Celebrating 15 Years of Epic Adventure
Fifteen years ago I joined my first MMORPG called Dark Age of Camelot while it was in the beta phases. When the game came out it was shortly after my daughter was born and I found myself with a lot of time late at nights to play. I joined up with a guild, who a few players I liked were a part of. Through my time there I saw a stigma against players who could not put in the time required by their guild mandates.
Players were outcasted because of their lack of "commitment". As a new father and caring person, this didn't sit well with me and I ended up departing amicably. Once I was off on my own I setout to make a home for the players like myself that are just happy to be able to have some time to play and can't commit to fixed schedules. I ran across Breel and Caelliu in Tir na n0g, the capital city of the Hibernian and asked them to help me form a guild. I also met a lad by the name of Bondon who wanted to join as well. With the help of 4 other good samaritans we created Gaiscioch na Anu as a casual friendly roleplay community.
Years went by and everything was awesome. We leveled up together, held adventures for new players, and even hunted and killed dragons. We eventually found our way into Realm vs Realm combat and really took to it. This would eventually become our focus and would be the thing that our community was known for.
After 5 years, life pulled me away from the game and I was forced to bow out of the original community. I went through a period of 2 years of all the hells life can throw at a person and found myself getting depressed and lost. This is when two familiar faces, along with my good friend Don and new found friend and future wife, Juliana, encouraged me to rebirth the community in Warhammer Online. Caelliu and Breel would assist me in resurrecting the community and bringing it back to it's former glory. In fact within the first six months our community boom passed our original peak and began to soar.
Adapting to Growth
In Warhammer Online we began to realize the bigger we got the more organized we had to be to hold everything together. We upgraded our website and created an event system with event claiming that awarded players points. We had a leaderboard to see who was participating the most and even had some badges players could earn for taking certain objectives a number of times.
As we grew we met the guild cap of Warhammer Online, giving us an all new experience. This was the first time we were put into a position like the guild I was originally with, where there were too many mouths to feed and not enough space to feed them all. Instead of taking the same route as my original guild, I decided to use the Alliance system as a guild system and we launched a second Gaiscioch in the form of Gaiscioch na Nuada. Within 6 months that one was full too and we created Gaiscioch na Morrigan. At our peak we had four Guilds open, all of which used the alliance system as our primary form of communication. This multi-guild system helped us survive without needing to kick people out for not playing enough.
By the time we hit RIFT we were 800+ active players. When word got out that we were heading to RIFT, players began to flock in droves. I'm not quite sure what exactly caused the rush, but on launch day of RIFT our final head count was 1,400 players,with over 3,200 characters in the guild. As you can imagine, managing that many people was quite difficult.
I spoke to Scott Hartsman about creating a way to export the roster into a text file and he said that was certainly something they can do. They added the /dumpguild command into RIFT which would export a XML file, with all of your roster information including ranks, levels, and last login dates. We would use this file to build a parser that would import all characters on the roster into our website. This allowed players to claim their characters. Once they had their characters claimed, we built a macro generating script that would automatically match players ranks on our website with the player ranks in game across all of their characters. Instead of manually promoting over 3,200 characters the script made it cakewalk.
I learned early on that there are a few things any larger guild needs to think about and keep on the forefront of their mind.
- Players Chase Numbers - From birth we are compelled to drive numbers higher. Whether it's statistics in a sport, a paycheck or a grade point average, the higher the number the better. By placing a numerical value to players participation it compelled players to check in on the website multiple times a day to claim participation and watch their numbers grow.
- Players Want Recognition - Achievements, ceremonies, and generally any way you can highlight someone's accomplishment goes a long way to building a connection with your community.
- Optimization & Automation is Essential - If you grow and do not optimize your organization to run as smoothly and as hands off as possible, your life goes from playing games to managing games. For a while there my time was spent more out of game, managing things than in game enjoying the game I'm playing. Avoid that like the plague and make sure wherever you can automate you do.
