Surviving the Holidays as a Guild

Back when MMOs were first becoming a whole thing, I remember that there were two times of year thought of as guild killers — the end of the school year and the holidays. The end of the school year could often spell doom for a guild simply because people were going from campus internet access to their homes, which often had lesser or nonexistent online access. However, at this point access is so ubiquitous that the odds of Kevin suddenly being unable to raid for three months due to the end of the semester is practically nil.

But Kevin still might go home for the holidays, take a few days off… and then just not come back. Ever. Or if he does show up again, it’ll be after several months have passed and half of the guild has already moved on to other things.

Holidays, in short, can be guild killers. People have a lot of other things to do through the season, which is understandable, but between getting new games, having other obligations, and just general exhaustion, it’s all too easy to find someone going from a regular member to being not there at all. The good news is that it is entirely possible to survive the holiday season; you just have to start by accepting that the holiday season will not simply be business as usual.

Plan around your members

Depending on your guild size, it is either impossible or at least unlikely that you can plan around everyone in your guild. But you can pick out key members. If you have five members who always show up for progression in World of Warcraft and a dozen members who rotate in and out, you can certainly make plans based around those five members.

Find out what those members are doing over the holidays, what their plans are, when they expect to be away from the game for a prolonged period (if at all), and what they hope to be doing over the holiday season. If you’re one of those members, don’t just wait around; make your plans clear. Coordinate with the rest of your guild. Make sure everyone is in the same place so that once people start going on holiday vacations or getting on planes to visit distant relatives, no one is suddenly baffled and wondering why the guild roster is so empty.

This also means that you’ll have a pretty good idea of what members aren’t going to be around for progression or other usual guild activities. Which is something that’s good to expect, because the reality is that people will not be around for these things. Thus…

Expect a hiatus from certain activities

Pushing heavy progression over the holidays is dumb. It’s not going to happen. You can have the best intentions in the world, but if your normal raid night is Sunday this year, odds are most of your members are going to be in something of a food-and-eggnog coma and thus will not be able to bring their A-game. They also will not be bringing their B-game. Expect the game they bring to start around the middle of the alphabet, in other words.

Weekly schedules sort of demand suspension during the holiday season. Even in the event that people are doing everything possible to still be present and playing, they are just plain going to have less rest. Your best tank might be bringing his laptop halfway across the country so he can still be there for raid night, but the reality is that he’s halfway across the country and will probably not be really in the right place for serious stuff.

The bright side is that this is the perfect time to do things that are not, necessarily, progression. I’m not suggesting for a minute that your guild should somehow close down during the holiday season; instead, what I’m saying is that smart planning revolves around knowing that some of your members will not be available. Thus, instead of planning intensive activities that require a whole lot of people to be on point, you can plan smaller fun activities that just bring people together.

If you’re normally all about progression, dedicate the holiday times to running old stuff as a group or doing silly theme runs. For more social guilds, focus less around structured activities and more around loose events. And above all else…

Theme your activities around the holidays

I’m a part of a guild right now that’s running a Secret Santa event in-game. It’s a fairly low-key thing with a low cost to enter, so it’s not meant to be a major activity… but it is meant to give the people who have time to pop in and play briefly a sense of community and fondness. It’s another layer of holiday integration, and it makes sure that players feel like the guild is still running events without relying on all of us being able to give our best in difficult content.

There are a number of ways you can have holiday-themed events in the game beyond that; most MMOs have some sort of holiday event running during the season, and many of those are easier to tackle as a group. You can also schedule snowball fights, low-level holiday runs, or something similar (I once ran a guild that did a “Clears for the Seasons” event where we’d carry less geared and skilled players through content that they would otherwise be unable to get through). The point is that if you’re already breaking from your “normal” schedule, and you are, you might as well break a little further out of the cycle, yes?

Sometimes, you’ll have lighter fare in mind that doesn’t really fit in with the time of year, and that’s fine too. But when you can tie it in, it helps people who can only log in briefly or around the fringes still feel like they’re part of the festivities. And it also keeps the people who can’t log in feeling like they want to be there and participate. Sure, Sarah really won’t be able to play during the holiday season, but she’ll come back with a sense of missing players rather than being happy for the break.

This also helps for the players who don’t really have a normal holiday environment. Odds are good that at least one of your members doesn’t get to just pal around with family members over the holidays; let them at least feel like they’re able to be with friends.

Ease back into normalcy

When New Year’s Day rolls around, there’s often a sense that it’s time to just get right back into everything running normally and act like the holidays are over. But it’s not enough to just expect a hiatus going into the holidays; you also need to plan for one extending slightly after the holidays end. People are going to be moving a bit more slowly as January takes center stage, and you should probably keep your schedule a bit lighter than normal until the middle of the month.

There are, to be fair, some players who will bristle against this. But the thing that’s more likely to kill a guild isn’t being too passive, it’s making players come back and feel like they came back to chores instead of fun. Pushing the progression group to get right back into the thick of it makes the whole thing feel really stressed. By contrast, letting your players have a bit more time to breathe first means that people can reflect, think about having missed the guild, and slowly take center stage once again as the game’s population comes back around.

