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Where There’s Smoke…

January 18, 2013

Dear Reader,

How do you know when your guild is in trouble?  I’ve been through a few guild dissolutions, and I feel like each one of them was clearly written in the stars for all to see well ahead of time.  However, many people who didn’t want to see it refused to do so.  I can accept that, really, but as someone who tries to be a realist, it is upsetting when such optimists label me as a “doom and gloom-er” regardless of the fact that I’ve always turned out to be right.

But the first question was a genuine one, and I’m curious to hear from you, dear reader, about what signs and symptoms you noticed.  Perhaps we could collate a list here of warning signs of guild death.  I’ll contribute a few of my own, too, of course with stories.

First, though, we need to define what we mean by guild death, since there’s more than one way to kill a guild.  Obviously a guild breakup would be a guild death.  That kind of ultimate dissolution leaves no doubt.  However, I’d argue that guilds that were designed for a particular function, say, a raiding guild, that no longer performs that function without ever overtly announcing a change would be considered a guild death, too.  In one, we have the fiery, explosive death of a high-speed car chase ending in a terrible crash.  In the other, we have the slow wasting away from an unknown (or at least a “refuses to be acknowledged”) pathogen.  Both, in the end, are deaths, though, and I’m interested to hear what led into both types.

Here’s a few warning flares from my own experience.  See how they match up to yours, and please contribute!

1) Abusive Officers

Here, the power lies with people who don’t use it as they should.  Perhaps they berate their “underlings” for making mistakes.  Perhaps they believe they don’t have to follow their own rules.  Or perhaps they’re greedy loot jerks.  Regardless, abusive officers make stable, sane players cringe and, often, leave.  Even if the player base is so stable it can handle an abusive officer, often the officer’s friends create an exclusionary clique that could severely damage the guild if there is a schism.  This is precisely what happened in my first guild that lead to its death.

2) Immature Officers

Here, we have officers that can’t handle the responsibility of their position.  My personal story about this is the guild/raid/bg leader who showed up drunk all the time.  In the final case – the last raid we held before the guild died – he showed up so drunk he couldn’t remember where the entrance to the raid was, and upon going to him and having him follow me to the raid entrance, he fell asleep at his keyboard and couldn’t attend the raid.  This causes stable players to be eyeballing guilds that don’t have these kinds of problems, and that start to disloyalty often leads to eventually leaving if the problem isn’t fixed.  This can lead to either type of guild death, either a fiery fight about people leaving or a slow attrition of the roster until there’s not enough raiders left.

3) Disloyally Disinterested Officers

My most recent guild death came from having guild officers who could simply go raid with other guilds – and did so.  They got their raiding and gear fix by being “carried” – her words – by the other guild.  As a result, she didn’t fret when we couldn’t fill raid rosters or had to cancel raids.  Instead, she made derogatory jokes about the guild members “not caring enough.”  I’m sure from her point of view it’s a “chicken or egg” issue.  According to her, she raids with other guilds because our guild doesn’t raid.  However, she was raiding with other guilds while we still were raiding, and often she had to bring sub-par characters as a result.  In fact, at the most recent raid – the failed Sunday dogs attempt – she couldn’t bring her dps – which is who she voluntarily signed herself up on – because she’d taken it with the other guild on an impromptu raid.  Instead, she had to bring a far-less geared healer who really wasn’t up to the task.

Strange, I didn’t plan it to all be about officers, but clearly my three guild deaths revolved around those things.  I’ll have a rare moment of objectivity and say that maybe it’s just my non-officer perspective.  Then again, I’ve dealt with other problems in the ranks, like members using guilds as a stepping stone to better guilds or simply a short roster, without the guild dying.  It seems that from my list that poisonous fruit grows from poisonous trees.

So whether it’s abusive personalities, immature behavior, or disloyal or disinterested officers, I’ve ridden guilds to their death in multiple cases.  I consider each of those to be warning signs now, and in our next post, we’ll discuss when the right time to bail is.


Stubborn (and a little bitter today)


20 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2013 9:53 am

    You know, I never stopped to think about it, but yeah, you’re right, I can’t think of a guild break up scenario where the officers would have nothing to do with it. Even in the case of a “mutiny” where everyone revolts, it’s the officers who let guild life degenerate to that point.

    Looking back at my last guild breakup – the GM breaking up the guild without warning, and asking the most dedicated raiders to follow her to another server, I honestly didn’t expect it to happen so soon. If I tear apart the previous weeks, yes, we’d had a few players join who were unemployed or part time workers who had time to do 100 dailies a day and valor cap each week. These people were getting disgruntled at our 7 hour a week schedule, while those of us who work full time while having families/social lifes/other hobbies were feeling the pressure. A few posts were made on the forums about some players “not pulling their weight”, but nothing indicated that we were going to break up.

    There was also a pristine level of organization. I loved it, that’s why I liked the guild so much. But what I’ve learned over the years is that the OCD-level of leadership that I adore isn’t sustainable, at least not in a 25 man environment. Our GM and raid leader (who were married to each other, and who’s marriage was feeling the guild pressure) were starting to burn out. I expected it to happen, but they hid their feelings so well and I didn’t expect it to happen when it did.

