An experiment in leadership.

I recently decided to undertake a unique challenge in leadership, a challege which most people will deem silly and pointless: to lead my own raiding guild in the game World of Warcraft.  Before I get into the meat of this post, I recognize that WoW is just a game, and as such, most people dismiss the fact that it has any real world value whatsoever.  This I will agree with as it is just a game, however, I do feel that real world value can be taken from it.

Simulation games have proven excellent tools for training people in manual skills; for example, X-Plane, a flight simulator that runs on home computers, has been certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. But accidental learning transcends intentional training. When role-playing gamers team up to undertake a quest, they often need to attempt particularly difficult challenges repeatedly until they find a blend of skills, talents, and actions that allows them to succeed. This process brings about a profound shift in how they perceive and react to the world around them. They become more flexible in their thinking and more sensitive to social cues. The fact that they don’t think of gameplay as training is crucial. Once the experience is explicitly educational, it becomes about developing compartmentalized skills and loses its power to permeate the player’s behavior patterns and worldview.

So what is raiding?  What is a guild?  For the un-cool, I will tell you.  Raiding in WoW is the term used to define the act of killing creatures in the game which take many players to kill.  In the case of WoW, most raiding constitues 25 people.  A guild, is a group of players who play together in the game almost exclusively.  A raiding guild, is a guild which has a primary objective of raiding together.

world-of-warcraft-logo

As you can see, coordinating all of this effort, takes leadership skills.  This aspect of the game is what makes it fun for me.  Sure from the outside looking in, I am a full grown adult playing a cartoonish looking video game.  Spending countless hours of my time working toward intangible goals and virtual wealth.  The rewarding nature for the game, for me, has never been the item rewards, the virtual wealth, or the prestige of being the first guild on your server to kill the hardest boss.  For me, it is fun to see my hard work toward leading a group of players through a difficult encounter and seeing how excited people are when the hard work finally pays off in a kill.

It gets complicated here.  This is because these bosses in which you “raid” are generally very difficult, and this is why you need a coordinated guild to do it.  You cannot simply assemble 25 random people and expect to win.  You need a well balanced group of skillful players who are willing to die over and over together at the expense of their real world time, and in game money, toward the effort of learning how kill, and ultimately killing a boss, to reap the rewards.  The rewards, are the next layer of complexity.  Since these bosses generally yield 2-4 items each time you kill them, and 25 people kill them, you need to have a fair method of distributing the rewards to your players in order to motivate them to come back another day to kill another boss.

So does this have any real world value?  Do you actually need real world leadership skills to accomplish success in the game World of Warcraft?  My answer is yes, and the point of this post is to explain why.

Creating your guild

Creating and leading a guild in world of warcraft is quite easy.  All you need is a little bit of gold, and ten other players to sign your “charter”.  Once you have done this, you have a guild, you are a guild leader.  Anyone can do this, even a six year old.  However, if you want the guild to be anything more than a glorified chat room, it takes a bit more.  Most raid guilds start off by having a website, and something called a Ventrilo server used for voice chat based coordination during raids.  As you can already see, creating a website and managing a voip server is already above the heads of most teenagers.

I started by doing just what I outlined above.  I assembeled a few of my friends, formed my guild, and there it was.  My very own glorified chat room.  After I had established my guild, Solipsis, I had to make a website for it.  As an aside, having a cool guild name is always a plus, and my guilds name is totally badass.  At this point, two other things need to happen.  You need to recruit players into your ranks, and also establish a couple of co-leaders which are deemed “officers”.  You can compare an officer in a guild to something like a member of the cabinet in the presidency.  They assist the leader of the guild on all issues and provide additional leadership assistance.  Choosing capable, high quality officers is crucial to the success of a guild.  You cannot simply choose power hungry teenagers.

Now that you have the backbone of your guild in place (Leader, Officers, Website) there is some clerical work to be done.

Establishing Rules

While you could simply amass a ton of people and allow them to run amok, this was not my goal.  My goal for a successful raid guild was to maintain an active roster of as few people as possible, and also maintaining a level of maturity and respect around the server at large.  This means you need to establish many sets of rules and guidelines which denote the types of players which may be in the guild, how they should behave, and how they should always behave to remain a member.  Other rules are also in place to facilitate the raid aspect of the guild.  This includes a raid schedule, attendance guidelines, and a set of rules which describe how the loot rewards are to be distributed.

If you do not have a good set of rules at the onset which people agree with prior to joining your guild you will find yourself dealing with a lot of issues later when the expectations which you had build up your mind do not line up with the desires of your players.

Something to always keep in mind when making the rules for your guild is that it is just a game.  As such, you do not want to lay a strict set of rules upon people which will ultimately hinder their ability to have fun, which is the overall point in all of this.