Or, to make things shorter, the best way to make sure that your guild survives the holidays is by acting like the holidays are happening and they’re important rather than trying to pretend that everything is still business as usual. It’s so obvious that you’d think it went without saying, but it really doesn’t.

A New Player’s Handbook to Joining a Guild

There are always going to be new players coming into online games more or less as long as they exist. And let’s assume, for just a moment, that you’re one of them. It could even be a totally accurate assumption, in which case: Hi, new player! Welcome to a new way to play games, it’s pretty fun.

If you’ve been playing an MMORPG, or quite possibly one of the many other online games out there, you’ve probably heard about guilds or seen some talk about guilds. Most games contain a brief tutorial about the mechanics involved, but they’re not really good at giving you a picture of what guilds are meant to do. So here’s a handbook for new players looking for and joining a guild for the very first time.

What is a guild?

In simple terms, a guild is a group of players who have decided to all work together for a common goal. Most often, this takes one of two forms: the guild either focuses on the content experience or the social experience. Which sort of guild you want to be a part of is going to be very important, even though most guilds at least have an element of both.

Guilds that focus on the content experience are primarily about banding together to take on difficult dungeons, raids or other content that might otherwise be hard to assemble a group for. This is the sort of group to join if your primary focus is in seeing the really difficult stuff that the game has to offer and climbing in power. The exact nature of groups will, of course, depend highly upon your personal game of choice; in games like World of Warcraft you frequently find groups devoted to raiding and PvP progress, and these days, you may well have groups dedicated to Mythic challenge runs.

A guild focused on the social experience is concerned, first and foremost, with gathering people into a social circle so that everyone feels comfortable and happy. This can involve guilds facilitating interactions that might otherwise be challenging, such as roleplaying or shared social gatherings; it can also include making it easier to find new friends and work together. Social experiences vary widely, and there are many guilds that are “loose” social guilds with little real structure to them.

Of course, most guilds of reasonable size will have more going on than just one activity; even social guilds, for example, will often have people who run dungeons together. The difference is simply focus. If you want to primarily meet new people, the social guild is a good fit for you; if you want to primarily run dungeons, the social guild is a poor fit for you, because those dungeon runs aren’t assured by any stretch of the imagination.

How do I find a good guild?

There are several ways! The best way, of course, is knowing a member. If you’ve met someone who’s a part of The Happy Hour Harvestmen, for example, you can know right away if that’s a guild you want to join. Presumably, if your friend is a part of the guild, the guild shares at least enough values that they’re worth a look.

But what if you and your friends are all devoid of a guild? A good places to look for guilds to join are on the game’s official forums. Games with official discussion areas like World of Warcraft frequently have people advertising their guilds, often with the space and opportunity to provide more useful information than you’ll see in an in-game advertisement.

As a rule of thumb, avoid guilds that randomly invite you. These are guilds that want members so much that they’re shortcutting the process of determining whether or not they want you in the guild

Of course, in-game advertisements and tools are good ways to find out about guilds you might otherwise not be aware of. It’s often a good idea to combine the previous method and this one; you can sometimes miss guilds that might be of interest t you by only using one method, as some guilds might not want to advertise in-game but will happily put out a call on the forums (and vice versa).

The last option is to ask the larger community; asking in general chat channels in your game of choice can often give you an idea, and I’ve seen several times when guild officers or members will happily tell someone about their guilds even though they weren’t specifically advertising.

Of course, some of the “general community” answers won’t be terribly useful; a lot of players will offer recommendations either by reputation or by personal preference (“you want a social guild with an emphasis on creating a safe space? Try this hardcore progression guild with a racist name!”) rather than offering useful advice.

As a rule of thumb, avoid guilds that randomly invite you. These are guilds that want members so much that they’re shortcutting the process of determining whether or not they want you in the guild; you’re wanted as a live body and little else. That’s not ideal.

How do I apply and join a guild?

Every guild has a different process, but generally speaking, it will always involve some degree of getting to know you. Usually, the guild will have an application of some sort that you’ll need to fill out; there will also usually be an interview, although depending on the guild it might be involved or perfunctory. Your goal will be to portray yourself as a desirable member while figuring out whether or not this guild will be a good fit for you.

Once you’ve joined the guild, you’ll want to make a point of being the best member you can possibly be. This is often easier said than done; sometimes guilds will have:

Your officers should give you a good idea about how to contribute to the guild, however, as well as what you can be doing to be a better guild member.

Assuming that you do like the guild, you can help shape the character of the group and either take a big part in its ongoing victories or even eventually become an officer. If this is your first guild, you should think very carefully about whether or not you want to be an officer, as it’s a big responsibility that can require a lot of experience.

Don’t be afraid to turn down the position if you don’t feel that you’re ready; a good guild gives you space to expand and improve without requiring you to take up burdens you aren’t ready for.

