Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

12 August, 2018

Building your own small community in an MMO
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 11:52 PM

A little while ago I was talking to a friend of mine who helped to run an MMO guild in a game. They lamented to me about the problems of running it, particularly when things changed in the guild. It went from a small group of friends willing to help each other to a group of strangers. Worse, some of the core people were fleeing the guild to form their own rather than try to help fix the perceived problem.

So I figured I’d write a bit about what it takes to build and run a small community in a game based upon my experiences as a developer and as a player of MMOs.

This will be a nice overview, and I’ll go into more depth during the week on individual points. I think for this post, I’ll identify some common pitfalls of people who start and run guilds.

The biggest problem I’ve seen is trying to grow too big. There’s a bit of ego invested into forming a guild, thinking that you can do a better job at running a guild than all the other ones out there. And so there’s also a bit of ego invested into wanting to be the biggest and most popular, thinking this equates to success. But often a community that grows too large too fast has trouble holding together.

I think the next most common problem deals with having a purpose. Most guilds seem to be the type where, “We’ll do whatever!” This makes it easier to recruit people, but also makes it hard for people to have a common purpose. A guild centered around raiding and helping get people equipped for raiding has a focus, but excludes people who don’t want to raid, or at the very least don’t want to be social with raiders. Having a purpose, and sticking with that purpose, is important.

Related to this is the culture you want in your community. Ideally you want an inclusive culture that lets people participate how they want. But there are always issues to consider: do you value free speech or the ability to feel safe? How do you resolve conflicts, in public or in private? How do you deal with bad actors, through reform or banning? Keep in mind that your culture needs to be communicated, and this is easier if you grow the community at a slower pace.

I also think that you need to find good leadership. Even beyond the actual guild leader, officers need to be there to help with specific issues and when the guild leader simply isn’t available. Some guild officers may be more like the leader but still subordinate, where others may take charge of specific areas while overseen by the leader. Sometimes it’s useful to work in conjunction with another officer: the old bad cop/worse cop routine can influence people where more a more direct approach fails. Or some people may just feel more comfortable with an officer than with the leader.

Finally, there’s just dealing with reality: a game that requires 20 people in a raid won’t really support a guild of 15 raiders unless they have a steady supply of people or can work well with PUGs. A guild centered around the idea of a tribe won’t work if people can’t leave their human concepts of a nuclear family behind to fully experience the RP. Adjusting to these realities is important.

So, what do you think? Any other sins you can think of? I might write about your idea if you propose something I missed.


  1. Some of this could be baked into the game rather than left to individuals. The game could require characters outside the guild to have been grouped with character inside the guild for a specified amount of time, to have received a specified amount of xp while grouped with them, to have completed certain quests or hit certain benchmarks in tandem with them etc etc before the game permits those characters to b e admitted into the guild.

    Guilds could be hardwired to have entrance qualifications, initiation periods, apprenticeships, all controlled by the code of the game and outside the influence of players. Similarly there could be codified processes for expelling members and for leaving. It could require a quorate vote of guild officers to expel or demote a member rather than simply leave that as an individual function of guild rank. Members wishing to leave a guild could be required to give a notice period and they could be required to fulfil it and receive a confirmation that would be required by the system before another guild could allow them to join.

    At the moment what guilds are is effectively the fiefdoms of strong-willed individuals or anarcho-syndicalist collectives. Everything else we do in the games has a strong element of coded mechanics that players cannot override. Why not do the same with the social aspect?

    Comment by Bhagpuss — 13 August, 2018 @ 12:59 AM

  2. I’ve written before that “guilds” kind of have two functions: one social and one gameplay. This is from the days of text MUDs were guilds were often associated with your class, but you would often associate with these guildmates. In LP-MUDS you often had a lot of features associated with modern guilds like chat channels.

    A lot of your proposed changes sound great for gameplay reasons, but they stand in the way of the social aspect: just forming a guild with you and some offline friends shouldn’t be a chore. And if you make a lot of these things optional or variable (how long is the initiation period?) it can potentially overwhelm some people who are trying to start a guild. And of course, rules are often bent; it seems silly to merge with a guild only for the other members to be forced through a lengthy trial period because it’s simply enforced by the code.

    As with many social things, it’s tricky to anticipate all the situations that might happen. In general, it’s probably better to let the players come up with and enforce the rules they want rather than foisting it on them through code. But, better tools to provide some of these features could be nice but are almost certainly considered “fluff” by most MMO developers.

    Comment by Psychochild — 13 August, 2018 @ 1:53 PM

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