One of the founding rules I had for making my World of Warcraft guild was understanding the Interest-Time Exchange. And much like Barbossa speaking to Mrs. Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean, you best start believing in the Interest-Time Exchange because you’re in it.
Yeah, I know. Sounds like I made it up. Sure did. But it’s important to understand because this exchange is the only reliable transaction when it comes to player retention. The more I focused on this exchange, the more frequently the nebulous ‘successful’ rating would dangle like mistletoe overhead.
As a guildmaster, my only commodity was an ability to create interest. This is, perhaps, an obvious and easy thing to point out. Of course, something interesting is going to draw in players. Who wants to be in a boring roleplay guild devoid of activity? A lot of no one.
And as obvious as that is, it’s still often confused.
As a guildmaster, I approached the body of players with the perspective that each had a floating number over their head. This number represented the amount of time each player had. And, early in an interaction with them, the first thing I did was determine a vague idea of what that number was.
In short, this is their currency. It was the amount they could spend here in this place.
And while players don’t actively think about it in those terms when things are going well, the moment they don’t feel they’re getting their currency worth you’ll hear it. Instantly. “I only have X amount of time and I don’t want to deal with this issue/drama/etc.” Or we’ve all heard, “I don’t pay X amount of dollars to put up with….” Or the mistakenly benign, “I just don’t have time for the game anymore.”
How often have you heard something like that only to see that same player in another guild? How often have you, as a player, just felt like it wasn’t worth your time? When they say this stuff, the player is referencing their time (even when it’s the time to make the money) and how it’s not being spent well.
Players are happy to spend some of their currency on a guild that is going well. They may have one of their characters in your guild, logging into it for an event here or there, but generally just being present. Or they’ll come and go when they have an abundance of currency to spend, when it doesn’t feel like they’re wasting much on an average-value deal.
But if you’re like me, I wasn’t content with things going well. It wasn’t enough to have a guild that’s doing as well as others. I didn’t feel successful with players spending some currency here and there. I wanted all of the currency players were spending here. And, ideally, a product of such value that people would spend MORE than they anticipated to acquire it.
The most successful phrase I could hear was, “I should have logged off hours ago…” Anyone, and I mean anyone, can remove someone from a guild. That isn’t a good guildmaster’s greatest power, it’s their lowest. In fact, inactivity can do that in some instances. The greatest power a guildmaster has is to make someone want to be there.
The greatest power a guildmaster has is to make someone want to be there
Ideally, more than they ever anticipated.
To do that I needed to create a product that people spent ALL their currency on. I needed a mindset and approach that would make that possible. I needed my product to have the highest level of interest it could. Because it was interest, in the end, that players want.
This is, surprisingly, where I’ve seen a lot go astray.
For instance, let’s look at guild drama. It’s never the drama that ultimately drives players to spend their currency elsewhere. It’s that the drama isn’t interesting. Two people debating over loot/item/etc. in an open chat is boring (even when it’s roleplayed well). No one else is involved, they have no real stake in what happens, and so they’re spending their currency on something that’s not even for them.
Philanthropy in real life is great. It doesn’t, however, extend into the digital realm. At least not in this way. Deep down everyone understands the importance of their own time, and there are very few times when something in a guild warrants it. (I’ll cover some of those in another post).
There is, however, guild drama that’s worthwhile (particularly in the case of a roleplay guild). An event has happened and faction-X must defend themselves from the accusations of faction-Y. If they don’t, faction-X faces some kind of high stake consequence, or faction-Y will find themselves under scrutiny.
Players will stay up late into the night to see how each side navigates the nuances of this problem. The more articulated the guild rules are, the more that people must try to sway a third party to their side, the greater the stakes become. And it’s the job of the GM to enforce the outcome.
Not because the guildmaster enjoys having to enforcing the rules but because actual stakes for events mean those events have an impact on players. It means things have changed. And change means something is in motion, it’s active, and we are all drawn to active guilds.
One of the most active events I had involved the Zombie Infestation opening event for Wrath of the Lich King. We created a rule that if anyone contracted the plague they (that character) were confined to the infirmary. We then moved to our headquarters at Menethil Harbor, where we would run rescue missions to the major cities and escort people out. If, however, one became a zombie they were given the option of ‘killing’ their character, or remaining in the infirmary for the remainder of the event.
This spread through the server as quickly as the infestation event. Since we were an immersive roleplaying guild, and we had a reputation that these kinds of rules were followed, the number of players in other guilds that purposefully became infected to try and ‘get’ one of us became part of the event on our server.
During the height of the event, we had players logged on guarding the ways into the harbor every hour of every day. One entire faction of the guild made it their ‘duty’ to ensure Menethil never fell, and as a result some stayed for hours, in one place, as player after player tried to make them zombies and take the city.
The guild size doubled in players after the event.
Now, had we tasked players with guarding a place during the event but gave them no consequences if their character was killed, we would have been like every other guild. People would have enjoyed the event, sure, but it would have been the EVENT that stood out. And that means the product the players would spend their currency on was the game, not specifically the guild. We would have added no interest for them. I would have failed to effectively adhere to the rules of the Interest-Time Exchange.
So take heed, young guildmasters. It might be true that if you make it they will come. But it’s more true that if you make it interesting they will stay.