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|An Interview with Sean Stalzer of The Syndicate® |
|Posted on Sunday, July 1, 2007, 9:19 PM EDT by El of LA (CommunityNews)|
An Interview with Sean Stalzer of The Syndicate®
Recently I conducted an interview with Sean Stalzer, author of the forthcoming book, Legend of The Syndicate®.
Sean is the Guild Leader of one of the most interesting Guilds in
gaming and they reside on the Ultima Online (UO) Atlantic shard, as
well as having a branch that plays World of Warcraft (WoW). Sean as
written this very interesting book that covers not only his nearly 12
years of experience with his guild, but a lot of gaming cultural
history as well. I was very curious to see what his perspective was
after having written this book, and wanted to introduce him and his
guild the Syndicate® to the Stratics readership.
What brought you to write this book on The Syndicate®?
The Syndicate, being a very old guild (established in 1996) has had a
very rich history. We developed a number of strong relationships with
some development teams. We have a good number of members serving on
those teams. We achieved a number of 'firsts' like Trademarking our
name, getting a corporate sponsor etc.. But most of all, we developed a
model for a successful guild. In today's gaming world, hundreds of
guilds rise and fall every day. While there are some notable
exceptions, the vast majority of guilds will not be around in six
months to two years from now.
It is my belief that a strong gaming
community benefits all players. When guilds implode, that often causes
drama and it often causes loss of players from the community. So having
a larger number of stable guilds would be a benefit to all players, in
my opinion. The Syndicate has made its fair share of mistakes,
especially in its early days and the book discusses the good, the bad
and the ugly of those years and it evolves into describing a successful
guild model. There are definitely other ways to create a successful,
long term guild but we take the reader through one such model while at
the same time exploring the rich history of online gaming.
us or hate us, The Syndicate has achieved what very few other guilds
ever will. We have a successful guild model where more than 85% of the
guild has been a member for 1 to 11 years. We have very low turnover
only losing, on average, one person every three months who wants to
join another guild. About the only noteworthy 'turn over' that we have
is from members who leave online gaming entirely due to real life
reasons (work, parents, school, health etc..). We have business
relationships with a number of world class companies. We have yearly
conferences attended by 125+ members. We own our guildname, logo and
slogan via two Trademarks. In short, we have achieved a very large
level of success and we learned a number of lessons along the way. This
book shares many of them in the hopes that by doing so, we may have
some small measure of positive affect on the entire gaming community.
What do you think is the most outstanding contribution of The Syndicate® over the years?
I would like to think that some years from now that the contribution
that we will be most remembered for is breaking new ground for online
gaming communities. I realize that is a vague answer but breaking new
ground is one of the things we continually strive for. We broke the
barrier of trademarking one's identity so that you can actually provide
a service and invest in that Intellectual Property and own the name
under which you provide it. We broke the Corporate Sponsor barrier. We
host very large yearly conferences focused on growing and strengthening
our community as well as how we can make the overall gaming community
better. We forged a partnership with Prima Games to usher in a new era
of MMO strategy guides so they no longer just provide maps and lists of
quests but now offer expert strategy content that really helps players
get the most out of their new gaming experience. There are other
creative, out of the box thinking ideas that we have planned for the
future. So, I think so far we have broken new ground in a number of
areas that is only just now beginning to get utilized by other
communities that, in the years ahead, will continue to be major value
added to future strong communities of players.
What has The Syndicate® meant to you personally?
The Syndicate, to me is all about Friendships. While we are a very
large guild, we only recruit people with similar personalities, goals,
play styles etc.. That leads to members remaining with us for the long
term. And that leads to developing very deep friendships. Those
friendships are really what it's all about. We are not a guild that
exists for any particular game. We are an online community that uses
gaming as a way to forge and grow our friendships. That is a distinct
difference between what most people think of as a guild. Most guilds
exist for the purpose of achieving game goals and 'worth' and
'achievement' are measured by overcoming pixels. The Syndicate exists
for the purpose of growing and fostering our community and we do that
through playing games. Our 'worth' and 'achievement' have no
correlation to overcoming certain pixels in game. That model has proven
extremely successful and it fosters a very stable, very unified guild.