    So yeah, roots of my last guild break up: two groups of players with different needs, and too perfectionist leadership.

    • January 18, 2013 10:27 am

      Yeah, I didn’t mean to suggest that it’s often on the officers, but my guilds have all died that way. I’m quite sure that some guilds were killed by big-britches players who divided the guild and left with too many raiders for the guild to survive. I guess the visibility of the officers just makes them that much more likely to be the problem.

      Retrospectively, were there any warning signs that they were hiding feelings? When you look back, was there something innocuous at the time that now makes sense? Those are precisely the behaviors I want to collect.


    • January 19, 2013 9:41 am

      There were more “you need read the boss starts before the fights” posts on the forums. And most guilds leaders say that all the time, especially early in an expansion. it would be jumping to conclusions to believe it a sign. I suppose the fact that it was a change in behaviour may hint at something nasty to come.

      When I talked to my old raid leader, he said “you may have noticed that I’ve been more irritable during raids”. But I hadn’t noticed. Maybe I’m just too focused during raids to pay attention everyone elses mood unless they’re obviously losing it, but I really hadn’t picked up on it at all.

    • January 21, 2013 11:20 am

      Those are two really good smoke signals, though, even if they’re only warnings and not calls to action. Who knows, maybe we can turn your unfortunate circumstance into something that can help someone else in the future notice the problems before the explosion happens. It won’t necessarily be “worth it,” but at least some good would have come out of the bad.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. January 18, 2013 10:20 am

    Lol at your drunk officer story – that’s pretty extreme. I suppose I’m quite lucky in that I haven’t had to experience a lot of guild death in my nearly seven years of MMO-ing, as I was in a pretty stable guild for most of it, but let’s see…

    My first real WoW guild on Alliance side died because the guild leader just decided to disband it one night when he was annoyed with something. I guess that falls under “immature officers”.

    All the others I’ve seen die pretty much came down to people simply not logging in anymore and nobody bothering to recruit replacements. I suppose you could say that comes down to uncaring or disinterested officers, though it doesn’t have to be “disloyally” so as mentioned in your post. It’s also tricky because even in a healthy guild there are times when your roster shrinks a bit, and recruitment can be legitimately difficult at times, so it’s hard to say when your guild has genuinely crossed the line from a slightly lower activity phase into “dying” territory.

    • January 18, 2013 10:25 am

      That’s actually the precise line I’d like to be generating some warning signals for. Did any of those seemingly stable guilds not make? If so, what was the defining difference between those that did and did not? That’s what I’m trying to tabulate.

      I considered separating disloyal and disinterested officers into two groups, but in the end I went with what’s actually happening to me right now. I suspect, too, that most “disloyal” officers first send up the smoke signals by being disinterested rather than overtly talking about their disloyalty. You’re quite right, though, that there are other just flat disinterested officers from other causes. What causes have you come across for that behavior? Let’s collate them! (;

      Thanks for the comment!

    • January 18, 2013 8:19 pm

      My old WoW guild is still going actually, though they’ve had a merger. They still don’t look particularly healthy to me as I don’t think they’ve had any new members in something like a year, but clearly they manage somehow. I think I’d consider a steady influx of new members to replace attrition a sign of a healthy guild, but as long as it can keep providing its primary purpose (raiding or what have you), it’s probably not dying.

      As for types of uncaring officers, the main two types that I’ve seen are people simply losing interest in the game altogether (which can be very aggravating for the members when the head of the organisation just stops showing up one day and you don’t know what to do), and people not caring about their specific officer duties, as in: they still want to play and they’d kind of like to stay with the guild, but they’ve ended up with more work on their plates than they bargained for (recruitment etc.) and would rather ditch the whole thing, but there’s nobody else to help or take over (been there myself ;)).

    • January 21, 2013 11:16 am

      Yes, officers who don’t want to be or shouldn’t be any more are a HUGE factor. That’s precisely what I think each of my guild deaths have revolved around. People who want to play but not do their duties but also won’t talk about it or step down. The “David and Goliath” moment I had was precisely linked to that problem, but the GM wouldn’t step in because, honestly, he was very non-confrontational, which might also be an issue of an officer not being qualified.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. January 18, 2013 10:50 am

    Well crossing out all the officer related stuff several of theguilds I was in died due to a large or otherwise very contributing chunk of the guild members burning out. For example they hopped on to other games they got bored with raiding the same raids over and over and either just resorted to alting or made their own guild.
    Also my most longlived guild was very open in its recruitment so it was not all up to the officers, they had the final say but it was more of a symbolic say, and it “died” or is currently dying a slow and agonizing death at the very least due to a certain group of members inviting their firends whose playstyle did not ssuti with the core guild.
    But yeah guld deathsmostly can be handed down to officers or “the contributing” part of the members failing somehow

    • January 21, 2013 11:14 am

      Yeah, too many people leaving is certainly something that could kill a guild. I’ve only seen it in relation to officers, but it’s certainly a possibility within just the membership.
      Playstyle’s also a major issue; that was a contributing factor to my early Cata guild, since 1/4 the people only wanted to PvP, 1/4 wanted to only PvE, and 1/2 wanted both. Too bad, though, as there wasn’t enough to do either in the end, and the guild rifted as a result. Still, that’s on the drunk officer.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. Polynices permalink
    January 18, 2013 9:20 pm

    I’ve had a guild killed by a really jerky member and his clique who were never reined in by the officers (or GM) and eventually led to a blowup which started the terminal decline. Should I put that in the “officers’ fault” category? They should have done something, I suppose (but he was our main tank, stop me if you’ve heard this one).

