Thursday, May 13, 2010

Review: The Guild Leader's Handbook

The good people at No Starch Press sent me a review copy of The Guild Leader's Handbook. It's written by Scott F. Andrews, a long time guild leader and WoWInsider columnist.

Preliminary Observations

The Handbook is a medium-sided softcover book, about 190 pages in length. It actually looks pretty classy, with just a coat of arms on the front cover. It's written well, and covers almost all aspects of guild management (save one major exception) in solid detail.

For the most part I agree with most of what Andrews has written, though this review may seem to dwell on the points I disagree with. But those are more interesting, so that's probably where the ink is going to flow. Please keep that in mind.

The Handbook is not WoW-specific, as Andrews does pull in examples from other games such as Eve Online. But it is from a primarily-WoW perspective, if that makes any sense.

Chapter 1 - Forging a Guild Identity

Andrews goes through the process of creating the identity of a guild. He lays it down as a step-by-step process of considering the various options such as size, focus, and the hardcore/casual debate. These are all essential elements that should be thought about before even starting the guild, and it is right that Andrews puts them right upfront. There's a nice flowchart at the end of the chapter that unifies all these elements into a cohesive whole.

I particularly like that Andrews uses the Guild as Business metaphor to start talking about guilds. It's much more useful than Guild as Nation-State.

Chapter 2 - Humble Origins: Foundations of a Successful Guild

In this chapter, Andrews goes through the process of creating the underlying structure starting with the name, policies, and tools like websites, forums, applications, and officers. A good chapter with often ignored concerns.

The real standout here is Andrews' concept of the Guild Policy Triangle made of the concepts Stability, Transparency, and Opportunity. Stability and Transparency are often mentioned in discussions about guilds, but this is the first time that I have really seen someone draw out Opportunity and weight it as important as the other two elements. And Opportunity really is that important.

On the other hand, Andrews' rules on naming guilds are just terrible. When almost every good guild has a name which violates your rules, that's probably a sign that your rules are rubbish. Andrews seems to disdain guild naming styles just because they are popular, and doesn't seem to understand that they are popular for a reason.

There is also an amusing segment on Paperwork. In one paragraph, Andrews bemoans the process of getting signatures, condemning it as "needless, mind-numbing bureaucracy." Then two paragraphs later, he strongly advises prospective guild leaders not to create a guild until "you even know half a dozen people who would like to join." One almost thinks that the game developers might believe that these two ideas are related.

Chapter 3 - Nonhuman Resources: Recruiting Players and Evaluating Recruits.

A solid chapter on the fundamentals of recruiting. It also includes a discussion on applications and people you should avoid.

If there is one problem with this chapter it is that it discusses recruitment from a general personality-based perspective. It does not address recruiting for competence, which is how most raiding guilds recruit. I'm not saying that competence is more important than personality, but a very common complaint on the Guild Relations Forums is that Sally is a great player but a terrible person. Or that Dave is the life of the party, but can't DPS his way out of a wet paper bag. Some commentary on this aspect of guild recruitment would have been most welcome, and it seems odd that it was skipped entirely.

Chapter 4 - Dramatis Persona: Dealing with Guild Drama

Ahh, drama. The advice here about how an officer should deal with drama is very well thought out.

However, Andrews also tries to divide up people into different archetypes to predict personality clashes, and I think he is far less successful here. For one thing, he has 10 archetypes and each one has two subtypes. He also tries to get cute and names the roles after traditional RPG classes. This makes the whole classification scheme rather non-intuitive. Like what's the difference between a Samaritan White Knight and a Wisdom-spec Priest?

Archetypes work best when they are "over-broad", rather than precise. I'm not sure that the classification presented here is actually helpful.

Chapter 5 - Epic Encounters: Raiding As a Guild

This is a very good chapter on how to raid. I've often observed that it's very hard to understand how a good raiding guild works until you've actually been in one. This chapter does a superb job. The section on Discipline alone makes the entire book worthwhile.

If you're a guild leader or officer looking at moving into raiding, or in the lower tiers of raiding guilds, I would highly recommend reading and understanding this chapter.