That, in turn, fosters deep, lasting friendships that don't revolve
around pixels and don't end up in heated arguments followed by
implosions over who won a piece of loot, for example. So, for me
personally, The Syndicate is all about Friendships.
What age spread do you find in your guild?
The average age in The Syndicate, as of June 2007 is a little more than
32 years old. We do have some members under the age of 20 but those are
very few in number. We have twice as many members over the age of 55
than we do under the age of 20. The vast majority of our members fall
into the 20 to 40 range.
What kind of gender distribution is there in The Syndicate®? Do you have a large number of women in the guild?
We do have a large number of Women in the guild. We have 25-30% women
in the guild. So that translates to around 150-180 ladies.
Who does a person interested in joining The Syndicate® contact?
We only recruit people that we know very well... have developed a good
friendship with... and that we have evaluated to possess all the core
qualities that we are looking for. So there is no one person to talk
to. Rather, an interested person needs to get to know us. Due to the
very high bar that we set and due to very low turnover and my desire to
keep the guild at a relatively fixed size (with only slow growth over
time), the vast majority of the nearly 4,000 applications each year do
not get in. So the best way to start out to maximize one's chances is
to get to know members and not to rush the process. Too many people are
used to the fairly common practice of applying and getting in extremely
rapidly to many guilds. Our process is weeks or months long since we
have to develop that strong friendship.
Does The Syndicate® have plans to move to more shards than they already are on, or have plans of leaving UO altogether for new worlds?
We have no plans to have a presence on any shard other than Atlantic.
One of our key strengths is our unity and that is achieved by all of
us, who are playing UO, being together on the same server sharing
common experiences, events etc.
As for leaving UO... there are no
plans for that in the immediate future. Ultima Online is one of the
very few truly non-linear games in existence. It has also been our home
for a decade. So we are attached to it and it is very easy to keep a
guild presence going in the game. Our rules and practices and events
have all have a decade to flesh themselves out. We are experts in the
game. We have all the infrastructure we could possibly ever need. And
due to its nonlinear nature, where anyone can adventure with anyone
else and do anything, its very easy to keep a strong guild presence
there. It is much harder to maintain one in a linear, progression based
game. So I don't see us closing our UO presence any time in the near
What other MMOGs would you consider in any potential move from either WoW or UO?
There are several interesting MMOs on the horizon. Warhammer Online by
EA/Mythic certainly looks interesting. Gods and Heroes by Perpetual is
one we are part of the Core Tester Team and have been for a long time
and it is very enjoyable. Pirates of the Burning Seas isn't in our
"Fantasy" genre that we tend to stick to but for those who liked Sid
Meyers Pirates it is a fun one. Conan is coming out but I personally
wasn't 'wowed' by what I've seen so far. I know there are some that
will vehemently disagree. Fallen Earth, although again not in the genre
we typically play in, looks interesting. We'll see what the future
holds. There are some interesting choices coming up. Will we pick up
one of the for a major, several hundred strong, Syndicate presence?
Time will tell.
Does The Syndicate® have plans for future expansion of their industry activities and business ventures?
Absolutely we do. We have positioned ourselves in several strategic
locations on the virtual chessboard. We have several of our next moves
planned out. But we aren't going to reveal what they are lest someone
else block the move by taking advantage of our idea before we do. The
Syndicate has been around for 11.5 years. We have roughly 600 members.
We have leverage in a variety of industries. We continue to have
success in our ventures and we most definitely plan to continue that
success and unveil new activities and ventures in the future.
Did writing the book change your perspective on the history of gaming at all?
