I asked the Guild Master if it would be alright for me to interview him. The reason I asked was cause The Syndicate is undoubtedly the most largest and most successful online guild to date. The interview will give some insight on the history of the guild, as well as the social impact it has had on MMORPG's in general, and the online game worlds that The Syndicate has played in.
World of Warcraft - The Syndicate Guild Master Interview - Guide
I want to welcome Dragons the Guild Leader of The Syndicate; who has kindly agreed to give RuneGat.com an interview, which is a first and hopefully not last interview with gaming professionals.
1. Well Dragons, looking over the history of The Syndicate, it has been a very long and eventful history, full of intrigue and challenges. I have always been curious, what was the defining moment when you made the decision to start a Guild, was it something that happen to in a game and has The Syndicate become what you dreamed it would be when the idea crossed your mind?
Answer: There is a very lengthy story that speaks to your question but the short version is this: I played a number of games and was in a number of guilds. They imploded or no one really cared about the other members within them unless it served their personal goals and that just wasn't the atmosphere I wanted to play in. So I created The Syndicate for the express purpose of being different than every other guild I had ever been associated with.
2. I noticed that the Guild started out with twenty people, are some of those members still in the Guild?
Answer: Technically the guild started with one person, me, hehe. Soon after that we recruited a great many people to the guild. We rapidly rose to 200+ people much of that through mergers and mass recruiting. Our early months were not a time of stellar recruiting practices and we had a great many bad apples that made their way in. We did, however, have a number of really great people that are still with us today. More than 80% of our guild has been with us 1 to 10 years. A couple of dozen have been with us 8+ years.
3. At the point that the Guild was formed, what game was the Guild in, and how much influence did the Guild emulate within the gaming environment?
Answer: There were no major MMOs when The Syndicate formed. There was the early alpha test of UO. There was a beta test for Meridian 59 and The Realm that followed soon after. There was the ongoing pseudo-MMO, Neverwinter Nights, on AoL. But for the first 18 months, there was no major MMO world. There was a lot of posturing and posing and threatening by many vaporware guilds on the forums about who would 'own' who in the final. None of that really came to pass and those groups have since imploded.
4. Where was gaming at this point from your viewpoint, as far as the Guild was concerned, and also from your viewpoint as a player. Meaning did the game have a structure for Guild management, and were there goals that players and the guild could achieve?
Answer: There really was no gaming when we formed. And when UO started up there really was no formal guild system. We showed guild affiliation by creating chars with -LLTS in our names. It wasn't until a few months down the road that a guild system was added in.
5. While you were in Ultima Online, which I understand you still have a presence in that game as well, how did the Guild grow in professionalism and what was the Guilds stance on playability, Anti PK or Pro PK?
Answer: We are anti-pk but we are pro-pvp. In other words, we don't support running around killing players that have no interest in pvping.
We do support pvp as a fun aspect to the game between those that do wish to participate in it. We have never been a big believer in killing some newbie miner off trying to get ore to smelt but we have always had a segment of the guild that enjoyed pvping against those that chose to pvp against us.
6. As the Guild grew larger in Ultima Online, how much influence did the Guild portray within the Ultima Online gaming community, I understand that the Guild sort of played a protection type role for normal players and other Anti-Pker's?
Answer: We did regularly attack pk guilds in the early days. There are a couple of stories on our history page (The Syndicate History) detailing those early epic battles. While those battles were fun, they did highlight the fact that 'player justice' is a model that just doesn't work in gaming. Death has little meaning and pvping against someone who plays solely to pvp isnt a punishment, its a reward. So the system is self defeating and probably was one of UOers most major flaws.
7. What is the most notable event or raid that you can remember that was carried out against Pker's, and what made it notable?
Answer: Here is a story from our site about a battle with a pk guild early in our guild history: The door burst open and in strode Ironman, Squad Leader for Dragon Strike squad. In his hands he carried a black leather bag. He approached the large table around which Dragons and the other Squad Leaders were gathered.
“M’Lord. All twenty scouts returned successfully. None report being spotted by the enemy. All report their missions were successful,” he said as he handed the bag to Dragons and moved to take his spot among the other squad leaders.
