Mar 14, 2012

Posted by in United We Stand | 15 Comments

United We Stand: The Machiavellian Guild Leader

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.

A while back, I read “The Prince” by political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli. The idea was that it would have cool stuff that guild officers could apply to leadership and that I could write about. This turned out to be kind of true. In the actual act and organization of leadership, what Machiavelli has to say isn’t particularly applicable. We’re not hiring mercenaries, doling out land and fortresses to loyal princes, or deciding whether or not to raze, puppet, or annex cities (Oh, hey there, Civilization 5!). Although, it makes me wonder if in an older MMO like Ultima Online if this kind of advice would be more applicable.

I put the project aside, until I picked up a copy of “World of Warcraft and Philosophy: Rise of the Philosopher King.” You may have seen this book or maybe its companions like “The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy: I Link Therefore I Am” or ‘Halo and Philosophy: Intellect Evolved“. At first, these seem pretty dumb, but it was actually really awesome. It is a collection of papers and articles about philosophy that all use World of Warcraft as an example. For example, there is one about how the World of Warcraft economy represents the capitalism that Adam Smith described in “The Wealth of Nations“. Another describes the philosophical idea of determinism through the example of a player controlling a character and that character not understanding what it is that causes him to move. In particular, there was an article called “The Machiavellian Guild Leader” by Moses Wolfenstein that discussed how guild leaders in World of Warcraft use some of the political leadership principles that Machiavelli talks about.

Wolfenstein points to the infamous Onyxia Wipe Animation as an example, in which the Boulderfist guild Wipe Club is trying to down Onyxia and after a particularly close loss the raid leader Dives began to yell and scream promising to punish them all with “50 DKP minus!”. Wolfenstein claims that Dives is employing the Machiavellian principle that it is better to be feared than loved or hated. Machiavelli says that if you want to rule a country and remain the ruler, it is much better to be feared because when you are kind and generous people will appreciate it. If you are loved, the people will not appreciate your generosity because it is what they expect of you and when you need to be harsh they will hate you for it. When you are hated, you cannot rule because you will be too worried about being overthrown. “It is better to be miserly than generous for when you fail to be generous where expected you will be hated, but if you are miserly than you will be unexpected.”

“The answer is that it would be desirable to be both but, since that is impossible, it is safer to be feared than loved.” In an interview he gave to James Wagner Au of Kotaku, Dives talks about the animation, his background, and his guild leadership style. He was asked if he is worried about people leaving his guild because of his leadership style, to which he responded “They don’t leave because they know I’m right.” According to Wolfenstein, Dives understands the dynamic of leadership that Machiavelli describes, which explains his actions on Teamspeak during that fateful and famous Onyxia raid (They got him on the fifth try when they should have got him on the first, according to Dives the “performance was a disgrace”).

He was willing to be hard and yell and to make his raiders fear his outbursts and his willingness to punish, something that most raid leaders would have a hard time doing and would rather try harder to work to be loved then complain about the performance later in officer chat. He is so well known for the animation that he gets requests to come to other guilds raids and be feared in place of the raid leader. “I get too many people asking me that people want me to come to their servers and yell something at them. I did go once and give some people some attitude, which was fun. But I get huge amounts of requests.”

What’s important is that Dives is not hated, he is feared, which is exactly his job and he is very good at it. While the animation was created in jest, it shows exactly what this dynamic is supposed to look like. Dives has decided that the cost of progression is going to be his raider’s love for him, and if that’s what he and his guild wants to do than that is fine. Nowhere does it say that your guild members have to love you for your leadership, all that matters is that the guild does what it promises to do and gets its members to the loot.

Machiavelli is probably most famous for his statements that “the ends justify the means” and that is what Dives is getting at. Sometimes as a guild leader, you have to do hard things for the continued fulfillment of the purpose of the guild. A guild, no matter how big or small, is successful if it is providing to its members whatever it is that is outlined in the purpose of the guild. As long as raiders are raiding, or warzones are being won, or crafters are crafting, or whatever the purpose of your guild is than it is successful. Dives found that the best way to continue to fulfill his promise to his guild, one of raiding, was to be this harsh to the point of being feared.

And that is okay if you are willing to sacrifice yourself that way. In fact, it’s probably a more effective way to lead a guild than to try to love and coddle your way through all the problems that you will face. But, it will cost a part of yourself, and you will probably have less fun doing it, particularly if that is not the kind of person that you are. You will face burnout sooner, be more likely to disappear or give up, and the guild will seem more like a job than not. Choose carefully, but remember that you cannot be both feared or loved, and above all do not be hated.

TwinHits is an officer for the guild Unity on the server Dreshdae Cantina. Leave comments or tweet @TwinHits with your thoughts, ideas, and stories about guilds, communities, and leadership in Star Wars: The Old Republic.


