Top Ten Tips On Creating a Successful Online Community
More than 90 million people play Online Games yet they spend more than 90% of their game time “failing”. Most Online Gamers are a member of a group of like-minded players yet it is almost a sure bet that the group they joined will cease to exist within a year. Despite being a hobby so many millions enjoy, failure lurks around every corner. Beyond The Legend is a new book by veteran gamer and community leader Sean “Dragons” Stalzer which seeks to change that by revealing the secrets that have made the oldest, largest and most successful online gaming community an unparalleled success for the past fifteen years. This top 10 list touches on a number of the core principles to creating and maintaining a successful, stable, online community.
It is no secret that stability is not something that is very common in the online world. There are hundreds of thousands of guilds in existence at any given time and absolutely nothing that limits a player’s ability to move from one to another. Most guilds will cease to exist within a matter of months, which is the ultimate indicator of poor stability. Those groups that remain often have a high percentage of new faces every few months.
Recruiting, in my opinion, is the cornerstone to building stability. If you let the wrong people into your organization many bad things happen. First, their conflicting views, approaches or methods will create problems that need to be dealt with. When you are busy trying to build a successful organization, you can’t keep fighting fires all day long. Design and implement a recruiting practice that attracts compatible people in personality, goals and play style to increase your chances for success.
The other major factors that can affect stability and success of any guild, especially a fledgling one are your rules and policies. While this goes hand in hand with recruiting, the consideration of what rules and policies to put in place is not something to be taken lightly. When rules and policies exist that are not clearly in line with your guild vision or that do not directly support that vision, they create friction.
As you establish your guild, before you start recruiting members, attempt to articulate your vision for the guild, how you intend to reach that vision, and what rules you need to put in place to support that vision. Write all of that down and have someone you trust read through it. Ask them if they feel your vision is clear, if your plan to reach the vision sounds viable, and if the rules you created to support that plan do in fact support the vision. Make sure the person is someone you trust because if they don’t understand why you have a rule to wear fuzzy bunny slippers at all times, you need to be able to articulate why or change/remove the rule if wearing fuzzy bunny slippers does not truly support your plan for world domination.
If there is one truism for creating virtual communities it is that you will encounter issues. Those are often more frequent that you’d like when your guild is starting out. When there is an issue, jump in immediately and mediate a resolution. If you don’t know how to mediate a dispute, you probably shouldn’t be trying to lead an organization of people to begin with. There are lots of books on that topic so I am not going to try and teach you here. The point is to step in immediately and find a solution. Often, that solution is simply to clear up the miscommunication. You have no emotional baggage tied to the dispute so fairly evaluate both sides and diffuse it before things explode. That has the obvious benefit of preventing the immediate issue from getting out of hand. It also has a more hidden but much more important benefit. The rest of your guild is watching. They see how you act in those situations. Your successful handling of those problems will mean they are more likely to come to you for help before they overreact to something.
Building a community/guild/clan culture is inevitable. The shared experiences of your members will cause some form of culture to come into being. That culture can either be the glue that binds the team together or it can be the most outwardly obvious symptom as to why the guild is going to fall apart.
Culture is defined (by www.dictionary.com) as “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group.” Each of us participates in a number of different cultures .. at work.. at home.. with friends etc.. If you are a member of a guild you are also part of that culture.
The key to creating, growing and maintaining the right culture in your guild is rooted in many of our other top 10 items. Recruiting once
again plays a critical role either in support of or directly against forming a positive culture. Mismatched personnel who are constantly getting on each other’s nerves or who have differing play styles can contribute to creating a non-supportive culture. So once again, right from the start of a guild, recruiting forms the basis for yet another building block of a successful, long-term guild. If you have to choose where to invest your time, it needs to be in good recruiting.
Another area in which the guild leadership can influence culture is through rules and policies. More specifically, how those policies are implemented and enforced can have a profound impact on whether there is a positive or negative culture in the guild. On a day to day basis, one of the most important things a guild leader can do is to fairly and consistently enforce guild rules. That doesn’t mean that everyone will necessarily agree with every decision made but if those decisions are shown to be consistent and fair with past precedence then those negative tendrils have a much harder time taking root in your guild culture.
If someone told you that in order to be a successful community that you needed to be understanding it might not make intuitive sense at first but without understanding a guild cannot be successful. Understanding is a quality that directly supports and contributes to stability and it is something you cannot mandate into existence. It has to be nurtured and grown and sometimes fought for.
Let’s begin by defining what I mean when I say you need to have understanding to be a successful guild. Although voice communications are increasingly commonplace, the primary interaction people have with each other within the virtual world is text-based. Even within voice communication the non-verbal cues that would normally add context to a comment are not present. There are a variety of facts and figures floating around about how much of communication is non-verbal but regardless of which study is taken as fact, non-verbal communication (gestures, facial expressions, and body language) is an important and often central aspect to effective understanding.
Since the online world is predominantly text and voice based for our interactions, the likelihood there will be a misunderstanding is very high. When misunderstandings happen within virtual communities, they are tough to spot; even tougher to manage; and often lead to permanent, negative consequences.
The difference between a successful organization and one that implodes is understanding. Organizations that are successful have figured out a way to compensate for the text based and voice based communication issues so that misunderstandings are far less explosive and far less likely to result in instability.