Writing the book definitely helped me put the history into proper
perspective. When you are living through history, you sometimes can
miss the subtle changes that occur over time. For example, Raiding just
kind of came about. As you were playing Everquest the concept just sort
of came to be. If you look back at it objectively you can see how it
came to be and how it grew and changed over the following years and
then how it took another leap forward in the follow-on generation of
MMOs. So I wouldn't so much say that my perspective on anything changed
as much it gave some things clarity as I looked at them from the
perspective of an author writing the history of what went on and how we
adjusted to it.
Is there something from the history you wrote that particularly stands out to you as the most interesting aspect of the book?
I think one of the most striking things, for me, is just how different
Ultima Online is today than it was when it first came out. It is the
same game only at its most basic structure but the gameplay itself is
radically different today than when it first launched. In my opinion,
if the game came out brand new today, a huge number of the people that
played in 1997 would barely recognize it and probably wouldn't play it.
Conversely, if many of the people playing it today were presented with
the game systems as they existed in 1997, they would barely recognize
them and many probably wouldn't play. Ultima Online has reinvented
itself several times over throughout its long history. Part of that, I
think, has come from the reality that development teams get pilfered by
other companies to help with their games. New developers mean new ideas
and can mean a new direction. Part of it was in response to player
demands. Trammel came to pass due to the fact that the vast majority of
the early players rarely pvped. I recall an interview by Designer
Dragon many years back where he commented that something like 90% of
the game never PvPed yet back then there was only Felucca and you had
no choice but to pvp or live with the reality that you were a walking
target everywhere you went. That was both a good thing (since it added
an element of danger and uncertainty) and a bad thing (since most
players, it turns out, didn't like PvP very much). So over the course
of years, UO has dramatically changed from what it was when it launched
to what it is today. Are those changes good or bad? I think an entire
article could be dedicated to discussing just that.
What do you see as the future of The Syndicate®?
The Syndicate's future rests with its continued focus on growing its
Friendships. That is where our success starts and ends and every
decision taken and every plan made is done to reinforce and strengthen
that. We plan to continue to grow and expand our conferences. We plan
to continue our relationship with Prima and help create even better
strategy guides for players. We plan to continue to grow and expand our
relationships with our developer friends and do what we can to help
make the next generation of games even stronger. The Syndicate, due to
its very large and extremely stable membership base provides an ideal
partner to gaming companies. We only recruit mature, professional, team
focused people that we can count on. We lose very few members, ever. So
we can enter into agreements where we can guarantee delivery of
results, in a timely fashion to developers. That isn't just a hollow
promise since we now have years of success to point to which gives a
developer a great deal of confidence when entering into a relationship
with us. The Syndicate wants to help make online gaming as strong as we
can for all gamers well into the future. We want to do our part to
leverage the lessons learned over the years and not repeat the mistakes
of the past. And we have the size, stability, expertise and
professionalism to give a developer the confidence that we can provide
that value to them. So I see a very bright future for The Syndicate as
we do our small part to try to make the future of online gaming bright
for the entire community.
What do you see in the future of gaming and social groups surrounding it?
I have long been a believer that stable guilds and communities are the
way to make long term revenue from gaming. Gaming is, at its core, a
business. It is all about making money. We, the players, are consumers
of a service and we pay to use it. For the gaming companies, they are
trying to make a profit in an increasingly competitive marketplace. I
have found, over the years, that Syndicate members tend to keep playing
games for months or even years longer than they would have had they not
been part of the guild. From a gaming company perspective, that is more
revenue per person that fits into that category. By that logic,
membership in a stable guild does help people play longer and thus does
generate more revenue and thus is worth the gaming companies' time to
develop systems within the game to promote guild stability. When guilds
implode, that usually results in a loss of players from the game. It is
probably, other than burnout, the chief reason people leave gaming.
