There is one common trait among all guilds, of every size and all descriptions: players quit. They can suffer burnout, or perhaps start a new job that prevents them from playing, but at the end of the day the result is the same: you’ve lost a member of the community, and perhaps the raid team too. In this article, I’ll try to explain the main cause of players quitting, and how to prevent it from happening in the first place!

Obviously, you can’t prevent players from ever quitting (though that would be nice!). The only way to counteract such losses is through recruitment (at least until we can have virtual children…) The method of recruitment will vary from guild to guild and server to server, but I hope to cover most of the basics in this article; I’ll even try to throw in a few ‘veteran tips’ that might give your guild a slight advantage over the rest!

Quitters

Eventually, everyone quits. Awfully philosophical, I know. At some stage, whether it’s tomorrow, or 50 years from now, the game ceases to be a game, and you quit. Humans aren’t very good at playing ‘non games’ for long: there has to be some kind of tangible improvement, some kind of fun. Without a game, what’s the point? Without some kind of competition, or some end goal to strive towards, why bother?

The real life equivalent would probably be suicide, which thankfully isn’t as prevalent as people quitting an online game: Interpersonal ties, those ties that keep you going and striving for success, are much stronger when you see and talk to someone face-to-face. There are also a much larger abundance of games to play in real life; a much vaster range of challenges and aspirations that you might one day achieve.

This is where MMORPGs, like World of Warcraft, suffer: they have a finite number of games; a limited number of possibilities. In the case of WoW, the world might be very large indeed, with a lot of possible developer- and player-created games, but at the end of the day you are still bound to the world created by Blizzard. In real life, there are almost no limitations — if you see the top of a mountain, you can almost certainly go there, even if it takes years of training. In a game, you can only go there if the designer hasn’t placed an invisible wall in the way. Ultimately, you have to play the game they want you to play.

Inevitably, when all of the content is exhausted (or you have exhausted everything that is fun), you quit.

You’re not going to stop everyone from quitting, but there are certainly some steps you can take to lessen the chances of it happening.

You must have fun

This is to both the players, and the guild leaders. You, as a player, must find the game fun. You, you grumpy, tyrannical guild leader, must make the game fun for the members of your guild! When the game stops being fun, you can guarantee that people will start quitting. It might be a slow trickle at first, but without any significant changes, that trickle will fast become a torrent of quitters.

MMOs in general, and WoW in specific tend to be fun — they are games after all! The problems normally arise when you’ve cleared all of the content and you’re eagerly awaiting the next patch from the developer. Sometimes, though, fun can be destroyed simply by wiping too much on a boss, or being demoted too many times by a power mad guild leader. I’ll break down the most common ways of destroying fun:

  • Wiping is bad — I’m sure this comes as no surprise to any of you. Wiping is awfully testing on morale. As humans, we don’t mind repetitive actions, but there has to be observable progress over a span of a few wipes, or in the case of harder bosses, a few raids. Depending on the kind of guild or raid group, the average player tolerance to wipes will vary a lot, but in general wiping is very, very bad.
  • Stagnation is bad – In the same vein as wiping repetitively without progress, stagnation is another huge cause of discontent. When the guild or raid is so static, so devoid of progress or simply without communication, it stagnates. People stop logging in, guild chat becomes quiet, and raids become just ‘yet another farm run’. Stagnation in itself isn’t entirely crippling, but it just happens to be the breeding ground of the next fun-destroying element:
  • Drama – One of the most-used phrases thrown around in MMORPGs today is ‘drama’. Drama, in online games, is usually defined as the ‘aggravation of a situation’ and it’s often pointless, baseless aggravation too. As I was saying, stagnation is normally the cause of drama: dramatic players thrive in a stagnated (or simply stressed) guild environment. If you imagine a dark, lifeless pond, and then stir it around with a stick… that’s what drama often feels like in a guild. Smelly and nasty — and you can’t help but feel it was better to leave the pond unstirred.

