator.

At the bottom of the leadership pyramid we have the class and role officers. Varying form guild to guild, you might have one per class (Hunter, Priest, Warlock…), or perhaps only one per role (Damage Dealing, Healing, Tanking…) although I propose that class officers are a better way to go about it.

These are more of your ‘every day’ officers. Unlike their real-world counterparts, they will have quite limited responsibilities — their class, or role. A hunter class leader might purely be in charge of making sure hunters operate well during raids. The most an officer at this level would do would be the management of recruitment for his class. It is through close contact with class officers that a guild leader can best judge how upcoming raids might be — if there might be a shortage of players, or how recent changes made to the game might impact the guild.

Primary Tasks

  • Know your class/role — It’s rather obvious, but a class or role officer must be the master of his job. He becomes the authority for a sizable fraction of the guild so he better be damn good at what he does. The class officer definitely needs be on top of all the latest developments, macros and strategies.
  • The guild/raid leader’s crutch — During raids their primary role is the support of the guild or raid leader. When discussing strategies for new bosses it’s their job to suggest better methods of execution. It’s their job to say what is and is not possible for your class. Can we reach those DPS requirements? Do we have a working healing strategy? Are the tanks mitigating as much damage as possible? It is their job to support the leader’s knowledge of your class — it’s impossible for the leader to know everything, that is why he has officers!
  • Recruitment — Many guilds use their class/role officers to manage recruitment. Normally this will involve the guild leader saying ‘We need more of X class!’, and the respective class leader running off to find more awesome players. As the authority of their class/role in the guild, they are obviously best suited to finding more good players!

Members/Raiders

While at the bottom of the pile, members and raiders are by no means the least important people in the guild. They make up the majority of the guild or group; they are the civilians and the soldiers. Canon fodder! A good leadership is nothing without a happy, loyal gang of followers. You can craft a fantastic DKP system and install a great forum, but without an actual group of players to do the healing, the DPSing and the tanking… you have nothing!

Luckily, a member’s list of obligations is short and sweet:

Primary Tasks

  • Don’t quit – ‘Huh?’ Yeah — the worst thing you can do to a guild is quitting; either the game, or leaving to another guild (which is even worse!). A member/raider is an investment to the guild — the leadership is investing in you by gearing you up and teaching you strategies. You might feel like you own the gear on your character, but just like in real life, there’s always someone that thinks they own you. It would be like training to be a doctor in your home country, and then seeking work in another country. It is for this reason that loyalty is probably the most valued trait of for a member — of any group.
  • Know your role — Your primary role in the guild is often defined by the grounds of your recruitment. If you were recruited to be a great tank, it is obviously your responsibility to become a great tank! You need to research what must be done to perform your role successfully. Members should also maintain very good communication with their class/role officer.

A real example — a successful WoW guild

Like my other articles, I am talking entirely from experience. While I do have some degree-level education on the topics of sociology, anthropology and gamer psychology I am going to stick to real, applicable proof for this example. This section is going to focus on what I have found to be workable and true in the leading, success and ongoing survival of my guild over the past 4 years.

There have been many iterations of our guild structure, but the past 2 years have seen it remain virtual static. Those same 2 years, with a combination of strong leadership, durable structure and an environment in which a community can thrive, have seen a rise from 600th to 30th in the world.

From top to bottom then:

  • Guild Leaders — We run two guild leaders of equal power, much like an ancient Roman Duumvirate. Historically, one would be a military leader and the other a civic leader. The idea here is that both leaders have the power of veto — nothing can occur unless both leaders agree. This small amount of bureaucracy has saved us a lot of pain over the years. If one leader steps out of line, the other can quickly move in to rectify things. If members are afraid to talk to one leader, the other can do the listening. You would be correct in relating this as the famous ‘good cop, bad cop’ setup.
  • Assistant Guild Leaders — We run three assistant guild leaders. A neat number that brings us up to a council of five, for any decisions that might impact the whole guild. Assistant guild leaders have all of the powers of a guild leader, but obviously can’t veto a guild leader’s decision. Our assistant guild leaders play advisory roles:
    • DKP Advisor — I told you DKP and loot distribution were important! One assistant guild leader focuses almost entirely on our loot distribution system, with a side-interest in making sure consumables are prepared for raids. This is the guild’s ‘economic advisor’.
    • Casual Advisor — We’re a large guild, so having someone that can keep in touch with the casual players and alert the other guild leaders about any pertinent issues is vital.
    • Political Advisor — Or as we like to call it… ‘secret police’: the rottweiler of the guild. The vicious dog that tears things apart until he can see what’s within. He has a good sense of smell; very good at picking up on problems that might arise in the immediate future.
  • Class Leader — 1 officer for each class in the guild. While their role might include the overall well being of his class in the guild, each of these officers are also hardcore raiders. They know their class very well, and are in charge of recruiting. They must be very active players, always looking for new and better ways to play their class, and of course keeping an eye out for possible recruits!
  • Raiders — This rank is split into two: ‘pro raiders’, and just ‘raiders’. The titles are just that though — titles. If a raider maintains almost perfect attendance and is the true paragon of raiding, they can be promoted to ‘pro raider’. We try to maintain 3 or 4 raiders of each class, for per 25-man raid. I will discuss building successful raid groups in a future article!
  • Member — Everyone else in the guild falls into this rank. Casual raiders, casual players, friends and family — they’re all mixed up here. Raiders that have also let their attendance drop, or can’t raid due to real life problems also find themselves at this rank.

The ranks worth noting here are the officers — guild leaders, assistants and class leaders. Every guild has the member rank (obviously!), but I’ve seen a huge variation in the actual leadership structure in guilds. Some have only 3 or 4 officers, and some have assistant class leaders, PVP officers, profession officers… sometimes as much as half the guild!

I’m not saying that they are necessarily bad structures, but they do have some inherent weaknesses that our guild structure avoids. In my previous writings you’ll note that I put a lot of emphasis on fairness and communication, and that’s what our structure provides. There’s always someone for a member or raider to talk to. There’s always someone for a class leader to talk to. And then at the top, there’s 5 people that always try to reach a consensus so that when changes are made they never have a negative impact on any aspect of the guild.

The only real weakness of our setup is that it requires a lot of good people. There’s certainly a lot of bureaucracy built into our system, which means most changes happen incredibly slowly. One of the two guild leaders can always change something quickly if there’s some urgency, though. We’ve found that ‘slow and steady’ has served us well over the years. Radical leaps have normally not gone down very well and normally destabilise the core of the guild — and at the end of the day, progress in earnest, year after year, can only come with a stable guild.

Notes

The guild structure we use is actually very similar (if not identical) to the system used in the early Roman Republic: Consul -> Praetor -> Quaestor. This system is also used, albeit with different naming, in almost every republic today. The only difference we made was the dual leadership, rather than one primary leader. We felt that given the ‘egoistic escapist’ nature of online games that two leaders could keep each other balanced and focused.  Online, with very few checks and balances, the power one wields in a large guild can grow out of control; and that’s where the second leader steps in to sweep up the mess.

Something should also be said about purely autocratic, tyrannical guilds — guilds with only one real officer, with perhaps 1 or 2 of his ‘chosen’ playing minor roles in his leadership. History has shown fairly authoritatively that autocratic states rarely have much long-term stability. Guilds lead in a similar fashion normally suffer the same fate. They never quite reach the state required to drive a healthy community, and thus progress. They might do very well in the short term, with the entire guild membership unified and polarised, whipped up into a fervor behind the guild leader’s vision, but it’s very much a temporary high.

Don’t forget, power corrupts!

If you have any questions about the issues or topics raised here, I’m more than happy to answer them. You can ask them in a comment, or email me using this form.

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Sebastian

I am a tall, hairy, British writer who blogs about technology, photography, travel, and whatever else catches my eye.

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