Welcome along to another installment of Guild Chat, my monthly delve into my mailbag in search of some tough guild-related issues that need solving. You might want to get comfortable, readers: This one is a very long and complex scenario that needs plenty of attention and words of wisdom, so be ready to put our heads together to help out a devastated reader in need.
This submission is from a longtime reader called James who has received a nasty dose of guild drama and exclusion. I’ve provided a long version of his submission below (although that is admittedly less than half of the length of his original email), but here’s the TL;DR: James led a successful guild that was seeking sizable financial contributions toward guild housing. James was a main contributor, but finances caused friction whenever a vote passed to award those contributors special privileges, causing a vocal minority to seek change. James ended up handing over the guild to the radicals, with the agreement that he was to be made a permanent officer. James was soon thereafter removed from the guild, leaving him out of pocket and without purpose when he returned to the game after an approved hiatus.
This is undoubtedly a tough nut to crack, but hopefully we can provide James with some good advice to turn the unhappy situation into a learning experience that makes him proud of his time spent playing and guild leading. Skip on down for my two cents, or read more information about James’ situation directly below.
I was the leader of a rather large, relatively wealthy, successful social raiding guild. About a year ago, there was a vocal minority of guild members who were dissatisfied with current management and wanted radical change to the direction of the guild. They were unhappy about how things were run, especially after a contentious vote to allow certain privileges to be awarded to those who contributed financially to our guild and its housing, with those who contributed or knew those who contributed obviously in favor. The top 10 donors, of whom I was a close second, pretty much contributed a third of the cost, and the top 20 donated two thirds.
They also disliked the open leadership, claiming it was slow and inefficient and showed too much “mercy to people who should have been kicked instantly.” It was often hard to reach a consensus on more contentious issues, sometimes taking several days, but I didn’t feel it was right to suddenly do a 180 on guild policy regarding open leadership as it wouldn’t be fair to the majority who joined believing that was one of the perks of the guild. One of the unhappy party was an officer, and he contacted me on TeamSpeak basically announcing his intention to take over, by force or otherwise, though he tried to phrase it better.
At the time of this TS conversation, I was busy IRL and already had plans to step down as GM temporarily, but the officer in question wasn’t aware of this. I called for an officer meeting and suggested an extended period when I would retain the official position of “guild leader” in name only while the officer in question ran the guild’s daily activities without my input or interference. We eventually agreed that I should instead have a permanent head officer position and not the guild leader title, but that we’d retain the handing over period. There were some who wanted me to hand over the keys right away, so this was viewed as a compromise. There were unfortunately no other volunteers to run my guild, so despite my suspicions the agreement would not be honored, I had little choice.
About a week later, my RL situation took a turn for the worse and I found myself not being able to play at all. I said my goodbyes and made that guy leader on the condition that my retention of the head officer position would be honoured after I had taken my time off, which would be in the scope of months. A couple weeks later, though, I found my rights to the officer areas of the guild forums were stripped and that I was kicked from the guild in-game. I approached the leader and was told I could not take part in officer matters while out of game and that I was temporarily kicked for inactivity and would be welcomed back after my leave.
Before the end of my approved leave, I wanted to return, so I wrote a message to the leader, politely asking to be welcomed back. I mentioned the officer position and that I understood that my absence made being head officer impossible, leaving the decision of what to do to him while hinting that I would appreciate any title at all at this stage so long as I was in the loop. I got a rather strongly worded reply, highlighting all the perceived failures I made during my leadership (some were unfortunately valid statements) and how he was a much better leader than I had been. He also said if I had not quit, a quarter of the guild would have left with him.
I felt that I was no longer welcome in the guild I founded and realized a lot of my friends were gone, so I disappeared. All this happened half a year ago. Last month, I thought I would check to see how the guild was doing as I was still a forum member, and I realized it was under another new leader. I wanted to rejoin while I had a fresh opportunity with a new leader, so after thinking about it for a while, I plucked up the courage to approach the new leader. I stated my intention to rejoin as an ordinary member and said that the previous guy and I had an agreement but I realized that it was a long time ago. I said that I’d like to be considered for further opportunities after I had been back a while.
