Thursday, September 18, 2008

Officer Observations

I am an officer in the kinship in the Lord of the Rings Online. Unlike some kinships where being an officer is little more than a network of friends that need fifteen other people to drag along on raids, my kinship takes officers and their responsibilities seriously. I have also been an officer in two guilds in the World of Warcraft and a Supergroup in City of Heroes.

Along the way, I’ve picked up a few things which may be helpful to some folks who are contemplating creating their own social organization in the games they play. These are all based on my personal experience so mileage may vary.

1) See conflicts brewing ahead of time and end them before they start.
It is MUCH easier to see someone rolling need when they should roll greed as a lowbie than to correct the behavior when you’re raiding end game instances. The fallout is also likely to be a metric crap-ton less in a lowbie instance as well. Believe me when I tell you – you will remember when that paladin rolled need on the lousy shoulders of hooray-I-have-shoulder-armor when half of the guild is screaming in Vent about the same paladin rolling on the epic shoulders of overpoweredness. “Why didn’t I say something then?”

2) Lose the asshats.
No amount of skill, gear, rare keys to instances or personality can make up for being an asshat to guild mates. If a member appears self-centered and likely to create more drama in the future, try to intervene. If they don’t listen or seem to care, it may be time to show them the door. If someone seems the type to constantly badger others to do what they want while investing little time in helping other people, they’ll probably do little besides drive everyone else crazy no matter how skilled they may be or what other stuff they bring to the table. I’m all for trying to max out one’s assets, but keeping douche bags in the guild will make life miserable for you later on when: a) you have to explain to someone for the thousandth time why you’re actually keeping the schmuck around or b) you watch the people you actually have fun with leaving because they won’t stay in the same guild with idiot-boy.

3) Be sensitive to your fellow gamers.
You are all gamers playing a game. No one likes being put on the spot or called out in front of their peers. If something could reflect badly on someone, take it to tells or a private channel. Putting it in kinchat will 1) make the person with the issue feel bad and 2) lead everyone that’s listening in believe there’s drama lurking beneath the surface and 3) make everyone think you’re an insensitive clod for airing dirty laundry in public.

4) Recruit the kind of people you will like playing with.
This means getting to know them as players. It takes time to get this kind of relationship with a potential recruit but the payoff is worth it. You’ll know that everyone wearing your guild tag belongs there and people will look at your guild tag and know exactly what kind of people you are. In other words: unless you want the worst aspects of PUGs, Barrens chat and general asshattery to have to sort through on a daily basis; do not spam guild invites at anyone ever. (On a related note, unless you want the worst aspects of PUGs, Barrens chat and general asshattery to have to play beside on a daily basis; do not accept spammed guild invites from anyone ever.)

Recruitment is the key to building a successful guild. It’s the doorway that lets all the members in. If it’s wide open with no constraints, you’ll be letting in everyone. If it’s too narrow, you’ll be gaming alone. List out the things that you want in your members and then look for evidence of those things in your applicants. Having a recruit status (not a full member) and an observation period is a good idea too. Have them show you what kind of member they’ll become.

An observation period is their chance to see if they like you as well. If someone decides your kinship / guild is not for them, don’t take it as an insult. Not all guilds appeal to everyone. Be nice and try to steer them towards a guild that will make them happy based on their feedback. If you’re pleasant to deal with they’ll remember you when a friend of theirs is looking for a guild that matches the description of yours. Word of mouth is a powerful tool for steering people your way.

5) Be ready to be the bad guy.
You may have to lock or pull posts off your site, tell people to stop with certain inappropriate topics in kinchat or on vent, or put an end to something that would make the kinship look bad. The offenders will hate you for it. You will probably hate you for it. Your primary goal is the stability of the guild and the ability of the guild to do whatever it’s goal is (PvP, Raiding, etc). Don’t be afraid to pull someone aside and talk to them about what they are doing that’s causing issues. Also, focus on the behavior and not the person. Avoid things like “you’re a sexist asshole”; try “please do not post that kind of content to our forums” instead. (But keep in mind, they may well be a sexist asshole and need more help than you’re willing to give – in which case be prepared for #2 above.)

6) Rely on the other officers.
You can’t do it all in a large kinship. There’s too many people, too much stuff going on and you’ll also be trying to play the game at the same time. What I have found to work well is a division of labor amongst the officers. We currently have officers for Events (me), Raiding, Ambassador (kinship-to-kinship relations), Crafting and PvP in addition to our Recruiting officer and the Kinship Leader. We each do our own thing but also coordinate to solve common issues. An Event which led to a PvE raid would involve myself and the Raiding officer. I just have to focus on the event part, he’ll focus on the raiding part and that way we can get back to playing sooner.

7) Know when to lead and when to get out of the way.
You don’t have to be up front leading all the time. This isn’t the military. If a member shows initiative, let them run with their idea. Heck, make them an officer if their ideas are good or they show promise. I view officership in part as being an enabler: I move obstacles so members can do what they want. For example, we didn’t have a means of collecting class quest items. Our crafting officers set it up so now class quest items are part of the kinship bank (items are stored on alts – there isn’t a kinship bank system in LotRO like there is in WoW). People enjoy light RP events, so I organize them a couple of times a month. Our raid leader organizes raids and works with our allies if we’re short on people. Officers pull things together, get people in touch with others and work to get the most out of limited resources.

It’s not a glamor job. If you want fame and fortune, become a moviestar or invent something useful. If you like helping other people have fun, then you’re a good officer candidate.

And sometimes, the best thing an officer can do is get out of the way of their guildmates and let them shine in their own endeavors.

8) Be prepared to fail spectacularly, but learn from your failures.
A long time ago, I saw the movie Hidalgo. I’m a sucker for westerns and I like race movies generally so I really enjoyed it. Hidalgo gave me the idea for creating a horse race across Breeland. Riders would navigate across the map to a waypoint where an officer would be waiting to give them their next set of coordinates. After several waypoints they’d head to the finish line in Bree. There was no right or wrong way to get from one point to the next: riders would be encouraged to take the fastest route they could find. For players able to ride a horse, mobs wouldn’t be an issue – it would all be up to the player and their ability to navigate.

After a lot of prep work we were ready. Each officer in my kin had a waypoint assignment. We had the logistics worked out such that mapping somewhere wouldn’t be practical. I posted the event to our kinship forums and to the server forums. We were set! This would rock!

And no one came. Not. One. Person. The only person that came close to the starting area was a lore master who was lost. *facepalm*

At first I was ticked off, but I got over it and went on to create other, more successful events. The Breeland rally failed due to some other events going on at the time (an in-game festival), a lack of prizes and the scope of the event. Live and learn.

Just because one of your ideas tanks doesn’t mean you’re a dumbass. In fact, I’d say that if you don’t have a complete failure once in a while, you’re not trying hard enough. If you are conscientious about being an officer, you’ll likely be disappointed that you’re let people down. It’s not the end of the world – make your mistakes. I think most of your guild mates will see that you’re trying and cut you some slack.

While I can't claim to be the be-all-end-all of knowledge about being an officer in a guild, the points above have worked well for myself and the guilds that seemed to have the least drama and most fun people.


mbp said...

Nice post Khan. I tend to take back seat in guilds because I prefer to be a footsoldier than an officer. Nevertheless I am very grateful to those who go the extra mile to organise stuff for all our benefit.

Khan said...

Thanks! I think my becoming an officer in most instances was because I'd get ideas for neat (imho) things to do. Even were I not an officer, I'd still probably be doing them. :)

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