Another major factor in determining a guild’s ability to be a long-term success is compatibility. While this criterion is interrelated to the other topics we have covered, especially recruiting, there is more to it than just saying, “We all get along!” There are several different layers to compatibility that we will explore with each layer being important to the long-term success of the guild. The four core layers of compatibility that you need to ensure exist within your guild are:
• Compatibility of your members
• Compatibility of your leadership team
• Compatibility of your rules with your goals
• Compatibility of your goals with your game
As you move forward with establishing or fostering your guild, take into account that compatibility is very important. Only recruit people who are compatible with your guild values and goals. Promote to leadership only people with that extra level of compatibility needed to work together even during the most difficult of circumstances. Create rules that are compatible with the goals and values of your guild. Set goals that are compatible with the gaming worlds you choose to occupy. If you forget to do even one of those things you will be introducing instability into your guild that will corrupt your culture and shake loose the walls of your fortress, causing it to tumble down around you.
We play games to achieve great things, to be the hero, to be excellent. We expect excellence in the games we play and it is pretty obvious what happens to gaming titles that fail to meet the level of excellence we require. Players demand excellence in their games. When they do not get excellence in their games, they move on to another game.
Players demand excellence in their guilds in the exact same way they demand it of their games. Players are investing their valuable time in the guild and therefore they demand a fair return on their investment. It is a transaction like any other in life. While the currency is time and commitment the process is still a transaction. That transaction is the same as going to the store and buying a gallon of milk or paying your bill to play a month of your current MMORPG.
When a person joins your guild, they are paying you with their loyalty, commitment and, most of all, with their time. They invest those things in your vision, goals and processes and they demand excellence in return. If you offer an inferior or defective product, they will purchase
a new product from someone else. Your guild is a commodity and not a very valuable one when it first starts out. You have no track record of success. You have little of value to offer anyone other than your promises for the future. You have, at the very least, thousands of direct competitors on your server all vying for the same pool of members and many of them have a more established track record than you do.
There are lots of ways to be excellent in the online gaming world and most of those ways are things players will demand of their guilds, whether they realize it or not. Failing to be excellent in those areas leads to those negative tendrils weaving their way into your guild culture, weakening the walls of your fortress.
Bigger is better, right? That is what popular culture seems to teach us. However, within the online gaming world that is not a correct statement. The “best” size for a guild is the size that directly supports the goals of the guild in exactly the optimal way. So size is a tricky topic. If you focus on size as an end goal of your guild, then you will end in disaster. However, if you don’t have an appreciation for the size needed to achieve your goals that can lead to a failure to deliver ‘Excellence’ to your members and therefore also cause a guild failure.
Size, for the sake of size, has a major hidden drawback. That drawback is that if your members do not know each other well enough, then they will fail to develop the necessary understanding needed to avoid drama and blow-ups.
Not having enough size is a problem as well. If you do not have enough people to fully staff the events, raids and hunts that you plan to move your guild goals forward then you have two options. Either you can cancel the plans or you can bring in outsiders to fill the gap. Regularly canceling plans can send the message that the guild is unable to provide the excellence your members demand.
Player expectations are very mature these days. They have big expectations of the guilds they will lend their services to. When forming a guild, understanding what size you need to be and how fast you can reasonably achieve that size is a key factor in meeting player expectations. There are consequences to growing too fast, too slow, with the wrong mix of people or using the wrong criteria for measuring your recruits. There is no universal right answer for size except to say that the right size for your guild is the number of people you need to support your goals and your ability to deliver your services in an excellent manner. Your members are like Goldilocks. They don’t want the guild to be too big or grow too fast. They don’t want the guild to be too small or grow too slowly. They want it just right. And if you can’t provide that, someone else already can.
2. Stay Focused
One of the most challenging aspects of creating and running a guild is staying focused on executing your plan. Society today has a heavy dose of instant gratification mixed into it. When you couple that with the fact that in a Massively Multiplayer Game there is always someone who is ahead of you or nipping at your heels, then we tend to impose pressure on ourselves to move faster and take shortcuts.
It is a natural human reaction to look around and see characters in better armor and feel like you need to be doing something more or something different so you can have those things. It is natural to compare oneself to other people and then try to take a shortcut to get to where they are faster. We have all heard the adage about the grass being greener on the other guy’s lawn. The same applies in gaming, except with the added kicker of “well if he can do it, so can I.” While that is probably true, since games are increasingly designed to be accessible to more players, if you rush through your plan you will undermine your goals before you achieve them.
Stay focused. It is tempting to think we are the exception to the rule, that we are smarter than human nature, that our personality will be powerful enough to allow us to take shortcuts and still emerge victorious. Taking those shortcuts will result in failure. No matter how smart you are and how motivated you are when you start playing with the expectations of players, you are playing with things beyond your control and much like feeding a wild animal, you will get bitten.
If you have made it through all these steps and your guild still implodes despite your best efforts, the good news is that the online world allows for nearly infinite retries. You can try again in the same gaming world.. you can switch to a new world.. you can create a whole new persona if you want. You can use the same guild format or pick an entirely new one. The sandbox of online gaming allows you to try to build the perfect sand castle over and over again. But… if you have reached this point… you likely tried and failed at least once. Review the reasons you failed and be completely honest with yourself. You only waste your time if you mislead yourself by blaming anything other than the true root causes. Find those causes and figure out what you will do differently this time around to reach a different and better outcome.
Building a successful community is an art… not a science. The principles discussed above are what you need to focus on but correctly applying them, in the right amounts, at the right moments in time, to create the exact entity that you wish to create is not as simple as mixing the right amount of flour, eggs and sugar and baking it for the right amount of time. The recipe differs for everyone so use any failures you may come across as opportunities to evaluate your recipe and tweak it for the next try.
All of those topics, and more, are discussed in great detail in Beyond The Legend . If you are creating an online community, guild or clan then you should make the time to read the book and avoid the landmines so many others have stepped on before you.