Guild Chat: Guild size and its effect on cohesion

    
19

Welcome along to Guild Chat, my cozy corner of the internet in which we can discuss all things guilds, the place where we all gather to give advice to a reader in need. Come on in and pull up a plush purple couch, everybody! I’ll pop the kettle on while we get settled in, all ready to deal with this month’s issue. This edition of Guild Chat is focused on a question sent in from Massively Overpowered reader Loyheta that asks about balancing the size of a guild’s roster with its inclusiveness and activity levels. As pointed out, the balance can be hard to strike: Many of the largest guilds become somewhat fractured and cliques inevitably form, whereas smaller guilds may be very friendly but often rely on new players suiting the commonality of the existing core members. Read Loyheta’s question in full below to get up to speed, and don’t forget to pop your own two cents on the topic in the comments below.

Hey Tina, I’ve been really enjoying your articles. At this time I really only have one thing that concerns me in regards to guilds. Mainly, the types of guilds. I don’t mean focus (e.g., RP, raiding, PvP, etc.), but more behavior. In my experience there is two ends with a small grey zone that is really hard to keep. I’ve seen the large guilds that are fairly impersonal, they rely on cliques and friendships being formed from the random people they recruit. They are mostly self-serving but do play a role. Other than that I have seen the smaller, more personal guilds. They are very active or will all log in at the same time. They rely on each other to continue interest in the game. Then you get the illusive middle-ground. The large guilds that are very friendly and active. They try hosting tons of events, contests, raffles, etc.

I really would love to see an article discussing this and hearing your opinions and views on the different types of guilds, their roles, and what you would prefer. I personally have been a part of them all — the disposable healer in a raid guild (WoW), a main tank of an active RP guild (SWTOR), and the guild leader of a small social guild (GW2). I found the large but very active guild to be my personal favorite. But as I’ve mentioned, it is hard to balance. As the game became more unpopular, different officers worked their way to the top and turned it raid focus. The more active raiders that wanted to push content left for more notable raid guilds. It was nice while it lasted.

I think this is a fabulous question that’s very worthy of consideration. Most MMO players who engage in the guild experience have faced this same sort of thing. My general rule of thumb is the larger the guild, the harder it is to become a known face in the crowd; in smaller, close-knit guilds, however, it becomes more challenging to find groups that want to play the MMO at hand in exactly the same way as you, at exactly the same time, using exactly the same rules. This leaves us with the balancing act you so astutely pointed out in your email: Most players find a happy medium in a large yet cohesive guild that caters to the bulk of its membership in its activity patterns and event choices. Let’s start to unpack the guild types you describe and what they look like.

elderscrolls online group with tabard

Avoiding the large, impersonal guild trap

I believe the single most important factor in guild cohesion and activity is the organic, unforced growth of the guild as controlled by active, effective guild leadership. Guild recruitment should happen naturally without mass-invite spamming newbie characters or recruiting with a lack of clear standards. Should either of these statements be true for the guild you join, it is likely you will not find a sense of togetherness in that guild’s community, as I mentioned in last month’s discussion of what players should look for in a guild. Now, when I mention “clear standards,” I’m not talking about hard experience caps, gear requirements, or other arbitrary numbers that can be used to distinguish one player from another, but rather about making clear what exactly your guild’s modus operandi is. I’m a firm believer in guild mission statements that outline what the core ethos and goals of the guild are for all members and prospective members to see. This is something that should be discussed with potential members before they join to ensure that the guild is a good fit for their playstyles and outlook, and how players emulate that mission statement should be considered during regular evaluations of the guild roster as a matter of course.

A guild leader will inevitably find himself saying no to some applicants if he follows my advice, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. You’ll certainly have more members if you accept all the applications you receive, but how will those members’ individual outlooks affect the joint guild experience if that’s in conflict with your vision? Fractures and cliques form when certain groups of players don’t have the same vision as the rest of the guild, which leaves them with two options: leave the guild to find one that’s more suitable, or associate only with the players who run the content they wish to complete. If this striation of the member base is left unchecked, new members will find it very hard to find a place in the guild and the impersonal feel you describe will start to seep into the roster.

