How the Roster Has Changed

I’ve been a member of five guilds since I started playing WoW in the fall of 2005.  Of those, three are still around, and for the most part I am still in contact with some of the members I used to play with.

I’ve been playing on the EU realms since I moved to England in early 2008, but recently took the opportunity to re-activate my US accounts and level the characters I left behind from 70 to 80.  I had characters on both the Alliance and Horde, and one of the first things I did was check out the guild rosters on the armory to see who was still around.

To my (in retrospect unwarranted) surprise, I recognized less than 10% of the current membership.  Even the guild that I’d left only 15 months before had changed radically, with only a few of the leaders from my time remaining.  These were not fly-by-night operations either: both were #1 or #2 in progression on their realm and faction.

Even in the course of leveling, I only ran into two or three people whose names I recognized in Dalaran or PUG groups.

Next time you log in, take a look at your guild roster.  How many of those people will still be there in 3 months?  6 months?  A year?  Does that concern you, or not at all?

WoW is a dynamic game, in content and playerbase.  While the subscription numbers have been steady in the 11-million-odd range for the last half year, I don’t think we always appreciate how much the population of a realm is in flux.  People start playing, retire, and server transfer to or from your realm each and every day.  This naturally affects guilds; the degree to which it affects yours is not entirely in your control, but there are some lessons for guild leaders in the knowledge.

The Birth of a Raiding Guild

When you first form a raiding guild, you tend to be in hyper-recruitment mode.  Your requirements for members are relaxed in order to build up a raiding force of suitable size.  Nothing will kill a new guild quicker than not being able to raid content when the schedule saysyou should be.  As I wrote about last week, 3.2 will make this a bit less painful, but doing heroics for emblems of conquest should only be a fallback, not a plan.

Hopefully you get to the point where you are consistently running a normal raid that provides upgrades to the majority of your guild.  Now you have to decide how to get from 10 man to 25 man content.  You may keep recruiting everyone and their brother to get to heroic roster or slowly build word of mouth until people start seeking you out instead of the other way around.  If you choose the latter, this can be a tough time for a guild, as some of your members will undoubtedly want to be running heroics.  Each probably has a time frame in mind for how long they will give you to get to a 25 member roster, and if your recruiting drive takes longer than they’ve allotted, you’ll start to see attrition.

You can get stuck in a deadly loop here – you build up from say 12 regular members to 17, but you still can’t do heroic raids (pugging 8 good people is difficult enough, let alone the issues it causes for your loot system).  Then you lose a couple of people to established guilds, so heroic raids seem further off.  If you don’t get a large influx of members quickly, you may drop back down to the point where normal raids are the only thing you’re doing, and the goal of doing heroic raids seems out of reach.

There are ways to make this transition easier however.

Backfilling Raids from a Friendly Guild

If you’re going to start raiding 10 man content before you get to 25 man strength, I strongly suggest making an arrangement with another 10 man guild ahead of time to be your “go-to” place to fill your raids.  Don’t start talking about guild alliances and possible mergers – just make friends with a guild whose members will join your raids if they’re available.  Obviously you need a complementary raiding schedule (which is why you should set this up ahead of time).

It also helps if your loot system allows people outside the guild to participate on an even footing.  If not, you may have to suspend your guild loot rules on any runs that you have people from another guild with you.  In 3.2, this is less of a concern because everyone will be getting the second-best emblems in the game with every kill, and the loot off the bosses will become of secondary interest.  But make sure that your members understand and are OK with that.  You don’t want to have one of your own cause loot drama because they expected to win a specific item because they’re at the top of the loot ladder only to lose out to a /roll because you have 5 out-of-guild members in the raid.

This can be a tough pill to swallow for some.  If you think it’s going to be a major issue, you may want to use a system where out-of-guild members get second priority after your guild mainspec, but before your guild offspec.  This isn’t entirely fair to those joining you however, and can cause a different type of drama that results in no-one wanting to backfill your raids.

The Life of a Raiding Guild

As guild leaders, we tend to focus quite a bit of effort on recruitment, but not as much on maintaining the members we have.

Now that you’ve built up to heroic raiding strength, you have to keep your current members happy.  This is a a daunting task, and one that calls for delegation in any reasonably-sized guild.

Recruitment: never announce that you are closing recruiting publicly.   You can secretly close recruiting by not accepting any applicants, but don’t turn away applications.  When you lose current members (as every guild does), those applications are the first place you should go for replacements.  It’s not poaching if you just ping them a message in-game and ask if they’re still interested.  If they’ve found somewhere else in the meantime, just move on to the next applicant.

Retention: you have to know what your members want out of the guild, and whether they think you’re providing it.  Keep the lines of communication open.  If you’re not what they call a “people person”, this is also something you can delegate – have someone who preferably isn’t part of the leadership, that members trust who can keep you appraised of the general feeling in the guild whilst not revealing the specifics that members may have brought to their attention.  Be open and honest with your members and they are more likely to be open and honest with you.

Attendance: every guild will have periods where attendance wanes and interest in raiding drops.  Many guilds are experiencing this right now due to summer and the anticipation (or lack thereof) surrounding patch 3.2.   Before you start having to call raids, decide how you’re going to deal with these periods.  Perhaps you want to scale back your raiding from five to three nights, or three to two at times when you know interest is going to flag.  Perhaps you want to organize achievement raids for a week, or just declare a week off.

An important part of maintaining a raiding roster is not losing interest yourself.  If the guild leader burns out, the guild morale can dive.  If you’ve followed some of my recent advice, this might be an appropriate time to hand over leadership to your heir, even temporarily.

The Death of a Raiding Guild

If you don’t keep on top of your roster, or allow communication to falter in the guild, you may be headed on the

So, take a look around you when you next log on.  Can you accept that many of your guild members will not be here next year?  Can you make changes now to retain some that you might otherwise have lost?  If not, do you have a solid plan to keep your roster alive?

If the answer to any of those is “no”, your guild may be in the early stages of death.  Once a guild starts down that path, it can be very hard to recover.  If recovery comes at all, it may take the form of re-booting the guild with only a handful of old members.  To me, that’s not really recovery – it’s an accelerated birth phase, starting over again as if you were a new guild with a tad more name recognition.

If you are keeping the pulse of the guild, and keeping open communication with your members, you should be able to head off such problems before they become a threat.

But what if things have already gone too far?  At what point do you recognize that the guild in it’s current form is not sustainable?  Is it fair to the loyal members to have them sit around each raid night because you can’t get the members together to run a raid?  If this goes on too long, you’re going to lose the members regardless.  My first raiding guild on my current realm got into this state – we’d had six weeks of no progression and three weeks of calling raids due to attendance.  Patch 3.1 was coming up, and it seemed clear that we were not going to be able to start Ulduar when it opened if we remained in this guild.

Hard as it was, we decided to wrap up the guild, wishing everyone well a month before 3.1 so that they could try to find new homes before the patch.  Some people went on to join larger guilds, and others quit entirely, or server transferred away.  In the end, I still believe it was the right choice, because to do otherwise would have resulted in the same outcome, but we’d all be fighting for the few open raid spots on the realm several weeks into new content.

Next week, I’ll be covering motivation to raid, and how you can get a better feel for why your members are your members.

Until then.