Ten Ton Hammer: What was the reaction to you writing Legend of the Syndicate among longtime members of the guild? Were there any objections at first to the seeing some of the cherished memories of such a close-knit, nominally clandestine organization in print?
Sean: The reaction overall was extremely positive. We are a very private guild and have no public forums at all. Yet, we have more than a decade of history and achievements that we are very proud of. The book did afford us the opportunity to both add another achievement to our record and to share some of the things we are very proud of while still maintaining our privacy in areas we deem appropriate.
There is certainly one school of thought that could go something like this: Why would you share information about mistakes that you made? And key decisions you made that helped you become the success that you are? Why not keep that private and not help any other guild compete with you?
Generally speaking, we don’t subscribe to that viewpoint at this stage in our existence. We believe that a strong online gaming community benefits all players and that, in turn, also benefits us. We also believe a strong community is based around more stability in guilds. And finally, more stability in guilds means players keep playing longer which means more revenue for gaming companies which means more money to invest in new titles. And, besides, the information I shared will help create a good guild that is stable and long lasting.
However, there is plenty of “secret” stuff that makes us into what we consider to be a “great” guild that didn’t make it into this book. We do a lot of very unique things that no one else is doing that separate us from the pack. The book is intended to strengthen the community and help out guilds that are interested in learning some time tested techniques to creating a strong community. It doesn’t, however, give away our competitive advantage. There has to be something unique for the next book right?
Ten Ton Hammer: What has been the reaction among existing guild members to the book after its release?
Sean: Overwhelming positive. It is a huge source of pride to be able to walk into a bookstore with your significant other or friends and point to the book and say “See that. That’s MY guild.” When you couple that with the Strategy Guide work we do for Prima Games (such that you can then turn to a number of strategy guides and point to our logo on the cover and say “those are mine too”) Syndicate members have something to be very proud of that is unique in the online community right now.
The book has helped people with job opportunities (‘oh, you are in The Syndicate? I know about them.’). The book has helped smooth over fights with girlfriends who didn’t understand why a person liked to raid (‘oh.. so that’s what this guild thing is that you are in.’) The book has opened a number of new doors for future opportunities for the guild. So the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive because we do have a huge amount of pride in having a book published about us with a ton of copies sold.
Ten Ton Hammer: From the outside, have you seen a wave of prospective recruits since Legend of the Syndicate was published?
Sean: Recruiting has been ‘insane’ for years. With more than 4,000 applications coming in each year it already is quite a time consuming process to process them all even though nearly all of them do not get in. Since the book has come out, traffic to our site has quadrupled and applications are coming in far faster than before. We will definitely set a new record this year on applications received. We will also set a record for the least number of new people added to the guild since we were founded. Due to having virtually no drama and a very low turnover rate coupled with my desire to hold the guild size to roughly where it is right now, we only recruit to fill holes in the guild. Holes generally only develop when people quit online gaming entirely since we rarely lose someone to other guilds. So this will be a year of extremes.
With that said, we never actually close recruiting per-se. We recruit people we are good friends with that share our values, goals, play styles etc… It takes months to develop those friendships so we never actually close recruiting. We may not have a spot for someone today but if they become a good friend, we will likely find them a spot at some point.
Ten Ton Hammer: A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Legend of the Syndicate goes to Youth Opportunities Unlimited, a charity which The Syndicate has supported for a number of years. How did the guild originally become involved with this charity, and can you tell us a little bit about how Y.O.U.'s mission is in line with The Syndicate's goals?
Sean: For many years The Syndicate has had a focus on giving back to the community. It began with a number of popular and free events that we did in Ultima Online (and still continue to do in UO today). When we began our conferences the idea of doing a raffle to support charity came into being as a way we could give back to the ‘real world’ community as well. One of our members was involved with Y.O.U. already. They had an annual fantasy themed festival and we could sponsor a “Knight” in the joust. We raised so much in donations that we sponsored two Knights. From there things took off. Every year at our conference we do a big raffle for Y.O.U. This past year Codemasters, Electronic Arts, Perpetual and Sony all donated to support the raffle and we raised a record amount. We have members that volunteer at their events.
Here is a funny story about a recent way we supported them: Hamburger Helper allows charitable groups to request grants from them. Y.O.U asked for $10,000 for a new park for the kids. Hamburger Helper puts up a site where the community can give show their support for the project. The problem was they didn’t think any project would ever get more than 100 pieces of feedback in support. I guess they didn’t count on a 600+ person organization adopting a charity. So we broke the website. It stopped working and couldn’t accept any more feedback. They fixed it, they said, and relisted the project and we broke it again. I guess they didn’t fix it good enough.
In terms of how Y.O.U.s mission is in line with ours… it is more that there are many great charities out there. They are all doing wonderful things to help those who need it. We often hear about certain ones. You don’t often hear about ones to help inner city kids get a chance to improve themselves. So we decided to throw our support behind a very good cause that doesn’t quite get the headlines some other more popular causes do.