I was told he would consider my application to rejoin. I asked what was barring my application, since the policy for rejoins who had not broken any of the guild rules was automatic acceptance regardless of period of time. He then said he didn’t like how I sounded entitled to an officer seat. I did not expect any position outright and just thought I should be considered down the track based on past experience and agreements since some of the officers who witnessed this were still in the guild, and I didn’t think just copy-pasting my exchange with the previous leader would seem entitled. In hindsight, maybe mentioning officership at all was a bit much, but his attitude left me feeling like everything I had ever done for the guild was for naught if I wouldn’t even get a reinvite and the opportunity to advance at a later date.
They then had an officer chat and decided not to readmit me under any circumstances. The officers were backing the person who took over from me, so they made up lies that I had been kicked and outright denied I had been approved leave and guaranteed a spot to return to. It’s my word against theirs, and I really should have kept screenshots and recorded the TS conversation to back up the old forum threads and PMs.
I’m left out of pocket due to my financial commitment to the guild, and I would now appreciate some of my money back. Previously while fundraising, the officers decided that quitters risked forfeiting any of their monetary contributions, but anyone who was kicked would be entitled to money back so we wouldn’t owe them anything. If I could get my money back, I would then take whatever I could get and start a new life on some other server. I doubt I will get back a cent though because I don’t think they have the means to repay such a massive amount.
I know there are several factors here that were my own doing, and there were many things I could have done better as a leader. I am not sure how I should move on with this… it appears all I can do is learn from this experience. I am not sure if perhaps the right thing to do was to be selfish and not hand it over at all if there were no suitable successors. Is there any way I could try to calm the current leader down, clarify my benign intentions, defuse the situation, and part ways amicably? And if possible get a fraction of my money back? How can I move on from this without feeling a complete loser? -James
First of all, James, I just want to congratulate you for being so frank, knowing that your failures and losses could be published for other MMO fans to see. Let me let you in on a little secret, one guild leader to another: None of us is perfect, and there are times when we all make bad decisions that hurt or annoy our fellow guild members. I’ve had to call more than one emergency guild meeting in my time, all because of mistakes I’ve made in that guild’s leadership. Running a guild is very similar to managing any group of people, and we accept that sometimes eggs get broken to make one hell of an omelette in other branches of leadership, so why not in guild management too?
I can sense that despite your failings, you did have a positive vision for your guild and were greatly committed to its development. I want to impart on you some advice to carry forward into either the game you put so much time into with your old guild, or perhaps in another MMO. You seemed to have grasped many of the lessons your difficult situation could teach you before you ever emailed me, so I suspect that what you really need to know is that you won’t always get burned when you throw yourself into a game the way you did. Let’s look at some of the main takeaway points here, and help make you feel less culpable.
Tension caused by a lack of commonality
Democratic voting was certainly a good thing to implement, and I suspect that those who disagreed with the majority would have been equally unhappy with each and every decision they disagreed with because they didn’t simply oppose the motion itself, but rather the whole ethos behind your management system. Democracy can bite us on the arse sometimes, James, especially when decisions only pass with a marginal win. In cases where there isn’t a very clear majority, I prefer to reach some sort of compromise between the two opposing motions rather than enacting the motion of the marginal winner. It lessens the hurt in the losing party, which reduces the tension caused by having the contentious vote in the first place.
In your case, however, I don’t think that would have worked; the vocal minority in your guild wanted only to be in charge, and no amount of softening the blow would have quelled that. I think that their core outlook on guilds and guild management was directly opposed to that of the majority of your guildmates, and if you read back on my five ingredients for a happy guild, you’ll see that a lack of commonality is a heavy indicator that a guild will fracture. You mentioned in your full email that your guild had suffered losses of more than 25% of its membership before this tension, so perhaps commonality has been a recurring issue for you. If I had been filling your shoes, I would have let another split occur.
The leader who usurped you threatened a split, but the internal struggles between two opposing parties ended up more damaging to you than a split would have been. They were unhappy because they were shoehorning themselves into a guild that didn’t share their approach, and you gave each of them the opportunity to be heard through votes. If they couldn’t abide by the choices made by the collective, then it falls on them to re-evaluate their aims and see if they will fall in line or find a new guild that better suits their purposes.
Never hand over what you’re not ready to lose
I don’t mean to be too harsh, but the minute you handed over the guild to the officer in question, you ostracised yourself from its running and made it seem the case to the wider guild membership that you were in the wrong. The guild will never be the same again because the people you handed it over to don’t share your vision for its future, so I doubt you’d find a comfortable home there even if you did return. You made it much easier for them to turn around the guild’s perception of you: history is written by the victors, as they say, and you paved their path for them. Trust your instincts: if something feels wrong, it usually is, and this had the big ol’ whiff of a hostile take over right from the beginning. The officer sounds as though he may be the dominant leader type I mentioned before, and you can be sure that if he pushed you out, he did similar power plays to others.
If another reader is in a similar position to the one James found himself in, I’d urge you not to step down without really considering that worst-case scenario: If you aren’t really ready to potentially walk away forever, don’t do it. It’s not selfish at all when we’re discussing a minority of dissenters like this. I’d recommend holding on to the leader spot while airing out the issues brought up by the opposing movement. If you are seen listening to even a hostile argument, you’ll earn the respect of those who might be on the fence between those who back you and those who wish to take over. Remember that at this point, James, you’re walking away from a shell of what was, and not the guild you remember fondly. What’s done is done, and now’s the time to salvage what you can and start anew.
Use the guild rules to get what you deserve
The weight of your loss seeps through your email, James, and I definitely feel for you. You didn’t just hand over the reins to the guild; you also stumped up for the collective in order to see the guild adequately housed. I agree with you: I’d say that you have very little to no chance of seeing that money back. I would, however, urge you to make the infractions the new leader has made against the guild’s rules clear for all to see. Take to the guild forum if you still have access and petition for the return of your funds under the rules of the guild.
They have made a rookie mistake in their words to you, and they either need to accept that you took legitimate time away and were guaranteed a spot, in which case you should be brought back under the rejoin acceptance rules, or they can stick to the story about you being kicked, in which case you are owed back the funds you sunk into housing you have no access to. They can’t have simultaneously left and been kicked, so they need to make up their mind! You’ve tried private niceties, and now it is time to step it up if you still wish to fight. If the leaders are seen to be unfair publicly, you have a much better chance of either seeing some return on your investment or earning the sympathy of the current roster.
If the new leadership is so freely flaunting guild rules, it only serves to undermine them. Perhaps you’ll find that other guild members are being treated unfairly, and maybe some people who remember you would prefer to cut their losses too and follow you onto greener pastures. Have you thought about approaching people and seeing if they are now left unhappy? The guild is likely to be a mess internally because of so many disparate outlooks and after changing hands so many times in the span of a year, and I’m sure that members of the original roster may not feel particularly well represented by the new leader. Keep it factual and clean: you don’t need to undermine the management because they do that themselves.
You’re walking away the better man
Even if you don’t walk away with an apology, a handful of prospective members for a new guild, or a wad of cash back, you’re leaving them as the victor. Throughout everything, you have stayed true to the guild and its rules, even if you did make errors along the way. I’m confident that a new guild would be lucky to find you guildless, so you’ll be snapped up when you’re ready for that. Don’t rule out leading again in the future: the experience you gained in dealing with your first guild can be put to good use all over again.
The great thing about MMOs is that “massive” part: There are so many people out there sharing the in-game experience that this doesn’t have to be the end of that game for you. Take your time in starting anew, and be sure to set up a very clear code of conduct and guild rules document before you invite anyone else along for the ride. Be unapologetic about your vision and don’t accept anyone who isn’t on board for the same crazy ride, and you won’t go too far wrong. Good luck, fellow adventurer!
Over to you!
I feel like I’ve only just touched on this scenario, and there’s so much more I could say to James in this case. How would you have tackled the scenario? Would you chalk the heavy loss up to experience and start afresh, or would you keep pushing for acceptance with the old crowd? Any advice for James in his quest for a new beginning? Have you ever felt conned or pushed out of a guild before? Share your thoughts below! And thanks so much to James for this topic!