Alter Ego Interview
Tracy Spaight interviewed the Syndicate for his book "Alter Ego". That
books is based of a photo exhibition that went all over the world which
featured a massive group shot of The Syndicate (in game and in real
life) from our Myrtle Beach conference. Here are the questions and the
answers that we provided to him:
1. Tell me about the demographics of The Syndicate?
The Syndicate is a very large (550+ members) and very diverse group. Our
members come in all shapes and sizes so this question is challenging to
answer in one specific way. Here are a few facts about the guild.
*The youngest member is 12 years old and is the
son of two members
*The oldest member was
born in 1946 making him 60. We had, at one time, a member who was
more than 80 but he had to retire from gaming for health reasons.
*The average guild age is between 31 and 32 years
old (31.757 currently)
*Ages of members break down approximately as
follows: 5% of the guild is under the age of 20. 42% is in
their 20's. 37% is in their 30s. 13% is in their 40s. 3% is 50 or above.
*Most members are married and most members over 30
have kids. That isn’t universally true but by and large it’s fairly
*Most of our members are working adults (and I
include homemakers in that category as well) while those in their late
teens and early 20s are in college. Occupations range from:
Active Duty or Retired Military, Doctors & Dentists, Lawyers, IT professionals,
Teachers, Policemen, Homemakers, Truck Drivers, Game Developers, Marketing
and Sales with lots of odd jobs tossed in to boot. We have members
who raise horses… and one who did the voiceovers for many of the
"Rome" series of shows on the History Channel. We have a
member who owns two semi-pro racing teams. We have a member who runs
their own pharmacy and those that own their own computer businesses.
Syndicate occupations run the range of what is out there.
But that in and of itself is one of the beauties of the guild: No
one cares what you do… no one cares what you look like… no one cares how
little or how much money you have… no one cares about your politics,
ethnicity or religion… all of those "hot" topics that get
portrayed as divisive issues in the media are irrelevant in The
Syndicate. You know who the person REALLY is, inside, long before
you learn any of those other things and that is what really matters.
2. How did you get into video games? MMORPGs specifically?
Members of The Syndicate got into gaming in a
large number of different ways. Some have been in gaming longer than
a few have even been alive. I have been gaming online since the 300
baud modem days which are back in the early 80s before some of our
youngest members were born.
Back in those days it was BBS that you dialed into (and if you had the
really cool 300 baud modem you could make it go 450 baud and boy were you
smoking then). There were several online, turn based, games you
could play on different boards. In a very loose sense, they were
MMOs since your char would often remain in the world when you were offline
and someone else may come by and see you there and kill you (if the game
allowed it) or attack your worlds etc..
That progressed to MUDs and MOOs of which many of our members also
played. Those were a lot of fun as they were infinitely more complex
and detailed than those early BBS games. Some sites really put a lot
of effort into emulators and into the game itself
and hours of fun were had there. Usually there was always someone
more powerful willing to show you the ropes as well.
From there AOL came along and did Gemstones as a more formal MUD but then
added in NWN which was built off the old Pools of Radiance game layout and
engine. It was an early MMO as there were other people in a kind of
graphical realm that could attack you or help you out.
The Realm and Meridian 59 came along and I moved over to testing those
while Ultima Online had its Alpha test and moved towards beta. At
that point I decided to form The Syndicate as I had years of experience
with guilds and none were what I was looking for. I really wanted a
virtual community that didn't exist for a specific game… rather it existed
for the friendships and community and used the games to further that goal.
So The Syndicate was born.
Over the following 10 years we played UO, EQ and WoW as formal major
games. We beta tested, often at the behest of the developer, every
major MMO and almost all the minor ones that came out. And now, 10
years later more than 80% of the guild has been with us 1 to 10 years and
that percent goes up each month (Although we have expanded the size we
allow in the guild from 500 to 570ish right now but we are keeping pace
with the added size in terms of members crossing the 1 to 10 year
line). We have created that virtual community and we are very proud
3. What do you find so compelling about life in virtual worlds? What's the draw?
Speaking for myself, and I think this is pretty typical for a Syndicate
member since we recruit people who share similar values, goals and play
styles, the games themselves were fun for the first year or two. They are
still fun, although not AS fun since there hasn't been a huge amount of
innovation in years. However, the real draw is our Syndicate
community. The vast majority of our guild plays UO and WoW because
of the guild… because of the friendships in the guild… because they enjoy
spending time with those friends.