This guild type is good for more casual players who don’t expect a large cohesive group to be available whenever they are to run very specific content, so successful examples are usually found in the shape of large casual levelling guilds in which players of each level bracket and levelling style naturally branch off into grinding cliques to get the job done. I find that once these levelling cliques hit the level cap, they tend to leave the large, faceless guilds they met in and branch off into more niche guilds that better fit their in-game focus. I frequently had group applications from large guilds to my raiding guild as these players found that their desire to clear PvE content didn’t fit in with the intentions of the guild they levelled in.

neverwinter small group

Expanding out from the smaller niche guild

This brings me neatly back to the smaller, more personal guilds you mentioned in your query. The first guild I led started out as a tiny social enterprise in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. I was gaming with a large group of friends at my local gaming café at the time, and since we all played in the same space, we decided to create a social guild for local players. At this point our mission was simple: We wanted to include as many local players as possible in banter-filled social play that mirrored the fun atmosphere of the place in which we played. This suited everyone because we all had the same vision and our real-life interactions shaped the guild’s ethos. We were a small, friendly guild, but how could new people break into a group that was filled with real-life friends with a unique group identity?

To me, a small guild that is largely composed of a friendship-group really suits only those specific people as their established bonds and shared history make it very hard for an outsider to infiltrate its ranks. To expand, such guilds need to slowly adapt their processes and must have a good reason for such expansion other than chasing the prestige or vanity that sometimes accompanies belonging to a large, well-known guild. Without that, new members will feel second-best to the established roster and will soon be on the hunt for a more accommodating guild.

When my guild members reached the level cap, we decided to shift it up a gear and tackle raiding on a regular basis, which necessitated attracting PUG players and advertising to fill the gaps we had in our fledgling raid team. It was at this point in our guild’s development that I started to recruit from outside of my social sphere, filling our vacancies with guildless PUGgers who gelled well with our gang. We added people from all over Europe over the course of the next few months and years, and our mission statement drastically changed to fit the new needs of the expanding guild. If it hadn’t changed, the new members we added initially would never have been able to find a meaningful place in my guild. We used both social media and a guild website to co-ordinate our members and come up with a mutually agreed timetable of events that suited the majority of our members, enabling everyone to step up and get involved in the community we created.

wow guild group

Successfully managing the happy medium

I was very detailed when explaining exactly what content we would tackle collectively and when that would happen, and the management structure of the guild changed to suit our needs as the guild grew. As we expanded we created more raiding teams, having four 10-man teams running concurrently to ensure that those who wished to raid were largely catered to. We also rotated our leaders between teams and had almost continual group switch-ups so that each member developed a relationship with all the leaders and a larger number of his or her guildmates, which prevented cliques from taking over the guild.

We grew into one of the elusive large-yet-cohesive guilds you mentioned, and we enjoyed our time together immensely. I feel that this guild type suits the majority of MMO players, depending on the guild’s particular gameplay emphasis, and is what many established guilds strive for. Having said that, not every guild leader wants to balance so many diverse personalities, nor can every leader dedicate the time and effort required to maintain such a constantly evolving guild. You’re most definitely correct to say that the balance wasn’t an easy one to find: There were absolutely times when I failed to treat all the members with the equality I should have in the early days because I felt pressure to keep my real-world buddies happy since I interacted with them in person on a daily basis. I wrongly prioritised them, even though they never directly asked for such preferential treatment, to the detriment of my new guildmates, causing friction between the players and contention over raiding spots and ranks.

I think using voice chat, opening up applications for new raid officers, and switching up the raid teams regularly was what helped break that bad habit. I formed such close bonds with the newer members that I stopped seeing them as additions to my “core roster” and began to recognise them as the exceptionally valuable players they really were. Our very first non-local addition to the guild brought his best friend with him and both soon became two very dear friends. Those guys are two of the wittiest, nicest idiots I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, but they wouldn’t have stuck with my guild if we hadn’t adapted our guild’s mission statement to fit the new type of guild we were to become. They were joined by many other phenomenal people over the guild’s lifespan as a result of our continual evaluation of both our common goals and each player we accepted into our ranks. The expansion of my guild was one of the best learning experiences I have had as a guild leader, and our progress was quite impressive for a relatively casual raiding guild as a result of what I learned from my new members.

runescape guildhall

Over to you!

