This ended up becoming a longer and more rambling post than I expected, but I'm going to post it anyway since I don't write enough these days...

The other day, I was doing an interview for a management and strategy magazine and one of the questions that came up in the conversation was why the management structures in Internet companies often end up being very old-fashioned. There is clearly some innovation, but not as much as you might expect considering how much the Internet enables us to be innovative in our communications and collaboration. We talked a bit about leadership and I was reminded of some conversations I had about the Howard Dean campaign.

My theory is that Howard Dean was a "place". He was a cool place to hang out at and the cool kids hung out there. Some of the elements of a cool place is that there isn’t so much of an "authority" but there is a sense of safety. The community was vibrant and Howard Dean seemed to be listening more than he was asserting. Years ago I created an IRC channel called #joiito, at the time for a place for people I was communicating with to hang out. It continues to survive with about 100 people always logged into the channel. I don’t hang out there as much these days, but it survives as a cool place, all of the regulars taking their share of leadership responsibility. One interesting thing about the channel is that I have never had to exercise any "authority" and people don’t really look to me as anything more than a custodian or a quiet host. I was just the trigger for the creation of a place.

Recently I have started playing World of Warcraft (WoW). Our guild, created in September last year, has grown to about 160 people and we have just begun running "Molten Core. Molten Core is one of the higher-level areas that require around 30-40 level 60 (the maximum level) players. It requires a lot of coordination, a balanced distribution of classes, training and leadership.

People pay a $15/month fee to play WoW. In the real world, most people get paid to work. The members of our guild and our raids are people who are paying to participate in what is often very tedious and hard work. Although there are clear goals and rewards for putting time into the game, most of the people in our guild play because they enjoy being together.

I’m sure there are other guilds that are managed differently - our guild is very inclusive and I changed the role name of "Guild Master" to "Guild Custodian". The next rank in our guild is "Guild Admin". Like my IRC channel, so far I have not had to exercise power or authority and Guild Admins are focused more on mediating conflicts and providing stability more than dishing out orders or punishment. We have had our share of problems, but considering the diversity of backgrounds and the geographic and political diversity, it’s amazingly cozy and friendly. Hanging out and chatting in guild chat has slightly more purpose than an IRC channel, but is similar in many ways.

In a raid, the dynamics are quite different. There are dozens of people who have all decided to assemble after preparing various items to use during the raid, training, gearing up and otherwise preparing for the raid. Excitement and tensions run high and a little screw-up from one person can get every killed (a wipe), causing huge repair bills and delays that causes more tension. One of the most important things about a raid is the mood of the raid. When everyone is upbeat and having a good time, mistakes and wipes are shrugged off and people continue to push forward. A well-run raid is an amazing thing to participate in. Each of the classes has a class leader and a class chat channel. There are leader channels, healer channels and voices over teamspeak. Everyone uses all of these modes of communication to coordinate the activities and we are able to execute extremely complicated strategies with very minimal control. However, if one person begins to complain or become abusive, the bad mood quickly spreads and what used to be fun and easy becomes impossible and tedious. People start dropping out of the raid and it unravels. The primary role of the raid leader to mitigate this kind of corrosive behavior while making sure each of the groups are communicating with each other.

I am not the raid leader of our guild and I am in awe of Persimmon who is our raid leader. She works in a hospital in real life. She is the stabilizing force during the raids, supporting the class leaders, nudging the conversation and keeping the raid moving as fast as possible without moving too fast. I find that she reminds me of many successful open source project leaders or Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia, except that what she has to do happens much faster and in real-time. Without her fully customized user-interface and scripts she would never be able to manage what she does.

The other leaders in our guild including class leaders and admins include unemployed bartenders, construction workers, students, a priest, a folk music singer, web designers, moms and government employees. Although WoW has been called “the new golf”, it isn’t about elitist country clubs and privilege but about an amazing melting pot of personalities and backgrounds tied together with a strong sense of sharing and belonging.

