MMOGs are little universes unto themselves, just as large corporations are. When a new game starts, the people who join the game come from a variety of backgrounds, and have little understanding of what the game is about and how they should participate. They share one commonalityâ€”that the theme or purpose of the game resonates with them, and they want to learn moreâ€”to explore the world, interact with the environment, and experience the adventures contained within it.
Most MMOGs today enable guilds or clans of like-minded players to form within the game. Guilds are a focal point of affinity, and provide a rudimentary unit of government within the game. A guild, taken from the medieval concept of apprenticeship, may be based upon a class of activity (such as blacksmithing or alchemy or farming), upon a game race (elves, goblins, gnomes, etc.) or upon a voluntary association of players. Most are voluntary associations of players who may or may not have known each other previously.
Most guilds require a charter (statement of purpose), some officers, and a minimum number of members (often 10) in order to establish the guild. The charter lays out the terms, describes the interactions among members, and even describes interactions between the guild itself and other guilds in the game. Players usually join a guild/clan whose purpose aligns with their own game goals.
A guild typically starts with predesignated officers (usually the founders) to manage the business and interactions of the guild and recruit new members. They may have elections to choose new officers periodically or allow their officers to rule in perpetuity. Membership is voluntary, and members may resign from the guild at any point. Most guilds have minimum expectations of membersâ€”such things as â€œspend time sharing what you have learned with new players in the guildâ€, â€œtreat others as you would like to be treatedâ€, â€œparticipate in at least one guild-sanctioned hunt/battle per weekâ€, or â€œparticipate in the guildâ€™s online forumâ€. This is the same structure as most virtual communities in areas outside gaming.
Back in 1997, Richard Bartle looked at why people play multiplayer games and determined that itâ€™s not to be an anonymous cog in a group the size of a small city. He said â€œPeople play games because they want to be something other than they are. If people want to feel known, to get a reputation, then there has to be a small knot of people with whom they generally deal, so that this “sense of community” which we keep hearing about can be formed, but not a sense of being a member of a huge community. For people to feel “known” to their peers, the game must be packaged up into smaller communities.â€ 250 people per community seems to be about the optimum size, and perhaps not surprisingly, in the popular MMORPGs today, that seems to be about the optimum size for the larger guilds. So guilds provide both governance and the means to provide players with a sense of belonging to a group where they can be known and make a difference.