Upending the bag before him, Dragons dumped a pile of gray oval stones on to the table. Each stone had a glowing golden rune marked on it. Each rune depicted a location that had been embedded in it by force of magic by one of the scouts. Syndicate wizards could use these runes to open a gateway to the location of each rune. Through those gates entire armies could pass. If the scouts had done their jobs correctly, as they no doubt had, the runes would encircle the enemy base.
Dragons was very pleased. For months this gang of outlaws had plagued the land. They would strike with such speed and skill that few could stand against them. In truth, many could stand against them but instead they became paralyzed with fear when the bandits attacked. Fortune truly does favor the bold and one must meet the attacker with even greater force and even greater commitment to die, if needed, in order to win. It was that commitment to their cause and their willingness to die that gave the attackers the edge.
Deep in the swamps near the town of Britain the scum had setup a base. A dozen houses were arranged in a loose clump between pools of stagnant water. The stench alone would keep most people away from their hideout. The monsters in the bog added yet another layer of defense. And lastly the killers themselves were not to be taken lightly.
The Syndicate had grown tired of these troublesome pests. Dragons had dispatched Dragon Strike squad to scout the enemy base and to return with runes to locations from which to stage an attacking army. The idea was to hit the base from all sides at once and with overwhelming numbers and to let none escape. Their houses would be looted and burned. Their ill-gotten plunder would be carted back to Arx Draconis. And their corpses would be left to rot in the bog they chose to call home.
“Squad Leaders, each of you will be given two runes… a primary and a secondary rally point. You will martial your squads on Arx Draconis at 5pm this evening. Ensure all know the plan in detail but do not explain it until just before we depart so that no word of it slips out and the bandits go into hiding. Our agent within their ranks reports that they too will be gathering at that hour to prepare a raid of their own. Their homes will be unlocked as they ready themselves for the battle ahead. They will be awake and alert but they will not be expecting an attack on their base. The fight will be bloody but we will crush them.
Each squad is being assigned a house to secure. Several squads are assigned to assume defensive positions between the houses to watch for counter attack. Black Heart Ranger squad will be on perimeter patrol and will alert us should any of their allies come to their aid.
It is critical that we strike very rapidly. Those squads assigned to capture a house must not stop. You must push hard and breach the door before they can lock it. Have someone check every fallen bandit for one or more of them may carry keys. Once you are inside the house, proceed room to room and clear the vermin out. Do not worry about bandits that attempt to slip away. Those squads outside will finish them off.
Once the area is secure, we will open portals back to Arx Draconis and rapidly transfer their booty to our storerooms. Upon completion, set fire to the houses and return to the castle. Are we clear? Hit hard. Hit fast. Focus on your task at hand. If we all do our jobs, this will be an easy victory. LLTS!” ordered Dragons.
“LLTS! LLTS! LLTS!” echoed the combined voices of the squad leaders. With that, the room cleared out as the officers went to prepare themselves and their men for the night ahead. Dragons was left alone with his thoughts and to answer some nagging questions. Should be bring less forces? Was it really fair to the bandits to bring such overwhelming force? His army of more than 200 combat forces and more than 50 support personnel with a dozen or so trained dragons was going to decimate the bandit force of perhaps 50. Mulling it over, Dragons concluded this was war. The bandits preyed on the less fortunate. They didn't ask for fair fights and they took every opportunity to lopside the fights in their favor. No others were capable of matching them with equal, much less larger, numbers. So it was up to The Syndicate to fight back. This would be a lesson they would not soon forget.
Standing atop the battlements of Arx Draconis, Dragons watched as a dozen blue portals opened around the courtyard below. As each opened, a squad of Syndicate warriors slipped through. Within seconds, the courtyard was empty save for his command element and the guards left to defend the gates. With a nod, Dragons instructed Xander to open his portal. He would be joining Dargus and his Dark Path mage's who were charged with securing the center of town and holding it long enough to clear the houses and burn them to the ground.