Of course, after you’ve joined a few guilds, it’ll all seem like old hat. But you have to get that experience before it can be old hat, so get out there and join your first guild. Or your first several guilds. Heck, eventually maybe it’ll be time for you to just start your own altogether; stranger things have happened.

The Seven Big Benefits to Guild Membership

Why do you want a guild?

That seems like the sort of question that should have been answered a while back with this feature, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s possibly not one you need answered; you aren’t reading “Guild Guide” because you think it’s going to talk about how dumb guilds are. But you may very well be unsure of what actual benefit having a guild provides. And the answer to that can be extremely multifaceted.

But let’s be straightforward. Here are seven big benefits to having a guild.

People to talk with

An online game is a game you play with other people, but a lot of the time you don’t actually need to directly interact with them on the regular. That is, in and of itself, all right. You don’t always need to be buddied up with everyone on your server. But sometimes it can get kind of lonely when you log in and haven’t got a single person to actually interact with.

Guilds change that. Sure, there’s still going to be times where no one is online, or the people who you really want to talk with isn’t around. But you actually have better-than-zero odds of having a friend online who you can talk with, and you’re more likely to make friends you can connect with in the future. That’s an obvious benefit.

Shared resources

This isn’t always about actual items. If you have a dedicated League of Legends team, for example, your guild is not trading items to one another to enhance your play experience, more likely than not. But — and this is crucial — you are still benefiting from shared resources. You may have friends who can fill roles that you can’t, people who can offer you strategies and point you toward useful tips that you wouldn’t see otherwise.

And in MMORPGs, this is compounded. Other players have items you don’t, levels in various skills and classes that you don’t. They can do things you cannot do for yourself. Instead of having to beg for random people to give you what you need, you can tap into a shared resource of your guild and help others in the same fashion.

Necessary guidance

You will be lost sometimes. You will not know how to do a quest. You will not be sure how to play your class/job/build. You will need guidance. And having a guild means that odds are good you either have access to that guidance or have people there who can point you in the right direction. Or — and this is also good — it will give you motivation to be that guidance for other people in the future.

Seriously, sometimes the benefit of a guild is learning enough that you can be right when other people are wrong. It might seem spiteful, but it works.

Content pushing

We all tend to fall into certain ruts of content. There are things we all do on a regular basis almost instinctively, and left to our own devices it would be easy to assume that this is what everyone does. It’s easy to queue up for the same content and join the same sort of premade groups while looking at outside content as “well, no one does that.”

Join even a small guild, and there will be at least one person who enjoys content you do not. Join a big one, and you will find groups of dedicated players for that content. And that forces you to have a larger perspective, to realize that something you don’t care about might be something that a lot of other players are looking forward to. Perhaps even the majority.

That doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily want to take part, but it does mean you know people who can help you get into it. It nudges you out of your comfort zone. That’s a good thing, really.

Anecdotes for the future

I have a lot of stories that start “I was in this guild where we…” and continue on from that point. And that makes sense; while there are all sorts of emergent situations that will come up in any game, especially an online one, dealing with a mass of other people is always going to produce more interesting stories. We remember those odd social dynamics and the way we work together better than we remember arbitrary mechanical weirdness.

Do you really want to collect anecdotes? Well, they can be useful for offering advice in the future, and you could argue that the whole reason to do things with other people is to acquire experiences you wouldn’t have had otherwise. It is left as an exercise to the reader whether or not this is a desirable outcome.

Understandable community

I cannot understand The MMO Community. I can’t even understand the community for one game. I have been playing Final Fantasy XIV since its original hot disaster of a launch, and I do not fully understand the community. I have been part of its roleplaying community equally since launch, and I don’t totally understand that, either.

But I can understand my guild. And really, guilds are a microcosm of the larger situation. You can’t comprehend the game’s entire community, but you can filter it through the small slice that you get to survey. It turns the community from something sprawling and incomprehensible into a smaller portion that you can interact with. And it lets you get a sense of the macro through the micro interactions that you do have.

Sure, you don’t know everyone or participate in everything. But your guild members are out there, and they’ll know and see things you don’t. And you can filter that with your own perceptions to at least approach accuracy.

A reason to log in

On one level, this might seem to be more of a benefit to the designers than the player. Having a group of people who know you, like you, and expect to see you on a regular basis keeps you playing and logging in. Designers obviously want that; that way you keep playing and (presumably) paying.

But if you take a step back, you realize that it’s your benefit too. Online interactions are, in many ways, just as real as the interactions we have in our day-to-day lives. The people you know and speak with are just as real, and sometimes they provide you a perspective you might not otherwise have. It’s like having your favorite bar, except you don’t have to be sloshed out of your mind and you can get there from anywhere that’s got an Internet connection.

I know from personal experience that there are times when the real world is unpleasant. Being able to slip into a world with people you like seeing, companions and friends? That’s a good thing, and that’s a benefit. And having a guild full of people who are happy to see you reminds you of just how many people out there are happy to see you.

So there are lots of reasons to be in a guild. And sure, that also means you’ll have to deal with some unnecessary drama and nonsense, but that’s not all you get out of the exchange. That’s important to remember over the long term.