Oct 20, 2011

Posted by in Features | 2 Comments

United We Stand: Here Comes Everybody

United We Stand is an Ask A Jedi series focusing on guilds, groups, and other communities in Star Wars: The Old Republic. By examining the communities that we form, we can create a stronger game for ourselves, build relationships that will last a lifetime, and perhaps even change the world itself.

This past week I was rereading Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, and I was reminded of how kickass of a time we live in. Seriously: the development of the internet into a ubiquitous tool, the development of the personal computer, and of course most importantly the creation of the MMORPG. Not only is this time cool, but it’s really important as well. We don’t know what kinds of changes that these new technologies are going to bring; all we know is that they are coming. “The politics get interesting when the technology gets boring.” If you have to read this book for a class, it’s wonderful, although this article will probably give you enough to get away with not reading it.

That’s really what this column is about, the kinds of new things and new relationships that Star Wars: The Old Republic and other MMOG’s are going to give us. The idea of a virtual world where players can gather, share, collaborate, and collectively act from anywhere in the world won’t pass by without some kind of effect on society. Shirky argues that the internet is dropping the “transaction costs” of making a group (transportation, wages, management, phone bills, rent, etc) so low that they no longer matte. This is causing an explosion in new groups being formed, and in particular, new groups are being formed for communities that were never able to form because no one was willing to pay the transaction costs to make it happen.  Sound familiar? Can you imagine an institution bringing together players all over the world to fight dragons from purple text? Guilds and Clans are exactly what Shirky is talking about, now nerds around the world are able to form groups without the cost of making an institution using the internet.

Most useful to understanding guilds is Shirky’s model of promise, tool, and bargain. To bring a group of people together, you need to offer them a promise that is both reasonable and attractive. In a MMO, this is something like “Let’s work together and get better gear by doing operations!” A promise that is not reasonable would be “Let’s become the best operations guild in the world, right now!” Your guild must have a reachable promise to its members, or a purpose for the guild as Grinstone put it in the comments last week. The second part is the tool, or how you go about getting your promise fulfilled. This is not only the guild, the weapon of choice for collective action in an MMO, but also how you form and organize the guild. Next week, we’re going to look at governing systems and documents and talk about what might be the best model for you.

Finally, the bargain. The bargain is what you expect of your guild and what does your guild expect of you. It is created by every member of the guild, if no one is showing up for raids you aren’t going to show up for raids. If everyone is showing up except you, you’re going to look pretty silly. It has to be agreed by everyone, and it’s not formal, it’s the actual action that the guild takes. A strong guild has a strong bargain with its members, the members know what is expected of them and they act, and the leadership knows what’s expected of them and they respond.

“We are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organizations.” Guilds are just one example of this trend in technology, and one that doesn’t even get a single mention in Shirky’s book. This makes me sad, maybe he just doesn’t understand, but hopefully we’ll make it into his next edition. I think I’ll tweet this to him right now.

Leave comments or tweet me @TwinHits with your thoughts, ideas, and stories about guilds, communities, and leadership in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

  1. Grinstone says:

    Woo, mention in an article!

    The promise, as Shirky puts it, can’t be stressed enough for a guild. If the guild leaders don’t know what they’re doing, or what they want to do, how can the people in the guild possibly know what’s going on? More importantly, how do you recruit and keep new people if you can’t tell them what you’re about? “We’re a social guild that wants to have fun” is all well and good, but we’re talking about a game, not a chat room. People aren’t going to buy and log in to TOR just to be social. It’s not impossible to be a social and fun guild and also hardcore raiders, so if you end up recruiting a casual raider they’re going to feel a bit weird.

    I can tell you from personal experience that as stress-free as a social/fun guild can be, it looses its charm quickly when your requests for help or running flashpoints are met with indifference or silence.

    As I said, the laissez-faire approach has its benefits, but a sense of unity and belonging is very rarely one of them.

    One element that isn’t mentioned in this article, but has become increasingly important to me, is an out-of-game venue for the guild to meet, greet, and communicate. For me it adds a great deal of depth if I can pop on to a forum to see what’s going on with the guild, what the plans are, what people want to do, etc., even when I can’t be in-game. How much cooler is it when you can log into a game, see someone in the guild on, and know, “Hey, that guy helped me out by answering a question on the forum yesterday.”

    I feel that it’s much harder to build a sense of community if these people are only “on” when I’m logged into TOR. That goes double since I usually want to do something when I’m in-game, which makes being chatty and social a bit difficult. Additionally, if the out-of-game venue is fairly active then I know I’m in a guild that’s got stuff going on, even if I barely see anyone on for a week (or I know X, Y, and Z are traveling, A has a big project at work, B and C have mid-terms, etc., etc.).

    I guess that would fall under part of the bargain, for me: have a forum or the like and expect the guild members to drop in and say hi from time to time.

    • Yup, yup, and yup. I’m not sure if I agree with you on “It’s not impossible to be a social and fun guild and also hardcore raiders, so if you end up recruiting a casual raider they’re going to feel a bit weird.” But again, that’s another article.

      So is the idea of an ‘out of game’ venue, which is exactly as important as you said and for the same reasons that you said. They have a lot of interesting other effects as well, the most interesting of which you generally find those more in clans then in guilds.

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