Stepping through the portal, Dragons found himself on a low hill overlooking the bandit camp that was several hundred yards distant. There was a great deal of movement as the enemy prepared for their own night of raiding. It was clear they had no clue that all around them were several hundred Syndicate warriors and a dozen trained dragons with their handlers. Satisfied that the element of surprise was still theirs, Dragons reached out with his mind touching each commanders at the same time and speaking very simple words: “It is time.” And with that, every squad, in unison surged towards town.
It wasn't long before a cry went out and the alarm was sounded. The bandits were well trained and very skilled in their craft so they mounted a hasty defense. Arrows rained down on them. Bolts of energy and fire were hurled into the town and out at the attackers. Men on both sides screamed and fell. Horses panicked and bolted. And then the dragons arrived. A dozen massive, red beasts swarmed in from all sides.
Between them rode mounted knights, mage's and archers proudly wearing Syndicate blue and gray. Cries of LLTS echoed all over.
Within seconds, those outside were dead. The battle had already moved into the houses. Doors were smashed aside as the defenders vainly sought to keep the attackers out. Several doors were able to be closed and bolted from the inside. Unfortunately for those inside, a scout soon reported that the enemy leader was slain and on his corpse was a massive key ring with dozens of keys. Quickly they were tried on the bolted doors, before allies could come to the bandits aid. Each door was unlocked in turn and a squad of warriors surged inside. More blood was spilled but mostly it was that of the cowards seeking to hide inside.
Several minutes had passed since the attack began, although it seemed much longer to those in the thick of the battle. Striding down the center of the village, Dragons surveyed the carnage. The town was theirs, for now.
“Bring in our healers and resurrect our fallen comrades. Defensive squads, take up positions around town! House Clearing Squads, I want those store rooms completely empty immediately! Get the treasure back to Arx Draconis! Don't leave them so much as a scrap of bread. Lets move it! I don't want to be here any longer than we have. The stench alone makes me long for home.” Dragons ordered.
And with that, the army rapidly moved to comply. Defensive lines of dragon, warrior, mage's and archers formed around the perimeter. Syndicate wizards opened fresh gates back to Arx Draconis. Warriors turned into porters and began shoveling chests of gold, armor, spell casting components and magical items of all shapes and sizes through the gates. The piles of ill-gotten booty were huge. It took many times longer to clear it out than it did to capture the town. The task was made all the more cumbersome by the spirits of the dead floating around bemoaning their fate and assuredly cursing our names as we reclaimed ill gotten booty from them.
After some time, the houses were clear. Torches and oil were tossed in. Despite the damp climate, the wood caught fire and before long the entire village was engulfed in flames that could be seen for miles. Reaching out with his mind once again, Dragons instructed the perimeter defense officers one final time for this battle “Return to AD.” More blue portals sprung up in the mists on all sides. Within seconds they winked out and the sounds of the swamp returned. Taking one final look at the burning village and the dead bodies, smiling at a job well done, Dragons stepped through the final portal.
8. As Ultima Online game changed, did it effect the Guild and if so, how did it effect it?
Answer: It didnt really affect us because we aren't a UO guild. We are an online gaming community that plays UO, and other games, to further our friendships.
9. At this juncture within the history of the Guild and you as a Guild Master and player, in your eyes how was MMO's doing within the gaming industry?
Answer: MMOs have undergone a lot of changes since the early days. Players expectations were much lower in those initial years. These days players expect more features, less bug and more rapid content. The changes, overall, have been for the good.
10. When Everquest came out, The Syndicate joined that game as well. What was the reason to run two different games, and did you think as a Guild Master you could handle two different gaming environments at the same time?
Answer: By early 1999, The Syndicate was hundreds of members large and Ultima Online had been going strong for several years now. However, not all members remained interested in playing UO. After spending several years in the game and defeating all the content of the time, some members were interested in a change. A new game began to be talked about. The second “major” MMO was rapidly gaining ground in the gaming community. It seemed that everyone was talking about it and how it was going to be a “UO killer” game. Within The Syndicate, many of our members who were thinking of retiring from UO were very interested in learning more about it. That game was Everquest.
