A guild by any other name - Games Domain Review
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A guild by any other name

  [The current piece is a the second guest editorial by Jed Norton, aka Darkmoor Dragon {UDIC}. He continues his online observations based on years experience. Enjoy -Ed.]

Continuing from my last article I’d like to move the spotlight away from the gamer and onto those mysterious organisations known as "Guilds". In particular the virtual communities of gamers described as Online Gaming Groups (OGGs). Just before I do that here’s a link to the site where you can discover what "type" of gamer you actually are – Player Survey Link . This is a really good site that shows not just what type you are, but links you to appropriate MUDs (text and graphical) for your style of play. Whilst this site was initially created to gather Text-MUD information it also covers the newer graphical MUDs such as Asheron's Call, EverQuest and Ultima Online. Over 7000 people have responded to this site already and you can also see which "famous" MUD-ites are of a similar playing style to yourselves. Of course, another way to find "Like minded" gamers is too join an OGG:


OGGs differentiate themselves from standard guilds by covering more than one game, typically their members will play a number of online games and will sometimes move wholesale into the latest online world. What do these groups offer the gamer and are they anything more than a loose amalgamation of MUDites seeking friendship on the Internet?

I asked a few OGGs to answer some questions about themselves, the games they play and the industry as a whole.

Professionalism or Fun?

The unifying theme with all OGGs is that they offer the "lone gamer" a community to belong to. Whilst in-game guilds exist to service a generally short lived population (most guilds only last for around 6 months or so) OGGs tend to last for years. All of the Groups in my "survey" have been in existence for at least 2 years, Excalibur for an astonishing 14 years! Furthermore they all claim to have a very low churn rate in membership which means that the group has established a firm sense of its own identity and is, to all intents and purposes, a stable virtual community.

Though each group has a slightly different philosophy they all share a desire to create for themselves a sort of gaming "shelter" where their membership is protected from some of the more mindless elements of the gaming population:

What I hate most is…..

"…the loud/foul mouthed kiddies who seek to boost their frail egos by putting down those groups that are successful and do make a positive influence on the gaming world. They offer zero value to the gaming world and simply seek to cuss up a storm and to put down every group that accomplishes anything because they, themselves, are not able to be successful" - Dragons -The Syndicate

"…the rude immature people who kill steal, rant and rave, use foul language and whiners in general" – Lady DianaExcalibur

One might assume from this attitude that these groups consist entirely of an older, puritan section of the community, but they have members in the low teens right up into the sixties! The gender spread is somewhat more varied, with Excalibur showing the most even spread with 60/40 male to female, a most encouraging figure, and all of them having at least a few of the more intelligent sex.

The numbers within the groups range from 45 up to around 300, though in some of the groups they are not entirely sure of their membership numbers and have no way to back up their claims (public membership lists etc). Most of them exhibit some form of preference to a geographical base, though only in the case of "ClanUK" is this deliberate. (Generally all OGGs come to exhibit an uneven distribution geographically, this isn’t racism or favouritism but a reflection of global time differences. Gamers from Central Europe will not prosper in a West-coast USA group simply as they would rarely be awake at the same time).Even ClanUK (oddly enough UK based) are not exclusively "Brits" and they boast a few ultra-brave Americans in their number.

Group attitudes:

Attitudes towards pure-gaming vary slightly, with two groups ClanUK and CoAV both admitting to be more about the group than the games.

"In the case of CoAV we concentrate more on those personal relationships than the games themselves. We have several members that do not actively play games. With the use of ICQ, Email, Listservs, and Message Boards we provide several ways to continue personal relationships outside the gaming atmosphere. When a game does come along that is good we generally get a good amount of participation." - Thadius

The Syndicate shows a far heavier emphasis on the gaming itself and a sense of "professionalism" was portrayed by their comments. That’s not to suggest that they have less of a community spirit, or indeed that the others are not as dedicated to gaming:

"The Syndicate, over on UO, run a player-run town called Arx Draconis. That town is the oldest player-run town there and offers a huge arrangement of extra gaming things, ranging from contests to quests, to lotteries, to tavern nights, to monster attacks etc. They are all open to the public and staffed by members. They are well outside the scope of normal game play." – Dragons: The Syndicate

Meanwhile Excalibur has a very structured RL (real-life) schedule:

"We have Gatherings twice yearly, once here in our home town and one at the Texas Ren Fest. We eat, swim, go out to a dinner, chat with each other, and on the Saturday night of these Gatherings we have a formal Knighting ceremony, in full period dress and with all the essential pomp and circumstance."