in my opinion, more focus should be on designing content and systems
that support long term guild stability and less on pleasing minority
groups within a game. While I mean no disrespect to the groups I'm
about to mention, too often I see developers focusing on content for
Powergamers or for PvPers both of which are a small minority of the
paying customer base. If every hardcore powergamer and if every
hardcore pvper quit gaming tomorrow, every game out there would still
have a substantial revenue base. While those are important demographics
to consider, if a decision has to be made where the choice is between
doing something that strengthens your standard player created
guild/community or choosing to please a minority group, a better
business decision both short and long term is to grow the community.
such as how to handle loot (UO has a good system by which loot is
common and for the more rare items the game decides who wins it based
on participation in the fight) and how to handle raid content (size of
raids, reset time of instances etc..) are the two biggest guild killers
in gaming. There are decisions that could be taken to design systems
that, in the long run, reinforce guild stability and there are
decisions that can result in more infighting over pixels and
progression that result in guilds imploding and thus loss of revenue.
I think the future is to design systems that support the stability and
growth of gaming communities and focus less on the bleeding edge
(either edge... those going too fast through content.. and those going
too slow through content).
Sean, for your fascinating perspective on guild and UO history! Sean's
book is due for release on August 6. You can look for it in bookstores,
or buy it on the internet at this link! You can also read more about Sean's publisher, Avari Press, a specialized publisher of quality Fantasy literature, at http://www.avaripress.com/.
- El of LA
|Forging New Territories - "Legend: The Syndicate"|
|Posted on Sunday, June 17, 2007, 11:06 PM EDT by El of LA (CommunityNews)|
Forging New Territories
A Review of the Upcoming Book "Legend: The Syndicate®" by Sean "Dragons" Stalzer
Published by Avari Press, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA.
Expected Release: August, 2007.
I have had the very great pleasure of reading an advance copy of the upcoming book "Legends: The Syndicate®" which is a fascinating account of the history of the largest guild in gaming, "The Syndicate®."
More than a guild history, however, the book is interwoven with a
historical perspective of the gaming industry and gamer's culture over
the 12 and more years this guild has been active. The book is to be
published by Avari Press this coming August.
Starting in the
days of the Commodore 64 and BBS turn-based games, Mr. Stalzer follows
recent history through the first guild development in games like
Neverwinter Nights and Meridian64, and then begins the story of his own
experiences. In February of 1996, Dragons formed "The Syndicate®," a guild based on a set of principles he wanted to see used by players in online gaming. The Syndicate®
started small but was built with big ideas and a strong foundation.
This book outlines the processes and thought that went into building a
guild that would last and details what they needed to succeed at it. It
also gives an entertaining account of the history and highlights of the
An interesting aspect that is highlighted
in the book is that this guild has a life outside of any particular
game. It is a very interesting leap from the idea of a union of players
within any certain game or game server to a union of "gamers" who join
together to play games!
Besides the chronicle of a guild's life, "Legend: The Syndicate®"
broaches the topic of "who are computer gamers" and the social
structure of those people who play online games. This book will be of
interest to many different types of readers. It is not just for The
Syndicate® members or UO, WoW, or Everquest players. It is a
book that would interest historians, anthropologists and several other
academic disciplines as well! It is one of the first literary releases
of the history of a revolution that I truly believe will rival that of
the invention of the printing press in human history.
Syndicate members will enjoy the personal touches and memories of their
annual gatherings, I believe that this book should be considered
"required reading" for any guildmaster or person considering starting
one. The lessons in the book are many and the pathway to success well
discussed in the pages of each chapter.
I think Dragons has
written a lively and engaging account of his guild's life and created a
wonderful book. I highly recommend it to all our community.
will be interviewing Mr. Stalzer in the coming days so keep watch for
my next installment on this book with words from the author.
To learn more about the book, or to purchase a copy, here is what you need to know:
"Legend: The Syndicate® A History of Online Gaming's Premier Guild," by Sean Stalzer.
Published by Avari Press, Lancaster Pennsylvania,
El of LA
Interim Assistant Editor