  1. Lady Republic says:

    If it helps, a number of scholars actually think The Prince was written as a piece of satire, mocking the leaders of the day rather than advising them on good leadership strategy. Up to you to decide!

    • Yeah when I saw that this was about Machiavelli, I immediately thought to step in and mention this.

      Even if you assume it isn’t, or that it works anyway (and some of this stuff does), what would you prefer who would you rather be: an over-functioning organization led by yourself as terrible, manipulative, lying leader or a under-functioning organization led by yourself as a kind, understanding, and honest leader?

      • I’ve never heard of that theory before, it seems strange however considering that Machiavelli is writing because he is seeking political refuge.

        I don’t think Dives is suggesting that you be a “terrible, manipulative, lying” leader, I think he is saying that sometimes you need to be harsh and tell people whats up. I think that he would say that if you are always kind, understanding, and “coddling” you are the lying leader.

        It’s up to you though which side you want to be, the article is describing one side not suggesting it.

        • Dives probably wouldn’t say that, but Machiavelli in the Prince probably would.

          It’s a fine article even if I disagree with some pieces. But for the record, the either/or I suggested is intended to provoke the reaction: there’s another way! Because there is.

        • Lady Republic says:

          From a brief analysis at Stanford,

          Jean-Jacques Rousseau long ago held that the real lesson of The Prince is to teach the people the truth about how princes behave and thus to expose, rather than celebrate, the immorality at the core of one-man rule. Various versions of this thesis have been disseminated more recently. Some scholars, such as Garrett Mattingly (1958), have pronounced Machiavelli the supreme satirist, pointing out the foibles of princes and their advisors. The fact that Machiavelli later wrote biting popular stage comedies is cited as evidence in support of his strong satirical bent. Thus, we should take nothing Machiavelli says about moral conduct at face value, but instead should understood his remarks as sharply humorous commentary on public affairs. Alternatively, Mary Deitz (1986) asserts that Machiavelli’s agenda was driven by a desire to “trap” the prince by offering carefully crafted advice (such as arming the people) designed to undo the ruler if taken seriously and followed.

          Remember – my day job! ;)

  2. GhostBoy says:

    It is, in a sense, the classic trade-off that many raid leaders face: atmosphere vs efficiency. It obviously works for that guild, and I expect many top-end raid guilds have similar uncompromising attitudes towards their raiders while the game is on. I don’t think fear works for all situations though, even if we are still talking raid guilds. Hate never works, I’ll agree on that, and coddling is also ineffective. Respect is probably a better word than love in these circumstances, and something I think is equally likely to work as fear in the majority of cases.

    My own experience comes from an adult-only guild that worked in many respects on an honor principle: The guild had lax standards when it came to attendance and no strict performance or gear requirements (beyond “able to do the content at all”), but when you show up you bring your A-game, out of courtesy towards your fellow raiders and to not waste everyones time. We also had a loot system that did not allow for consequences beyond the raid itself. It is not possible to use that fear-style leadership when your only threat is either arbitrarily disregarding the loot system (a road down which lie outcry and madness) or benching people next week (which due to our rotation was liable to happen anyway).

    Out guild prided itself on raiding being a fun experience. Outside of boss fights themselves or loot being handed out, Vent was a flood of banter. Screwups, even those that caused a wipe, were sources of jokes and ribbing, as long as they were not repeated on the next attempt. A fear-leader would not work in those circumstances, because it was not the expectation our members had about the experience.

    Of course that came with its own set of problems: When people genuinely had to shape up, it came across as very harsh because it was outside the norm that we employed the “stern talking to”.

    Personally I was never a fan of the Drill Sergeant Nasty approach to leadership. When people mess up, they should be told that they did and in what manner, preferably in reasoned tone (which may still be, and for us often was, blunt). More often than not, people that mess up already know that they did, and the leader should simply make sure they understand why so they can adjust. That style did cost us the ability to tackle the hardest raid content, because we allowed for even stupid mistakes to be made. In return, it gained us a vastly more fun raiding atmosphere, that had people coming back next week, even if they didn’t get their purple shinies. It also cost us a few raid leaders. When the fear-leader strategy was attempted by some of them, raiders generally didn’t respond to it with anything but resentment and even rebellion (quitting the raid in protest f.inst). That’s not an indication that the fear-leader steategy doesn’t work, but a question of alligning expectations.

    On reflection, our raid leaders probably didn’t aspire to love as such. Respect perhaps, but if fear was invoked it was the fear of disappointing the other raiders, not the fear of a rant or punishment from the raid leader. If delivered well, “Please stop wasting our time” can be just as intimidating as “50 DKP minus!”

    • That is an excellent example of the other side, the “loved” side. I’m not sure about respected, because I think it also works to say that Dives is respected for his style and that’s why it works.

      I’m not a fan of the “Drill Sergeant Nasty” approach either, but that’s what Dives chose to do and it is working very well for them. That’s what the article highlights.