And those friends just aren't some pixels on the screen they have never
met. In most cases they HAVE met many other members from our yearly
conferences, our dinners (all across the country), our LAN parties and
other fun events that we do as a guild. So the friendships aren't
just virtual, they are real and hold a lot of
value for our members.
So the compelling part of the virtual worlds is that they afford us the
chance to have fun with people that we can’t see every day due to living
dozens, hundreds or thousands of miles away doing something we enjoy. We
all enjoy computer games and we enjoy overcoming challenges with our
friends. And in most cases, if the guild weren't around we would
have left online gaming years ago.
4. Many outsiders
see video games as a waste of time or an anti-social activity. How would
you respond to that view? How would you compare gaming to watching
Video games CAN be a waste of time and CAN be equated to television under
some circumstances. MMO games, I don't feel, fit into that category
though when you are talking about a guild like ours.
Television or mindless playing a single player game for hours or days is
generally viewed by society as negative because there is no social
interaction and it offers you no real long term benefit.
The Syndicate, in the context of MMOs, is the opposite of that. It
is entirely based around social interaction and real friendships.
Members have met and gotten married through the guild. Members have
received jobs, help recovering from Hurricane's Katrina and Rita (and
others that hit Florida in years past). Members have received legal,
medical and computer advice from other members. Dozens of real life
events have spawned from the relationships that started in the virtual
world. Thousands of hours of talking via "voice" tools discussing
everything under the sun take place that never would have (and society,
generally speaking, views phone conversations as value added).
And due to the diverse nature of our guild (people from many countries and
all walks of life) our members get exposed to things they would never have
been exposed to otherwise. There are 0 chances I’d ever have
discussed politics with a German Pharmacist if I hadn't met him via the
guild and then stayed up late at one of our conferences playing poker and
talking about views on the Iraq war. There are 0 chances I would
have made a great friendship with several Australian members. There
is no chance I would know as much as I do about all sorts of fields of
work that I've had no exposure to. We would have never had the
opportunity to help some of our friends through major tragedies in their
lives. The opportunities are just astounding when you put 550+
diverse people from across the entire globe into a guild that has no
infighting... no backstabbing... and are built around trust and
So I would strongly disagree that a guild such as ours, in the MMO world,
is a waste of time or anti-social. It is just the opposite.
The Syndicate even goes so far as to sponsor a youth charity each year
(Youth Opportunities Unlimited out of Wyoming) that would never have
happened if we weren't a guild playing MMO games together.
5. What is The
Syndicate and how did it begin? How many members does the guild have? What
can you tell us about the membership? Who are they and what are they like?
What keeps the guild going after all these years?
Most of this question I answered in the above ones. Here is a quick
overview of the guild:
We were founded in Feb 1996 thus making us more than 10 years old.
We are the first MMO guild to have a corporate sponsor (Thunderbox PC).
We are the first guild to Trademark its name. We actually own 2 trademarks
on our name, the logo and motto.
We have around 570 members with the average age being 31.757 right now.
More than 80% of the guild has been with us 1 to 10 years.
We have never imploded… we have never 'taken a break' and reformed.
We have never had a mass exodus of dozens or hundreds of members. We
have always had the same guildmaster so never a change in
leadership. We are an extremely stable guild with extremely low
turnover. We average about 1 member every 2 months that leaves for
some other guilds which is nearly unheard of in the gaming world.
As for what keeps us going, Question #3 is a good answer to that… the
friendships. We very much enjoy online gaming but it is merely a
tool we use to further the friendships. MMOs are a way to have fun
as a guild. They are not a goal or an end, in and of themselves.
6. What's it like
to be guildmaster of such a large guild? Is it like running a company or
being the head of a family or something else?