What do you think, readers? Do you agree that smaller guilds suit only the members they originally catered to if they refuse to adapt to new members? Would you say that larger guilds become faceless because of a lack of clear management or commonality among their members? Have a go at unpacking this excellent question in the comments below, and don’t forget to pitch questions you’d like to see tackled in the future by email. I’d love to hear more about your guild experiences and opinions.

Thanks to Loyheta for this edition’s topic!

MOP’s Tina Lauro is on-hand to deal with all of your guild-related questions, queries, and drama in Guild Chat. Whatever your guild issue, she’s sure to have a witty yet sympathetic response. If there’s a specific topic you’d like to see dissected, drop Tina a comment or send an email to tina@massivelyop.com.
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
blast tyrant
Guest
blast tyrant

Estranged “Small guilds are super, if you can break into the clique.  Otherwise, you might as well play solo.”  Freaking word.  Every attempt I’ve ever made to break into guild focused group content in SWTOR has hit this hurdle.  I learned early on in my MMO career that the giant guilds weren’t worth much socially, so I’ve always looked at smaller guilds and you run into one of two things: 1) Small guild is made of RL friends and you never make it into the clique.  or 2) Small guild is made by in game recruitment, no one bonds or interacts, and 2 months later I’m the only one online at peak time.  At least in SWTOR I can go level an alt.

Quinnocent
Guest
Quinnocent

I think one needs to factor in the design decisions which actually make it /harder/ to run healthy guilds, especially at high levels of play.  More casual players often have the idea that raiding games or PvP games are catered to make the elite players happy.  I think it’s the opposite.  The content is built for elite players, for sure, but they’re often the most miserable people in the game.

I’m thirty now and a bit more casual by choice, but I was a highly competitive player for most of my twenties.  In various games, I’ve been competitive at high ratings of arena PvP, and I’ve run progression raiding guilds tackling the hardest content.  My personal experience?  Both of those styles of play eventually require highly structured playgroups, and the limitations therein eventually breed unhappiness and toxicity.  The more elite you become, especially as you start pushing the bleeding edge of raid content and PvP competitiveness, the more miserable you are.  Most of that is down to how developers force you to interact with other players.

It’s a straight line between bad social design and such issues.  In the name of maintaining a sense of “eliteness,” developers impose a lot of arbitrary restrictions on how player groups can and cannot work together.  Most of these end up functioning more as artificial content gates than useful skill barriers.  These restrictions both force group leaders to be more draconian than they need or want to be and often push players away from playing with at least some of their friends.

One example is one-and-done raid lockout mechanics.  Several expansion packs in, WoW is only just starting to get it.  FFXIV and most other raiding games still hew to the old formula, though.  I can understand loot limitations.  That’s an issue of stickiness.  Looting a dungeon only once per week is fine.  But if you’re running a progression guild of any size, odds are you will have a few people too many or too few, no matter how many teams you run.  I’ve been /very often/ forced to watch one of my raid teams wither and die due to repeated weeks of not raiding, even when there are able, willing, and competent players available within the guild who would love to participate in that short-handed team’s runs for comradery or practice alone, loot be damned.  Specifically, I’ve seen raid teams die because a large group of highly-skilled players who know the content are short one or two competent players.  Substitutions for established teams become more difficult too.  As a result, you very often end up with highly-successful A-teams and struggling B-teams.  Meanwhile, guild leaders are forced to be narcs about attendance in these situations.  I’ve never lost my temper on mumble, but I’ve spent a lot of time cursing developer decisions like this to my senior officers.

Then you have the team restrictions in rated PvP.  In the name of preventing “carrying,” lots of games implemented matchmaking ratings and locked you to a single team per bracket.  The result at high levels of competitiveness?  Good luck if you’re playing an underclass for that season.  Team comp matters a lot at high levels of play.  I’ve also had seasons where I suddenly got a cold shoulder from my
more skilled friends because they were already teamed with somebody who
gave them a more viable team comp.  Or I was pressured to respec into the
latest gimmicky spec for the sake of a higher winrate. And good luck if you want to play with your less serious friends for a season instead.  I’ve played games where I could simply never play with any of my more casual friends because our team would instantly match far out of their level of competitiveness.  I could still carry them to a rating far exceeding their ability, but they would have zero fun along the way.  I’d have to play around them rather than with them.