ClanUK also have a social calendar with RL meetings (I myself have been to one and even remember some parts of it, though not that clearly * hic! *)

"Yup, there's usually 2/3 big ClanUK meetings a year, often with 30/40 people turning up, we'll often have a massive LAN bash during the day and drink all night, and most of the next morning. Then there's people socialising in smaller groups around the country, for example some members are in a band, and a few members go to see them play live. Of course there's people meeting up all the time, its good to see that something born on the net can grow into a proper friendship." – Eddth

Molten Lava have both RL events and weekly online meetings:

"We have a weekly non-obligatory meeting every Sunday on mIRC. The meeting is usually well organised...channel is muted briefly to facilitate delivery of general information...after which the floor is open for discussion. We have a huge website that is dedicated to inform members of what is going on...via the newspage ....and the discussion board is extremely active." - Lava

Happy Families

So are they all happy families? Not entirely. Each of the groups has a variety of joining regulations and different rules for each game they play, these rules are often quite similar. Typically each group requires a minimum of no-cheating and no-hacking and an aversion to rampant PK-ing, though not to the principal of PvP. Excalibur follows a truly chivalrous code and all of them emphasise teamwork to a large degree.

With rules and regulations comes those who break them and every one of these groups has a structure for disciplining or dismissing members who transgress these rules. More importantly all of the groups vet all incoming potential members in varying degrees of intensity, ClanUK being the most relaxed (despite having the most seriously cumbersome charter I have ever seen, that also contradicts some of its other rules within individual games) and CoAV perhaps the "strictest" application form.

No procedure is foolproof however and most of these guilds have had to either refuse or release members for a variety of reasons. :

"In a guild our size with the number of members we have, you will ,once in awhile, get someone (or a small group of people) who are self centred, who want to make a play for power, or who dislike how things are done enough that they leave. You will even occasionally get a real jerk who wants to take down the guild." – The Syndicate

"The procedure starts with the KnightMarshall of the Order the person is in talking with them and explaining the problem. If the problem continues, they are brought before the Curia for a discussion and hopeful resolution to the problem. Yes - we have dismissed a few members." – Excalibur

"We have a very open organisation as far as discussion. When it comes down to it we have a dictatorship of three people who run things, but we field all opinions on anything from any member that has something to say. For the most part there is one warning if conduct was wrong. There are no other warnings. If you fail to understand the rules after being with us for so long then you will be kicked out. Yes we have kicked out several people. At the least 8. People change over time...some don't understand lifetime commitments." – CoAV

Molten Lava have lost an entire group of gamers in their history, but this was not viewed as a major problem in hindsight, and has not affected their growth:

"In the exodus, 2 more online gaming guilds were formed. They are strong, they are real and conflict or not…we are proud of their accomplishments. We would like to think that we played a key role...and we can see all of the values that they uphold are similar to ours. Nevertheless there are some that are born to be leaders...and regardless of how good an organisation is they will outgrow it." - Lava

So what games do they play?

All play at least one of the big three Everquest, Asherons Call and Ultima Online. As they are all communities rather than guilds they also play a wide range of other games to one degree or another, including text-MUDs, FPS, RPG, RTS the full range in fact. Some of these are organised by the OGG, others are simply fellow members meeting up in the same game unsupported. Which brings me onto how the groups "support" their membership.

All the groups have schemes for helping fellow members within the same games. Newcomers are given assistance in areas ranging from installation to character creation and solving quests. Many of them also run additional help pages and "hints and tips" from their websites, though the degree to which each take this varies.

ClanUK has wound down its on-site game content, instead relying on the services of Stratics and Vault, having said that it is in the process of creating a new AC site to aid its members in that game. The Syndicate continues to provide html content to its membership in all of its games but there is no "regular update" requirement of its authors. The others also provide html content, though the amount varies tremendously as does the "quality" and "depth" of the work. Molten Lava boasts a large and well established website with members who write for online magazines and games-sites.

Whilst I tend to agree with ClanUK that the likes of Stratics cover virtually everything that is required in these games, I feel that an OGG site should also reflect what its membership is doing within a game and thus have dedicated pages to show this. How else do visitors to a groups site see what that group is actually "doing" in that game or at least who is participating in it?

On the flip side ClanUK have an extensive chat/forum service that is open for viewing to the public, The Syndicate, Molten Lava and CoAV also do likewise and all of the groups keep communication flowing through ICQ, IRC, email and the like. Excalibur, with their deep history in gaming, cover other lesser known games and boast a depth of gaming and a certain "elan" that almost does conjure up their promise of "chivalry".