For The Syndicate, Everquest offered us many unique opportunities as well as unique challenges that we hadn't faced before. While we were a very organized guild, the logistics of playing two major games at once was an unknown factor and they proved to be quite a challenge to overcome. Some of those logistical hurdles included:
While we were a unified team of friends in UO, how would that work when we had forums dedicated to two different games with members joining based on knowing us in one game or the other? Some members never came into character to character contact and never would. So how would that affect us? An unknown factor that Dragons had to consider when deciding on adding a second game was how the friendship aspect of The Syndicate would develop when some members would never actually “meet” certain other members of the guild simply by virtue of being in entirely separate gaming worlds. The Syndicate is based on the concept that while we are very large, we are a team of unified friends but if those friendships decay over time, that could spell disaster for the guild. We needed to have mechanisms in place to function as much like one guild as we could, regardless of the games we were in. The primary mechanism that existed was continuity of leadership. Dragons was the guildmaster for The Syndicate regardless of what game we were in. He remained the sole decision maker which meant that a certain level of consistency of decisions existed across games. It also meant that the years Dragons had spent building the respect of the guildmates in him as guildmaster were able to be leveraged to form the basis for the expansion of the guild.
A number of things took place within the guild to help combat what could
have been a guild ending issue. Those included:
While those were not perfect solutions they did lessen the impact of existing in two separate worlds and gave us enough of a solid foundation that we could adapt to the unknown challenges of the future without imploding.
11. Has running a Guild become a passion for you and if so why are you passionate about it?
Answer: Anything you do for 10 years, 6+ hours a day, has to be a passion especially when you are not being paid for it (in fact it costs a couple thousand dollars a year to run a guild of this size and caliber). The friendships formed make it worthwhile.
12. Running and playing Everquest as a Guild, how did you as a Guildmaster and the Guild evolve and grow?
Answer: That question is quite a lengthy one to answer. Read our biography that will be coming out in the coming months and it details that whole evolution of the guild.
13. Seeing that there were really only two major games being played at this time Ultima Online, and Everquest, what kinds of mistakes did MMO's do, and what do you think they did to correct them, or was it to early in the history of MMO's for any really major mistakes to be made?
Answer: Everquest introduced raiding to online gaming which is a huge benefit to gamer's today. But they did so in a way that led to many mistakes that ultimately caused a mass exodus from the game. Those included:
A. Everything Was Contested – All of the early raid zones were open to all players. That meant that there was exactly 1 boss of a given name in the entire game world and every single guild wanted that boss. That often meant multiple guilds would arrive to kill something at the same time and the race would be on. This led to guilds intentionally wiping the other guild out. A great deal of anti-social behavior developed where lots of dirty tricks were tried, by some groups, to mess up the attempts on the boss of other groups.
B. Spawn Times Were Lengthy – Many of the bosses in the game spawned once per week. So that meant that only one time per week, often within only a small variation of time, would that boss be up on the server. If you weren't fortunate enough to be online, with a ready to go raid force, when the boss spawned then you didn't see him that week. Given the small variation in spawn times from week to week that meant that some bosses would rarely be seem by many guilds.
C. Gear Was Important But Rare – The developers created a large dependency on having enough gear. The ‘tank’ needed to have more than X hitpoints and Y armor in order to live. The healers needed enough mana to keep them alive. The raid needed to be able to do enough damage to kill the target before they died or the healers were out of mana. It was a numbers game. That too is fine in and of itself. But when taken with #1 and #2 it became an issue. That issue became even larger when you took into account the fact that in the early stages of raiding, there were only a few bosses and each one only dropped 2 to 3 total items. A raiding guild might have 80 to 100 members that wanted to raid. Each of them had 15 to 20 spots that needed an armor upgrade. So combined each raiding guild needed 1200 to 2000 items to upgrade the spots on each of their raiders. There were often 5 to 10 raiding guilds on a server. So 6000 to 20,000 items were needed to fully upgrade all of the active raiders. But if there were 10 bosses with 3 items each, then there were only 30 major items being dropped per week in those early days.
D. Linearity – Being linear isn't an issue in and of itself. It is natural to have one place to raid that gives you the experience and items needed to take on the content in the next place. However, being linear, along with all of the other issues, greatly complicated things. Guilds needed the gear from the first set of bosses to have sufficient power to kill the bosses in the next expansion and so forth.