Although the larger raids are scheduled in advance with people preparing and showing up at the scheduled time, many smaller raids are organized at the spur of the moment where a leader is designated on an ad hoc basis. To be successful, a raid requires particular class compositions sometimes requiring our guild members to reach out to people they don’t know to join the raid. We are getting better at raiding and many of these “pickup” members end up joining our guild eventually.

The structure and the organization required to complete missions or quests in WoW adds a great deal of focus and complexity to the community compared to a chat room and the communications and management begins to feel much more like collaboration in a work environment. I think that the ever-evolving user interface and communication tools that we are developing might impact the future of management in the real world. My feeling is that what we are doing in WoW represents in many ways the future of real time collaborative teams and leadership in an increasingly ad hoc, always-on, diversity intense and real-time environment.

UPDATE: I chatted about this at SXSW in Austin yesterday and Daniel wrote about it in CNET.

25 Comments

I'm in total agreement with what you're saying here, right up to the structure of the guild and how it mirrors the structure of some companies I've worked in. My last job was a large, privately-owned webhosting company where I ran the Quality Assurance department, and the position was directly under the CEO -- which is how I feel in WoW now. I fix up some problems, try to help and make sure things are running smoothly, then roll it all up and report back to you -- all while loving what I do, and having a good time doing it.

Funny. I want a raise. Or maybe just a Giantstalker set piece. Seriously though, part of what makes We Know so great is your ability to recognize leadership quality in everyone around you, regardless of whether they're a bartender, a mom, a CEO, or a construction worker.

I know it's just a game, but I spend just as much (if not more) time on WoW as I do at work, and have forged some relationships with people there I believe will last the rest of my life. That tends to make me take it a little more seriously than "pixels on a screen" at times, which bleeds over into how I play my part in We Know. :)

I have nothing but respect for someone that can run a raid of 40 level 60s. Only a very small number of items drop in an MC run and they can take hours to organise, let alone fight through.

Hey there!

A couple or so of my guildies always tell me about how much they admire you and your guild, which is why I, as the GM of our guild, try to emulate that relaxed atmosphere of joint leadership and try and keep things as un-serious as possible... after all we play it to have fun and to reap the rewards of that hardworking fun.

Although I both agree and disagree with your post in some respect, because in all honesty it may be true that while I hardly ever need to exercise guild leadership via repdrimands or rewards or directly telling another person what to do, sometimes people still need direction and guidance. Sometimes people want to be led-- they need to be led. As much as I hate being a dictator, sometimes you need to lay the ground rules for a group of 20 or 40 individuals... sometimes you have to dictate what it is that they must or must not do, how they should behave, etc. And then it carries over to how they behave in the guild...

But of course I'm talking in terms of WoW... and a guild raid is so much more different than a pick up group instance run... in the same way it is so different in real life, whenever we fellas get together outside of Azeroth and grab a beer or two.

Nevertheless, I've seen so many guilds dissipate and die a natural death because it lacked "leadership" in the sense that they lacked direction, or at least one person to emulate.

And you can't always prevent infighting or a little bad blood from time to time. Because like you mentioned, a long raid IS darn stressful, and I don't care what class you play... it can get VERY stressful.

In the end it all boils down to the group dynamics as well. Because even with a great leader (like this one MC run I was invited to, as a sub for another person), it can fall apart so fast. Even with a great and knowledgable leader, a single individual can disrupt it all.

Anyway, I have nothing but respect for you and your guild, as well as all the other raid leaders, guild masters and everyone else out there who makes it all worthwhile in our home away from home, our work away from work.

As an add, I would like to say how proud I am of Angkan Hagibis, our all-Pinoy guild--we are still a small guild and have only just recently broken the 20-man 60 mark. Yet here we are taking on trash mobs in MC (well at least the first 2 MGs... hehe) and getting as far as Mandokir in ZG. Someday we'll be decked in purples, but right now, we're enjoying the ride, loving and learning the game. I can't believe how much we've all grown as players and as people. And I couldn't have done it without all the support from my guild and class officers and everyone else who've helped me and us along the way.

Cheers!

TARUGOMAN: I totally agree. I was emphasizing the differences, but as you say, sometimes you do need to lay down rules, lead and discipline people. I totally agree about a single person being able to ruin it and the leader unable to save it. I also agree that many times people want to be lead. I guess one of my points is that if you are in a situation where people want to be lead, you should lead. I think that in a good group, there are several people who "could" lead and that if a leader is disconnected, a good group should quickly be able to keep running with the next leader. My point was more that you don't push the group top down but lead it in the direction it wants to go. You DO need leaders but in good groups, these leaders are empowered by the group.

... and I'm trying to describe what we strive for. If we a class can decide by consensus, they should. If a class leader needs to decide, they should. If the class leaders can come to a consensus, the should, if the can't the raid leader needs to decide. If people don't NEED orders, it's nice if they don't have to get them. If people can discuss things and come to agreement quickly, that's the best, but at the end sometimes it escalates to officer votes and eventually (and hopefully never) the guild master needs to decide.

One good example is Wikipedia. The way they manage stuff is... First issues are discussed on the discussion pages of the articles. If there is a bigger issue, the community of that country discusses, it can escalate to the general community, then a vote in the community, possibly a vote of the foundation board and finally Jimmy Wales has a veto. I don't know that Jimmy has ever had to do that, be he can if necessary. The reason that Jimmy has so much power is because he never uses it.

I also believe that MOST people if not all people can adapt. I think that the tone of the group can bring out the best in people or the worst in people. Sometimes a group or a leader can get caught off-guard and things can go sideways, but what we're striving for is enough momentum, goodwill and trust so that any member joining the team will eventually come around and understand and not (intentionally) be disruptive. It is also a lot about people trusting the leaders and other members enough to take constructive feedback without becoming defensive.

It is REALLY hard and sometimes doesn't work, but I'd like it to be our goal.

What server is your guild on?

I put six years into EverQuest and six months into its follow on, EQ2. I can appreciate the organization of large raids. I was part of a level 60+ raid that killed "The Sleeper" on the Rallos Zek server. "The Sleeper" was NOT PROGRAMMED to be killed! So after our first four hour attack on this dragon, the zone crashed. Once we told Sony what we were attempting they patched the zone so that we could kill the dragon. Anyway, organizing and running guilds and high level raids whether in WoW or EQ is challenging to say the least.

That's pretty impressive.

The race is on: Who will be first to offer management training based on playing WoW :o)

It's startling to think about the management concepts - and what you can learn/correlate from World of Warcraft Guild managment Then again, it's not. In both cases you work together to achieve a goal- whether it be to put a communication plan together for your clients, or to kill Onyxia.

When you look at WoW, you make sure your group is prepared-(buffs, potions, enchants, repaired gear, etc.) but almost as important are the tools availible for you to monitor and communicate with your team. Realtime voice communications, realtime status indicators, realtime help requests...do you see a pattern? I think productivity/communication tools have always been somewhat foriegn to management- even in IT to a degree. It's funny how this game, illustrates how using all of those realtime communications/status indicators can GREATLY increase the success of a team. To think it cannot carry over into business processes is shortsighted at the very least.

my 2cents.

If you'd like to read more about 'World of Warcraft' in the workplace, check out the Morning Eye blog's posts on
pros and cons and the widening discussion of 'Warcraft' at work.

What are some concrete suggestions for management software?

The WoW gameplay and the UI are tightly coupled. Everything in the WoW gameplay is quantified and structured (cast x, do y damage), and so a fairly rigid UI of WoW works for that. You can maybe customize and move things around, but pretty much you have things you cast, things you click to target, movement, and bags.

The office is a fairly flexible environment. Cubicles are freeform UIs. Perhaps a direct translation of a WoW type interface would work in, let's say e-mail customer support. Your score is based on the volume of your responses and the quality of your random reviews.

Could they give you "gear" that gives you abstract status to make it more gamelike? In some cases, like GAIA online, they have gear-acquisition as an incentive for you to chat on forums. You want to talk in forums anyways, but the gear is an added boost that moves it from being a forum to being a world. GAIA, with their add-ons to phpbb, then becomes a place where you can have presence and express your individuality. Some office spaces, perhaps are just "workplaces" and maybe, with software like WoW, can virtualize other aspects of a fun rounded life, such that you never want to leave.