From the outside, it looks like a lot of work! What's rewarding about the
Running a guild of this size is a HUGE amount of work. I spend
approximately 6 hours a day, 7 days a week, just on "paperwork"
for the guild. That includes everything from application processing
(we receive more than 4,000 of those a year), to interviews like this one,
to reading and responding to 250ish emails a day, to writing a daily update
to the guild, to resolving a myriad of minor issues that pop up, to
reading and posting to our forums and much more.
The role fits somewhere in between being a parent to 550 kids in
conjunction with running a company of 550 people. It has its moments
when is closer to one side than the other and it has its moments when I
wonder "Why the heck am I still doing this after so many years?"
and there are days when the amount of work stacking up seems overwhelming
but there are rewards in doing the job. And those rewards are in the
form of hundreds of good friends. People I know very well, and have
known for many years, that I really enjoy spending time with and talking
to and gaming with. There is also a reward in doing my part to help
facilitate an environment that leads to some amazing friendships between
others. While it is great to personally benefit, it is also
wonderful to see other things that grow inside the guild.
Many other "guilds" don't really understand what we are or what
we do. For most gamers, a guild is merely a tool to enjoy X game for the
period of time they play it. Guildmates are "friends" for
the time being (although in some cases friendships do develop and last for
years) for many players. For many guilds, its members are tools used
to further the guilds goals. It is a symbiotic relationship where
each uses the other and when the usefulness is gone for either party, they
part companies. That isn’t the case in The Syndicate. We only
recruit people who we like very much, who are similar to us in most ways,
and who we feel will be here long term. And because of that the
relationship isn’t guild to member… it’s friend to friend as part of a
So I really don't see myself as a "Guildmaster" as it is
traditionally defined in the gaming world. I’m somewhere between the
CEO of a company and the head of a very large household with a very large
dose of "friend" tossed in there.
7. What does the
guild do together in game? In the real world? In what way is The Syndicate
different from or similar to other types of organizations people could
belong to -- church, PTA, softball team, political party, etc?
We do everything together within the games we play. Due to our huge
size, we very rarely need to go outside the guild for anything. So
we hunt together… we do in game events together… we raid (large groups of
members working in coordination to overcome content that can only conquered
by large groups of players) together… we level up together… we craft
together... we hunt resources together and we spend a LOT of time
socializing and building friendships together. Rarely will you see
Syndicate members off hunting entirely with another group or with
nonmembers. There is almost always a group of members with a spot
for one more member to join in. Sometimes game mechanics and the time of
day make it so that members do adventure outside the guild but by and
large its Syndicate groups at work and even when we are outside the guild,
chatting in our voice tools and in our chat tools remain active and guild
Outside the game we do a great many fun things.
* Conferences: Each year, since 2002, we have held a large annual guild
conference. It is attended by 100-125 members and 20-30 spouses and
some of their children. They take place at different locations like Orlando,
Las Vegas and Niagara Falls to name a few. We typically
invite several game developers who talk to us and present ideas, upcoming
games etc and solicit large amounts of feedback from us. Those
events last 4 days and are, bar none, our single best guild event that we
highly recommend every member attend. 300ish of our guild members
have attended at least one conference and that is a HUGE help to building
friendships and really taking the gaming and guild experience to the next
* Dinners: We have a regular, once a month, dinner in the Washington
DC area. But we
also do other dinners around the country wherever there are several
members close to each other. Looking at the image below, you can see
the approximate density of membership around the Northern
Hemisphere. We tend to have lots of east cost dinners and a fair
number of California
ones and occasionally ones scattered in other places.
* LAN Parties: We have a couple of LAN parties each year. Typically
they are in Columbus and Chicago and a bunch of members show up to
those. Those also last 3-4 days and members may stop by to meet
those there or bring a PC and game.
* Misc. Events: We have a scattering of other events that pop up throughout
the year. For example, a member may have a Renaissance Faire come
locally to them and a bunch of members will show up and attend with
them. A member may come into town for business and a bunch of
members will get together to meet them. A member may get married and
a bunch of members will attend the wedding. So there are also lots
of random little events that come up.