  3. I do love the Onixiya Raid Wipe animation, it is hysterical. I cant imagaine why ppl would look up to or fear such a douchebag. I’ve been in hard core raid guilds that do get things done in the 1st or second try without childish screaming from the leader of the raid. But I guess it shouldn’t suprise me about this either. I feel sad for those ppl that fear an online monster.

  4. Is united we stand meant to be a succession of What-Not-To-Do articles?

    Because most all the advice given on how to successfully lead a guild has been bloody awful.

    Yes, make your guild members fear you. Be capricious and dole out random punishment because you are feeling grumpy.

    I’m sure smart people will hang around for the abuse and continue to give their all to helping the guild succeed.

    • The point isn’t that this is what you should do, the point is that this is what someone has done and it works. You can decide for yourself if this is something you want to try.

      I personally would not do this, it’s not in my nature to be that way.

    • Lady Republic says:

      Well, I got the impression from when TH and I were de-conflicting that his article is designed more to apply political theory and social contexts to guilds – looking at the dynamics of what guilds are or applying some of the things he’s studying in political context and theory to the MMO world of guilds.

      Council Chambers, on the other hand, is less about philosophy or politics, and strictly trouble-shooting. So I think UWS is more philosophy or general examination rather than advice?

  5. There’s only one thing I can’t stand more than people citing Machiavelli in gaming communities, and that’s people citing Sun Tzu.

  6. Arclinon says:

    Before i begin i would like to state that i have not read the prince or considerable amount of books on political philosophy but i am familiar with the terms of loyalty through fear and loyalty through respect so i would like to state my findings on 3 guilds in which all of them i was officer so i could gather the data on both guild masters and members without looking like a crazy scientist (i will not mention guild names or character names for reasons i believe you will understand) also all these guilds were hardcore and raiding guilds all three of these guilds were on top 15 of the server rankings and all bursting with ambition to be the best guild in the server so the player skill factor (X factor) should not be much of an issue.So here is my report on the experiment on the guilds X,Y,Z

    Subject properties:
    Guild X: Semi democratic guild with a well respected guild master and equally respected council of officers guild members are free to speak their minds before the boss encounter and after the raids to review that days raid performance and to find out where did they went wrong
    Members are kicked if council decides that member is no longer helpful to the progress

    Loot system: Guild council (officers and GM decides to who the loot will go so members have to impress their officers to get the loot they really want in case of a tie).

    Guild Y:Monocratic guild, GM is god noone can interrupt when he speaks nobody is allowed to talk during the raid but people are free to chillout after the raid. GM is respected and even more feared for his harsh punishments and language like in te onyxia wipe animation but with much deeper voice Officers exist to take workload fom GM like g banking and observing people during the raid.

    Loot system: DKP but gm can interfere in some cases.

    Guild Z: Control group, GM leads raids and officers manage dkp and loots. Mid to high level DKP punishments with money punishments as a side note officers were IRL friends.

    Loot system: EP/GP with secret bid

    I will skip to results which were take within from 1 month (due to disband) to 6 months because post is already too long but you got the idea:

    Guild Z: People were content with progress and atmosphere was somewhat friendly but over time progress started to slow down and people started leaving GM and officers decide to take the core group and merge with guild X due to that period being summer and all guilds having lack of active members

    Sum up(Z): when the only motivation was loot and bosses so over time that was not enough a new way of leadership had to be found core members agreed.

    Guild X: After the merger with guild Z new core groups had formed (1 10 and 1 25) and people were in big anticipations after a few bad attempts to progress and getting new people warmed up to each other. Progress grew by a surprising rate yielding intereting results such as people actually admiting wipe was their fault and demanded punishment and the motivations were respect and knowing/thinking that officers were doing their best to solve any problems raid or members had i think the right word would be appreciation and sense of responsibility after warming up progress rose up to taking 4 server firsts before disbanding due to some GM getting married and officers quiting some due to IRL some due to try something new.

    Guild Y: Soon after the changing GM guild Y became strictly progress focused GM constantly cursing and raids looking like Onixia wipe animation people who had problems replaced or officers ending up comforting them after the raids. Progress rose surprisingly everything working like clockwerk while GM thinking everything was ok as long as people kept their mouth shut everything seemed to be ok untill release of following content people wiping all the time to simple mistakes GM screaming and threatening untill it came to a boiling point when MT healer leaving due to lack of progress in last 3 weeks and stating progress did not payed off for the progress many people agreed including officers thus guild disbanded in front of the last boss of the instance.

    Result (TL;DR): Loyalty through fear is only effective for short term while Loyalty though respect is less effective for short term bu effect increases over time without much stress thus meaning

    in short term Fear> Respect in long term Fear< Respect
    Sorry for text wall i hope that wall of text solves fear and respect dilemma

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