Application ContemplationOctober 17, 2011
Reading Hunter’s blog post about guild applications this weekend, I was inspired. It struck me that I have quite a few thoughts on the subject too, and as usual, he comes up with a really good topic to contemplate. I’m just going to expand on my original comment on his blog, not for the purpose of changing any minds but in the hopes that maybe I can come to terms a little better with how I personally feel as well.
Is the guild application process really necessary?
Ah, the dreaded guild app. Honestly, I wish I could say no. Who likes filling out forms, anyway? I know I don’t, and I’ve done my fair share. Still, I think how I feel about filling out guild applications is also separate from my feelings of the value of a guild application. I suppose it stems from having been on both sides of the process.
To share an anecdote, once upon a time I was an officer in an World of Warcraft guild that took a very liberal stance on guild invites. We had no application, no forum for people to introduce themselves, not even a real website to speak of. It was as casual as you could get. Everyone had invite privileges and we picked up people from all over, from recruitment blasts in general chat and announcements on our server forums, to inviting anyone we encountered who expressed interest. Basically, anyone who wanted in was in, no questions asked.
I’ll give you this; being in that guild was a lot of fun, probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a guild. And yet, it was also the most drama-filled guild I’ve ever been in, and I don’t think I want to be a part of something like that again. EVER.
One of the biggest problems was the huge turnover rate. Yes, we had our share of trouble-makers and there were kicks aplenty, but it was also because people left as casually as they were invited. There was really no strong sense of guild identity or any reason for loyalty or cohesiveness. It made sense — after all, if being invited was treated as no big deal, neither should leaving. Needless to say, the turnover rate hurt us when our guild started working on content progression, which was probably why I think our guild leader eventually gave in and set up a website and a guild application process to help improve retention.
Here’s the thing — it worked. I suppose I ultimately became a fan of the guild application process not only because of how effective it was with regards to retention, but also because of how it cut down on the amount of riffraff considerably. As an officer, I was part of the reviewing process, and it is surprising how much can come out in an applicant’s writing, like personality and attitude. I confess it’s not always an accurate assessment, but I can also understand now why a lot of guilds use applications to hopefully weed out immaturity and potential trouble.
That’s not to say our guild was drama-free after the application went into effect. Periodically, members still rage quit or were kicked. But the pattern had shifted, as most parted ways not because of bad behavior but instead because of differences in play style. Reasons cited included “guild is raiding too much or too little!” or “progression is too fast or too damn slow!”
Which brings me to my next point, that it’s not just about having a guild application, it’s also about the questions you ask. I’ve seen things from a potential recruit’s point of view, and yes, filling out an app is usually a pain. I also sometimes find myself squirming under personal questions especially those about details like my name, sex or date of birth. Part of the reason is I have gone to great lengths keeping my gaming persona apart from my real life, and I like to have control over how I reveal my information.
Still, I don’t think I can hold it against guilds that ask me questions like what are my hobbies or interests, how often and when do I play, or what games I’ve played in the past. I think much can be gleaned from answers to these questions, if you know what to look for. How hardcore/casual someone is can come across sometimes, and even if you believe these questions are unnecessary or irrelevant, I find that one of the most awesome things about being part of the gamer culture is that there’s a good chance many others in the guild will share some of the same pastimes as you. It’s a good jumping off point and added benefit for friendships once you are in the guild, and I have seen many lively conversations spring forth just like this in threads where recruitment and applications happen right on the guild forums.
While I admit most of my experiences with guild applications have been positive, I can also understand why sometimes they get a bad rap because I’ve had my share of negative ones too. I’ve encountered some apps in the past where I believe the guild leaders have the best intentions, but are maybe unaware they come across as elitist in the process. It is true that depending on the type of guild you’re looking at, the questions may be directed in other ways or have a different focus, but it’s still a little weird to see casual guilds asking for things like gearscore, how many bosses you’ve downed or raids you’ve cleared, or putting members through a humiliating “probationary period”. Likewise, it is unsettling to see some hardcore progression-minded guilds completely ignore the “human” part of the recruiting process and instead view you only as a role and a set of in-game abilities they can use, and not as an actual person. I don’t really get that either. Hell, even at an actual job you’d probably want to make the effort to get to know the guy in the next cubicle.
Anyway, as much as I advocate guild apps, I know I said filling out guild apps are never fun, but I guess that’s not exactly true either. I think I’ve written before on this blog that the best question I’ve ever been asked in a guild application is “What is your zombie plan?” Yeah, at first I was like “WTF?” and I probably wasn’t the first or the last to react that way, because there was an addendum in the app explaining why they ask all applicants to answer that question. And in retrospect, their explanation made a lot of sense. For the guild, it wasn’t just about the answers they receive, but also so that we as the potential recruits can know just what in the world we’re getting into. Obviously, they were a guild with a somewhat bizarre but good sense of humor. Also, they were into zombies. Like, really into them.
I admit, I’ve never really thought too much into this topic, but now that I’m stepped into officer shoes again as a founder of a Star Wars: The Old Republic guild, I have a discovered a renewed interest. Perhaps, really, the most useful question on a guild app should be “Why us?” Like, why the interest in our guild specifically? Or what would you like to get out of the experience? It’s a tougher question to answer than most realize, but it’s perhaps the best indicator or whether or not we’ll all get along.
A good guild leader will want to create a good community in his or her guild, and will want to know if a newcomer will fit in with the guild culture. I agree with Hunter in that the best way to know a person is to spend time in game with them. But if there was a way you could screen out people you know right away won’t work out, it could also save a lot of time and headaches down the road. I’ve been in a leadership role and have seen people leave or have asked them to leave, and it didn’t always happen on the best of terms. It sucks. It doesn’t feel good. It breeds a lot of negativity and bad blood between guild members.
So I understand. If an app can help a guild avoid some of the obvious cases, it is a hassle I can live with. It’s not perfect, but with the right questions it can also give a good idea of who the applicant is, especially if you don’t know them. What it all boils down to is that I don’t think it’s an infallible test, but it can be a very helpful tool.