TSG Interviews: The Syndicate Guild | TSG

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TSG Interviews: The Syndicate Guild



Posted March 27, 2013 by

After writing about The Syndicate Guild previously, I decided I’d give it a shot and shoot their “Contact” e-mail a message seeing if they’d be interested in answering some questions for me.  To my surprise, they not only replied but the guild leader himself has offered to answer them.  No more sense in reading, check it out here:

Jawesome: Hey, thanks again for not only agreeing to be asked questions, but also following up when I flaked out at first.  I’ll jump straight into the questions.  I’m aware some of them are a little obvious and are on the website, however I’d like more of an “interview-style” format to post.  I won’t edit anything you or I say, unless it’s just a typo.  Feel free to correct anything I have to say as well. Feel free to answer the questions as short or as long as possible, whatever you’re comfortable with.
How did you guys get started, what set you guys apart from the other clans on Ultima Online?
-Dragons-: Our history goes back to before Ultima Online really started.  We got started after a bad experience that I had in a guild I had joined in another game.  That led to the belief that something better.. something more team focused.. something that had meaning and value beyond just pixels on a monitor.. could be forged.   As Ultima began to go through its pre-alpha stage we set out to make The Syndicate the biggest, baddest group on the block.  We wholesale absorbed other groups and really pushed hard to be ‘huge’.  It was only later that we learned a focus on being ‘huge’ and a focus on being something friend-focused, were not really compatible.  But we stuck to our core values and weather that storm in our early years and emerged out the other side with a much stronger, unified, yet still very large guild.  I don’t think going down that path in today’s gaming landscape would result in success but back then (over 17 years ago) none of us really knew what to expect from a guild or from a MMO and it was in that perfect storm (massive player interest… evolving MMO landscape… low and uncertain player expectations) that we were able to make that mistake yet still emerge from it larger yet intensely unified.

At what point did you know that your clan was going to become something more than just a simple UO clan?
That was the goal very early on and it is what we continually aimed to be.  The moment it became crystal clear that we had achieved what we aimed to create was in 2002 when we held our first SyndCon event.  A large number of members spent their own money to show up to a hotel near Washington, DC and meet their fellow guild members, face to face, for 3 days.  When people are willing to make that financial investment and to take that personal risk… on a group of people they have only ever known via text on a computer screen (as this was before things like Teamspeak were popular).. then you know you have built a strong, unified, community of friends.  Ever since that point, the snowball rolling down the mountain has picked up steam and turned into an avalanche.  So i would point to that as the defining moment in our success as a community of friends, who have a shared passion for gaming.

How many games (roughly) would you say your guild has played and how many would you say you guys have taken place in shaping whether it’s alpha / beta testing, or working with developers in some way or another?
Many dozens.. from MMOs to Mobile Games to Facebook Games to FPS to RPGs to RTS’, The Syndicate has been involved in testing, consulting, design and feedback in a massive number of titles.  In the past 3 weeks alone, we have picked up 5 new titles that we are doing work on.  That work ranges from traditional beta testing in one case… to early alpha systems testing in another… to consulting on design in a couple… to a technology platform test for another.  The titles vary across genre and in scope with the smallest effort being 10 people and the largest being hundreds. 

Looking back on your history and career within The Syndicate, what can you say is your proudest moment?
SyndCon is definitely our proudest achievement.  But in terms of “in game” moments, the moments that make us the most proud and that get talked about the most among the team are the ones where hundreds of members gathered to do something.  Things like 10 or 25 raid boss fights are ‘neat’ but are not the epic memories that last for years.  Rather, 200 people showing up to an enemy city with trebuchets and catapults and burning it to the ground is such a memory.  Hundreds showing up to film some in-game footage for the Second Skin movie is such a memory.  Hundreds showing up for our community events (like our Lottery events in Ultima Online) or showing up for big guild gatherings like our annual anniversary events in WoW where, one year, we did a massive snowball fight with hundreds of members.  It is those super large scale, shared personal experiences that really make me proud as a member of the guild.  People from all walks of a life.. from all over the world.. coming together year after year (since we have virtually no turn-over, its the same people coming back time and again).. and building a massive collection of shared, personal, fun experiences.