    • January 21, 2013 11:18 am

      Yeah, I’ve had officers afraid to address a problem because losing the one problematic member would cause a collateral loss of 4 or 5 other members as well. Those kind of guild cliques are very dangerous, but often nothing’s done about them until too late. Even then, though, they should be kicked before they can recruit more people to their cause.

      Thanks for the comment!

  5. January 19, 2013 12:58 am

    Communication between officers and the guild stops… That was the cause of the last guild break up we were involved in. We were the raid leaders [though not officers, by our choice] and were either ignored or told concerns didn’t matter. We kept things together ourselves for 2 months but every raid and achievement resulted in consequences from the guild leadership [demotions, kicks, revoked access to various things] and finally the only option was to leave.

    This was also during the drop of an expansion during which our guild leader revoked everyone’s privileges – including officers – no ginvites, no bank access and even discontinued ventrilo.

    We got falsely accused of excluding people in the guild when we actually ended up including a number of people who only came to raid because we asked and they figured that they might check out this ‘raid thing’ and enjoy some retro stuff.

    Sad thing, but…

    • January 21, 2013 11:19 am

      Wow… that’s a really extreme case, and I’m sorry you had to suffer that. I went through things like you described at the top, where I was a raid leader with no actual power who kept taking issues to the leadership and being ignored, but nothing like what you described afterwards. That really stinks.

      Thanks for sharing that one.

    • January 21, 2013 3:17 pm

      It wasn’t fun and it was more complex simply because the change happened literally overnight. We’re still not sure why and probably won’t ever know.

      We actually were offered officership a number of times and declined simply because we’d been down that road before and didn’t want to go down it again but we liked raid leading. Looking back, we might could have prevented it by accepting the officership… but it would depend on what happened behind the scenes…

      Anyway, we’re happy in our guild now 🙂 We’ve found some good people

    • January 22, 2013 2:09 pm

      In the end, that’s all that mattered. If I’d landed happily on my feet in a guild that was working, I’m sure I’d be looking back with more distant amusement than abject sorrow. Hopefully I’m making a move in that direction now, though only time will tell.

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. Eki permalink
    January 21, 2013 5:28 am

    I’ve been in the guild I’m currently in for years now, and I am an officer since 2 years or something like that. We’re still up and kicking ass, but there were rough times.

    I’m talking of the shift from wrath to cataclysm. We are by no means a progressive guild, but we still like to focus on bossfights when we’re learning them, and we expect a certain class knowledge. The thing was that in ICC, our good players could carry one or two sub-par raiders easy enough. Sure, we didn’t down heroics, but we didn’t really care. We had our fun killing bosses and working on the occasional heroic fight.

    Then cataclysm hit live, and we were destroyed by the first bosses. We realized that we needed 10 good raiders now, and could not carry two people in a 10 man environment, and that led to a BIG discussion about what we expect from raiders. Since we are a raiding guild, we wanted to down bosses. And in order to do that, our raiders needed a certain skill and dedication. So we issued, for the first time in the history of our guild, a set of rules that raiders needed to meet in order to be accepted to raid.

    That cost us about a quarter of our raiding population because they just didn’t want to invest more time in getting better at the game, and a few more members that left with them because of real life bonds and friendships. As you can imagine, that was a pretty hard time for us. Weren’t it for our core team being absolutely awesome in this time with helping out and sticking with us through hard times, we wouldn’t be here anymore.

    So I’d say that our problem was not officers or members, but a change in the game. The goals and dedication of the players in the guild just didn’t match anymore.

    • January 21, 2013 11:22 am

      Interesting point. You’re definitely right that the game itself can cause guilds to have to shift a little, and that shift can cause a problem. It’s not really a smoke signal, but perhaps guild members being more aware of the dangers of a new xpac can help them better prepare and survive the shift a little more.

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. January 27, 2013 12:01 pm

    We get asked a lot how we’re still around as a guild. Where many ‘top’ guilds have tried and failed, we’ve continued to be dominant force with the same leadership and the same core. We do it for the love of the guild. We do it for the camaraderie. We enjoy each other’s company, and we enjoy raiding with each other. We don’t exploit mechanics or cheese comps for the sake of a higher ranking. We don’t recruit amazing players that don’t fit in with the guild’s essence. I’ve said it many times before, that I will never sacrifice the guild’s integrity for the sake of pixels and progression.

    • January 27, 2013 2:22 pm

      Yes, I’m looking for something like that. I keep swinging and missing, though, and the one place I felt like that my buddy got ostracized over a misunderstanding, so I left, too. Hopefully I can find something like that soon.

      Thanks for the comment!

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