8. Tell me about
your character in WOW. What race is your character? Why did you make him
look the way he does?
From a guild level, in WoW we play on the Horde side although we do have a
couple of hundred alliance alts. So we have members of all shapes
and sizes in game.
I personally play as my primary raid char a Tauren Shaman. There are
two reasons for that. I learned many years ago that I personally
find myself most effective when coordinating the raid from other than in
the middle of the combat. If I'm the main tank I would have a lot on
my plate besides coordinating the raid. So typically I play a
healing class which I find I can do very well but that sits back from the
front lines giving me a good perspective on the whole raid and what is
going on all around it. That lets me do my role in the raid and still
coordinate things. In EQ I played a cleric for the same reason.
In UO I play a mage and I focus on healing the party for the same reason.
I picked Tauren because it’s large and tall. I can see further than if I
was something shorter and there are some places where you do zoom in
nearly on top of your char and being a bit taller than the other classes
can help keep a perspective on the raid.
9. What are your
hopes and aspirations for The Syndicate (and online games / communities)
in the future?
One of our primary goals, besides to continue to foster and grow our
friendships and strengthening our team, is to continue to work to benefit
the entire gaming community and make the MMO world stronger.
The Syndicate does many things that we feel have a direct and positive
influence on the gaming world. We sit on the advisory panels for a
number of games offering our combined 5500+ man-years of gaming experience
We participate heavily in beta testing of future games, even ones we wont
have a formal presence in, to try to do our part to make those games a
success since that, in turn, strengthens the entire genre and benefits us
all, long term. Games flopping due to poor design makes companies
wary of investing money and time so while it has no affect today, it could
be disastrous 10 years from now if everyone doesn't do their part to help
make games a success.
We run events in game to help make them fun for players. For example
in UO we run Lotteries and Scavenger Hunts and things like that which are
open to the public and seek to add value to the game above and beyond the
developer supplied content.
We have a number of members who are game developers who take the lessons
learned and feedbacks obtained from their time in The Syndicate and apply
it to tweaking existing games and in creating the next generation of
We have written articles for magazines and chapters in books on what
developers can do to attract and retain guilds and players. Those
have served as reference material for a number of games in development
We have participated in round table discussions and brain storming
sessions with developers to flesh out ideas and concepts for their games.
We also, of course, want to continue to lead the gaming world as the
Premier Guild. We do catch some flak for referring to ourselves as
that but if you define that the way we do, there is no other guild
anywhere close to our level of success. To explain more... there is
no guild that has 5500 man-years of gaming experience... that sits on as
many advisory panels... that has as many developers as members... that has
a corporate sponsor... that was the first to Trademark their guild name...
that has the largest single guild event (our yearly conferences) in the
history of gaming... that has more than 80% of its members being a member
for 1 to 10 years... that only loses on average 1 member every two months
to another guild... that has never imploded, never changed leadership,
never closed down and reformed... that has written numerous articles and
book chapters to try to making gaming a better place for all gamers...
that receives many personal invites to beta test games for developers
because we have a reputation of doing a great, professional job.
There simply is no other guild in existence that can boast even a fraction
of those things so yes, we do consider ourselves the premier guild and
yes, we do want to continue to be that so we are focused on improving
ourselves in those areas. One such example is that we have a deal in
the works with a major Strategy Guide company to help produce MMO strategy
guides for future games.
The most common comment made about our claim of being the premier guild is
"Ha! Your guild suxorZ! You didn't kill
XXXX boss first!” Err, we aren't a powergamer guild but lets assume
for the moment that killing XXXX boss first has some actual value and
importance to the world at large today. 99.99% of guilds in
existence today won’t be around in 2 years. Most of the rest won’t
be around in 5 years. And do you really think anyone is going to
remember the name of the first guild to kill Nefarian 5 years from
now? And if they do, is anyone going to really care?
Definitely not! Basing your self-worth or your guild worth from what
pixels you defeated is laughable at best and suicidal (from the health of
the guild perspective) at worst. A few might care, today, who kills
what pixels first but a few years down the road the guild wont exist and
few, if anyone, will remember or care that they ever did.