Building a roster

Arguably the hardest part.  Once you have a guild and its backbone, you need to seek out players who not only wish to kill bosses, but want to agree to the rules you have set out in your guild.  You need to really sell your guild hard to get good players since there are literally thousdands of guilds for players to choose from.  The criteria for most players who wish to raid are simple:  How good is the guild, how capable are they of killing bosses?  What is their raid schedule, does it fit within the schedule of real life?  How is the overall atmosphere of the guild (serious, fun, mature, immature)?  How do they distribute their loot?  How is their reputation amongst the other guilds on the server?

This part takes the most time and patience, and can be very arguous.  Many times you will get very nice people who try very much, but simply lack skill.  You as a leader need to decide how to handle things like this.  On the contrary, often times you will find extremely great players who are very problematic attitude wise and very difficult to keep happy.  Hopefully after some time you will have weeded out the people who do not quite fit in line with what you are trying to achieve and wind up with a roster you are happy with.

For me, my goal is to have a group of players leaning toward the side of “hardcore” yet still do not take the game so seriously that it becomes a job.  I do not generally want too many players under the age of 18 unless they seem quite mature for their age.  I want to have at most 35 people in the guild who are looking to raid so that I do not have a huge pool of people to rotate through, and I want the guild as a whole to be pretty tight knit and friendly toward each other.  These are the types of things you will decide for yourself, should you ever try to lead this sort of effort.

Leading the raids

This job is not always let to the actual guild leader, as in many cases, a raid leader needs quite different qualities than a guild leader does.  Similar to the differences of the president vs the secretary of defense.  In my case though, I lead my own raids.  I enjoy this aspect of the game the most.  A good raid leader needs to be firm and strict, but not a complete bastard.  You also need a major heap of patience, which I generally lack.  I feel that raid leadership for me is an experiment in exercising my own ability to be more patient in general.

When you wish to lead a raid, you need to assemble your 25 players.  Decisions need to be made based on the players you have on hand, and in most cases you will have more than 25 people to choose from if you are doing a good job.  The people not chosen to raid on a given night will generally be upset by that fact, but again, if you are doing a good job with the guild as a whole they will be more than understanding of it.

Bosses in WoW can be quite complicated.  They require a lot of coordination and every player needs to execute properly for you to be successful.  This can range on a huge scale of responsbility and difficulty.  The responsbility of the raid leader is to coordinate this effort, develop and refine your strategy, and ensuring the players in the raid are doing their job.  It can be a real test of discipline to not get angry and upset during this process, especially if the same players continually make the same mistakes.

A raid kill.
A raid kill.

Ideally though, if you have done everything right up to this point, your hard work will pay off and you will kill the magical internet dragon without making anyone too upset and it will drop magical internet swords.

Keeping people happy

The bread and butter of keeping people happy in a guild in wow is to keep feeding them boss kills and subsequently, loot rewards.  Sometimes a boss is so difficult that it can take many hours of the course of several days or even weeks, to finally kill it.  This can be very frustrating and if your guild suffers too much difficulty on a boss for too long you will ultimately lose players.  The easiest way to counter this is by keeping the best possible players around and making sure that you spend a signifcant amount of time killing the easier bosses which you can easily get loot from as often as possible prior to the nights which you plan to spend countless hours learning a new fight.

Tying it all together

So how does all of this apply to real life?  Well, in reality, it doesn’t.  But if you take the skills you learn in the game as a leader and apply them to your life, it absolutely can.  Think of what you are doing, and compare that to say the manager of an it organization.

  • Coordinating a large group of people toward a common goal
  • Recruiting capable people to fulfill a role and do a job
  • Rewarding your people and keeping them happy
  • Maintaining patience and professionalism at all times
  • Resolving inter-personal conflicts in a diplomatic way
  • Choosing others to assist you in your leadership
  • Developing and executing plans, goals, and strategies toward the betterment of your organization
  • Building friendships and relationships which can transcend the game, or work

And these are just a few of the things you can gain from something most people view as just a game.

For an interesting read on someone who made the transition from guild leadership in wow, to a real world management position, wired magazing published an article a while back about this very subject.

In this way, the process of becoming an effective World of Warcraft guild master amounts to a total-immersion course in leadership. A guild is a collection of players who come together to share knowledge, resources, and manpower. To run a large one, a guild master must be adept at many skills: attracting, evaluating, and recruiting new members; creating apprenticeship programs; orchestrating group strategy; and adjudicating disputes. Guilds routinely splinter over petty squabbles and other basic failures of management; the master must resolve them without losing valuable members, who can easily quit and join a rival guild. Never mind the virtual surroundings; these conditions provide real-world training a manager can apply directly in the workplace.

If you are a World of Warcraft player feel free to contact me!  I play a warrior named “Disrespect” on the realm “Stormrage”.

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