But is it really necessary to maintain a guild website when Blizzard is deliberately trying to move away from people needing external sites to play WoW?
This isn’t a diatribe against guild websites, by the way; quite the opposite. I happen to think they can be wonderful additions to a vibrant community in a way that in-game functionality can’t touch. The aforementioned documentation might be dry but competitions, funnies, random threads and picture posting can all be a great laugh and really bring life into a guild and its membership.
I suppose I’m wondering how you know if a site is going to be an addition or a hindrance with your guild.
The benefits of a guild site.
Honestly, they’re more numerous than I could count. I’ve already commented on the fun and not-so-fun side of things, but you can get up to all sorts on a guild website. In the past I’ve done jokes and funnies, real life pictures, UI compilations, basic gameplay workshops, pet/mount collection, competitions and transmogrification set ups. On the more structured side of things I’ve done guild charters, loot lists, PvE strategies, raid night planning and absence posting. With Mists of Pandaria on the horizon we’ll be seeing the Tiller’s farm, lore objectives, scenarios, pet battles and more besides all cropping up and all being worthy of discussion.
I suppose a better question is who wouldn’t want an imba guild website?
Yet for every vibrant community housed by an awesome site that members love and actively participate in, there are another twenty that fit the classical definition of “ghost town” and members find a chore to log onto. The forums are empty, the same three people have a post-count of 200 to everyone else’s two, and the only time they’d bother visiting the site is if they’re told to or are expected to. I’m just not sure that trafficking people to a website that they don’t want to visit is a particularly good thing to do, especially when the game is now moving away from a lot of the structural requirements that have dogged wide involvement in the past.
You could boil this discussion down to three questions:
1) What makes a guild website thrive and be fun to visit?
2) What makes a guild website dry and a chore to go to?
3) Can Blizzard promote one, while curtailing the other?
The key to a great website community is…
Your community itself.
The best websites, of any type, are almost entirely user-driven. You could create and administrate the greatest and most interactive site the universe has ever had the pleasure of clapping eyes on, but a community that doesn’t care about it will see it fail and devolve into a tumbleweed soundfile. Maybe you could try to recruit individuals with a bit of a track record in forum involvement, but I doubt you’d have much luck getting that to fly. The bottom line is that if you have a guild full of folks who enjoy visiting your site and getting involved with it, you’ll have yourself an excellent website community.
Making a guild website that’s dull and painful, then, is easy to identify. If you feel you have to push people to it, or make rules and regulations that force compliance, then you’re not onto a winner at all. Personally, I dislike answering a legitimate question with “it’s on the website” because it’s an impersonal view to take with someone who’s honestly unsure about something. When I’ve invited new members in the past, I’ve had a twenty minute chat with them to make them aware of how the guild likes to run, what’s generally expected of membership and some general pointers on what’ll see them enjoy their time in the guild and things they might like to avoid (I’ve recently been stomping on discussions about homosexuality, race, gender and other prejudices; no, it’s NOT “just a joke”). After that, I’ll invite them to read the guild charter on the website and feel free to participate in the forums if they’re up for it.
From there, you want to make sure that you advertise your site while chatting in-game, but not demanding people go look. Something like this is a good idea:
Lulz, I got a screenie of Zell face-down in a void zone next to his chat command telling Hira to avoid them; it’s on the forum :’D
Guys, I just posted up a list I made about nabbing loads of battle pets in Outland – might help some of you to farm ‘em up o/
Don’t spam, just make people aware and let them go see something they might find interesting or funny. That way, they’re going to the site on their own volition and are more likely to get more heavily involved whenever they like.
“Promotion” of the following type, however, isn’t so cool:
New guild charter up on site, all to read and post confirmation.
The result is the need to badger quite a few members, a stream of one-word posts saying “signed”, and a view of your website as something that folks will be told when to visit whether they want to or not. This isn’t promoting a choice or even encouraging involvement.
Ultimately, you want people to enjoy going to your website and getting involved with it because THEY want to, not because YOU want them to. Before you know it, other achievement hints are being posted for the benefit of everyone, other topics are going up, and you start to realise just how many of your own fails have been immortalised by the evil intentions of the Print Screen button. >.<
That sounds good, but how can Blizzard help?
Basically, it’s hard for Blizzard to come up with ways of enhancing out-of-game experiences because it’s not their responsibility. But what I’m really getting at here is how Blizzard removes the need for dry, boring and mundane administration that needs a website to house and maintain. Things like raid/BG organisation, guild charters, absence posts and loot management often end up on a website because there’s no real functionality within the game to manage it all, or said functionality is too sparse or inefficient.
But a lot of great strides have been made, when you think about it.
The in-game calendar is actually a really good way of managing things and it’s been greatly improved since our time in Outland. You can set up events really easily, stipulate the people you want to attend via rank or level, and easily see whether they’re coming or not at a glance. This syncs up with the official WoW website for your region, so if someone can’t get on the game but can still access the Internet, there’s simple functionality for them to still click off attendance. Hell, it doesn’t even require much user input to set up recurring events because there’s a copy and paste function built in. I actually don’t think there’s any need for a website to be used for organisational purposes thanks to the calendar, so we can remove that type of thing from our websites safely.
