As a multiplayer gamer for nearly 20 years, I’m inclined to agree with Edward Castronova that online games are a different animal from what game developers have been successful with in the past. It’s more about governance than game design. He said, “What you’re looking for in a sense is a mayor … for all these little communities.” Wouldn’t most guild/clan leaders be surprised to realize that their role in MMOGs is not what they think it is…building a killing machine to take down a dragon or enemy? They are really little burgermeisters or city council members who are responsible for the ordinances, norms, mores, learning and culture that propel the game story forward and make players want to be there. Most of the ones I know would hear that with jaw-dropping disbelief! :)
Drawing on the parallel to communities of practice (CoPs) in the real life world again, it’s obvious that CoPs in a large organization are a valuable way of organizing a business into villages of people around common interests or knowledge. MMOG gaming worlds mimic the closed worlds of large corporations. They reflect a sensibility similar to large Japanese companies in the 20th century–they are self-contained social and cultural worlds. Such organizations help people learn by social interaction, applications of technology and integrating thinking, all in service of doing things they care about.
I’m not a sociologist, but it seems obvious that this has the potential to be a more compelling organizational structure for knowledge workers than traditional top-down heirarchies. Successful MMOG game designers build with guilds/clans as an essential element of game life (and success) in mind. They provide them with tools and special features that let them manage their guilds in the way that best suits each guild within very broad guidelines. They use (freely given) customer knowledge to help improve the game and attract new players. Business leaders can learn from this model.