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.