What about the most frustrating moment?
There are probably 2 categories of frustrating moments.  One would be those very early years of the guild.  On the one hand, I would not do them over because they definitely helped shape us into what we are today.  On the other hand, we had extremely poor recruiting practices and as such had to deal with drama and infighting the same as other guilds do today.  Now that we are past them, we have a drama free, no turnover, massive guild where everyone is friends with everyone.  So the result is something epic and special but it was highly frustrating to live through.

The other category is when a developer asks for your help… you give them advice… they choose to ignore it (often because some executive level management doesn’t understand the big picture on how MMO communities evolve and work).. and the game takes a massive beating (or, worse yet, fails altogether) from its community.  Those are rare but when they happen they are painful because you know they had all the right answers… right at their finger tips.. and you know the hard working development team was completely on board with that direction.. and someone, far removed from the reality of MMO success, made a decision that ultimately resulted in the failure of millions of dollars of invested capital.

If you could pick one to truly highlight, what would you say is one of the funnest times you’ve had with the members in The Syndicate?
Hmmm… Picking one is tough so I will go with something not within a game at all.  I will pick our 2005 Syndicate conference.  We were at Myrtle Beach.  We took a large group of members to go play Paintball.  We spent way too much money on paint and had about 30,000 rounds of it to shoot up.  So after a few hours of playing we still had thousands of rounds left.  Someone had the bright idea that everyone take as much paint as they want and you can stay on the course until it just becomes too painful and you quit.  Well, I resolved I wasn’t going to quit.  Long story short, we had one crazy S.O.B. who apparently felt no pain.  He marched up and down the course getting shot hundreds of times by my team and his team (afterwards there was barely a spot on him that wasn’t covered in nasty welts) driving everyone from the field.  Eventually it was just myself left alive.  I had no idea where he was as I hid behind my barricade trying to seek him out through fog colored goggles… only to find out the bastard was right behind me.  He opened up… I whirled and opened up… blood starts to run down my facemask… and I unload in his crotch and down he goes.   That whole experience was insane (and rather stupid) but one of those moments that lives on in guild lore and was a superb team building and friendship building experience. 

What games are you guys looking forward to as a guild?  I read in the Gameinformer article that you guys were helping with a game that’s in it’s earliest stages and I’m really hoping to see you guys in Elder Scrolls Online.
– Elder Scrolls is certainly a game that looks interesting.  I’ve played it and I enjoy my time getting to play it so I am excited to see it continue to develop.  We are very excited about SOE’s upcoming Everquest title.  I can say absolutely nothing about it except that what Smed and his team are doing is something we are very excited to see come to light.  Wildstar has some really cool aspects to it and Carbine is putting huge effort into making a game that players will enjoy so i continue to want to see that develop.  Some of the features they have added are things I’ve wanted to see in games for years.  And then, of course, there is Shroud of the Avatar.  Richard was an inspiration for our guild and has been a friend and supporter of ours for years, and us of him.  We will definitely have a SotA presence.

Troll Stomp Gaming (.com) is a big fan, your guys’ guild is an inspiration to respectful and fun-loving communities everywhere. What kind of advice do you have for someone who aims to create a community like yours?
In our 2nd book (Beyond The Legend which you can find on Amazon and on Lulu.com) we have a 50 page section on our S.U.C.C.E.S.S. formula where we go through all of the steps that we feel are necessary to build a strong community that stands the test of time.  That said, the fundamental building blocks are:  Define very clearly what you wish to achieve; build a recruiting policy and practice that supports those goals and do not waiver from it; and then lead your guild in a manner that is fair and consistent with those values.  If those 3 things work together in harmony then the rest of the pieces fall into place.

And as a final question just for fun, what’s your favorite breakfast food?
There is only 1 correct answer to that question.  BACON! BACON! AND more BACON!

So there you have it, the guild leader himself has enlightened us with some cool information and stories.  I’m inspired again.  Check out their website here and come back for more interviews in the near future!


    April 2, 2013 at 7:32 am

    Wow, great interview here. Not being into UO/WOW/etc I have actually never heard about the Syndicate, but this is really cool. I love how they have built a great community with basically no turnover, PARTLY because their recruitment process weeds out TROLLS (they get stomped during initiation perhaps). Can’t believe they even have their own books out there. I would be interested in reading despite not even playing these games before!

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