In an earlier article, I talked about the problems with confusing IC and OOC authority. The comments section brought up a lot of other issues regarding guilds, so here goes the beginning of a short-lived, flame-griddled series on roleplay guild management and culture.
The Numbers Game is the basis of almost all open-recruitment guilds in SWTOR. It’s so ingrained into the culture of the place that if you ask a guild, "why do you need new members?" the answer you’ll probably get is "so we can grow." Which would make sense in a game of Agar.io, or even the likes of EVE Online, but seems like an empty answer in an RP guild.
If you’re unlucky, you might even hear, "so we can be more powerful!" in which case you’ve stumbled across some basket case who hasn’t managed to work out roleplaying isn’t method acting. Either that or they’re for some reason obsessed with power on the internet.
If the answer is, "to give lone players people to RP with," that’s a lot harder for me to poke at with the cynicism stick, but introducing lone players to a bad atmosphere is worse than just leaving them alone, so it’s not always good.
Fig. 1: Advanced digital model of the Kaasian RP scene
There’s one really good reason for wanting more numbers for roleplay and that’s spontaneity. I used to roleplay on another game where there were servers with 30 or 50 people in a small area, all roleplaying. Characters fought, learned, bartered and adventured without much need for DM intervention at all. There’s something innately cool about stories that spring out of a community and that’s a far harder thing to do with less people.
Building that kind of Perpetual-Roleplay Machine is a good aim for a guild, and regardless of the aims of the management, it’s usually what attracts the new members. For all the offers of advancement and power in the guild advertisements, nothing draws people more than roleplay that will be gripping from day-to-day.
As far as I see it, this is the justification for playing The Numbers Game.
That’s not to say you can’t manage it and still foster a toxic, suffocating atmosphere of bullying and manipulation. In fact, most guilds I’ve seen on SWTOR do both. The problem with The Numbers Game is progression. When you have a lot of members, you have a high turnover and that means characters are routinely being promoted into empty spaces in the rank structure. This is the dark underbelly of the perpetual-roleplay machine. It runs on progression, and to most roleplayers, the ladder of rank and power is the clearest route.
Unless you have very clear lines separating IC and OOC ranks, this isn’t a good recipe. Teaching players that IC progression equals OOC progression means that (especially in Sith guilds) all the underhanded tactics IC splurge into OOC territory. I’ve seen OOC bullying, manipulation, catfishing and even outright espionage, all done in the name of getting fictional power for a fictional character. When the IC world and the OOC world are confused, it’s not fictional anymore. It becomes Player 1’s power over Player 2.
Newer players are under the authority of older players, and everyone is trying to scramble upwards. A hobby writing group becomes a Kafkaesque human ladder of internet nerds and the characters become a sideshow.
It’s the worst case scenario, and many Numbers Game guilds are somewhere between platonic roleplay heaven and dante’s inferno with emotes, but I’d be lying for the sake of avoiding offense if I didn’t say that most of the guilds I’ve seen are on the meaner end of that spectrum. I’ve not once seen a recruiting guild that manages to completely avoid the problem, and that includes both Imperial and Republic, Sith and Jedi. The chances of your particular Numbers Game guild being the only totally benevolent, fault-free one on the server are slim.
I could say that separating IC and OOC completely is the solution, but anyone with experience running one of these guilds will know that it isn’t possible. The people best suited to manage things also have the most competent characters, much of the time. You’d be choosing between a poorly run guild OOC, or a poorly run organisation IC, and the guild’s OOC leader would have to avoid IC authority. None of it is convenient.
The other option is to opt out of The Numbers Game altogether, which is easier said than done, and involves some serious changes to how recruitment is handled. That’ll be the subject of another article in the series.