Beyond the Legend: A Q&A with The Syndicate Author Sean Stalzer

Updated Fri, Jul 01, 2011 by Ethec

It’s been roughly a year and a half since we talked to Sean “Dragons” Stalzer, CEO and Guildmaster of the longest continuously operating guild in existence (according to Guinness), on the eve of his first book’s release. While Sean’s first book, Legend of the Syndicate, traced the history of the now-14 year old guild into the WoW era, The Syndicate: Beyond the Legend is equal parts documentary and field manual for the creation of stable, durable guilds.

We spoke with Sean about the more controversial aspects of his book, including what the premier online gaming guilds next game might be and The Syndicate’s seeming aversion to free-to-play MMOGs and box-to-play titles (like Guild Wars 2), in our latest The Syndicate interview:

Ten Ton Hammer: First off, writing a several hundred page book while running a 1500+ member guild is no small feat, but you’ve done it twice. Was it easier or harder to write second book?

Sean Stalzer: I think the ideas came more easily, but the process was more difficult. I learned a lot of lessons from the first book. Our first book was more of a documentary – this is where we’ve been, this is why we think we’re great. This one has the historical documenting side, but I look at where massively multiplayer online gaming has been from 2006 to 2011, this is where we’ve been.

But I was definitely more deliberate in the second book, in trying to ensure that the people who buy it and read it get value from it. Half the book is all about the feedback we got from our first book, which was, ‘If you guys are so great, why aren’t you telling anyone how you got to be so great.’ So it’s all about giving people the tools to build a successful online community.

Ten Ton Hammer: It’s interesting that you got that kind of feedback, because from previous conversations you’ve noted that the success of The Syndicate is, to a large extent, not repeatable, especially in this gaming climate. And in the book, based on the number of failed guilds in the fourteen years of The Syndicate’s existence, you peg the odds at 1 in 55 million.

Sean Stalzer: To achieve the same level of success, yea, it’s probably not likely. But my basic premise is that if developers can do things to extend the life of guilds even by a month or two, there’s a lot less drama for the players and a lot more revenue for the developers. Our hope isn’t to create other 15 year guilds competing with us for the opportunities that go along with that; our hope is to achieve greater levels of guild success so that players, in general, have more fun.

the syndicate: beyond the legend

Ten Ton Hammer: From the book, it seems like Star Wars: The Old Republic is a leading candidate as the next game for The Syndicate. Being an entity that exists for the guild, not the individual player, are you concerned that the game seems the game is too solo-centric?

Sean Stalzer: I think what Star Wars does to buy itself time is that, because it’s a story-based game, and each of the classes has its own story. With subclasses, that’s 16 movies you can participate in. Even for people that don’t like to play alts, they may spend some time watching and participating in 16 movies, which gives BioWare plenty of time to crank out endgame content.  

From a player perspective, at worst, you have a year of awesome storytelling, and then at the end of that year, you’ve got two more triple-A MMOs coming out that you can jump into. What the community needs now is a bridge from WoW to the next big thing, or maybe the next big thing.

Ten Ton Hammer: You offered some creepily prescient words in the book on account security. Since the writing of the book, we’ve seen a pretty massive breach of trust between SOE and its stakeholders. Has this affected your by all accounts strong relations with SOE?

Sean Stalzer: We don’t blame SOE for the security breach any more than any other company. What I mean by that is that SOE is probably just as vulnerable as any other company, but for whatever reason, the hackers decided to pick on SOE. Unfortunately, the security posture isn’t where it needs to be, across the board. 

The silver lining is that hopefully this becomes the wakeup call that corporate-level security needs to be beefed up, but so does player-level security. Everyone’s got a role in that. Players shouldn’t be sharing passwords, and I think devs have a responsibility to protect players from themselves. I’d liked to see more baked-in security when you buy the game.

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