Mages, ten-man raiding, and other things that are awesome.

Posts tagged ‘social members’

Guild Culture & You

Last week, Alas celebrated her second anniversary of blogging! As the kind tradition goes, she offered to think of a blog topic for interested parties. Of course, I couldn’t help but take her up on this offer. More topics to write about? Yes please, always welcome! Here’s the topic she gave me:

As a GM, how directly responsible do you feel for your guild culture? If a new person were to join, would they be right to credit you for the overall shape of the culture since you are in a position to dictate policy? Or do you think your members shape culture more?

It’s an interesting question, because it doesn’t really have a definitive answer, unless you want to go with: “Somewhat, yes and no, and maybe.” First off, the ‘culture’ of a guild (as I read it) encompasses many factors. Most obviously, it’s the interactions between members (that take place on both the forums, in guild chat, and via voice chat, and these can differ). As well, the culture is the implicit expectations of all the members. What can they expect from their fellow members, from the leadership, and from the activities we do?

The culture of a guild is a nebulous and fascinating thing. I’ve seen the culture of our guild change quite a bit over the past two years – in fact, it’s fair to say that it’s constantly changing. Shifts in culture can happen in two directions – from both the top down, or the bottom-up. The most direct way to influence the culture of your guild is pretty simple: Recruit the kind of people who espouse the culture you want. Obviously, it’s more complicated than that, and people aren’t that simple. But no matter what guild you’re in, all it takes is one drastically different person: drop them into the center and watch the sparks fly!

This could be someone whose attitude is more “hardcore” than the members of the prevailing guild.

It could be the opposite – someone who doesn’t quite catch on with regards to what’s expected of them.

It could easily be someone who just doesn’t quite “get” it socially – they tell jokes no one laughs at or they never say anything at all; they just don’t “fit.”

Who fits? In answering that question, mostly, I go with my gut. I’ve ignored it on a few occasions, always to my detriment. (For more about this, I recommend reading “Blink” by Malcom Gladwell). If I have a good feeling about someone, I am usually pretty confident that they will fit in. This feeling begins from the moment I start to read an application. Maybe it makes me chuckle, and contains complete sentences with punctuation – whatever it is, I seldom write more in our applicant discussion thread than, “I’d like to talk to this person a bit more at an interview,” or “I don’t really like [xyz].” A few times I’ve been persuaded to talk to someone whose app didn’t immediately grab me – and even given a trial to someone I was on the fence about, but that’s always turned out to be a mistake for various reasons.

Similarly, I trust the gut feelings of everyone in the guild when it comes to reviewing applicants. If someone says, “I’m just not sure about them,” I’m less likely to want to talk to them. So in a very real sense, the culture of the guild itself is fairly self-regulating when it comes to new people. We’re pretty egalitarian. Everyone weighs in on applications, and everyone tries to be there for interviews on Mumble, too. This makes for especially grueling fifteen-person interviews that are pretty nerve-wracking. I know because I’ve been on the other end of one. If you’re a shyer person it can be scary to know there are so many people listening to what you say – but it’s absolutely essential for us that everyone gets to hear an applicant and give an opinion. At the end, we go through the list of people on Mumble after the applicant has left and vote. Everyone has a chance to say yes or no (and why). Most folks who get in have received a unanimous “yes.”

The only exception to this process are social members – friends and family, and curiously they can prove to be the most potentially unbalancing, because 1) they didn’t apply and weren’t interviewed as we do with other people, and also 2) they already have social ties within the guild so if they don’t fit in or are disruptive, it’s delicate to handle because you risk offending both the newcomer and their friend. I’m pretty welcoming of social members, really, despite what I wrote about them before – I love having people to chat with in guild, and I think especially in a smaller guild they can add some action on nights when folks are busy with other things. More people to hang out with are welcome, but again you have to be careful with expectations. What happens if a social member offends or gets into a fight with a raiding member? Fortunately, I’ve never really had to deal with this and people tend to play nice. I’d like to think that we could resolve any conflict like adults, which is pretty much what the guild is founded upon.

So, I think that the largest determining factor of guild culture is the people in the guild (duh) and in my guild, everyone has a say in deciding who the people are. That’s pretty big. In terms of me personally affecting culture, I think a GL affects culture the most through their own actions. That can be good or bad, depending on your perspective. We don’t really have a lot of policy per se, although I’ve added to it in the year and a half that I’ve been GL. I like to have things set out so that you have something to fall back on in case of disputes, but it’s important for me to remember that I’m not managing juniors.

