What Makes a Guild

A little while ago our officers were polled to get a general idea of what our guild’s leadership views as the driving force behind our community and just who we are as a guild. The result was very encouraging and affirmed what I’ve thought all along about the awesome people we have in our little family. Now I’d like to take a look at what exactly a community needs to gain a sense of identity. I’m not a sociologist, but I’ve seen many, many guilds fail and I’ve noticed two very important things that those guilds either lacked completely, or abandoned over time: Principals and culture.

Principals
Without a shared ethic, you don’t have a community. I’m not saying everyone in a community needs to agree on everything, share the same religious and political beliefs, or any other such nonsense. I’m saying that a community itself needs to have its own set of ethics that each member is required to (and is proud to) uphold. Its easy to confuse these with rules. Rules are something more basic, precise, and more easily bent. What I’m talking about is the moral compass of the community itself.

Lets take a look at the difference between a rule and a principal in regards to an online community:
*** “Do not use offensive language in guild chat.” ***
This one is a rule. Its direct and to the point. It can be ignored once or twice without a huge community outcry and even officers can break it under the right circumstances without much ado. Breaking it under the wrong circumstances means punishment from moderators, and losing face with some community members. Its a necessary part of maintaining peace and order in the community, but it doesn’t carry any sense of identity with it.
*** “We are not a guild that tolerates racism, sexism or homophobia.” ***
This is a principal. It goes beyond simply saying “don’t do this” and clearly states “This is not who we are. If you don’t like it, leave.” This is a part of the guild’s culture. Its part of the community’s unique ethic and personality. Going against this means going against the community as a whole, not just the  moderators. Members look at this statement and identify with it. (though maybe not consciously) Its part of something they themselves are a part of and having a shared identity brings pride and a sense of friendship between members.
A very important difference between rules and principals is that rules are enforced by moderators and principals are enforced by the community itself. Both rules and principals are needed for a community to thrive, but once the community begins to disregarding its principals the slow decline towards disbanding is inevitable. Bottom line: a community that doesn’t share a common ethic is destined to fail.
Culture
Culture arises naturally from any group formed around shared principals. Its the inside jokes, the funny stories, the slang and the memes that fill our forums, ventrilo channels and in-game chat. Its important that the basic ideas of personality established by the community’s ethics expand into a larger sense of belonging for each member. It takes time and a lot of effort to build a sense of friendship and trust between people. These relationships make up the culture of the community and like anything that takes time to build, it is can be quickly destroyed. Everyone in the community, not just the moderators, has to be vigilant to keep the community close and welcoming. Once we abandon the culture we’ve built, we don’t have much of anything left holding us together. What does that mean? Basically, it means keeping good relationships between all our members is a huge priority. Disagreements happen, drama happens, but if the wound created by them isn’t tended to then it will only get bigger and bigger until the culture of the community begins to fracture.
Community

If you’re just starting out as a guild, building a core set of principals is the biggest and best step you can take to ensure the longevity and success of your community. Everything, from recruitment to loot distribution needs to be guided by the principals of the guild. Over time your members will build on that and your own unique culture will begin to develop. Its extremely important that you foster this new culture and help it grow. Settle disputes quickly and place an emphasis on mending relationships between members. Bad blood has a tendency to affect more than just the two parties directly involved.
So what about older guilds?  You’re likely already group of friends who enjoy your time gaming together. Some of you have developed friendships that will be with you for years and some of you are just now getting to know each other, but all of you should take a moment and reflect on who you are as a whole. What principals do you all share? What culture have you built together? These are questions all members of an older guild need to ask themselves, not just officers.