Over at The Lonely Pally, Nube wrote an article that is the subject of the Blog Azeroth Shared Topic for the week: Who Owns a Guild? As Nube rightly pointed out in his article, in Wrath of the Lich King, players were able to change a guild as easily as they changed their clothes. It was simply a matter of leaving one and joining another, the tag under your character’s name changed and that was as far as it went in-game. In Cataclysm, things are quite different. Starting a new guild is a serious endeavour and the established guilds have a number of benefits over any new guild. Joining a new guild is a serious business as certain benefits are dependant on your reputation with the guild, which is capped over a time-period. This means that guilds (and your membership in them) have value, and people often look to assign ownership to things with value.
Wikipedia defines ownership as the state or fact of exclusive rights and control over property, which may be an object, land/real estate or intellectual property. If we look at this very literally, the owner of every guild is Blizzard. The terms and conditions state that Blizzard own all in-game content, guilds as realised in WoW are part of their intellectual property, hosted on their servers. However, this is a very narrow interpretation of both the term ownership and the concept of a guild.
Firstly, a guild is made up of the members in it, and those members carry out a number of interactions. There are social interactions as they chat to each other, intellectual interactions as they exchange ideas and business transactions as they trade and craft items. In a raiding guild there are also a number of shared experiences between a team of players – for example Rebound recently wiped on Chimaeron when he had 8,000 health left and on the next attempt achieved the Full of Sound and Fury achievement thanks to some inspired kiting by a pally tank. The sour note of wiping to the lowest remaining health many of our members had seen combined with the unexpected pleasure of an achievement led to an experience that bound that particular group of players closer together.
The interactions between members continue outside the game as well, which is why the original ownership idea does not apply – when a guild moves outside of WoW and therefore outside of the environment Blizzard created and controls, it can be argues it becomes an entity with no single owner. If you look at the website of an established raiding guild it is a microcosm of society itself, there are people who want to join your group, people with gripes and complaints, leaders, followers and everything in between. How can this sprawling mass of humanity be owned by any one person or one ownership structure?
Ultimately, a guild is directed by the guild master and officers, but it is not owned by anyone. There are in-game perks generated by successful or long-standing guilds, and there are connections between members that have only come into existence because of the guild, but as soon as two members strike up a friendship that goes outside of the game it becomes an entity that cannot be owned or controlled. Successful guild leaders recognise this and even encourage it, and as soon as it happens the guild they lead is no longer entirely owned by them.