There is no true measure of success that is based around pixels. As
such, we have defined success in other ways that do matter more both to us
and to the gaming community at large. And as we have been around for
more than 10 years and have seen hundreds of thousands of guilds rise and
fall, we KNOW that we are the premier online gaming community, bar
none. And I don't use the word guild. Guild implied an entity
that exists for a specific game to achieve a gaming purpose. Guilds
don't last. Guilds don't really matter in the long term. We
are an Online Gaming Community and we can claim that only after having
invested 10 years to achieve all that we have achieved and having stood
that test of time and achieved all that we have achieved, we feel we can
truly claim to be the premier Online Gaming Community.
10. What is the
most colorful, off-the-wall, or cool thing that has happened to you or
your guild members as a result of playing virtual worlds and belonging to
Here are several stories that you and the readers may find interesting..
Being a 10 year old guild means there is a lot of guild history and also a
lot of funny rumors that pop up over the years. In my time as
guildmaster I have been told:
* I died of a drug overdose so I can’t really be me, since I'm dead.
* I am really Lord British and that is how we got so big and obtained such
prime real estate in UO. While I'm not him, I would love to have his
* I charge the guild dues and secretly sell them on EBAY and keep the money. I enjoyed that one enormously
since at the time it came out (and still today) there were no guild
dues. We had them wayyyyyy back at the
beginning of UO to finance our first in game castle though.
* I am really a 12 year old girl. That was used to try to convince the
guild they should all quit, by a disgruntled X-member. So ever since
then I've been '12' and female as a running joke.
* We once had a group of European members. English wasn't their
first language which is what lead to the issue when they departed.
Long story short, they didn't like some policies we had and wanted more
control to do certain things in game that we didn't support, so they
quit. That is all well and good. The funny part came in email
a few days later when one of the former members wrote me in an effort to insult
me. His email started off by calling me a liar. He went on to
explain that I am a liar because my alias is "Dragons"
but I'm not REALLY a dragon and I don't REALLY live in castle in real life
and I don't REALLY sleep on a pile of treasure, therefore I'm a
liar! A few sentences of explicative later he concludes with “YOU
ARE SUCK!” That phrase sort of stuck and since then it’s been a
catch phrase in the guild that we toss around. Since we are friends
we aren't likely to really tell each other we suck... but we will
liberally toss around “You ARE Suck” as it has a much funnier meaning.
* Every year, for the past five, we do a Syndicate World Conference
with 100+ members in attendance. Often we go to Medieval
Times for dinner one night, if there is one in the city we are at for that
Well it all began the first year when were the Red and Yellow Knight’s
section. He faced the Green Knight who unhorsed him. We started
taunting “GREEN KNIGHT SUCKS! GREEN KNIGHT SUCKS!” in this arena of around
2000 people. Several curses... a few fingers... and a couple horse arses
patted in our direction merely inflamed our entire section more. So our
whole section chanted it. Then the next door section caught on and
before long nearly the entire stadium was chanting it.
So the following year we went to Vegas and we went to Excalibur and saw
the show there. We wasted no time at all launching into “GREEN
KNIGHT SUCKS” and booing him as he rode by. The show hadn't really
even started yet and he was totally mystified as to why one entire section
was unloading on him so badly. It went on all show long but he was a
good sport and played along with us. The show was over, he made a
final run by to get booed again and off the stage he went. We were
taking a group picture and he came back out again to get one more encore
of “GREEN KNIGHT SUCKS”.
So that has become a bit of a catch phrase as well and is sure to feature
into future conferences.
* Denying applications is fairly common place. I receive and process
more than 4,000 applications a year but only accept a small number. Most
of the time the process is usually well mannered as we have a reasonably well
written letter explaining why a person was not chosen to join. Once
in awhile it gets nasty when a person really gets offended.
Not too long ago we had one fellow apply. He wanted to be accepted
immediately. He wanted to be made an officer. He didn't have
the time or desire to fill out our questionnaire. And all this
"crap" about getting to know members was a waste of his
time. Needless to say he was rejected.
