Thursday, December 4, 2014

4.17. Sculpting Clay

Mature watches the city of Orgrimmar burn
as Deathwing lays siege to Azeroth,

The World Breaks

Tremors shook the ground, elementals burst forth from crevices, ravaging cities and villages as players led the charge to drive them back. Mindless chants of the Shadow Council filled the streets, their bodies adorned with sandwich boards advertising the end of the world. Some of us had already caught a glimpse of the beast. It began as a dark shadow whose awesome presence blocked out the sun. You'd turn your attention to the sky, searching. There, you'd catch your glimpse of a colossal wingspan, blades fanned out revealing the magnitude of the situation. And by this point, it was too late. The blackness of leathery, melted wings slowly turned blood red, which was about the moment a realization set in -- you were burning alive.

Players yelled out idiotic cheers in /General as Deathwing burned them to a crisp, excited that their demise had been rewarded with a sparkling new achievement. Mature stood outside the Horde city of Orgrimmar, and we watched the great city burn while the masses celebrated their first achievement for failing.

On the other side of the screen, we had some real milestones to celebrate. Descendants of Draenor completed its sixth year of activity, and I rewarded the guild with a brand new website. After months of uploading photos, configuring new DKP pools, testing XML imports from raid dumps, and obsessing over geeky content management system configuration options, I introduced my players to the new face of DoD, powered by eqDKP-Plus.

The guild dove in, updating their profiles, importing their character sheets from the WoW Armory, personalized their email alerts and raid schedule notifications, and got a chance to check out the slick integration with achievement histories and World of Logs reports, right from the homepage. I listened in Vent, watched guild chat unfold, and waited to see what the first comments would be when they discovered the image gallery.

"Wow, you wrote a description for every single screenshot in here? God, how long did this take?"

It took as long as it needed to.


Our six year anniversary also marked the eve of the third expansion, Cataclysm. With it, came the promise of new game mechanics, a new level cap of 85, and a broken world to explore. As it was with Wrath of the Lich King and The Burning Crusade before, the changing winds of the game meant DoD would need to adjust its direction as well. The months between the defeat of Arthas and the arrival of Deathwing were spent collecting data, reviewing loopholes, talking to guildies, and consolidating all that I had learned in my six years as guild leader. Once the guild had a chance to enjoy the new website, I pulled back the curtain on what was in store.

The new face of DoD -,
which runs atop the eqDKP-Plus content management system


To begin, I raised the minimum age requirement from 21 to 23. Instituting an age requirement at the start of Wrath provided a much needed balance to the atmosphere of the day-to-day. I never intended it to curtail immaturity, rather, it put so many more of us on the same level. That did wonders for alignment; we spoke the same language, had the same goals, shared the same beliefs. Bonds were much stronger than before.

I toyed with requiring Authenticators early on, to decrease the impact on the guild bank when a hacking occurred. Once Blizzard tied the actual acknowledgement of Authenticators into guild management, I was able to flex this requirement slightly. In Cataclysm, guildies didn't need to have an Authenticator...until they reached a rank where they were dipping into the guild vault extensively to procure mats for flasks, gems, food, etc. There was no sense imposing the "perceived additional annoyance" on players. As before, I empowered them to choose how far up the ladder they wished to climb; it was up to each player to decide if the perks were worth the additional account security asked of them.

Another change I made for Cataclysm came in the form of how I acknowledged referrals. In Wrath (and to a degree in TBC), I hammered home the message that each player was "selling the guild". Every time they stepped into a random dungeon, or ventured into /General, what they said and did reflected upon us. Many of our recruits had come our way via this mechanism; players simply being impressed at how respectful DoD was toward complete strangers. In Cataclysm, I intended on rewarding players with a finder's fee. If their referrals eventually hit a particular rank, they would see a monetary payout as a way to thank them for investing in their guild. It wasn't much, but I wagered several hundred or even several thousand gold might remind guildies how important those referrals were to us.

All of these changes seemed to go by without much notice, but once DoD put their eyes on the changes to ranks and raiding rules, opinions came out in full force.

Elites were gone, and with them, the guaranteed spots in the raid that came with the title. This was perhaps the most noticeable, most invasive change I employed for Cataclysm. "So, nobody gets a guaranteed spot anymore?" No. "So, what's my incentive to raid in the 25?" Consistent rotations. "But isn't that just another way of saying it's a 'guaranteed spot'?" Actually, it isn't. "What's the difference?"

The difference is that one is burdened with the demand of continuous effort, and the not.

The high-end raider of DoD is a player constantly striving for greatness, yet intimately aware of how fleeting their position is. All it takes is for their effort to wane, their attention to drift, and their attitude to sour for a change in rotations to blossom. The Raider/Elite rank system worked well in Wrath, showering the most dedicated players with the greatest perks. It solved the problem of the double-standard, keeping scrubs from reaping the same rewards as the star performers, pulling progression down into the gutter. But, it failed to hold those star performers accountable for their actions once they climbed up on to their respective pedestals; they became untouchable. And while some epitomized the type of role model I wished the entire guild would model themselves after, for others, the title became a self-fulfilling prophecy; their aloofness and grandeur led them to speak in ways that disgusted me, and justify decisions that violated any sense of morality I aimed for.

