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Guild's Eye View: Rewarding Leadership?

In Guild's Eye View this week, columnist Sean Stalzer takes a look at the importance of leadership and the right leaders are to the success of a community within any MMO. Check out Sean's thoughts about leadership and community. Leave us a couple thoughts when finished!

Column By Sean Stalzer on June 09, 2011

Strong communities are the lifeblood of successful MMORPGs.  Competent Leadership is one of the building blocks to a successful community.  Regardless of how awesome the content of the game is.... or how great the people playing the game are.... or how common sense the guild's rules are.... or how focused the vision of the guild is.... or how innovative the tools for community management are... if the guild leader/leadership are not competent, the community will ultimately fail and often that failure will be spectacularly explosive.  Such explosive failures end up ruining the game for some players who leave that MMORPG entirely.  Community failures, generally speaking, weaken the overall fabric of the MMORPG and a weak community makes for a weak MMO.

That premise then begs the question:  How does one get and retain competent leadership?


In "the real world" to obtain a leadership position one generally has to prove oneself first.  Whether you are in the military or part of a corporation generally speaking you don't walk up and ask to be CEO, Manager or even Chief Peon and get welcomed with open arms.  There is a process by which you will demonstrate the skills and the qualities that organization is seeking.  You generally "pay your dues" within that company and earn a spot or you come with a resume loaded with good credentials of other places you paid your dues and had tangible, meaningful success to point to.

Even with there being some sort of process, more than 60% of all people promoted to a leadership position in the "real world" fail in that position.  That is a staggering number especially when you consider there was some sort of process to filter candidates and, in theory, pick talented people.  Clearly reality and theory do not align more than 6 times out of 10.

Within the virtual world, no such process exists.  While most modern games have a requirement that to become a "leader" of your own clan you need to find "X" people (often 3 to 10 others) to "join" you to create the entity, that is a requirement easily met by spamming for help in the local general chat channel.  In short: Anyone can (and does) create an entity and become a "leader" even if that is only in name.  That, of course, leads to a much higher percentage than 6 in 10 leaders failing (i.e. guilds imploding due to poor leadership).  While one could take the point of view that it serves the 'leader' right that their guild failed (and I wouldn't argue with that), the core issue is the community impact; not the ego-impact to the failed leader.  When guild's implode, the members suffer.  To continue the analogy from other recent articles, strands of the spiderweb that makes up the community get cut and when enough get cut, things implode.   So the question of how does one get and retain competent leadership is one of community stability.

There are two possible paths forward to address that question (other than the 'do-nothing' approach).  There is Negative Reinforcement and Positive Reinforcement.  Negative Reinforcement could be in the form of adding gate-keeper processes to limit who could start a guild to only those with some level of competency.  That is not feasible in the MMO world as both the mechanisms do not exist to fairly measure competency nor is there support among the overall community to limit someone from trying.  As a general rule, the overall community has a sense of empowerment (i.e. let people try.. they may surprise us and succeed!) and since this is an entertainment business telling someone they are not good enough to try an aspect of the entertainment they pay for wouldn't be the right message to send.  Much like in real life, negative reinforcement doesn't work all that well in the long term and probably much less so within the online world than in the real world.

Since limiting who can run a guild to only competent leaders is not feasible nor likely advisable from a social engineering standpoint... and since we can't even get this problem fixed in the 'real world' (i.e. what makes us think the virtual world will be any more solvable using 'real world' methods when we have less data, less control and higher expectations of entitlement and empowerment to deal with)... "eliminating" poor leadership from ever establishing a guild is probably not the goal to aim for.  But, there is potentially a valid goal in rewarding good leadership.

The question of what defines "good leadership" is a massive debate in and of itself and not one I intend to wade into in this article.  Rather, I would contend that once a definition of "good" is established that putting in place positive reinforcement for leaders that meet that definition is a benefit to the community.  The benefits come in several forms.

First, a wider array of competent people get attracted to leadership roles if there is a reward in it. While "success is its own reward" is a comment some might make, most humans don't work that way.  Most people do a cost-benefit analysis and realize long hours; drama; politics; trolls; administrative logistics and all of the other tasks that go along with even a small to mid-sized guild is a big cost to try to counter balance with the "success is its own reward" argument.  There are certainly people that do believe that success is its own reward and they are actively leading successful guilds of raiders; pvpers; casual players etc.. all across the gaming world.  But those successful groups are a small fraction of the total gaming population.  There are other people out in the gaming world who have the talents needed to lead an organization successfully but who don't step forward as the cost/benefit equation is too heavily slanted towards 'cost'.  So figuring out how to at least balance the equation widens the pool of good leaders and thus creates more stable communities and thus strengthens the overall spiderweb that forms the greater gaming community.

Second, having goals to work towards often motivates people to do more and invest more into their organizations.  Individually we see that in ourselves and others each time we play games.  When there are suitable rewards to obtain, that we place enough value in, we put in more hours with the game to earn them.  The same principle applies to those leading organizations.  And, when a competent leader invests more time in their organization, the whole team benefits.

Third, one of the leading causes of community implosion is when the leader chooses to leave.  Providing that incentive to stay engaged and moving the organization forward will keep more leaders involved for a longer period of time.  That involvement means a more stable overall community; less turnover of players from games; and more fun for everyone involved.  Community implosion costs the developer revenue (in the form of lost players) and it costs players fun (in the form of drama; finding a new group to fit into; and often resetting themselves to 0 in the pecking order of the new group).

In summary, there is no silver bullet to community stability and making everyone get along without problems.  If there was, we'd have world peace and no crime.  The virtual world is even harder since there is an added element of anonymity that causes some people to behave in ways that they wouldn't if they were standing in front of you or worked in your office or were on your sports team (when was the last time someone ninja'd all the snacks from the end of a kids soccer game?).  But, that doesn't mean improvements can't or shouldn't be made towards the stability of online communities.  When communities implode, everyone involved in the community suffers.  Improving the chances of community success or lengthening the average time a community remains stable are all value added achievements to the online landscape.  One tool in that toolbox would be to define a way to measure 'good leadership' and then reward leaders within your communities for achieving those goals.  That is one way to promote stability at the micro and macro guild/community level.