The WoW system + ventrillo is great because it feels warm. You enter that world, and everything is there for you, from socializing, to play, to status, to self-expression, to work, to rewards, etc. Google is on the right track with providing free laundry, exercise, three meals, and a casual atmosphere. It just feels warm.

yes ...I am also curious in who will be first to offer management training based on playing wOw

Just wanted to say I love Wow Big Time but be warned beacause of my extensive game playing my girlfriend left me
and a couple of nights back I let my cat out and its now gone, and its seriously effected my game play.

Wow is creating a vast new market that is a foreign exchange market between wow gold and US dollars. The game, has already gone beyond simple fun and many people play the game for business reasons.

Take a look at MMOFX.com if your interested in world of warcraft gold research.

WOW is the best game ever made so who dont lik it or so stupid and idiotic i am a level 8 orc hunter called chikenmurder so i have no problem abot being this low level!

I have been playing WoW since it appeared and I can say is one of the best games I've ever played...

I've been on WOW since it appeared, and I agree it sone of the best games I've ever played!

The guild I am in is setup much like the military in terms of organization, officers, public reps and the like. The basis of this is the 3 founders and the next 2 players to join are all part of the US Armed forces. This has been very beneficial to the guild -especially when it comes to raiding.

I

I am not a player, but my friend is. The other day he told me he wanted to do a site for his guild.

After fooling around and creating a nice site (www.nregan.com/wow/), it occured to me that there is a way that someone or ones could build a build and incredible guild if they wished.

I am looking for a guild master that would like to try my plan -- I think in a matter of months you could have the most substainal guild around -- the possibilities are frighening.

Contact me if you're interested.

This article and coversation has driven me to some very facinating thought.

In fact I think I have concieved a guild plan that could conqure WOW - with potentials of thousands of players?

Anyone interested in conquring the world!

If you think you have leadership qualities here is a chance to really test them! This is not a simple thing, but I believe it's doable.

If you are interested, send me a note and I will give you a clue as to what I have in mind.

By the way, I don't even play the game yet -- this was all spered by helping a friend do a websit for the guild he is in. It is the first thing in this game that even facinated me.

Talk to you soon.

Thank you for an interesting perspective on leadership In WOW. I have a doctorate in Education leadership and use alot of what I learned in the running of my guild. We are a horde guild of approx 60 raiders who after 3 months in MC have it down to 3 hours and 15 minutes, we complete ZG and AQ20 in under 3 hours and Onyxia in 15 minutes start to finish.

The reason we can do this is a leadership style that empowers and respects the players. We have established norms and have common goals, and this has made the difference.

Good luck and see in the BG's

I find that your approach is very interesting as I'm currently assuming ownership of a guild. I think that I will try it, but one question- how do you deal with someone in the guild trying to overpower the authority

WoW is one is the best game ever!

When you look at WoW, you make sure your group is prepared-(buffs, potions, enchants, repaired gear, etc.) but almost as important are the tools availible for you to monitor and communicate with your team. Realtime voice communications, realtime status indicators, realtime help requests...do you see a pattern? I think productivity/communication tools have always been somewhat foriegn to management- even in IT to a degree.

I LOVE WoW! I played and owned all the versions and I can say it is one of the best games ever created. I am thinking to organize a contest with prizes in my town and make it an anual event :)

When you look at WoW, you make sure your group is prepared-(buffs, potions, enchants, repaired gear, etc.) but almost as important are the tools availible for you to monitor and communicate with your team. Realtime voice communications, realtime status indicators, realtime help requests...do you see a pattern? I think productivity/communication tools have always been somewhat foriegn to management- even in IT to a degree. It's funny how this game, illustrates how using all of those realtime communications/status indicators can GREATLY increase the success of a team. To think it cannot carry over into business processes is shortsighted at the very least.

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