By GenX Fusion
January 2007

Hello MMO Community and all you wonderful gamers. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dragons of The Syndicate. The Syndicate has been around for many years. They are known for playing a huge array of video games and will soon be publishing their very own book. Keep your eyes open.

Q: Tell us a little history regarding your guild and when was it established? The history of The Syndicate™ goes back 11 years as of Feb 07 so there is quite a lot to tell. So much so that there is a book being published in the summer of 2007 all about the history of The Syndicate. Avari Press will be releasing “Legend of The Syndicate” around the June timeframe.

A short summary is this: We were established in early 1996. We were involved in the alpha test of Ultima Online. That led to beta involvement and finally in playing the live game, which we still have a presence of a couple hundred members in. We spent a number of years in Everquest but eventually retired from that game. We also have a very large 300ish member presence in World of Warcraft right now. We have a portion of the guild that participates in our alliance with Prima Games (the industry leader in print media strategy guides) to write expert content for their guides. The idea is to give players more for their dollar. Guides aren’t just lists of zones and quests. They now will more often contain expert content to make it well worth your time to buy one. We have a Trademarked guild name and logo. We are currently being filmed for a documentary about MMOs. We have a corporate sponsor. We have yearly conferences that 120+ members attend. Our 6th annual conference is coming up in August. We have members from all walks of life including many military members… a good number of game developers… we even have the guy who does the narration for many of the Rome series on the History Channel.

The Syndicate is very old, hugely successful and much more than just a guild in the typical sense of the word.

As for games we have played…. Our formal guild presences have been in UO, WOW and EQ. Those are/were basically our day to day base of operations in the virtual world. However, at any given time, if there is an MMO beta going on, we are involved in it in some fashion.

Q. Can you tell us what servers you play your MMO’s on?
I sure can:
Ultima Online - Atlantic Shard
World of Warcraft - Zuljin Server

Q. Since you play different MMO’s how do they compare and what is the guilds role with each MMO?
The Syndicate is different from almost every other guild in that we don’t have a “role” in a game because we don’t exist for a specific game. We are an online gaming community who’s purpose in life is to build and grow our friendships & comradely which we do by using online games as they are a common hobby of our members. In short, we don’t exist for a game or a group of games. Rather, we use online gaming to grow our comradely and to proliferate gaming expertise.

As for the two major MMOs we are playing now (UO and WoW) and how they compare… they are two different game types each with their pro’s and con’s. Ultima Online is the old dog of the gaming world but still going strong. It lacks a lot of end game content like WoW has but by the same token it is very freeflowing. You can login and do basically anything with anyone with very very few restrictions. You can have a house.. run a vendor.. hunt big powerful monsters.. or hang out. That freedom, with fun content, is what keeps many people playing it or coming back to it after breaks. WoW, on the other hand, is much more rigid. You go level up.. you pretty much only play with people around you.. you raid in X sized groups after doing Y quests to get ready. But the content is visually stunning and it has challenging end game content which is instanced so you don’t waste time and energy dealing with anti-social players looking to steal all the kills.

Each game is good. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. And we plan to keep playing each for the foreseeable future.

Q: What was the biggest problem your guild was facing? How did you deal with it? And what problems are you currently facing?

Over the course of our 11 years, as we defined ourselves and where we wanted to go and how we wanted to get there, we had issues that came up. The longer we existed the less and less those issues became. Today in the guild we simply don’t have drama. We have a guild where more than 80% of the guild has been with us more than a year. We don’t infight. We don’t backstab. We don’t have people breaking the rules. We have an extremely strong group of people who are great friends.

So our biggest problem has nothing to do with issues caused by our members. Our biggest problem is that due to having such a stable membership, we have very few spots for new people to join. However, every members knows one or more friends that they talk about the guild to all the time. Eventually most of those friends want to join. However, I like to keep the guild at a fairly consistent size (it is closing in on 600 people now) with only slow growth over time. That can mean that friends and family of members don’t get to join when they first apply. It can take some time before they get in. And it means if we don’t know you at all, there is 0 chance of joining. We only recruit those we know very very well.. that we are close friends with.. and who have similar goals, playstyles and personalities. So the biggest issue is managing the 4,000+ applications we get each year especially those that are close friends and family of existing members when spots are tight.

Q: What important pointers would you give to a new guild leader who is trying to make his mark? What advice would you give him about creating a successful MMO guild?

Time is the great measure of success. Hardly any GM forms a guild with the idea that they will cease to exist in a month or 6 months or a year. Most people that create a guild have a vision in their head that extends far into the future. The reality is that 99.999% of all guilds will cease to exist within 3 years. .001% will make it beyond three years. Most guilds will cease to exist within 6months to a year.

So to be a successful guild means defining what your success criteria are and then putting policies in place to achieve them. If your goal is to burn bright and then burn out when you are done with a game, then that should be your focus. Don’t try to claim to be the best since you wont be around in 5 or 10 years to back it up. Just burn hot and bright and have fun. If your goal is to be around in 10 years then don’t try to burn hot and bright on Day 1. Build your fire carefully. Pick the right people. Put the right policies in place. And build your first slowly and it will last much longer than tossing gas on the logs and striking a match.

Q: Any unique events or interesting stories regarding The Syndicate?

The simple answer is: buy the book. It is full of very good stories told as if they were a fantasy novel in and of themselves. There are so many stories that could be told from the old battles with PKs in the early UO days … to knocking down cities in Shadowbane… to raiding in WoW and many more. We have yearly conferences that lend themselves to many great stories. We have 11 years of history and its pretty compelling history when you put it all down on paper.

