This is not a prophetic, or even personal essay, in the sense that is occurring in the present. This topic is a prompt from The Casual Raider for the Shared Topic this week at Blog Azeroth. (It actually should have published last week, but I got bogged down. Oops.)
I’ve made talking about guilds–leadership, raiding participation, and communication–an important focal point of my talks here at Jaded Alt, because I consider a guild, and especially raiding guilds, to be the focal point of my in-game “home” in the World of Warcraft. As much as I hate to say it, I’ve had a lot of different homes throughout my WoW career, where I’ve been a class leader, a peon, an officer, a GM, and, again a peon! Most of my writings are dedicated to keeping internal guild friction and catastrophic meltdowns from occurring because it is such a hard thing to live through. At a minimum, you invest time–maybe a little, maybe a lot–in the relationships, goals, and functions of your guild, and when it goes wrong, everyone is left stranded. When it comes to the death of a guild, the death throes can be ugly, and there can be no bystanders.
Although each guild meltdown will exhibit slightly different signs and stressors (and frankly, some guilds live despite almost constant signs of imminent meltdown), in general, guild breakdowns look the same after you’ve lived through enough of them. In the end, your guild’s survival comes down to the people who populate your green chat, and whether they feel invested enough to survive the bad times.
In a word, all guild deaths can be attributed to a single major factor: DRAMA!
A guild member has a problem. They may rant. They may rave. They may just silently disappear in the middle of the night. Sometimes they gather a posse that all agrees on the problem. Other times, their explosion of wrath picks up bystanders who had no idea their completely unrelated problem was bothering them — until someone else left. Unfortunately, once a trickle of drama enters the guild consciousness, it seems it spreads like some fungal rot that can’t be wiped out with even the most astringent cleansers.
Despite what some self-righteous, misunderstand pee-squat who leaves the guild might think, the leadership’s job isn’t to encapsulate every member in layers of loving goodness, enticing them constantly to remain in the guild. On the contrary, a big part of any leader’s job is to make sure disgruntled and irreconcilable guild members are quietly and with the least amount of fuss excised from the guild to make room for players who actually want to be involved in the guild.
Trying to meet too many conflicting goals, and keeping the guild in a state of constant flux is much more draining for the members and the guild, than any other single factor. But if I had to pick the single biggest death knell of a guild #2, it would be leader burnout.
Most guilds cannot handle a transition of power. Officers may come and go, but when the time comes for the GM position to change hands, no matter the age of the guild, something indefinable always tends to go wrong. A GM seeking retirement into the faceless ranks or even to leave the guild entirely causes two problems: morale issues and power struggles. Those with the least to lose generally find themselves a new roost, and those most heavily invested in the guild attempt to position for control in order to see that the guild doesn’t die.
The Death Knell
I’ve lived on a lot of older servers, and it’s always disconcerting to see a guild name that was “serious contender” in vanilla being worn by someone’s L1 bank alt. For the most part, when a guild meltdown reaches critical mass, the rats will flee the ship seeking new berths before a day has passed. An officious leader type will post a farewell post in the guild forums. A MoTD will be posted. Some leaders, hurt and distressed over the loss of their guildmates will disband the guild from the top, unguilding members, alts, and the bank as their final act as guild leader.
Other deaths are slower, a gradual siphoning away of lesser members, followed by a lack of new blood, with some final holdouts remaining guilded while they go roll up new characters. A guild is only as strong as the members it contains, but sometimes, a strong commitment remains and the guild lives on as some kind of ghost house, appearing in odd hours of the day and night, then fading back into the sunset.
What to Do
While it can be hard after having invested heavily into a particular guild to watch its dying days, it is even sadder to see a tendril of a once great guild carry on in a half-hearted and broken manner as well. People know the guilds on their server — the histories, the infighting, and the tone of the guild. If you find yourself last among a dying crowd, unable to recruit new members, unable to leave the last few people who are as firmly committed to remaining a “team” as you are, do yourself a favor, and kill the old guild.
As hard as it can be to lose the tag, the people who are trying to remain united with are more important. Starting fresh, a splinter of a dead guild, is much easier to cope with in terms of rebuilding than being associated with the last dead guild. However great, strong, and virile it might have been, it’s just a limp dick now, so let it go already.
Having a fresh slate let’s you also more easily re-evaluate leadership roles (often you’ll have a weird admixture of fresh blood, an officer or two, and some core members). Maybe your officers don’t want to lead anymore. Maybe that new guy is ripping and raring to be the best recruitment or raid officer on the server. Dissolving old ties can make picking the right people for the right job at the right time.