Every RPG MMO I have ever played has a guild system hard-coded by the developers based upon a dictatorship. Call that dictator the guild owner, founder, manger, leader or whatever the fundamental truth is that is that the person is a dictator. He or she may be benevolent, may love delegating authority, may even allow democracy to flourish, but the fundamental truth is that there is only one guild owner and they can sell their guild to anyone they want for whatever reason they want at whatever price they want and no guild member can stop them. Much of the social trauma surrounding Warcraft guilds comes from players who worm their way into positions of authority in the guild, ninja the loot, and quit or where the guild owner really does sell the guild out from under the members, essentially exploiting their work.
A broader perspective reveals the anomalous nature of this developer imposed structure. Real world guilds even in America are run on a social democratic model; there is nothing dictatorial about the American Medical Association (doctor guild) or the American Bar Association (lawyer guild) or the American Association of University Professors (educational guild). Even the vast majority of corporations work on a democratic model of governance, at least among the owners (stockholders) of the firm. Outside of single owner small businesses, there are very few examples of social organizations run by an all powerful owner. The guild system in MMOs has more in common with the philosophies of people such as Kim Jong Il or Fidel Castro than they have with modern Western sensibilities.
There certainly isn't any particular programming reason that guilds need to be dictatorships. While changing the programing at this stage in the game undoubtedly requires work, there is nothing in the code itself that prevents Blizzard from implementing a system where, for example, in order for someone to be kicked from the guild a majority of players active in the last week had to vote on the expulsion or where two-thirds of the guild members had to approval of the sale of a guild. It seems to me that guilds are designed as dictatorships more from a unreflected upon tradition than from any cogent deliberation.
Advantages to Democracy
One clear advantage to designing guilds as democratic entities is that it would shift the focus of social contention regarding guilds away from the chat channels and the forums and into the guild itself. If a member doesn't like the way they are being treated there is a tool within the guild to resolve those differences that doesn't depend on the whims of an owner. A member may still be bitter about having their guild sold out from under them but it seems like much less an injustice if two-thirds of their guild mates disagreed and voted to sell. Blizzard was having too much drama surrounding loot so they implemented a system of loot sharing. It seems rational that the solution to the drama surrounding guilds is a system of power sharing, namely democracy.
Another reason to force democracy on guilds is that it increases social cohesion. One of the theories is that drives developers to implement and enhance guilds is the theory that social grouping leads to greater loyalty which leads to sustained subscriptions and thus more profit. But as real world evidence shows, the social cohesion created by dictatorship is inherently artificial and disappears the moment that the central authority disappears. Developer supported democracy encourages organic social growth. Players feel empowered not only by their triumph over the fantasy environment created by the developers, they feel empowered by their contributions to the social unit (the guild) necessary to achieve that triumph. Guild democracy is the formal implementation and recognition of this second contribution.
A third reason for developers to support guild democracy is that it can form an educational experience that carries over into life beyond the game. In America voter participation in elections is often below the 50% level; experiencing democracy within the game can serve the boarder social goal of educating the young for civic engagement and reinforcing that value in older players. It seems contradictory for developers to state that they desire players to participate in a form of social grouping directly at odds with the larger cultural values in which the game exists.
Disadvantages to Democracy
One obvious difficulty with developer supported democracy is that it's an open question whether or not such a model can succeed in an environment where as a practical matter many of the voters (players) are much more transient than in the non-game world, a world where a player may not log on for weeks or months at a time. Rather than encouraging organic social growth, democracy may instead decease or even freeze the process of decision making necessary for the guilds, especially small guilds, to function. Many players are just not as committed to their fantasy game worlds as they are to other social milieu in which they operate.
Another possibility is that players will be discouraged from starting guilds because they are essentially putting time and effort into a social creation which, once created, they no longer have effective control. Most successful guilds are made up of members who do not know each other outside of Azeroth. Finding a group of players that work well together requires an effort that an entrepreneurial player may feel is only adequately compensated for by a model which gives them total control.
A third objection to developer supported democracy is that it eliminates a game play option. As it stands, while the underlying model is dictatorial there is no requirement that this model actually be implemented by the guild manager. If a guild owner chooses they can effectively devise systems to run their guild as democracies; many guilds do just that. Given the diverse range of cultures in which Warcraft is played, forcing players into a democratic model effectively limits their game play options and may cause some players to quit the game.
Cataclysm and Beyond
At Blizzcon 2009 Ghostcrawler made two notable statements about guilds. The first is that the developers believe that people have more fun playing in a guild. The second is that in order to encourage this fun they want to make it more difficult to switch guilds. Assuming that such reports are accurate and assuming that the development team is committed to implementing this approach, how might they go about doing so.
One obvious answer is to create a system of incentives for people to join guilds and and a system of penalties for people who leave guilds. People who join guilds would get benefits from the guild they can get nowhere else such as access to heirloom items for every gear slot. People would be discouraged from leaving guilds by the loss of those incentives or by the loss of anything material they may have contributed to the guild as well as the loss of the social communities they have built up. But this incentive system may crash into the reality that the actual gatekeepers that will determine who benefits from those incentives remains in the hands of a few players, necessarily so because of the fundamental dictatorial structure of the guild as designed by the developers.
Democracy offers an alternative approach. By hard coding guilds to run as democracies, Blizzard can reduce the social trauma surrounding guild decision making, increase the social cohesion of the group which simultaneous increases loyalty to the Blizzard brand and reduces guild turnover, and reinforce the value of democracy to the community at large. Blizzard may find that democracy is not only the greatest good for the greatest number, it's also more fun to more people.
3 hours ago