- Growth is Scary - I'll be honest, I never saw myself as a leader. When things started growing, I had to step out of my comfort zone quite a bit and become what I am today. Growth was terrifying at first. I had no idea what I was doing and I was trying to make everyone happy and sometimes it just doesn't happen. The key is to realize that the fear of growth is normal, and as things grow you will adapt and grow more comfortable with the situation. Keep focus on your goals and make sure that your growth doesn't change your direction and focus.
- Democracy Hurts - This may just be my experiences, but I have never lost so many members when I put something to vote. People feel slighted when they don't get their way in a poll. It fragments and divides people. I have found better success making the decisions based on voicing ideas to trusted long time members who see your vision for the community. Then gather feedback and make an educated decision on where you feel the community needs to go to fulfill your vision. This way there is only a singular point of difference and there are no lines drawn dividing your community members.
- Don't Try To Please Everyone - This is an impossible feat and you will drive yourself and your community into the ground emotionally. Every person brings a unique background to the community, everyone has their own goals for their play time. Sometimes they don't line up with the community you're trying to build. You need to be ok with people leaving your community to find a better fit. Forcing them to stay or guilt tripping them into staying will just create a fracture that in the end will cannibalize a larger chunk of your community.
I learned the hard way that you can't please everyone. Trust me I tried and time and time again I found myself heartbroken when things went sideways. It wasn't until I realized that I'm marketing apples to people who want to buy a steak. If Bob wants a steak, point him at a good streak joint and he will thank you for it. You need to market your community to the people you want and stay true to them. Don't try to be something you're not and stick with your original focus. This in turn lets your community grow naturally with like minded individuals while keeping the people who wish to change you at arm's length.
It wasn't until 2011, our 10th year, that we suffered our first known loss. Roger "Oldroar" Rall's passing shook our community hard. I didn't even know how to handle it. Not only was I devastated by the loss of a friend but I had to be strong for the community and be a sounding board for so many rampant emotions.
It was the first time I ever had to be in a position like that and I can tell you, that was scary, and heartbreaking. I never in a million years saw myself in that role of being a grief counselor and community leader, while saying farewell to a dear friend.
After Roger's passing I felt we needed to do something for him. He was an avid fan of Guild Wars 2 and was the main reason we looked to the game as a chapter expansion. We began our letter writing to ArenaNet to have a server named after him. Today those letters still line the halls of ArenaNet. Additionally we decided to up the ante and send a massive amount of sugary treats over the holidays and dubbed it our cookie zerg. Our first request was denied, but after a few email exchanges and a hard push by the community lead at the time we were successful in immortalizing Roger. Additionally ArenaNet would also place a NPC that told Oldroar's story. We held a Memorial for Roger a week after launch at the Shaemoor Garrison and over 760 people from Guild Wars 2, Warhammer Online, RIFT, and World of Tanks entered our voice server to show their support for their fallen comrade. We filled 4 entire map instances and spent time sharing our favorite stories and memories.
It by far was one of the most moving events in my time running Gaiscioch. Unfortunately it would not be the last loss we suffered. In 2015 and 2016 we would suffer 4 more losses all of which were unexpected and sudden. We lost 2 of our Eldership team Jexia and Morrigana, a long time member Zudrot and one of our major event leaders Paleus.
We decided to make a tribute to them in our Guild Halls in Guild Wars 2: Public Community Events guild SORC and in our main Guild Hall in Gaiscioch na Rall. The memory of these five champions of Gaiscioch lives on at these in game memorials, as well as, our hearts. We've also immortalized our loved ones with tributes in other games like Neverwinter and RIFT to ensure their legacy continues on. We even created a rank within our community that forever marks them as legends of the family.
Loss is a very hard thing to handle as a leader. Having to be strong for everyone but also having time to allow yourself to grieve is very important. Looking back I look to our five champions for inspiration to keep going and to stay true to the mission they helped build. I know it's an inevitable fate but I honestly never thought about this side of Guild Leadership.
Hosting Massive Events
Back in Dark Age of Camelot I received my first taste of hosting public community events. The first was our Dragon Raids of Hibernia which lasted over 2 years. We threw ourselves at that jolly green dragon every week in hopes of seeing it die. It took us nearly a year to finally kill it and when we did over 200 people were in attendance. It was comical when we realized that it was trying to heal everyone that was killing us in the end. When we finally killed it we had no direct healing, we used every healer to resurrect the dead and keep people in the battle. It was a far fetched idea but in the end it worked. After that we managed to get the dragon on farm mode and it became a weekly high point for the Hibernian players of Nimue.
By year four we had taken the public event life to Realm vs Realm and lead some massively organized assaults on our enemies. We used a lot of false reports and smoke screens to edge our way into our enemies home territories and even managed to steal a few relics. One of my favorite moments was capturing the Cauldron of Dagda from the Midgards and I remember running the relic back, dodging enemy zergs and using the terrain to our advantage. We were so outnumbered nobody thought we'd pull it off, but somehow we did it.
The idea grew in Warhammer Online and we launched the Battle for Badlands, which literally drew hundreds of players on both sides to the battlefield each week. One particular week we drew over 700 players into the same zone, which caused alarms to go off at the server facility. I remember getting a text from my friend Andy Belford, an employee of Mythic Entertainment at the time, saying "What the hell are you doing? Alarms are going off". It was quite a spectacle to say the least.
By the time we hit RIFT and launched the Telara Saga things had grown quite considerably. Our final siege of Meridian in Season 1 would result in an entire group of servers dropping, this time with more than 800 players participating.
For Guild Wars 2 we decided to tone it back a bit as server instancing made it difficult to manage. We had several Gaiscioch members that bowed out of the events to allow other outsiders to participate, and we even ran a series called the Legendary edition that ran four times per week to fit into people's schedules.
Community events have always been one of my favorite things to run. They’re big, they’re chaotic, and they have a ton of memory making moments that players soon won't forget. Most of all I love seeing people have a great time.
For anyone that is thinking of housing a public community event I suggest:
- Speak to the Development Team - You need to know your limits and a lot of the time developers can help promote your events and ensure that things go smoothly.
- Stay Calm - One thing that I learned early on is that your emotions carry onto others. If you're stressed others will be stressed. If you’re laid back and happy others will be happy.
- Plan for things to go Unplanned - No matter how much you prepare, things will always go sideways. Be ready for that and expect it. If you expect it, you will handle it when it comes a lot better.
- Prizes bring People - If you're growing an event, realize that loot is your biggest attractor. People like to win, they like to have their bags fill with shineys. Awarding shinies or providing events that reward shinies will always perform better.
- Create a Website - Giving players a place to learn more about the event is essential. This will be a great place to post the schedule, and any updates you have. Communication will be your single most important tool in running a successful event.
- Have a Support Team - Don't try hosting a large event alone. That is unless you really like that gray hair look. Community events are stressful and take a team to manage successfully.
- Do your best to connect with the community - Personal connection goes a long way into growing your events and keeping people coming back.
There is a side of Gaiscioch that not many know about and that's our athletic side. Over the years we've had Flag Football, Bowling, and Softball teams in two different states. We actually launched the Gaisicioch Flag Football team in San Jose, Ca in the fall of 2001, the same year we launched the gaming community. We played in San Jose until 2003 when I merged the team into another team to play at the competitive level. Eventually life took me north and I relaunched the team in Eugene, OR for two years and later relocated to Portland, OR where we have grown to include up to three consecutive teams playing year round playing in two different leagues. While gaming is our passion, sometimes it's good to get away from the keyboard. To date we have won two Championships and one Regional Tournament.
In 2014 we had a crazy idea during one of our community meetings. Why not create a digital magazine? We had the tools, we had the personnel, we knew a lot of people in the industry, sounds like fun right? We created it as a haha wouldn't that be funny if we had a magazine, and it has turned into a legit publication with more than 25,000 readers. We are even recognized as a member of the gaming media now and receive invites to all of the big tradeshows and conferences.
This was another thing I put together that I never expected to turn into what it has today, but I'm glad it has. We love games, we love talking about games, and we love talking to people who love games. We set out with a simple idea of publishing a magazine centered around the gamer life and have grown into a 190+ page quarterly magazine.
This magazine has allowed me personally to do things I never dreamed of. Just last issue I interviewed Cris Ortega, one of my inspirations behind joining the digital art movement. I have managed to interview Ivan Torrent, Mark Jacobs, Matt Firor, Colin Johanson, Scott Hartsman, and meet a wealth of people I could never dream of meeting.
I highly recommend becoming a content producer. Whether it's through livestreaming or writing, the opportunities it opens are remarkable. I never for a moment regret creating Gaiscioch Magazine and even though I have never made a dime, and spent hundreds on it, this little magazine has given me priceless opportunities that I otherwise would have missed. I am forever grateful to our community for helping make this magazine what it is today and am honored to be a part of this team.
Shortly after we created the magazine we began playing with the livestream idea. We originally launched the Streams of Epic Adventure, which setout to highlight various MMORPG and cooperative titles, however once Smitty and I caught stream fever it turned into so much more. I launched the Side Quests livestream focused on playthroughs and first looks, and shortly thereafter Smitty launched his Smitty Streams, an indie game focused livestream filled with hilarious moments. Now most recently we launched the Weekend Warriors livestream that highlights team play games and Twilah's Travels, which is a weekly stream centering around World of Warcraft and a few other small group games.
These have been amazingly fun to put on but definitely have their trying moments. We've been at it more than two years now and are just now starting to develop a regular community of attendees.
By the time we landed in Elder Scrolls Online, it became apparent that there were so many new MMO's on the market that we were seeing our members disperse in all directions to jump on the latest greatest thing. Sometimes it would last a few months, other times it was much longer. We first tried the idea of creating a sister guild Saighdear and having them all be free standing, but without the organization and support the Saighdears didn't have a chance of survival. We took it back to the drawing board and built a support system for them. Once it was ready we redeployed it as the Social Adventures using the Gaiscioch as it's foundation, and using our commonly known acronym GSCH as it's identifier.
The key with social adventures was allowing our members to play anything they wanted and still build progression toward their Gaiscioch Rank. It didn't matter if a player was playing Hello Kitty Online, World of Warcraft or having a good ole D&D Tabletop game on the internet. Gaiscioch Members that grouped together to explore other worlds could claim events and build their Social points. They even could unlock badges in each game showing their expertise.
The Changing Sea
What started as a single guild in an early MMORPG has turned into a huge gathering of friends. While the games changed there was one part that transitioned across them all. The website. It serves as a home for our community and ties everything we do together.
We've moved away from being an "in game" community to being a website based community that plays games together. We even have members that participate in our events and community but are part of other guilds in game.
In the coming years I suspect this will continue it’s coarse and the in game association will become less important than the out of game comradery. For us it's never been about the tag above someone's head, it's been about the smile on their face. We want to create happy people, exciting adventures, and lasting memories. That's our end game and regardless of what we do and where we go it will be our focus.
The future of Gaiscioch is something I'm always looking at. Being able to see the road and adapt to changes as they come has allowed us to stay consistent and stable over the years. While there is an over abundance of games that are cracking down on larger guilds and communities, I am confident that we will find a place to belong in this world.
Until then we are looking toward the past, returning to some of the games that made us fall in love with MMORPG's in the first place. Time will tell, but one thing is for sure, we will be here, we will entertain, and we will unite. Whether big or small or somewhere in between, we do what we love, and love what we do. As long as your passion meets your dreams, anything is possible.
I can say one thing for certain. I look forward to looking back at this article in fifteen years and seeing where we've gone. This journey has been one epic ride and I couldn't think of a better set of people to share it with. There is so much passion in the community and it's remarkable to see it all work.
About the Author
Benjamin "Foghladha" Foley
Benjamin founded the Gaiscioch Social Gaming Community in 2001 and has since been the founder & activities director for this well known community. His role has gone beyond just running the Gaming Community and now includes running the Athletics Program in Portland, Oregon, as well as acting as the Managing Editor of the Gaiscioch Magazine, and is the Lead Producer on the Gaiscioch Livestream Productions. Additionally he networks with game developers to form relationships between Gaiscioch and development studios.
His experience in publishing dates back to helping his Grandparents who operated a printing press for over 40 years. In high school and college Benjamin excelled in journalism and played an active part in the school newspaper. Benjamin currently works full time as the director of technology for a franchise trade publication & education company.