Take note: language matters. Assign something a label, and you may soon find that everyone believes it to be true...especially if the thing is a person.

In Cataclysm, I removed guaranteed spots in raids. Players who set the greatest examples, provided the deepest insights, and contributed the most value to progression would earn spots that were the least temporary.  Furthermore, there would be no more large groups of players dominating the upper echelon of indignance. Instead, only one of each class would earn that coveted place whose spot was nearly guaranteed. These were the self-motivated players, the ones requiring little (if any) guidance, and consistently made the right decisions. They were the humble amid success, ever aware that a wrong move could cause a fall from grace.

These individuals would come to be known as the Saints of DoD.

Mature joins the server in defense against
the encroaching Elemental attack,

A Trilogy of Trickery

"There are three types of people in the world," the words on the screen explained, "Saints are those that strive for greatness without intervention, and require little management from you. They're always accountable; they always deliver. Perhaps they're fundamentally good people, or they're the right fit for the team -- but whatever the case, they make you look good as a leader...whether you deserve it or not. Reward them and protect them; you don't want to lose them."

I read on.

"Sinners are on the other end of the spectrum. Excuses flow from them like water from a fountain, and can never be counted on to deliver or improve. Maybe they're bad people, or bad hires..."

Or bad players.

"...but they will make you look bad as a leader. Whatever few sinners you come into contact with, make sure you get rid of them if they're on your team, and don't hire them if they're potential candidates."

I sipped my coffee and continued.

"Saints and sinners are a fraction of who you'll encounter. Your attention, therefore, should be focused on most everyone else. They must be molded and shaped, as if sculpting a statue from clay. They are not throw-aways, but they do require investment. With the proper measures in place, you can empower this vast majority to do great things, meet (or exceed) expectations, and cause your team to be an overwhelming success. These are the 'Save-ables', and they are the topic of this book."

"Sometimes save-ables make the right decisions, sometimes not. They'll become an active, quality contributor to your team if the right conditions are met. To know how to put those guardrails in place, you must first understand that save-ables are human beings, vulnerable to the evolutionary wiring established long ago. Specifically, they possess three traits you'll want to pay attention to: They can't read your mind, they're frequently delusional, and they're selfish."

I liked where this was heading.

"Not making your expectations clear and credible equips your followers with all the excuses they need to not perform. It may sound silly to admit, but your team won't know your intent unless you tell them, and you must do so in a way that is unambiguous. Clarifying the modus operandi isn't something you get around to after the work is is the work."

Nice to see you figured this part out, at least. An old lesson, one that helped change the course of our failures in TBC. Everybody showing up to the party, each with their own definition of "fun". Making sure they all knew fun meant "constant, consistent progress" was the first step in turning that boat around. I read on.

"Humans lack the ability for honest self-assessment, a result of our evolutionary wiring. Quick thinking defensiveness saved us from saber tooth tiger attacks, but predisposes us to a self-important agenda. And when we're self-important, it's easy to credit ourselves with successes, while pointing fingers to others for faults. Delusions of a magical land where no one is at fault are suppressed when you ground yourself in empirical reality -- the things you verify with your senses. When you lead by speaking the honest truth, your followers will do the same."

In a single paragraph, the author nailed exactly why folks like Blain were able to enjoy such success in leading -- by speaking the truth. Some people don't want to hear it, but its sets the precedent for thoughtful discussion and debate, rather than finger-pointing and excuse making. The raid team learned quickly that bullshit wouldn't go far with him.

I agreed with the author of the first two counts, but had already learned both these lessons. Perhaps the third would provide insight.

"In our context, selfish doesn't necessarily mean bad. It simply means that humans naturally act with their own self-interest at heart. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner."

I didn't doubt it. "We're here 'till the end, Hanzo!"...remember that? Translation: we're here until it's no longer convenient. Until the loot stops rolling in. Never forget how many of your "chums" are the friendliest of the bunch as a means to ensure their own foot stays solidly wedged in the door. So, what was the book's insight into keeping these self-interested folks on the road I so diligently paved?

"Compelling consequences are necessary to keep your team producing the positive outcomes you intend. Whatever you're rewarding or tolerating, you can bet that your save-ables will give you more of it. Whether positively or negatively, you have a lot more power to influence them than you might think."

Always the softie. You should've tightened the noose long ago. I flipped back to my rules, scanned until I hit the 1st round bidding explanation. There was really no reason for me to be mad. All the explanation that was needed was right there in front of my face, seared into the rule itself. My loot rules were exploited because there was no reason not to; the insignificant cost paid by the winner allowed for it. I allowed for it.

An email alert popped up, turning my attention to the guild management forum. A few hours earlier, I'd laid out the details of the Eh Team "loot collusion", revealed to me by Bheer, along with the notes of my various interviews with the members. The officers were disgusted, and wanted to know what would be done to punish the offenders.

Stripping players of their ranks and spreading the story of their bad judgements to the rest of the guild all seemed more justified, by comparison -- but wouldn't give me any new results. