I have had the distinct honor (and horror) of being a guild leader twice: of my current guild in WoW, and of a guild in a former MMO. I am a strong believer in democratic processes in decision making, so both guilds have had democratic elements. I’d like to lay out the nuances of each for you as a guide to democracy in action. We’ll call the first guild, the one I led in a different MMO,
Why Democracy is important
Democracy is important to some kinds of guilds, and the kind of people in those guilds, because it decentralizes authority, decision making, control, and to some degree responsibility. Some players prefer or want a more rigid, authoritarian guild structure where players are given assignments, required to have certain specs, gear thresholds, professions, play certain times etc etc. And they like just being handed those assignments by one clear and bright command line. Many players, however, prefer to have more control over their playtime and want to be able to contribute to the decision making process and decide for themselves the best way to help the guild.
One thing that democracy does is it emotionally invests the player to the guild. The more say someone has, the more they will stick around for the long haul, and the more they will argue quite passionately about what they want. This is both a blessing and a curse from the position of Guild Leader. But democracy also relieves you of having to plan everything out. Don’t know the best approach to solve this problem? Fine we’ll have a vote. This also makes the guild take ownership over guild policies and procedures.
Types of Democracy: The Athenian versus Roman Model
Not to delve to deep into real world history here, but democracy was invented in Greece. And Athens was considered to be a true democracy. That worked fine for a city state, but when you have an empire to run like the Romans you need to have people representing large segments of the empire and voting on their behalf. I’ll be honest having worked both models in an mmo setting, neither model is perfect, but both can work and I hope to illustrate how with our two fictional guilds.
Socrates Wyld Stallions was my first guild in my first MMO. It was a guild I helped co-found, and was chosen guild leader based on me being readily accessible, easy-going, and being able to politic our own guild members. This guild formed off the official game forums, and, as a result, was comprised of folks with forum checking habits, similar senses of humor, and was relatively small. We became forum friends who went on to be an actual guild.
These are important attributes for an Athens style democracy. My role as Guild Leader was simply to identify “this is an issue”, frame the debate, and facilitate the vote. Everybody had equal say. And given they were all active on the forums, we had pretty good voter turn out on pretty much every issue.
There weren’t really officers in the guild. We had titles(humorous in nature) and some of the folks who were around more got special privileges to guild property (think able to dump more items in or take out of the guild bank).
The most bitter fights we had was over when to admit new members. If you have 10 folks, everyone has 10% of the say, add 1 more and that goes down. Because we wanted to keep our guild to folks who were largely like us, and shared our values, we required a supermajority of 80% to admit a new member. This became somewhat problematic when some folks started leaving the game with assurances they’d come back. Do we count their vote etc etc.
Overall, I liked the Athenian model because I never felt like I was running the guild so much as acting as the guild referee. But if the guild culture of active and frequent guild forum activity had not been there, we would have had strong voter apathy and that could have posed serious problems in the management of the guild.
My current guild is much different in how I came to power, the type of people who make up the guild, their gaming and forum habits, and the size of the guild in general. For Brutus Loots Us, I joined an existing guild years after the game had launched. There had been several GMs before me and no doubt there will be several GMS after me assuming I don’t drive the guild into the ground.
The political structure I walked into when GM was that of a main decision maker who was advised by a council, and there were raid leaders who did raids. I swept that away deciding to employ a more democratic approach while keeping a somewhat familiar structure to the whole guild. Unlike in Socrates Wyld Stallions, I had actual officers, I gave them specific tasks (ie banker, recruiter, raid leader, web monkey) with the understanding they were responsible for those roles. I also said I was not above any of them instead we were a council, the only executive perk I was taking was having my vote count twice in case of a tie on a vote.
I opted for this representative democracy structure, rather than “straight democracy,” because I identified that many of the traits I had in Socrates Wyld Stallions were not present here. This guild had very low guild forum participation, it was larger, and people already expected the leadership/membership divide. I knew that an Athens style democracy wouldn’t work because every attempt to get folks to use the forums more had failed pretty bad previously. In fact we started using the in game calendar (default no add ons) over a more robust forum calendar for signups just to make it easier for members. So knowing that the general membership would largely be silent I wasn’t prepared to let a small contingency of forum goers decide stuff for the rest of the guild.
Learning from the problems of the super majority membership issue in Socrates Wyld Stallions, I went with simple majority rules in officer decisions on everything from loot policy to approving an application to being a new officer. And since general membership didn’t have a direct vote anymore it makes us a lot more flexible on letting in new folks for a trial period.
A big concern in an officer or council type representative democracy is the elite/nonelite divide. Any time some folks have power and others don’t you risk someone throwing out accusations of elitism (even if you are working in what you perceive to be their best interest). You also can become susceptible to group think. Officers might unanimously agree that the bright pink bunny tabard is the best idea, only to find that everyone else thinks you guys are idiots.
General Concerns for MMO Democracy
Democracy only works as well as the folks using it. It you know your guild is lazy about signing up for events, they probably won’t be the kind of folks who take an active forum interest in altering DKP payouts for last tier content on alt night.
You also need to temper your decisions based on the input you may not see. It is real easy in a guild forum thread to have two people posting passionately back and forth making it seem like the guild is evenly divided, but in reality it is just those two guys. Acknowledge the loud voices, but seek out the softer ones.
Whatever decision needs to be made, make it clear the period for debate is date 1 to date 2, and the voting is date 3 to date 4. This is regardless of it being an Athens style democracy or a Roman representative style. When the losing side is upset that they lost, don’t be afraid to say “Hey I’m sorry it didn’t go your way, but we voted and the majority thought X”.
And finally remember when you are in a democratic guild in a position of leadership, your job is to carry out the will of the guild, not the other way around.