14. Has The Syndicate been asked to beta test any future MMO's at this point, and if so can you give us a example of some of the titles of the games?
Answer: hehe The Syndicate has beta tested pretty much every MMO (and many single player games) that has come out in the past 10 years, most of them via invitations to the guild to join them, en masse, and offer our expertise. We are very good at locating bugs and suggesting balancing tweaks and features to make the game better.
15. At the point you were leaving Everquest, and moving into World of Warcraft, what were your thoughts on the future of the Guild?
Answer: As 2004 dawned, our time in Everquest (EQ) was rapidly drawing to a close. We didn't fully realize how soon that was going to occur nor did we quite know how to handle the logistics of retiring a game. Up until that point in our guild career, we had never retired a game before.
In the early months of 2004, as a guild we were discussing World of Warcraft (WoW). We were being given a large number of beta spots so we knew many raiders from EQ were going to participate in that. We were not the only group realizing WoW was coming and that it would probably be a major blow to EQ. The Everquest forums were buzzing with guilds discussing their plans for when WoW launched. Most of the groups who were sharing their plans were indicating they planned to leave Everquest for World of Warcraft.
Internally, The Syndicate was discussing our future. Dragons set a policy that we would exist in not more than two major games at a time. This was done because it allowed the guild to remain a manageable size, yet still have a very strong presence in both games yet not be so large than most members didn't know, or know of, most other members. With WoW coming up and a huge number of members playing that game (most of them leaving EQ to do so) a decision had to be made if UO (Ultima Online) or EQ was to be closed. Most UO members planned to continue to play UO or to play both. Most EQ members planned to migrate completely to the new game.
In early April of 2004, The Syndicate asked itself the question that if WoW was due to start up in a few months, and if the beta was starting for us in just a couple of weeks with dozens of our members involved in it, was there really a point in hammering on raid content in Everquest anymore? The “end” of EQ for us was, at most, 5 or 6 months off so was there really a point to racing for mobs and grinding out massive amounts of gear upgrades? Surprisingly a very large number of members said “no” and as such we formally retired from EQ in April. This allowed members to have the summer free to spend with families without feeling the pressure to raid every weekend. This allowed us to recharge our batteries before WoW began. And it also allowed us to heal the wounds that opened up by retiring from a game we had played for 4 years.
When The Syndicate took the decision to retire from Everquest, the vast majority of the guild supported the decision. However, some members did not. Eight members quit the guild in anger over the decision. While that is an insignificant number when taken in comparison to the 550 members in the guild, we consider every member a friend so we were sad to see them go. We also had about twenty members continue to play Everquest on their own. Most of them retired from the game within the next few months but a few kept playing it for a year to eighteen months more.
Retiring from a major game that had been a part of our guild culture for several years wasn't easy even for those of the vast majority of the guild that supported the decision. The feelings were bitter sweet. On the one hand, almost no one liked the way raiding was implemented in EQ. You raced other groups for the monsters, which only dropped a couple pieces of loot yet the vast majority of the raid force needed 15+ upgrades to be prepared for the next tier of raiding. In short, it was a heavily item based game that allowed ‘cawck’ blocking by aholes and that had a shortage of items to gear everyone up. On the flip-side, we had years invested in the game. We were comfortable there and it is never easy to step outside ones comfort zone. In hindsight it was the correct decision to make. The Syndicate benefited from making the decision and the timing of the decision. We were able to recharge our batteries and hit the ground running in WoW while avoiding the mistakes of the past.
16. Has the Guild reached the point where you dreamed it would be when you first conceived the idea of running a Guild?
Answer: I don't think I could have predicted where we would be today, 10 years ago. The industry and the guild have grown beyond where most of us thought they could be a decade ago. I am very pleased with our success and with the industry as a whole.
17. How is The Syndicate doing in World of Warcraft, and have you reached any goals that are noteworthy?
Answer: We are doing extremely well. We learned from the lessons of Everquest and when we migrated to WoW we 'played our own game' so to speak, at our own pace with our own goals. We only recruit people with similar personalities, goals and play styles so we don't have guild drama. We defeat content at our own pace and we have a really good time doing it.
