Excerpted from The Syndicate: How the Longest-Running Guild Stays On Top
By: Kimberly Wallace
GameInformer # 239 The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
If any guild has set a model to replicate, its The Syndicate. Not only does it hold the Guinness World Record for being the longest-running guild at 17 years, but it's risen to such popularity that it's name is trademarked. The Secret? This isn't your everyday guild. The Syndicate is focused on nurturing a mature and intelligent community with barely any turnover, drama or recruitment problems.
Sean Stalzer formed The Syndicate in 1996 when he was fresh out of college, fueled by his frustration over other guilds that split apart over drama. "I felt there had to be a way to overcome those challenges and make a community that actually worked together and cared about the overall community and didn't fracture and implode when issues arose," he says.
What provides The Syndicate with staying power? The answer is obvious, but challenging: developing a true community. Their membership doesn't exist for any particular game. Instead, it's built around the people first. "By recruiting great people and by focusing entirely on them as our reason for existing, we have built incredible loyalty," Stalzer says.
The Syndicate has a strict policy to ensure only the best candidates get in. Applications aren't considered unless a member can vouch that an applicant's personality, play style, and values mesh with The Syndicate. Even if a candidate has a strong recommendation, they're not a shoe-in. If the guild has even a little doubt, membership won't be offered: "My rule is that being 99.99 percent sure of someone is a rejection. We need to be 100 percent confident," Stalzer says.
The lofty standards are key to sustaining membership, which currently stands near 1,200 members.
Approximately two people leave per year, a phenomenally low turnover rate. Karen M, a member who prefers to go by her online name "Surrina," says the low turnover all comes down to "The friends-first approach." Placing emphasis on the individual behind the avatar is so important that the guild holds its own yearly event called "SyndCon" for members to bond.
Success is a word synonymous with The Syndicate, and it's clear that the guild has something special. As Stalzer says, "True success in the online world is not about collecting pixels. Even getting those pixels sooner than someone else is really not a measure of long-term success. Kudos to every world-first person and group out there, but a huge percentage of [them] from two years ago no longer exist. Why? Because they didn't exist for their people. Our people are why we exist, and they in turn ensure our continued success."
I’d like to say from the onset that I’ve never been in that epic of a guild. I know it’s my fantasy perfect guild and part of me figures now is the time to volunteer myself for it… except that I have loyalty to helping the guild I’m in and connected to grow itself in the aspect of The Syndicate. Not that I have business aspirations for Renaissance or even that I expect that we’ll ever be as big or respected or successful as The Syndicate. I just really love the guild I’m in, or rather… I love the guild I joined.
Jon asked me the other day what I joined for and why was I worried now that there’s a reorg in process.
I’m worried because I joined the guild we say we are online. It is not what we are, though, and I’ve tried really hard for almost a year to model behavior and communication that is befitting of what we say we are online all to no effect. I’ve made some awesome friends and I have had some excellent experiences and really, in a year I’ve gathered my personal friends and family around me to join the excellent people I found in the guild and really we are still not the guild we say we are online.
I’m worried because I think a lot and have learned from my experiences, perhaps better than some because I’m pretty clever… so I know without having to think on it now that a casual leveling guild cannot just roll over one morning and decide without introspection or guidance that they are going to add a raiding core, a social focus and a pvp core to their ranks without some serious problems. Not because it can’t be done… I keep saying that and it’s not fair of me to limit anyone that way.
It can be done with a lot of work and careful consideration of the leadership of each core and enforced guidelines and expectations of the guild as a whole that are in alignment with those new groups. It can be done by a guild that is in touch with their focus, goals and directions and that is strong in its membership. It can be and is being done by guilds like The Syndicate all over the world every day. And it is because those things do not exist in Renaissance that I believe it cannot be done by Renaissance.
It wasn’t able to be done with all the effort, research, seeking of guidance and application of a million different emergency saves of Alex and myself for Decadence, for a whole group of leaders and seekers and thinkers in DI and was too much for Levi Somnus. I’ve been in SO many failed social and or leveling guilds that I just have a spidey sense that goes off now when I can feel myself headed down the same path and Renaissance is desperately close to an implosion, one that nothing I say or do will avoid.
And I’m an optimist!
The truth is that the guild is going to have to form itself from the core members and come to some really hard decisions and I wont be providing much input because of my growing sense of dread and all of the ways that it would color my responses and suggestions… and when they have redefined themselves I’ll decide, along with all of the others, where my place in the guild is, or isn’t, because that’s a realistic possibility and I’ll act accordingly. I’ll still be above reproach because that’s my personal standard for my behavior. I will still model the expected behavior and behave in an ethical way because that is who I am.
And I think I’m really glad that TES Online is coming and soon because no matter what else I know and think and do, I know myself well enough to know that if I’m already aware that I’m uncertain of my guild membership then I am also very close to looking for another guild the first time I feel like bookin’ ass again… and I’d rather have a distraction that includes building a place for the friends I have to come play somewhere else under slightly different leadership styles.
Peace... and if it can't be peaceful then find a pocket where you can manage the peace and let the rest of them kill each other. LOL