He launched back at me with a tirade about how we sucked and we didn’t
know what we were missing and that our recruiting process is elitist and
we suck because of that. As I explained to him: I'm sure we
will survive just fine despite making the tragic mistake of not hiring him
to be a leader and save us from 10 years of despair... and second, yes,
our recruiting is elitist and we don't see that as a bad thing. We
only accept people we are friends with and know very well. We only
accept those that share our values, goals, play styles and
personalities. So yes, it is elitist and clearly he didn't fit in.
11. Bonus round!
Anything that you think would help me write about the guild and its
Well hmm... you can get a lot of info about our guild history here:
you may find some good stories there that you like
Here is a link to a great many articles about us which also may prove to
be valuable input:
Here is a link to our overall guild charter:
And here is a link to an FAQ about the guild which also may be of value:
And finally, here are a bunch of member quotes in response to one of our
internal "Meet The Members" survey questions. That
question is: If someone was looking at joining The Syndicate today, what
would you tell them to help sway their decision in favor of joining us?
* That this guild is the only thing that kept me here all this time....It
is like a family....everyone gets along with each other....everyone is
mature...and most of all the members will go to any extent to help each
* Anyone looking to join TS, I'd have to tell them, remember your friends,
because in the end, the pixels don't mean jack.
* I would simply tell them that they need to be serious about committing
to a long-term relationship with a couple hundred of your soon-to-be best
* The thing I always tell people is that this guild is not for everyone,
but if you're looking for an opportunity to make great, long-lasting
friends, you've come to the right place.
* This is the greatest group of people ever assembled into one guild.
Also, you won't find a more organized or well run guild in any game.
* The high quality of LLTS members.
When you play MMORPGs the most memorable aspect of the time you spend is
not your Character, pixel loot, etc but the friends you make and your
experiences with them. The Syndicate has the best group of people I have
ever met and I am proud to call so many of them great friends.
--> I would tell them to ask themselves some searching questions - WHY
do you want to join TS? Are you looking for a long term guild home that
goes beyond the game you are currently playing? Are you willing to put the
team first over any personal in game goals you have? Then if they can
honestly say that they want to be in a guild full of likeminded adults who
enjoy having fun together and testing their abilities to work as a team,
they are willing to set aside any personal goals in view of the betterment
of the entire guild and they want to be here for a long time to come - I
tell them that TS is a wonderful place to be because it not only offers
it's members the ability to do many fun and hard raids on the weekends, we
also allow individuals a lot of freedom in schedules and working on exp.
We recruit people who have toons in games we play, not toons that happen
to be run by people. They themselves are the most important factor to us.
If they can jive with that, TS can be a wonderful home for them.
* When asked about the guild I always say we recruit the person not the
* If your a team player that knows how to follow rules then come be a part
of our success. If you’re a whiner loot hog go find someone else because you’re
wasting our time.
* The Syndicate is more than just a gaming guild. We are a group of people
who become RL friends. No matter what game you play or if you stop playing
altogether, we still remain friends!
* Couldn't find a better group of people anywhere. Might watch out for the
GM though, I hear he bites
* No Bull, just mature people having fun and working together in a
friendly environment. The prospect of this alone has watered the mouths of
many friends and non-Syndies I've spoken to. Not
a kiddy in sight...
* I would tell them that The Syndicate is more like a family that a guild.
Even though we might have disagreements, we work to get past them. I would
tell them that the guild members are very professional but, they also like
to have fun, sometimes at other Guildmates expense, LOL. I would also tell
them that they would never regret their decision to join.
* We are a classic guild with years of experience under our belts and
we are a family. Nobody can make you feel more welcome and proud to be an
online gamer than the folks in The Syndicate. It's worth every bit of
laughter, tears and pranks some pull. We always unite under one banner and
that banner is friendship. We fall back on comrades, support those who
need our aide, and continue to support our guild in every which way we
* If you want friends that will last a lifetime, that will always be there
when you need them, this is the guild for you! Pixels come and go, friends