Sunday, December 02, 2012

Review: The Guild Leader's Companion, 2nd Ed

Adam 'Ferrel' Trzonkowski of Epic Slant sent me a review copy of his latest book, The Guild Leader's Companion. This is the second edition of that book, but I had not read the first one so it is entirely new to me.

Preliminary Observations

I read The Guild Leader's Companion in electronic (epub) format, so I'm not really sure what the paper version looks or feels like. The electronic version was good enough, with a detailed table of contents.

The Guild Leader's Companion is well written. It is written in a more conversational style than most non-fiction guides, with Ferrel using first-person a fair bit, and drawing on his personal experiences as a guild leader. Interestingly enough, Ferrel's experience comes from Everquest 2 and Rift, not WoW. Everything is more or less the same, though as all three games have a very similar style.

For the content, I am in basic agreement with Ferrel about almost everything. I may spend more time on the things I disagree with in this review.

One small thing I would have liked is a summary section at the end of each chapter. It does seem a little superfluous, but I've always liked summaries in other non-fiction that I've read.

Chapter 1 - Human Resources

Ferrel goes over the major categories of individuals in a guild and discusses them: the Leader, the Officers, Team Leaders, Franchise Members, and regular Members. I particularly like the discussion on Franchise Members, as they are a very important part of the guild which is not often given much ink.

Ferrel introduces an acronym, STAFF, which stands for Serenity, Transparency, Availability, Flexibility, and Fairness. These are the virtues that Ferrel believes leaders should espouse. There is a good discussion about these virtues. In particular, Ferrel has convinced me of the necessity of Serenity and Availability as essential leader attributes.

This chapter also discusses Recruiting, Punitive Actions, Organizational Longevity, Burnout, Leading vs Management, and Social Interaction. In particular, the section on Recruiting is quite good, with much detailed and concrete advice.

Chapter 2 - Organization Structure

In this chapter Ferrel discusses Purpose, Founding Documents, Written Rules, Hierarchy, Culture and Community. The chapter is a solid mix of specific advice and more general discussion.

In particular, the notion of detailing 'outs' in the rules, specifying when and how rules will be changed or explicitly giving the leader authority in unclear situations, is well done. If, during play, one of the rules turns out to be a bad rule, the founding documents should specify how the situation is handled.

It's something that seems obvious, but that many guilds don't really consider, until they're faced with the situation, and then they panic and make hasty and unwise decisions.

The only thing I would quibble with in this chapter is that Ferrel is a bit too narrow in his vision of ranks as a hierarchy of authority, as in the military. He does not really acknowledge the notion of ranks as 'tags' specifying specific attributes, rather than the flow of authority.

Chapter 3 - Public Relations

This chapter talks about Branding, Forum Behavior, Website Behavior, Dealing with Developers, Meetings, and Alliances. I rather imagine that Dealing with Developers is not really something that most guilds have to worry about.  Again this chapter has a lot of solid advice.

Chapter 4 - Applying Leadership Skills to Content Types

This is an interesting chapter. Here Ferrel goes through different types of content such as Small Group, Raids, Competitive Raiding, PvP, Crafting, and Roleplaying. He offers specific advice for each type of content.

The advice is generally well thought out. However, this chapter does discuss everything from the point of view of extended gameplay. I think some thoughts on how a guild interacts with automatic group creation, such as Dungeon Finder and Raid Finder, would be worthwhile.

Chapter 5 - Data Accounting and Resource Management

This chapter is really about Loot Distribution, with a small discussion on meters thrown in. I'm not really a big fan of Ferrel trying make things more universal by talking about Resources instead of Loot. It did make this chapter a little harder to read than it should have been.

However, Ferrel is strongly in the "Loot as Investment" side of things, and this discussion proceeds almost entirely from that. This approach is defensible. Indeed, most high-end guilds follow the same path. But it does leave one blind to problems that a "Loot as Reward" outlook would anticipate.

I haven't read a treatise on Loot Distribution that I have been totally satisfied with. Ferrel's discussion comes close, and is a quite solid discussion on several specific loot systems. However, it is missing several major ones (Shroud, Suicide Kings, Gold DKP, Wishlist). I also think it would benefit from a lower level discussion, specifically about the trade-offs involved.

Heh, maybe one of these days I'll write my own guide to loot distribution.

Finally, a small quibble, but Compound Interest is the wrong name for a problem Ferrel describes, where members use points that are built up from previous content to win items from current content. This section was really confusing until I realized what he was talking about.

Chapter 6 - The GLC2e in Practice

Here Ferrel talks about the ideas that he has put into practice with his two guilds from EQ2 and Rift. He details problems that his previous guilds ran into, and solutions that they came up with.

Final Observations

There is one major element of guild leadership that Ferrel is missing: Time Management. Time Management is a crucial aspect of running a guild, and really should be pulled out and examined on it's own. But that's really the only section which is missing.

The Guild Leader's Companion is an excellent guide to running guilds in MMOs. Most guild leaders will find that this book contains useful and specific advice that can be applied to any guild.


  1. What I wonder is whether this book applies to a style of gaming that isn't really happening much any more. In all the games I have played more recently, the tendency has been to more laid back guilds.

    In particular, the trend is way against fancy loot rules and towards smaller raid groups.

    So I guess, who is the target audience? People who play in these kinds of guilds already probably know how they work.

    1. Other than the loot issue, all of it is applicable to the current trend. Laid back guilds still need leadership, in whatever form it comes. Whether it's rigid (old school) or flexible is in the application.

      The Syndicate or Grumpy Old Gamers are examples of long standing guilds with a relatively laid back attitude. Their existence today is due to a core set of values.

  2. I'm intrigued: what's a franchise member in a guild?

  3. The book sounds helpful and thorough...and very disenchanting. I feel intrigued and disgusted at the same time. At what point did running a gaming guild become so business-like? I understand that a guild, especially a big one, has a lot of social dynamics and requires some leadership and organization to run properly. But, I feel like it can be done without dehumanizing guild members into "human resources".

    I do appreciate certain efficiency in my gaming. If I play for x amount of hours, I'd like to have something to show for it. At the same time, it's just a game, which means the main purpose is to have fun. For me, even if I didn't kill the boss or get that "phat" loot, if I had a good time hanging out with fellow gamers, mission accomplished. But, I guess everyone has different expectations.

  4. @Shintar, franchise members are the people who've been in the guild forever, are highly respected, but don't really have any formal authority. I'm sure that every guild you've been in has had people like that. The true veterans of the guild.

    A lot of the unspoken, social cues on how to behave come from these veterans, by their example. As such, I think Ferrel is right to discuss them separately from regular members.