These are the common causes of a drop in morale, the following discontent, and ultimately quitters. As with most things, it falls to the guild leader (or officers) to try and avoid such situations. The solutions are fairly simple:

  • Reduce the impact of wipe-fests – Probably the best way to prevent player burnout is by making the hours spent wiping slightly less painful. You could introduce breaks every two hours, or you could promise only one wipe raid a week. Most guilds now provide repair funds and consumables for their raiders which reduces the strain of raiding by a huge amount. The only real cause of burnout today is ‘hard’ bosses — but if you play WoW, it sure seems Blizzard are trying to prevent the effect C’thun and Kael’thas had on hardcore raiding guilds. This article of mine has more detailed information on the topic of raiding, wiping and progressing.
  • Stir things up before the drama queens can — In my previous example of a stagnated, dead pond being stirred, it was a dramatic player doing the stirring. They were adding their own bias to situations, and perhaps catching you, the guild leader, off-balance. The key here is to stir things up before the guild stagnates. Change the raiding schedule, or remove some of the raiders that have been holding you back! Perhaps organise a raid as level 1 gnomes on another server, or arrange a foot-race from Undercity to Booty Bay? It is nearly always the job of the guild leader to keep things fresh and interesting, so do it!
  • Control the drama – Drama isn’t always bad! The wrong drama, at the wrong time, is bad. A bit of good drama never did a strong guild any harm, though! Depending on the ‘community level‘ of your guild, it might vary from guild to guild what you can actually get away with, but inspiring the members of your guild to discuss interesting topics can do a lot to develop the community, and at the same time is fun! Be careful with censorship too; obviously heavy anti-guild sentiment might need to be controlled, but also you might find that the rest of the guild gangs up on the drama queen — and there’s almost nothing more fun than coming together as a community to play ‘defeat the anti-guild forum troll’!Worth noting is that drama involving other guilds is always a good thing. If you heard about another guild having problems with a particular encounter, or with a troublesome raider, tell your guild! It’ll be great for morale, especially if you’ve been wiping on a boss for hours.

If you take these steps to make the game fun again — or even prevent the game from becoming boring in the first place! — you should have a lot less problems with quitters, which means you won’t need the next section quite so much!

Recruitment

Whether you’re a casual, raiding or hardcore guild, the bread and butter of your survival is recruitment. Recruitment is the only way you will continue to have fun and progress, and as such it is vital you understand how to control the ‘newbie hose’ of recruitment. You need to know which direction to spray it in, and when turn it on, or off.

It isn’t purely the role of the guild leader or officers to manage recruitment: it is something for every member to keep in mind. When your guild needs a replacement, before next week, chances are someone in the guild knows a suitable replacement. Of course, it’s ideal if each class leader knows every possible recruit, but that rarely happens (if you have a class leader that does know every possible recruit, look after them!)

Let’s start with the basics of recruitment.

When should you recruit?

Most guilds make the big mistake of waiting until too late to recruit; waiting one more day might make the difference between the life and death of your guild! Whether you’re a casual or raiding guild, it’s important to recruit before you lose the ‘critical mass’ of players — whatever that number of players might be!

A casual guild is probably even more fickle than their raiding or hardcore counterparts. If shit hits the fan in a casual guild, there’s usually very little to prevent players from just jumping ship and heading to another guild. In raiding-oriented guilds there is usually the soft, velvet-gloved, addictive allure of epics that keeps players hanging on for a little longer — but rest assured, people will pack their bags and run away; they’ll run very fast indeed if they think the guild has begun its dying throes.

When is it best to recruit then? Early.Very, very early. I’ve already written a bit on the size and attendance of raiding groups, and the best way to manage recruitment is to keep a very close eye on attendance. As soon as a player starts dipping below the desired percentage (80%) you should be looking for possible replacements. You should be incredibly cautious of ‘repeat offenders’ — those players that, seemingly by magic, skip raids over and over (usually due to real life commitments). These players will likely never be reliable, and in serious raiding guilds should be replaced!

In general, recruitment is a lot about gut instinct. After a while, you should be able to predict the ebb and flow of players: the inevitable loss of a few players after you finish an instance; the handful of players that you will always lose after the summer holiday. The start of the school year is another common event which will force you to recruit — but no matter the occasion, do it sooner, rather than later! If you’ve had to cancel a few raids, you were too slow!

Who should you recruit?

If we’re being WoW-specific, this question is quite easy to answer: you can recruit almost anyone. Other games might be harder (in fact, they’re probably all harder than WoW), so the recruitment criteria might be a little more stringent. With WoW though,  you should almost always recruit first and consider their actual abilities afterward.

