Virtual Communities...
The magazine Massively Online Gamer came out with its 2nd Edition in the first quarter of 2003. In that edition they featured an article about virtual communities and bridging the gap between the gaming world and the real world. The inagural run of that new column featured The Syndicate and their 2002 Conference as the example story. It read as follows:

The world of online gaming has changed dramatically in recent years. The line between the virtual world and the real world has begun to blur for many players. Increasingly, players are gathering together in the real world for events where they can get to know each other better and where virtual friendships can be extended to real world ones. Gaming companies recognized this trend and they have implemented a whole range of officially sponsored events ranging from Fan Faires to Player Luncheons to Meet & Greet sessions with developers. These events can draw several hundred players from all over the world.

Although most online gaming guilds are short term entities, typically lasting for only 3-6 months, a rare few endure for years. Those well established entities are also getting involved in creating real world gatherings for their members. Typically that means 6-20 players gathering for dinner or occasionally a weekend. That standard for a guild level real world gathering was redefined in Sept. 2002.

Sept. 13th-15th of 2002 marked The Syndicate's 2002 World Conference. The conference took place near Washington D.C. Previous to that, a large guild gathering was about 20 people. When nearly 100 people attended, all from The Syndicate, the definition of large took on a new meaning. Players from across the US and Canada as well as from Europe were in attendance. For many of the conference participants, it was their first time meeting each other.

The focal point of the 2002 Conference was Shadowbane. Shadowbane is an MMORPG currently under development by Wolfpack and is being published by Ubisoft. Ubisoft is so committed to its success that they sent Chris "Vosx" Mancil to the 2002 Conference to speak not only to the assembled Syndicate gamers but also to dozens more on a conference call.

Chris spoke for nearly 2 hours at the guild meeting on Saturday where he fielded questions of all shapes and sizes. Since, according to a study conducted by The Syndicate in 2002, more than 70% of online gamers would prefer a game with no PvP or optional PvP over one with mandatory full time PvP, many of the questions dealt with how those players can fit into a world like Shadowbane. When the overall trend in gaming is to offer optional pvp with enticements to make it rewarding for players to participate, one of the overarching themes was whether or not Shadowbane would have enough to offer players who didn't pvp full time.

At the conclusion of the official meeting, groups gathered by the central conference suites to listen to Chris' impassioned answers to every question tossed his way. Often gesturing dramatically and sighting Shadowbane lore and Ubisoft/Wolfpack guiding principles he drew large crowds of captivated people. By the end of his time on Saturday, it was clear that gamers of all types would find a home in Shadowbane. It had things to offer merchant and Player Versus Environment (PvE) players as well as PvP players.

In addition to Chris' speech and Q&A session, several demo machines were setup that allowed attendee's to hop into Shadowbane and experience it first hand. There was always a line of people waiting for their turn to get involved.

Before he left, Chris made a big announcement that brought a roar of appreciation from the assembled crowd. Everyone attending would get a beta account.

Shadowbane wasn't the only thing happening at the conference. The Syndicate has a huge presence in Ultima Online (on Atlantic shard) and in Everquest (on Tarew Marr server). Each game has several hundred Syndicate members participating in it. As such EQ and UO both were hot topics with many discussions going on. One thing the Syndicate is famous for in UO, for example, are free, public events like Lotteries and Scavenger Hunts. Those events can draw several hundred players to them. Discussions on new event types and how to make existing event types even more exciting were among the hot topics.

The Syndicate is a guild whose average age is more than 28years old. That, coupled with the minimum age of 18 needed to attend the conference meant that the assembled crowd was mostly all successful adults who ranged from doctors to IT professionals to stay at home mom's and much more. The diversity in occupation and geography was one of the most noticeable aspects of the gathering. People, who might not normally come in contact with each other due to their location or their job's not bringing them into contact, were great friends. Many had known each other for years via the virtual community established by The Syndicate within the UO and EQ gaming worlds. Meeting for the first time face to face merely cemented those friendships. One example of how close those friendships can be is seen in one couple who met each other because they were both members and eventually got married.

By the 3rd day, as goodbye's were exchanged and people boarded planes and loaded cars heading back to Germany, Canada, Oregon and many places in between, it was clear that the conference had been a huge success. The goal of the conference was to bring people together who knew each other in a virtual world and grow those friendships in the real world. Strong friendships were reinforced and as a guild we became much stronger and more unified. In the virtual world where several hundred guilds rise and fall every day, unity and having the strong bonds to overcome challenges is what separates the successes from the failures.

Planning had already begun for the 2003 World Conference and locations like Las Vegas and Orlando are being considered. Although about 100 people was a huge number for a single guild conference, if next year's early planning numbers are any indication, we are likely to see more than 200 people attending in 2003.

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