You have Voss to thank for this bit of manager-ese; he likes to explain that when you manage someone who is pretty green or new, they will probably need a lot of hand-holding. You can’t necessarily entrust them with things you would trust to a more senior person, nor expect the same things from them. But our guild is built around the expectation that members are already pretty senior. They have prior raid experience (in many cases, raid-leading, other hard mode guilds, etc). The thing is, if you manage a senior like a junior, all you’ll end up doing is pissing them off. Have you ever had a manager at any job who treated you like you were incompetent, breathed down your neck, or tried to micro-manage everything you were doing (despite your being competent and capable?) They were treating you like a junior. We try not to do that. So there’s a fair amount of trust there that precludes a lot of policy or a lot of dictating. Expectations are clear – how we raid, how we prepare to raid, and so on. What happens within that framework is up to all of us, and it’s understood that we’ll do it without raising our voices to each other, and we’ll handle any conflict with the least amount of fuss.

The end result is (I hope!) a guild that knows I care about what they think and feel, and that I’ll take their opinions and desires into account when making any decisions. It’s not completely a democracy, but there are definitely strong democratic leanings. It’s a guild that gives respect and receives it in turn, one that knows what’s expected of them (and knows they can let me know if I’ve fallen short in their expectations). Mutual respect, dragon killing, serious business time, many jokes and general badassery make up BT’s culture. I think it’s owed in large part to the excellent people that comprise it, and perhaps I clarify it where necessary. If it’s an unconscious partnership, it’s an awesome one. I think any new member joining would be right in thinking that everyone contributes to the guild’s culture, and my primary responsibility is to find negative contributions and make sure they don’t sour the good thing that we have.

I think I answered that question. Maybe. Sort of, yes and no. What do you think? Does your guild leader shape your guild’s culture, or do you think that’s mostly up to the members? I think it’s probably true that the personality of a guild leader is a larger determinant of culture than I’ve admitted here. I favour collaborative and cooperative environments, so I do my best to recruit people who suit that and to encourage it overall. Perhaps a different guild leader with the same members would create a completely different culture. I’m definitely open to opinions!

Social Members, Raiding Guilds

Occasionally as a guild leader or “management” member of any group of WoW-folks, you’re faced with some tough decisions. Sometime last year our guild had to grapple with the question of social members – would we have them, and under what circumstances? Should we have them?

Historically, the guild had a few social members. These were invariably people who had once been raiders that were unable to raid for one reason or another. When I first joined there was an assorted group of these, some of them that no one in the guild could remember raiding, but they were still “around.” Some guilds might have almost nothing but social members, or just “members,” but when you’re a focused raiding guild there is usually going to be a necessary division.

Almost all the screenshots I have with guildies are from raids! This one happens to feature our nifty battle standard.

For us, social members have always been a bit of a grey area, sometimes presenting a conundrum. The social members we’ve had have come in three different flavours: 

Social With A Side of Raiding (Someday)

Our first two members like this wanted to join although we had no raiding spots. This is one of the biggest difficulties of being a small, “exclusive” kind of guild. Since we focus on ten mans and don’t want to run two simultaneous groups, we have to be very careful of roster bloat. Too many raiders means people are benched too frequently. Not enough will lead to burn-out. I actually famously (and regrettably) turned down a resto druid and her hunter friend because our roster simply didn’t have the room for them. The druid was so determined that our guild was the best fit for her that she farmed up the copper to send me an in-game message asking me to reconsider and reassuring me that they would be happy to just be social until such time as a need arose for them on the roster. Note – this kind of tenacity does have the potential to make a guild reconsider your application. She impressed me – we let them in.

Less than a week later, in a strange twist of fate, we had roster turnover and suddenly needed a healer and a DPS. Because we’d considered the two of them including the merits of their skills as raiders, this was fine. They stepped in seamlessly and are still valuable members to this day. I’m happy it worked out the way it did.

It’s a rare person that’s going to want to join a guild just to warm the bench, though – most people applying to a raiding guild are going to want to raid. If you admit people as socials with intent to raid, you still have to evaluate their personality, gear, logs, experience and knowledge. Recruiting is work, interviewing takes time, and this could be time wasted if the people don’t actually raid with you – or if you decide not to admit them after all the time spent reviewing their application.

Raiders Gone Social

This is liable to be a common category in most guilds, no matter the size. Life has a way of sneaking up on people and bludgeoning them – life changes like children, a move, or a new job can make a formerly convenient raiding schedule impossible. I’ve never seen any need to not keep and value these people – you usually know them from raiding so they are friends, and having more people in the guild keeps things lively. They can still run five-mans with other guildies when they have time, or just chat.