Loot tracking isn’t quite so simple, unfortunately, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it’s the biggest cause of all guild drama. While there are countless methods out there for guilds to use when it comes to dishing out loot, pretty much every system will fall into one of three categories:
Points (DKP): Players accrue points via attendance/kills, and spend these points on items.
Ladders (SK): A ladder is made with players dropping to the bottom when they get an item.
Councils: Items are distributed by a council weighing up progress needs and player wants.
I’m aware of the variations, but a looting system will generally fall into the above. But while there are AddOns and the like to help with this, I’d like to see Blizzard increase the functionality of the individual guild pages to include a common version of the three systems and have the armoury track which members have been getting what, and the implications that has on the chosen system. A capability to add members to a list (or use in-game ranks), reset the system when required, and produce the most helpful display depending on the system chosen is all it would need to be functional.
Here’s an example:
Let’s assume a guild leader decides he’s going to use a points system. He then creates a list from the “Raider” rank (let’s say, rank 3), sets up the points system, and starts it running. From there, the armoury can directly update the loot page from the bosses being killed by each character and assign the requisite number of points. The list will display those with the most points at the top, going down in descending order. One look is all it takes to see who’s due the next desirable drop.
If we’re talking about a ladder, it’s even easier. Create the same list from the “Raider” rank and then have the armoury randomly generate the order for you. Each time a person gets loot he drops to the bottom of the ladder, and the GM/RL knows exactly who’s next in line to get something.
Lastly, loot councils can simply show each raider and the number of drops they’ve received (from the same created list as above). This can be shown as a simple number, or could show the average gear increase across each player to highlight who’s gear needs a little more attention.
Now, it’s understood that this doesn’t cover for every variation but it’s a good start for the vast majority of guilds and could be tweaked for an in-game presentation that comes up with the calendar.
So let’s be really generous to me and say I’ve managed to remove two of the boring or dull parts of the traditional guild website. We’re now organising everything in game, while also distributing all the goodies in a similar manner. That only really leaves one more piece of “busy work” material, but also the most important. Yep, I’m talking about the guild charter.
Every guild should have a charter, full stop. In lieu of one you’ll get misunderstandings, miscommunications and arguments – it’s just not worth it. But if the GM takes half an hour to consider what he wants to put in it and then officially makes it available for everyone to read, then all it takes is reference to the charter whenever a disagreement comes up. That half-hour you spend creating and posting a charter absolutely will save you bucket loads of time in the future. I promise.
But where to put it?
We actually already have a place in game; the guild tab. While this is typically used to see who’s online, post a message of the day or record Ventrilo details, there is a free text tab that lets you put in whatever you like. At the moment, it’s woefully short and doesn’t have the space, and it’s common for guilds to enjoy putting graphics into their charters to make them less… Painful to read, but an extension of this box or even a “Charter” tab on the guild window could easily be used to record the official guild charter and, therefore, not require someone to leave the game just to learn what the guild’s all about. Once it’s in there, just like the loot system, it can be introduced to the main regional website on each guild’s page so that you can see it out of game whenever you like.
So there you have it.
Three of the least fun parts of a guild website, that probably need to be on there, can be moved into the game itself so that it doesn’t clutter up what should really be used more for fun and enjoyment than forcing people out of WoW just to get some necessary information.
Naturally, however, there is something of an elephant in the room that I’ve not touched – and that’s recruitment forums.
Recruitment forums are something of a special case, and I don’t think Blizzard should try to recreate any functionality for them; I just can’t see it ever being close to successful. If a guild goes to the trouble of using a recruitment forum, they’re effectively saying that they take the process more seriously than most other guilds and need a large degree of freedom in which to make it work they way they want it to. Sure, the in-game guild finder tool is handy enough for first approaches and the like but it really doesn’t do anywhere near enough for guilds that selectively recruit their people.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that I think recruitment forums are really quite fun. :o
When I’ve done applications to guilds in the past, it’s actually something I’ve always enjoyed because I like the idea that other players in the “Protection warrior Fraternity” will want to have a look over my character, my choices, and have a chat about it. I love chatting about warriors and discussing the good and bad parts of gear or talent choices, but I also like talking about myself and blowing my own trumpet… So recruitment is something I like! I also feel that the discussion often required cannot really be housed anywhere other than on a dedicated forum for it, so it’s a part I’d have on any website. Of course, let’s not forget that people coming to the guild for the first time are likely to go via your site, anyway. Why not put it to good use?
Come on, Zell, wrap this up x_X
All I’m trying to say is that while guild websites can be awesome for the communities they’re built around, many more are mired in obscurity, irrelevance and force of necessity. If you want your site to work for you and the guild, it needs to be something members feel like they enjoy going to, not something they feel like they must go to on pain of death (or similar). Therefore, if you can get all the necessary knowledge supported in game so that your guildies can be effective members without needing to stop playing, you can use your site for the enjoyable and fun stuff that makes people want to come back and get involved.