Q: You have an outstanding website. Who built your website and keeps it updated?

Our website will actually be undergoing major renovations this year. The graphics on the site are all custom made artwork. We have a relationship with a very skilled artist out of Hong Kong that does custom artwork for us a couple of times a year. The site itself was worked on by several members. The project to create the next version is being managed by one of our European members who is a very skilled website designer. We hope to unveil that sometime in Q2 2007.

Q: I know that you have been involved with many different MMO’s. Can you tell me what MMO’s you have played/tested and what MMO’s are your guild currently involved with?

The Syndicate has been involved in the testing of pretty much every single MMO that has existed since 1996. We have a large segment of the guild that helps test games on a regular basis. We don’t just get beta accounts to play the game before it is released. We actually test it and work very hard to give the developers ideas, feedback, balancing suggestions and to report bugs that we find. We realize that beta testing, while fun, is also a critical step in making a good game. Those that accept beta accounts really are accepting a responsibility to assist the developer in making a stronger game. We take that responsibility seriously and we put in substantial time, in a very organized fashion, to work with developers to make games stronger.

Sometimes that relationship is very informal. Other times we are approached and asked to join a beta. Other times we enter into very strong relationships with very defined sets of testing goals. And still other times we enter into consulting relationships where we get very deeply involved in the testing and even in the design aspects of some games.

Q: Does you guild wear a certain color, emblem or uniforms?

We do have defined guild colors. It is a royal blue along with a lighter grey. The blue is our primary color and in UO it is the main color on all characters. In WoW it is the primary color of the tunic. The grey is the accent color. In UO it is the cloak color and in WoW it is the trim and logo on the tunic.

Q: How do you choose your officers and what type of officers do you choose? General officers or specific roles and tasks? What do you look for in an officer?

The Syndicate is what we call a benevolent dictatorship style guild. I make all of the policies and decisions but I do so in the best interest of the guild and based on members feedback, ideas and suggestions. So while there is one decision maker, we are a very close team and I highly encourage feedback. With that said, we have a strong leadership team of squad leaders that run many of the day to day operations of the guild in game. When I am not online, they speak with the authority of my voice. That responsibility means that the primary criteria I look for are people I know very well, that I can trust to act within the rules of the guild and in a fair, team focused manner.. people who are respected by their guildmates… who exemplify the values of the guild… and who seek to make the guild better and stronger.

Q. Do you have a recruitment phase?

We have a very strict recruiting process. We only recruit someone new if we have a spot in the guild to fill, more or less. There is some small growth over time. A spot in the guild, since we have very very low turnover, tends to open up when someone has to leave online gaming for real

life reasons (like work, spouse, school, medical etc..). When that happens a spot opens and we fill it with a recruit. In order for someone to be considered for that spot there is a whole series of criteria they have to meet and tests they pass, whether they realize it or not. The most important one of all though is that we know the person very well… that we are close friends with the person.. and that they share our values, play style, goals, and long term membership focus.

Q. How many members do you have in your guild?

We have about 580 members. Our average guild age is just over 32 years old. Our oldest member is in their 60s. We have 9 members under the age of 18 and primarily they are the children of other members. Our youngest member is the child of one of my raid leaders and he is 13. More than 80% of the guild has been a member from 1 to 10 years.

Q. On a social aspect how does your guild feel about females, older folks etc?

I try to avoid feeling the females of the guild because they tend to carry swords that they can stab me with.

Several of my officers are ladies and they are extremely good at what they do. Some of our most active event coordinators are our ladies. We affectionately refer to our female members as LoTS (Ladies of The Syndicate). They have their own guild artwork and are highly respected and much liked. The Syndicate really doesn’t care who you are.. what you look like.. what you do for a living.. what your life history is.. none of that matters. What matters to us is who you are on the inside.

As for older members… again, age has nothing to do with anything. We require members to be mature but we don’t put them out to pasture if they get to old. We have one member who is a senior citizen but he owns his own racing team and he is the driver for it and he does very well at it. He is older than my own father but he can kick my butt on any road, anywhere at any time. I’ ve got nothing but respect for all our members regardless of their age or any other label we want to slap on them. They are first rate people that Im glad to have the pleasure of being associated with.

Q. What about foul language? Do you stay away from it?

Although mistakes are occasionally made, profanity is not permitted in any guild channel.. not in our IRC rooms.. on our posting forum.. in guildsay.. on our voice servers… we are a mature, professional guild. While the occasional mistake is made, by and large that rule is adhered to.

Q: With people leaving because of nerfs or a new game coming out, anything special that you do to keep the Syndicate members together and keeping morale high?

We don’t tend to have much turnover in our guild though because of our focus. We are not a UO guild. We are not a WoW guild. We do not exist for any online game. We are a virtual community of friends. We use games to build our friendships. So our members play the games to use them as a tool to build friendships with each other. So while nerfs and changes to games can stink, they really don’t make or break our fun since we exist for each other and not the pixels on the screen.

Q. Would you like to add anything else?

It is probably work reiterating that when you take a guild of nearly 600 members.. that has existed for 11 years… you can’t possible tell the entire story in a single interview. We do have a book coming out in the summer. I’d urge the readers to check back at as our publisher will have a press release out at launch time and to pick up a copy. The story of our past, our present and our future is a compelling one and well worth your time to read in detail.

Q. Thank you Dragons.

Great Interview and a great leader. Thank you Dragons!! If you are interested in joining this month's Guildhelper Spotlight Guild, The Syndicate, check out their information by clicking on the information link.