I don’t care if content is brutally hard or requires large groups or a lot of practice.  I don’t care if PvP requires incredible practice and skill to be competitive.  Just don’t add additional logistic hurdles on top of that with silly social design.  As a player who enjoys high-level play, I’d really like to see them phase out silly restrictions like these.

Khalith
Guest
Khalith

Great article, it’s definitely something I’ve thought about when I’ve played MMO’s, I’ve been a social guild leader that eventually grew in to a raiding guild, been in raiding guilds filled with cliques, raiding guilds where they all hated each other and only played together for clearing content, raiding guilds where it was a small tightly focused team, taken over a guild after the GM quit and held it together and rebuilt it through sheer force of will, been in faceless mega guilds, been in smaller RP guilds,and everything in between.  My favorite is definitely the smaller guilds that are open to recruiting, are a bit more selective about it, and are chatty in the guild chat itself.
Nowadays though in MMO’s I tend to seek out larger faceless mega guilds, I work a lot and have pretty odd hours when I can and cannot play MMO’s, by joining those really large guilds I have a much higher chance of there actually being people on when I am.  At the same time though I tend to solo a lot because of my schedule and I never really ask anyone in those guilds to join me or ask for help with something unless it’s a question about where to find something or what a specific item does.  For me, guilds now are mostly just people to chat with occasionally while playing a game, I’d love to be able to find a raiding guild again but it’s so hard to find one willing to work with me and my schedule! So for now I’ve given up on it and focus mainly on small group content on the MMO’s I play if the game has a group finder.

Craywulf
Guest
Craywulf

I think it boils down to how the game is developed for guilds. I personally do not appreciate developers rewarding the existence of large guilds. I think the size of the guild should be roughly one to two more than number of classes. So if a MMO game has 13 classes then a guild capacity should be no more than 15. MMO’s that add new classes could raise the guild cap by 2. My reasoning is that a lot developers spend a great deal of time balancing classes, and the more classes there are the harder it is. Same goes for content aimed at large groups of players is much harder to balance than say content aimed at 5 players. Also the way large guilds function, often times dictate how the developer adapts to updates and expansions. I think they have far too much control and do a lot of damage by fostering certain style of play that developers have hard time curbing. Large guilds often times dictate the meta game in what builds are viable in PvP. Usually builds that have high volume damage for mass group of players that can overwhelm any target.

I would like to see developers take the place of large guilds by factions. Smaller guilds would be allied with a Game Master of a faction. This would provide greater balance of involvement with all guilds across the board. It would also be cool to actually be part of the Game Master’s team. A guild of 5 players and guild of 13 would have equal access to Game Master’s activities because both are in the same faction despite being in separate guilds. This system could also work with players who are not part of a guild, but want the same level of participation.

Siphaed
Guest
Siphaed

Large impersonal guilds are such a pit.  You have nobody that actively wants to do anything outside the guild specific events (mainly used as a form of currency mechanics such as Guild Missions or farming). Trying to LFG for a dungeon in a PvE guild when there is supposedly 200 people on is impossible.   At that point it is entirely a question of what the point of being in that guild is for?  A guild is supposed to be a group of like-minded individuals rallying under one banner for the sake of comradery.   Now days they’re just groups milking each others’ presence for the sake of some sort of special reward. 

And yet the ultimate problem with smaller guilds is just that as mentioned in the originally posted question/concern:  They’re so small that they ultimately depend on each others’ presence on a consistent basis to stay enjoyable.  The week that someone has an emergency, a vacation, or a temporary hiatus from the game will leave the rest with a hole that just cannot be filled.  This is especially more so true when it comes to content that requires a certain amount of players [such as 10-man raids] and only that specific amount filled the roster.

Medium sized guilds are “okay”, but they bring up an issue similar to that of large guilds:  friend of a friend invites a friend, and that friend is a toxic cesspool.   Oh how now these chains of friendship become quickly unlinked do to that ensuing drama caused.  Worse yet -and seemingly more often the case- is that individual blob of toxicity is an officer’s or guild lead’s friend.  

Only a few times have I come across guild that meet that “just right” spot for comfort, friendliness, and enjoyment to play with.   With all the mechanics, system changes, and even general attitude changes, it’s very hard to find a guild these days that matches the style of those of the past.