The following is the order of importance for desirable traits in new recruits:

  1. Not a dick
  2. Can attend your guild’s raiding schedule (or whatever kind of schedule your guild has)
  3. Relevant experience
  4. Gear (or whether they have the right tools for the task)

Top guilds will obviously be a lot more choosy in who they pick up, but they also have a huge pool of possible recruits available to them. Most guilds can not pick and choose; they just have to take what they’re given. Most guilds should stick to recruiting friends of other members, which is often a sure-fire way to find non-dicky players and also work on the feeling of community and inclusion the same time. It’s not uncommon for top guilds to be made up entirely of groups of real life friends for this reason! Personal recommendation goes a long way; not having to rely on relatively-unknown forum applicants is highly desirable.

As I’ve said quite a few times now, WoW is an easy game. The number one reason for not succeeding, progressing or surviving is: not having enough players. Don’t fall into the same trap that so many other guilds have tried to work around in vain. You really can recruit just about anyone — as long as they’re not a dick!

Finally, how do you recruit?

This is the step that most guilds stumble on. You know you’re struggling and you can feel progress and morale slipping away. You know what kind of player would fit into your guild, but… there are no applications! Why aren’t people APPLYING? Don’t people know that we need a new mage? Don’t people know that we could be the best guild on the server if we just picked up the right tank?

Fortunately, all of these questions are probably caused by the same, easily-fixed problem: you are unknown. Yep, that’s why no one has applied to your awesome guild — no one knows that you’re recruiting. Rectifying this rather sizable issue is thankfully very simple: spam.

I know, I know, everyone hates trade-channel spam, but it really is your best tool to get the word out there that you need recruits. Make some macros and use them regularly (a few times an hour is enough!) For extra potency, send the macros to other people in your guild too! Assuming you have a good reputation, you should quickly notice a burst of fresh applications. (The exception to this rule is congested or dead servers, but I won’t go into that here.)

If the idea of spamming trade chat doesn’t appeal (and some guilds might fancy themselves slightly more ‘upper class’), you could also encourage all of your guild members to talk to their friends and poke them to join. If talking and poking isn’t enough, get them to start emotionally blackmailing those same friends — eventually they’ll crack and apply, trust me!

Posting on your realm’s forum is also a good idea (but I’m sure you’ve already done that, right?) Make sure to include all of the perks that members of your guild get, such as repair funds, raiding consumables, a forum, voice communications… and whether you have a tabard or not!

Tips & Tricks

Consider this section as ‘extra reading’, or a ‘bonus feature’. Either way, what you’ve read so far is more than enough to keep a casual or raiding guild alive and healthy. What follows is a few tips that might be of use to hardcore guilds, or for guild leaders that enjoy the politics of the game as much as, or more, than the actual raiding. These are also almost entirely for guild leaders, and probably won’t be very useful to the members of a guild.

  • Maintain friends in other guilds – Being inherently social games, most MMORPG players like to make friends: buddies they can talk to when the going gets rough, or ask for advice on particular encounters. There’s no reason for your friends to all be from your own guild! Make friends with the officers and raiders of other guilds — or even other guild leaders!
  • Similarly, keep communication channels open – Always keep your ear to the ground. Listen to what your guild members have to say, no matter how mundane it might seem to be. The web of player interconnections in MMOs like WoW  is so vast that most players are only ever 2 degrees of separation apart. This means that there is a strong chance that even if you are not friends with a possible recruit, someone in your guild probably is. Utilise and leverage those relationships to get the right players into your guild.
  • Politics, and the knife in the back – I’m starting to get into territory that will no doubt cause a little uneasiness, which is no surprise as I am now talking about the wholesale slaughter of other guilds! Turning one guild’s misfortune into your own fortuitous windfall! I am of course talking about poaching important players from other guilds.Poaching itself is nothing special — almost everyone you recruit will be from another guild! — but I’m talking here about poaching a key player in another guild: their main tank, or perhaps an important social figure.  This requires a combination of having good friends, keeping an eye on ‘current affairs’, and being charismatic enough to lure someone into your guild; someone that is likely very loyal to their current guild.I’m not going to go into the details of poaching as it’s a topic best-suited to an article on the sociological and psychological stresses on the denizens of virtual worlds, and how to manipulate them.

At the end of the day, you must remember that as a guild leader, you are in a unique position. You are at the top of a pyramid: the end-point of all activity and communication below you. It is your job as guild leader to sift through the thousands of pieces of data available to you and find the important bits; it’s your job to differentiate between the pimples of harmless whining, and those little blackheads that will eventually develop into nasty, pussy spots that’ll make your life hell.

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.

Watery Wednesday: Seattle Coastline
Perhaps I should rename my goose egg stories...

Sebastian

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

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