Chapter 6 - The Protocols of Plunder: Loot Distribution

This chapter goes through several loot systems: Loot Council, Basic Rolling, Suicide Kings (oddly put in the random section), Modified Rolling/Karma, and Point-based Systems. Nothing even moderately exotic like Wishlist, Shroud Loot System, or Vickrey Bidding is mentioned.

I don't really like this chapter. It's serviceable, but I find it rather lacking in structure. For example, Zero-Sum is discussed but not as its own system, but rather as a solution to inflation problems.

As well, Andrews scores each system based on three criteria: Complexity, Officer Effort, and Drama Factor. While those three criteria are important, they don't tell the whole story. If you go just by Andrews' scores, Suicide Kings is the clear winner, when it fact it has significant disadvantages that cause a lot of guilds to avoid it. In SK, loot that could be used is sometimes sharded, which is the cardinal sin for any loot system.

I think Andrews really fails to get across the idea that every loot system makes trade-offs, sacrificing some aspects to enhance other aspects. This chapter is good enough for a new guild, as it will give a general idea about loot systems. But there are better discussions out there. Angelie's thread on the Guild Relations Forum is probably the best starting point if you are interested in loot systems.

Chapter 7 - PvP and Roleplaying Guilds

I'll be honest, I skimmed this chapter as I don't care about organized PvP or roleplaying. Seemed decent enough, though.

Chapter 8 - The Burdens of Command: Managing Officers

This is a very strong chapter on handling officers, including important traits and roles, officer discipline, and handling burnout.

Chapter 9 - The Long Term

This chapter discusses what happens after your guild gets up and running. There are some very nice sections here, particularly the one on Morale. In particular, the idea of managing Morale Gains, not just Losses was insightful.

Sadly, Andrews' tendency towards terrible archetypes trips him up here in the section on Reputation. Describing a guild as an Angelic Kingdom or a Demonic Empire is less than helpful. To reiterate, archetypes have to be fundamental. The sign of a good archetype is that you don't actually have to explain it, that just the name carries all the connotations you desire.

Chapter 10 - IRL: Dealing with Reality

This chapter advises the guild leadership on situations where Real Life interacts with the game negatively. The advice seems pretty solid, though I don't have any experience with these situations so I cannot truly judge it.

Final Observations

The major issue that Andrews does not cover is Time Management. It's alluded to here and there, but I believe that Time Management is a crucial aspect of running an organized guild, and really deserves to be pulled out and examined on its own.

Other than that, The Guild Leader's Handbook is an extremely solid book on guild leadership. It is an amazing resource for a new or inexperienced guild leader or officer. Even an experienced guild leader will find some new ideas or inspiration in it.


  1. It sounds as though this is addressed at larger, well organised guilds.

    How well do you think this would apply to the sort of smaller casual 10 man guild that might spring up in Cataclysm?

  2. I would have to say that it really depends on turnover. So much of guild management is based around turnover: retaining people, recruiting people, dealing with people leaving.

    As I mentioned before, large guilds tend to have steady, though low, levels of turnover, and in large part they need to be structured such that they can survive.

    For small guilds, turnover is a rarer event, and thus can be dealt with without needing formal structures, or on an ad hoc basis.

    However, I still think that small guilds can benefit from understanding why larger guilds are organized the way they are, and can use that to make their own guild run smoother.

    There's actually a section in the first chapter on the advantages and disadvantages of size.

    If I could make an analogy, you don't *need* an MBA or business training to run a small business. Not the way you need that business training to run a large corporation. You can wing it, and be reasonably successful if your instincts are good. However, (assuming you can do more than parrot your professors) an MBA or business training will still make you a better small business owner.

  3. Time management is a huge miss. It's no less important than recruitment or defining your guild's goals/culture.

    Classic project management outlines the three most fundamental parts of a project as:
    --Cost (in this case resources/people)
    --Scope (what you want to do)
    --Schedule (when you want to be done)

    Schedule is a proxy for time.

    All three of these are limited by real-world factors.

    Being successful means managing these three things. You simply cannot be successful if you don't manage your scope and your time.