Caec
Guest
Caec

I’d argue that smaller guilds do cater to “original” members, but the key to whether a new player integrates with them is whether that new player actually joins that existing web of friendships. In many ways, a small guild that focuses on clearing content is among the more hardcore commitments you’ll undertake these days in an MMO, and is pretty much the worst type of guild to join casually. If you’re not going all in, then you’re probably going to have a poor integration with it.

Loyheta
Guest
Loyheta

PurpleCopper For sandbox games yeah. It also depends on what goal that guild is working on. A large guild on a PvE server isn’t as big a deal as a large guild on a PvP server. When you are gated by content size doesn’t have as much of a bearing. A 40 man raiding guild could be more powerful than a 500 man RP guild in the context of gearing and progression. So yeah all about context.

Loyheta
Guest
Loyheta

Estranged Absolutely agree with you. It’s also really hard to keep the guild performing the same with the constant stream of other games. The other big factor, to me, is how the devs treat small guilds. Take WoW or GW2… you could be in a small guild but you lose out on so much. It is hard to stick around even with friends when you have a big carrot like a phoenix mount or guild puzzles in front of you. I have yet to do any guild events in gw2 because my guild was too small and I had no interest in joining a large faceless guild for the sake of it.
While it is about balancing within the guild.. it’s also subject to the balance between small guilds and guild rewards. FFXIV also comes to mind. I could join a large guild, get a room in a large guild house, and start working on raiding/chocobo dyeing. But I am still working on it with my small guild because it is feasible. (they still need to work on grouping though >.>)

Loyheta
Guest
Loyheta

TL;DR:
It’s hard to keep small social guilds active with the stream of new
mmos and developers’ constant push for large guild activities. Large
guilds are mostly there just to use you for their own betterment. Large
social guilds are hard to keep on track. They can cascade out of control
and end up dead or a toxic environment.

Loyheta
Guest
Loyheta

The only real encounter I’ve had with a large interactive guild is on
The Old Republic. It originated as a small RP guild for the guild master
and his friends but he opened it up for recruitment. Most people found
it appealing and it exploded. It actually became the first guild for
prelaunch to hit member cap (although most will say it is a different
guild because we were stuck displaying 499 members due to a bug on TOR’s
site). We formed a year before launch where we lived on the forums. We
gave life to our characters, wrote stories, RPed, and formed groups to
tackle the different aspects of the game. I spent a lot of time
theorycrafting with leaked information and made detailed guides for
people new to the genre. I even became the leader of one of these groups
and recruited like-minded people to help me out. Then disaster, the
game launched. Last minute changes, crappy engine, buggy gameplay. Half
of the guild stuck around. We only had 240 members within a week of
launch. I personally raced to cap so I could work on my favorite aspect,
crafting. Dumped millions of credits into it to get the best gear
Veracity Vanguard armor for tanking. Problem is modular gear was not
balanced with it so crafting became pointless. With my love now turned
to hate for the crafting I stepped down and focused on playing with
members I had grown close to. With no scaling I regretted racing to cap.
So I found a group and did flashpoints with them. We actually became
really close and would be spearheading content. I then went on to main
tanking for the guild until I became annoyed with buggy operations. I
then decided to spend less time raiding and more time tackling one of my
other loves: pet and mount collecting.
I would start circling
the drain as I became less and less interested in the game’s direction. I
decided to hang up my blaster when free to play and its restrictions
were added. I wouldn’t return til the expansion. By the time I had
returned a good 90% of the officers had been replaced. The old officers
had lost interest in the game or with running the guild. That’s when
(imo) the poison of the elitists seeped in. Instead of having fun I was
instructed on how I needed to play my class. Instead of collecting
interesting pets that required special activities (like the taun taun
and the birds) everything was brought in through the cash shop. I tried
to stick around and be useful but after condescending speeches in
teamspeak about how I needed to post my dps and actions/minute for
review I decided it was not worth it. So our large wonderful guild had
stagnated into just another raiding guild. I lost all interest in the
game but loved the memories of the guild so much that I’d rather not
play than leave the guild for another.
So yeah.. this has turned into my (mmo) life story xD sorry about that.
TL;DR:
It’s hard to keep small social guilds active with the stream of new
mmos and developers’ constant push for large guild activities. Large
guilds are mostly there just to use you for their own betterment. Large
social guilds are hard to keep on track. They can cascade out of control
and end up dead or a toxic environment.