One of the most interesting things that I’ve found I can do as a guild leader is go back and read my own guild science posts and forum threads. Nothing else quite brings my focus back to what I need to be doing than a younger, more passionate me. It was less than a year ago when I wrote the following quote in one of my officer articles:
Did we fail on occasion? You bet we did. We’re only human. The idea is to stick with it and strive for it. Officer interaction with the guild is closely watched. Your members will make decisions based on their perception of you. Give them the best possible perception.
The majority of people recognize that on some level perception affects everything around them. In life and MMOs it can color our opinions so heavily that we come to see it as a better truth than the actual reality of a situation. This is an important lesson for guild officers and MMO developers to learn and remember at all times. It is also a lesson that I sometimes forget. I don’t always give the best possible perception these days in Sodality. Since it is fairly obvious that I know better, why do I (and others) keep falling into this trap?
In my experience the biggest reason that those with authority let their perception slip is complacency. Guild leaders become accustomed to a certain group of people and just “expect” them to know better and trust them. We feel like we can let something slide here or there and it will be okay because everyone should know better. MMO companies are no different. They become so comfortable with a certain level of subscriptions they assume that some terrible decisions are acceptable and won’t effect the status quo that much. Both of these attitudes are dangerous and damaging. Never simply anticipate that your core members or subscribers will continue to allow you to slip without eventually saying something. It might not be immediate, but these sort of things do fester and it is far easier to be proactive than reactive.
Ever so often it is important for the leadership of a guild and the community people of a game to give themselves a little perception check. What sort of vibes are you giving off? It can be quite hard to be objective but I think most of us are adult enough to see where we’re slipping. I’ve even prepared an example today to illustrate my point.
Sodality has been playing Lord of the Rings Online lately and it is something that I am really enjoying. I’ve been playing it pretty heavily but when I reached level 60, (one of the first two to do so), my time declined dramatically while I waited for others to hit max level. I’m the sort of player that just “logs in for raids.” I always have been. I’ve never been a fan of doing all the little achievements or building a house. Those just aren’t my things. My members should know that but their perception of my activities was pretty negative. I should have known better, too. I’ve actually been in trouble for this before! It isn’t a major issue since most of them are now close to 60 and we can do instances and raids. I’m around a lot more and things will smooth out. The point is, however, I should have recognized that I am the guild leader and, whether I like to do other things besides raid or not, I should be on a good bit. Players get skittish when officers are absent and I don’t blame them. It is something I’m working on!
To tie this point in on the development side, I want to take a look at FunCom and Mythic (but they are by no means alone in this). When Age of Conan and Warhammer Online released they were very successful at selling boxes. Both development teams were quite confident and, in a lot of ways, it showed. They were fairly resistant to player issues and the old regime at FunCom literally had an attitude about it. Now it is unfair to say that either game is a failure. I refuse to fall into that trap. The appropriate classification for both Age of Conan and Warhammer Online is “profitable but fell far below expectations.” The companies behind these games really expected to do more business than they are currently. Again, neither are failures! They just didn’t hit the target numbers and perception had a whole lot to do with this.
I could list a number of conditions that occurred to cause AoC and WAR to under perform but that in itself would lead to a lot of disagreement and speculation. To keep things on topic, I just want to point out that not long after the release of each title, players started into a spiral of negativity pretty quickly. One of the biggest complaints that kept cropping up is that neither company managed player expectations very well or listened to their needs. This argument on my part can slightly be validated due to the fact that if you look at anything that FunCom and Mythic puts out now they specifically point out how they are now “listening to their players.” It seems that, like myself, they realize after the fact that they had a negative perception going and are working to change it. This is obviously a good thing and seems to be aiding in regrowing their player bases. Once more, however, they took the hard route. Reacting to poor perception is still tougher than being pro-active.
It is my hope that these examples will be useful to someone that is trying to run a guild or get a product out there. Be actively concerned about the perception you’re giving people. Rarely is it enough to simply tell them what reality is. Stay on message and then ensure your actions match that message. If you’re interested in something, say you are and then be active in it. If you say you care about player feedback, post on your own forums a lot, engage your audience, and actually explain why or why not an idea can’t be implemented. This can be done. It just takes a lot of effort and being objectively mindful of how you are seen by others.