What do they offer me, the gamer?

"The Syndicate offers ALOT.
A) Stability. We are old and stable offering a secure world for a player to add value to and not have to worry that if they invest time it will vaporise when the guild folds in a month.

B) Support: Hundreds of members with good communications mechanisms (we use IRC, ICQ, email and a private chatzone) means you can always find answers to questions, people to play games with and help with problems.

C) Events: We do TONS of events. 1-3 events per game per week that are above and beyond the scope of just playing the game.

D) Security/Maturity: We offer a secure gaming environment away from the anti-social kiddies that plague some areas/worlds. We attract a high quality of player, mostly adults, with a similar gaming outlook

E) Friendship: We aren’t about numbers or a specific game but about being a community so we offer friendship above and beyond the game. This has even led to some real life relationships and friendships. We have a much larger percent of female members than most guilds do and they add an important perspective to the group" – Dragons

"A cheat-free platform for players to involve themselves in, good availability of members to game or even just chat with. I think the most important part of ClanUK is its general community. The forum is filled with banter about everything from music to sports, and I’m sure ICQ messages are the same, the general feeling of a community makes people feel wanted and needed, that’s surely the best part of ClanUK in my opinion." Eddth

"We offer an organisation that will survive past their death with many chances to become true friends with outstanding good gamers." - Thadius

"A sense of belonging to a group of people who don’t just 'play' at being honourable and chivalrous, but really live by these virtues. We look upon EXCALIBUR-!- as a family, not just another online guild" – Lady Diana

"Stability, professionalism, mature conversation, structure, for those who need it, knowledge." - Lava

How many OGGs are there?

Very few, but numbers are increasing. I know of about 14 that class themselves as an OGG and some of these are really just guilds. This is a fairly new type of organisation in its most modern form. It isn’t a chat group or social club, yet neither is it a realm of hardcore gamers. These are people who want to get more out of their gaming but don’t suffer from TIS (Total Immersion Syndrome).

The reason OGGs are now starting to appear is due to the faster "churn" rate of gamers through the games. Whilst it used to be the case that gamers may populate a MUD for years, with the rapid increase in games releases we are now finding that time-per-game is falling.

The large amounts of time it takes to construct a successful in-game guild is therefore being dedicated to a group that lasts for shorter and shorter periods. An OGG, on the other hand, exists across games and the vast majority of necessary structuring and organisation for its game-guild components is already in place. Thus, OGGs are better placed for their membership to cross into new games en-mass and with fewer difficulties than forming a whole new guild. There are obviously other benefits derived from this, some of which have not been fully explored by OGGs as yet. (It is interesting to note that none of the groups mentioned here are actively aware of any of the others or have any form of direct contact or interaction).

So should I join them?

An interesting question and one I am going to avoid whilst I through some of my own thoughts at you.

Due to the nature of this type of group, membership is not the casual adventure that an in-game guild is. There is a higher level of commitment involved in joining an OGG and even the joining procedures themselves are neither immediate nor simple form-filling.

Let us remember what "OGG" stands for and let me emphasise the Gaming. We are primarily concerned with gaming here, not entering into a chat or social arena. OGGs should be independent and un-sponsored (all of the above are) and hold a certain level of responsibility to both their membership and other gamers. What am I on about?

A "professional" OGG inevitably represents a section of the gaming community that wants to achieve the most out of its gaming, it also "causes" all its members to pass from anonymity into pseudonymity (As I discussed in my other article). Each member can be "traced" to their "permanent" entity within an OGG and as such they need to be aware that their actions have repercussions beyond the actual game they are within. It’s a form of virtual adulthood. (I am not suggesting that those who are not in OGGs do not achieve this themselves, simply that it is a by-product of joining one).

In a very simple form of logic, OGG members should also represent a "good" section of the gaming population to become beta-testers, they have after all already shown that they care both about their gaming and their reputation. You won’t find too many "yoikes" in an OGG and the dedication they exhibit in a game may make them the ideal beta-tester? ClanUK have the distinction of holding a gaming world-record, for which they were invited to attempt simply due to their gaming reputation (and it was even on a different platform - Playstation).

You could also suggest that the participation of an established OGG in a particular game is also a comment on the quality of that game, possibly a far better indication of its quality than any magazine review.