In some cases, these folks may want to raid again at some later date. Once a raider has “stepped down” from the roster we require that they re-apply to join raids. This is for us the only fair way because roster needs may have completely changed. There may not be room for that person, or they may have a different schedule. Re-applying proves that they are serious about raiding again, it can help to answer scheduling questions, and it acts as a tangible sign of commitment. We might even interview if the situation called for it – say, for example, if many guildies didn’t know the person from previously, or if they intended to play a different character.

Because nothing says "friend" like getting your buddy stuck on a Sandbox Tiger, laughing at his distress, and then posting screenshots for all the people on the internet to see.

Just Social, Please

We’ve had poor luck with purely social members who applied that way. After some discussion about this last summer, we did have a few folks (friends of mine) join briefly, but often alts on other servers are played infrequently, and so although they were awesome people (hey guys!) most of the guildies didn’t know who they were. This is a bit awkward for everyone involved, sort of like giving a friend a key to your shared home but not being home when they drop by and let themselves in. With such a small group of people, it can be jarring to have new folks joining and if personalities don’t gel, someone has to go. (Hint: It can’t be one of the raiding members we depend on, and this leads to awkwardness all around). We did decide that we’d take social members on the good recommendation of a current member – so if your good friend wants to join and you’ll vouch for him, then sure, but again it’s provisional. Just as we have a trial period for all raiders, we consider any new member in the same light.

Another really bizarre example of a “just social” member came after a disgruntled former member created an alias for himself, played a different character, and re-applied to the guild…as if he were a completely different person. Honestly, I can’t make this stuff up. I don’t know if we’re too trusting or just plain gullible, but he put on a convincing enough voice for the vent interview that we actually let him in. It wasn’t an easy decision, as several members rightly asked, “If he doesn’t want to raid, I don’t see what he’s really bringing to the guild?” I argued to give him a chance since he seemed nice enough.

Not everyone is going to have the same point of view on this. Personally, I like people. I like to chat with them, and I like the feeling of having a few folks online with the green chat. Others are more practical: we’re a raiding guild. We’re here for raiding, so why would we take people who aren’t going to be raiding? It’s a fair question, and it worked out tremendously badly in this fellow’s case. Eventually the suspicious things he’d said and done added up, and an officer thought to check his IP address on the forums before coming to the realization that he was the same member who had left. He was the last person to apply as a social that we accepted.

Since then, we’ve all been pretty wary about social applications. I actually got an e-mail from a reader (perhaps a former reader) who was going through some difficult times and looking for a guild to be in. I felt terrible to have to tell him that I really wasn’t certain if we were the place for him. As a blogger, if I were running a different sort of guild – I wouldn’t have hesitated, absolutely. As GL of a raiding guild (taking into consideration all of the above) I had to give him a pretty ambivalent answer. I still feel bad about it on a personal level, but as far as my responsibility to my fellow guildies goes – I did what I had to do. I can only hope that he understood, although I never heard back from him and probably lost a reader because of it.

Let’s All Be Friends (And Kill Internet Dragons)

It’s unfortunate, but social applications and members can present a number of problems for a raiding guild. We’re lucky because the social members we do have are great people, very friendly and affable. I feel an obligation towards all of my guildies and I want them to have fun and feel comfortable in the guild, but our primary focus is raiding. We’re a raiding guild, it’s what we do – so it’s easy for social members to feel a bit on the outskirts, and there isn’t very much I can do about it.

Fortunately, with Cataclysm some fairly drastic changes have led to a much better system in this regard. Prior to release, one of our social members took me aside to tell me that he’d been feeling pretty disconnected with the guild. He still liked the people, just that since he wasn’t raiding he naturally felt as if he wasn’t contributing anything to the guild. Since guild experience and guild leveling were implemented, it doesn’t matter whether you’re raiding with a guild or just questing on an alt – everyone’s contributions are equally visible and valuable! This same member went out of his way to kill specific classes/races in PvP so we could earn an achievement and the right to buy the Guild Page, and he reaps the benefits of our leveling just as everyone does. I think it’s pretty great that we can all share in that, and I’ll be writing in greater length soon about guild leveling, guild XP, and how happy I am about them.

Meantime, I still don’t think these changes to the way that guilds work are compelling enough for us to start entertaining social applications apart from close friends of guildies. I’d still like to make sure that all our guild members are happy and feel valued. What is your guild’s policy about social members (if you have one)? Have you ever been a social member in a raiding guild? Did you regret it, or were you happy with the way it worked out?

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