For the premier of GuildCafe’s PlayerVox, we’re bringing you an interview with one of the oldest and largest guilds in the online gaming world. The Syndicate, established in 1996, has grown to nearly 600 members and become known around the world for various achievements including being the first guild to trademark its name, being the first guild to get a corporate sponsor, being the first guild to land a book deal about their history, partnering with Prima games to deliver more detailed, higher quality strategy guides to gamers and for being filmed for an upcoming MMORPG documentary.
You will find The Syndicate currently participating in Ultima Online and World of Warcraft. They also have an active beta testing team both in direct support of several developers and also as part of their guide writing efforts with Prima so you will find them scattered around other gaming worlds.
We sat down with Dragons, the guildmaster of the Syndicate to ask him about his thoughts.
PlayerVox: The Syndicate is one of the oldest MMORPG guilds in existence. How has running a guild changed over your decade history?
Dragons: Running The Syndicate has definitely evolved over the years. I would like to say it has gotten easier but overall it is probably harder than it has ever been. Certain aspects are definitely much easier but there are dimensions to The Syndicate that don't exist in other guilds that make running it a challenge.
In the early years, we were fleshing out our rules and policies as well as our recruiting practices. That meant that we did recruit people that didn't always agree with the rules or that didn't always get along with other members. So the early years saw alot of effort expended upon managing drama. In today's Syndicate, there is virtually no drama. We have evolved to the point that we have extremely little turnover and we only recruit like minded people. So that aspect of the guild management is almost nonexistent.
On the other side of the coin, we have added in formal relationships with several developers to help consult on games. We have a formal relationship with Prima to help write guides. We have a movie we are being filmed for. We have a book being written about us (which will be in stores in August of 2007) by Avari Press. We have an annual Conference that we host with 120+ members attending it from all over the world which takes a great deal of effort to setup. We have Trademark Enforcement. And the list goes on and on. So the amount of things going on in The Syndicate is so much larger than it ever was in those early days that running the guild is a challenge but for reasons that no other guild has to deal with.
PlayerVox: What are the most rewarding as well as the most frustrating aspects of running your guild?
Dragons: The most rewarding part of running the guild is definitely the people. The Syndicate is ALL about its members. We are not a UO guild. We are not a WoW guild. We are not an online gaming guild. We are a virtual community of friends that uses online gaming to grow our friendships.
Because of that focus, we build very strong friendships that last for many years. More than 80% of our guild has been with us from 1 to 11 years. So we have become very good friends and those friendships are the most rewarding part. Getting together for monthly dinners.. for lan parties.. for our annual conferences.. and, of course, gaming together are all ways to experience that friendship first hand. If we didn't have that friend focus, we wouldn't still be here today.
It is hard to nail down a frustrating aspect that most readers can relate to. The biggest issues we deal with, at a guild level, really are minor little things. You don't find major issues here so there aren't massive looming frustrations that I have to vent about.
PlayerVox: You mention that the best part of running a guild is the people—can you tell us more? What are the most memorable things you’ve done together as a guild?
Dragons: We have a number of very cool parts to our history. We cover many of them in our book (Legend of The Syndicate) in a very 'fantasy story' like way which makes for a good read. A few of the most memorable ones for me personally include:
PlayerVox: What is the biggest thing you wished online game companies did differently?
Dragons: Current online content, including a bunch of the in development content, is somewhat repetitive. I am looking for the industry to have content that comes out that causes the veteran online gamers to feel like newbies again and learn and grow in that new environment. Monsters that react to a players skill level, so that everyone fighting them has a unique experience, is a good start. Dungeons that react in difficulty based on how many times the person/group has completed them would be nice. Creating the tools to let players help create content so there is new content coming out as fast as players can finish it that isn't always adding to the top tier where only a small percentage of players get to see it when it is new and fresh.
The current "formula" works. But it is only going to work for so long before a backlash occurs. The industry needs to get more creative and more adaptive to keep players here another ten years.
PlayerVox: Do you have some words of advice for people who might be thinking about starting a new guild today?
Dragons: Guilds are a dime a dozen. They rise and fall faster than anyone takes notice of them. If you are creating a guild today, you need to pick one of two paths. Either go in with the mindset that the guild is a short term entity that will serve a specific game purpose, burn bright and then burn out—or that the guild is going to be a longer term entity. If so, then a great deal of effort needs to be put into creating the right foundation for the guild that will stand the test of time. Don't make the mistake of tens of thousands of guilds before you by thinking because you can physically create a guild in a game and slap up a webpage that you are going to be anymore successful than the several hundred thousand guild failures that dot the landscape of online gaming. Making a long term successful guild takes a huge amount of effort and planning. Treat the process with the respect it deserves if you want to succeed. And, of course, read our book (Legend of the Syndicate by Avari Press, in stores August 2007). We go through a large amount of our early thought processes and those may be good processes for you to go through as well.