All of this is absolutely dependent on the OGG itself. It is entirely feasible to have an OGG that is dedicated to less than absolute values and negate everything that those above obviously strive to achieve.

I can only suggest that any of you thinking of joining an OGG consider all of their rules and regulations and in particular look for clearly defined rules, guidelines and structure within all sections of it. Any "fudging" or ambiguity should be investigated as should that groups "standing" in some of the games they play. Don’t forget that if you do join them other gamers will judge you on your groups reputation not just your own.

So should I join?

It really depends on what type of gamer you are. Those who would join just to be part of a "bigger" group, or who think then can gain some immediate gaming advantage from this, are not suited to an OGG, they don’t work like that.

For myself I can see good points in all of the groups mentioned here, The Syndicates' and Molten Lavas' professionalism, the history and style of Excalibur, the exacting nature of CoAV and the laid-back style of ClanUK. Each one may appeal to different gamers. From personal experience I know that OGGs can add another dimension to your gaming experience but that there is a price to pay for this, both in terms of your "absolute freedom" and new commitments to your fellow gamers.

If I was forced to say which one is the "leading light" it would have to be "The Syndicate", because it is closest to my ideal "model" for an OGG, with Molten Lava a close second. It isn’t necessarily "better" than the others, just that I can see how its organisation and attitudes would enhance my gaming experience.

It’s a very similar situation to that in my previous article and it may well be true that Bartle's player-types are also applicable to OGG memberships themselves, find the right game and/or group to suit yourself and you will have a great time!

I’d like to thank the following for helping with this article and please visit their sites and meet them in-game:

Lady DianaExcalibur, Dragons – The Syndicate, EddthClanUK, Thadius - CoAV Lava - Molten Lava

The last word:

Goes to the groups themselves:

Thadius, CoAV:

"We don't publicise our Clan. We gain people by word of mouth. We gain people that are - here's the key - specifically searching the net for us. You have to know what you want to join, what type of organisation to join, to find us...and then you have to get past the fear of filling out our behemoth application."

LadyDiana, Excalibur:

"I have been a beta tester for rpgs since the days of TSN. I started EXCALIBUR-!- there to try to discourage the hackers and cheaters (which was very easy in those days) and to gather people who felt that chivalry and honour were not some ethereal ideas from Arthurian times, but things that could be taught and promoted even in today's world"

Eddth, ClanUK

"If you meet a ClanUK player you will know them . . . they are polite, honest, and totally trustworthy."

Dragons, The Syndicate

"We are ONE TEAM. ONE GUILD! We support our members 100% going to bat for them as needed. We don’t leave members hanging :-) "

Lava, Molten Lava

"EverQuest is the best game out there right now. Let me tell you why....simply because we're most active in that game. I could be playing tic-tac-toe with my online guild and I would be enjoying myself. Any game that I play with the guild turns out to be a load of fun. We help each other. The important thing to understand here is that we are a group of friends that care about each other...even if it is virtually. We stand by our members: For instance we're going through some issues with Verant right now and we're hoping that they resolve them...but we're doing it together."

Darkmoor Dragon

[Editor's note: Actually, last word of caution from the editor. While OGGs have further developed with the coming of graphical online RPGs, several were born out of popular single player games such as the Ultima series, the Might & Magic series, and The Eldar Scrolls series. These groups of players, once organized via newsgroups, IRC and chat rooms, moved from being communities interested in a particular game, to those interested in a variety of games. Each group sporting their own themes and membership requirements. Groups such as the Crimson Blades (a very regimented group) and the Eldarin Corin (which initially was only open to members that played elven characters) began in this fashion at nearly the same moment. They eventually moved on to Ultima Online, Everquest and Asheron's Call. Depending on the commitment of the members and the time they have available, some communities fade or give birth to new guilds as described in this editorial. Members of the Eldarin Corin (The Elven Circle, founded in 1996/7), for example, grew older and became quite busy. In addition, arguments on the group's direction during the Ultima Online days caused a membership exodus. The OOG still exists, however, not nearly as actively as it once was. The Crimson Blades, on the other hand, survived well and has developed an enormous community. While the OGGs listed above are apparently quite stable, one never knows when "fragile" Internet communities will break apart, and it is important to keep this also in mind. These periods can be stressful if not downright upsetting for some. It is best to remember that these are "clubs" and thus have club-politics. While they can be a tremendous amount of fun, they can be a bit of a pain as well if you don't take it all with a grain of salt. Regardless, long-time friendships remain, even if it is the odd brief email every now and then. - KZ]