I am pretty skeptical of MMO “literature.” The last piece I read was a doctoral thesis on social structures in MMOs, in that case Guild Wars. It was horribly written, contained ridiculous examples, and came to conclusions that any MMO player that’s put some small amount of time into an MMO would know. This seemed to be par for the course of the many examples I’ve read. So, when I was asked if I wanted to review a free copy of The Guild Leader’s Handbook by Scott F. Andrews, my gut reaction was not good. I checked out the No Starch Press website and glanced at the author’s credentials, and impressed with the quality thus far, I decided to give writings on MMOs one more shot. This time I was actually pleased.
The book itself is a quality trade paperback coming in at almost 200 pages. The book is split up in to the prologues, epilogues, and 10 chapters on various parts of running a guild. The text itself is well written and flows nicely. I have to bring it up again, but it amazes me that what the author make look so easy (with grammar, sentence/paragraph structure) the doctoral candidates were not able to do. I digress… The table of contents and index are fairly thorough, and the chapters are broken up and arranged in a really thoughtful manner. It is pretty obvious from the flip-through that the author was not simply hacking some MMO book out, and quite a bit of time and thought was given to the layout. On to the meat.
The title of the book says it all. This is a comprehensive source for guild leaders. It covers everything from creating the guild, choosing officers, dealing with guild drama, loot rules, and tips for dealing with meatspace issues. The book is largely applicable to games similar to World of Warcraft, especially since the author’s experience largely stems from World of Warcraft. The author took time to incorporate other MMOs, such as Warhammer Online and Darkfall, but two of the ten chapters deal with raids, their progression, and loot distribution, which I found much less helpful for the MMOs I play. Even though the book was largely written with World of Warcraft in mind, I found most of the discussion applicable to the non-WoW guilds I was in.
There really is too much to talk about because the book is so comprehensive. For instance, in the Humble Origins: Foundations of a Successful Guild chapter the author discusses: guild names with ones to avoid, setting policies, the three main concepts for leading a guild, necessary tools for guild creation, growth, and life, and a quick glance at starting officers (as there is a whole chapter on officers). Each subsection follows my favorite guideline in writing: The Skirt Guideline. Make it short enough to be interesting, but long enough to cover the subject. The author makes good use of bolded phrases and bulletpoints to quickly find major talking points of each subsection. There is a free chapter available online.
As I am, and have been, a guild officer, the best part of the book in its entirety, was its use as a reality check. Too often my guilds get in a rut that seems to work for us, yet for longevity it’s really not a good rut to be stuck in. I found myself taking mental notes on my own guilds. Were we creating an officer clique? Were we allowing bad apples to remain in the barrel? Did we have a good reward system? This book was really good for showing a guild leader or officer the scratches in the guild and giving ways to apply some polish. The author also takes time to give brief examples of problems he’s encountered or seen, which help to show in some cases the gravitas of the situations he’s exploring.
There are a few negatives to the book. Like I mentioned above, the book is very WoW-centric and is written for a guild leader. I think it would’ve been beneficial if the author had taken more time to explore how PvP guilds in Guild Wars or EVE Online are run. PvP Guilds can be a pretty big deal, and I think the author’s inexperience in this area showed. If there is a second edition, I hope that the author can incorporate more from other MMOs with slightly different themes than World of Warcraft. Also, most of the guilds I am in right now have an officer council where no one maintains absolute power. This book largely assumed that the reader would maintain some of that power. Finally, the author classifies a few player personalities in to splats. While the “eedies” (i.e., greedy, needy, leety, and cheaty) made perfect literal sense for who they described, the names of the splats like the priest, sensei, spymaster, and vagabond made only a little literal sense for the player personality they were describing. This bit of fun would have remained harmless if the author did not keep referring back to things like an “acrobat-spec Jester” or “wisdom-spec Priest” in later sections.
The bottom line is that when the author set out to create The Guild Leader’s Handbook, he succeeded. It was a pleasure to read, and the advice given was generally applicable to any guild. While most of this information may be scattered about the internet in some form or another, I don’t believe there is a better place to find a single instance where either a guild leading-newbie or battle-hardened officer can find tips, examples, and advice on creating and running a stable, long-lived MMO guild.