Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Symbiosis in Warcraft: Building the Perfect Guild

Symbiosis is a biological term used to describe the interactions between different living organisms.  Generally speaking, three different kinds of symbiotic relationships exist within the natural world: mutualistic, commensalistic, and parasitic.

Now you may be asking yourself what in the world all this has to do with guild management.  Well, within the ecosystem that is World of Warcraft, a guild can easily be likened to a living organism.  It moves, grows, and seeks to fill various needs.  Similarly each guild member also exists as an independent organism.  The relationship between a guild member and a guild can then logically be defined as symbiotic.  After the bump, we'll walk through the different kinds of symbiosis and how, through a World of Warcraft lens, each type can help or harm your guild.

Seek Out Mutualism

Mutualistic symbiosis is characterized by a natural relationship from which both participants derive benefit.  As a basic example of mutualism, think of the relationship between a flowering plant and a honey bee.  As part of their relationship, the honey bee draws nectar from the flowering plant.  Meanwhile, the plant's pollen attaches to the honey bee and is transported from flower to flower, ultimately allowing the plant to reproduce.  Both the honey bee and the flowering plant benefit from their relationship.

Whenever possible, you want your guild to have a mutualistic relationship with its members.  You want your guild members to bring their talent and attention to the guild's endeavors such that the guild is able to progress and meet its goals.  Simultaneously, you want your guild members to derive a benefit from being a part of your guild as, without some member benefits, retention will become an issue.

To encourage mutualism in your guild, recruit members whose goals and interests are in line with those of the guild.  This approach means that when a guild goal is accomplished, such as defeating a new raid boss, a member's personal goals are fulfilled as well.  The dual benefit which results is symbiotic mutualism and will, over the long haul, create a stable guild which regularly accomplishes its goals.

Tolerate Commensalism

With commensalist symbiosis, only one member of a natural relationship receives a benefit while the other is neither appreciably harmed nor helped by the relationship.  As an illustration, we can once again consider a flowering plant, but this time we will look at its relationship with spiders.  Spiders are able to use flowering plants to build their webs upon.  This benefits the spiders.  The flowering plants, however, derive no appreciable benefit from the presence of the spiders, but are not harmed either.

For a guild, a commensalist relationship with a member can lean in one of two directions: either only the guild receives a benefit or the member receives a benefit.  As an example of the former, think of a situation in which a strong raider assists in clearing an instance where there is no loot for him or her to find.  The guild benefits from the equipment gained by other members, but the particular raider benefits only incidentally.  As an example of the later, picture a raider drawing low level crafting materials from the guild bank.  The materials aren't of any appreciable benefit to the guild, so their loss cannot be said to be a harm.  The individual raider, however, benefits in leveling a profession or gaining crafted equipment for an alt.

Commensalist relationships which favor the player can be healthy for a guild.  Having a stable and varied population is an asset to any guild.  If players are able to derive benefits from your guild, they will join and stay.  So long as the benefits they gain are not at the expense of the guild as a whole, an extra warm body is a positive outcome.

Commensalist relationships which favor the guild, however, can become dangerous.  Players do not shed the need for self-gratification when they enter Azeroth.  They play World of Warcraft because they derive some personal benefit from the experience.  As the game is built upon ascending the virtual power curve, a player constantly engaged in activities which provide no cognizable benefit on his or her character will quickly become discontent.  These players will not only leave your guild for one from which they derive more personal benefits, but they are likely to take resources with them as they go to "even the score."

Though commensalism, particularly which favors members, should be tolerated in your guild, every attempt should be made to shift the relationship towards mutualism.  Often, this simply involves an adjustment in thinking rather than in practice.  Take for example the earlier example of a player running an instance they entirely out-gear.  Though the player may not come away from the run with equipment, the equipment and combat experience gained by other raid members should open up or smooth content the player does have a vested interest in tackling.  Your guild's leadership should take the opportunity to highlight the mutualistic aspects of commensalist acts to create a greater sense of community and purpose in your guild.

Avoid Parasitism

As with commensalism, parasitic symbiosis involves a relationship within which only one member derives a benefit.  Here, however, that benefit is gained at some cost or harm to the other organism.  Returning again to the spider on the flowering plant, when the spider's web snares a honey bee, that bee cannot pollinate the plant.  As a result, the spider's use of the plant to build its web upon has benefited the spider, but the plant has suffered as a result.

Parasitic relationships are toxic to a guild.  A parasitic raider does not contribute to instance runs or the guild bank, but instead only draws loot from them.  A parasitic guild on the other hand draws the benefit of its members skills and effort while selfishly misappropriating any material rewards which may result.  A guild characterized by parasitic relationships lacks longevity as contributing guild members will quickly tire of the drain on their efforts and the parasites themselves will move on once there are no more resources to drain.

To avoid parasitism in your guild, careful screening of applicants is necessary.  If an applicant's goals and attitude are not in line with those of your guild, it will be impossible to craft a relationship which benefits both parties.  If there are already parasitic relationships within your guild, root them out.  Though it may be possible to transform them into healthier forms of symbiosis, parasitic personalities are hard to change and you will always need to be on your guard.


 In the end, the concept of symbiosis applies quite well to the guild-member relationship.  Just as there are healthy and unhealthy symbiotic relationships in the natural world, so to are there in Azeroth.  By encouraging healthy, sustainable symbiosis with your guild members, your guild can become a stronger organism.

Where do you see symbiosis in your guild?  Are there parasites in your guild and what do you do about them?  How do you turn commensalist experiences into mutualistic ones?  Let me know via email or in the comments.


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