18. I hear that The Syndicate was chosen to help beta test World of Warcraft, during that beta test, what things happen, that the Guild did to influence World of Warcraft today that other Guilds, or players enjoying today when they play the game?
Answer: Not too long after our retirement from Everquest, the World of Warcraft beta began. The Syndicate had been watching WoW for quite some time. We had been in regular contact with the development team and the community team expressing our interest in the game and our desire to help with the beta. We felt that at this point in our guild career, with 8 years of gaming experience behind us, that we could offer a lot of value to the test. We were very pleased when the Blizzard team felt similarly and offered us a large block of beta accounts, followed later by a second large block.
We liked a great many of the features that Blizzard offered players in WOW. The one big complaint that we had, which we felt we could live with for a time at least, was the snails pace at which Blizzard seems to do anything. We felt that WoW would be a game we would play for the long term if they could churn out content faster than we could defeat it. However, Blizzard seemed to move at a very slow pace to turn anything out due, in part, to their attention to detail and desire to release without bugs. Those are admirable qualities but we were concerned they wouldn't be able to keep up.
One of the other very cool things that we found in game was a faction of NPCs called “The Syndicate.” The faction is colored in a blue and grey very similar to our guild colors. The first battleground had you retrieve the factions lost “all seeing eye” just like the core image in our logo. We, of course, suspected it was modeled after us so we asked. The answer we received was what we were hoping to hear: “As far as The Syndicate monsters in game goes, I can neither confirm nor deny any guild influence in the matter. *wink* Let's just say we all thought the name sounded pretty cool.” Needless to say we were very pleased that they would honor us with a faction in game modeled on us.
19. You do a lot of backend work, meaning you contact a lot of the Gaming Professionals, and you have Guild Members research new games, and I hear you even have a active beta testing section within the Guild Structure, and you even trademarked the Guild name, what drives you to do all these different things for the Guild, it must be very time consuming?
Answer: The Syndicate began the process of Trademarking our guild name in the summer of 2004. The process was estimated to take about six months per the US Patent and Trademark (USPTO) site. A full eighteen months later, the process was completed and The Syndicate became the first MMO guild to trademark its name. We actually obtained two trademarks to protect our guild name, our logo and our slogan.
When word spread that we had Trademarked our guild name, many gamer's and developers were extremely supportive. A few developers were shocked and angered feeling that we were, in essence, playing in their backyard without their permission. One site so far as to accuse us of discouraging creative enterprise and possibly causing the downfall of online gaming.
We firmly believe that trademarks don't discourage creative enterprise. Rather, we believe that they nurture it by allowing the people engaged in those enterprises to protect their reputation and their investment. The Syndicate trademarked our name and logo to insure that our efforts at developing The Syndicate would be protected in the online gaming world. We did recognize that at the time the news became public it was a relatively new topic for the online gaming community, but it was done to address an issue common in the gaming world where aliases and identities are so easily assumed and discarded. Over the proceeding few years we had dealt with individuals and guilds not only using our name but also outright claiming to be us. This had happened a lot over the preceding ten years not only for us but for other groups as well.
20. I can only assume that since the Guild has been around 11 years, and you aren't thinking about giving up the Guild, so where do you see the Guild in the next 5 years?
Answer: That is hard to say because 5 years ago the industry didn't look like it did today, We have several big internal efforts underway that will be more 'firsts' for the industry. We will continue to expand our relationships with developers and continue to do what we can to make the genre great for all players.
21. How has The Syndicate changed you as a person and Guild Master, and how do you think it has changed members lives and how has it influenced or changed the MMO gaming industry?
Answer: You cant help but pick up a trick or two when you manage 550+ people across more than a decade. I'm sure I have learned a thing or two along the way :) I'm sure The Syndicate has had an influence on the MMO community. Members of ours are developers working for a number of major companies so that in and of itself has an impact. We have logged thousands of hours of beta time and that too has had some impact. We like to think that we have had a very positive impact on the gaming world.
22. Can you give us one memorable event that The Syndicate has changed a guild members life in Real Life?
Answer: We have had two members that met, fell in love, and got married due to their being members of our guild. That is one small example of something great that wouldn't have come to pass if the guild never existed.
Here is a link to The Syndicate Home Page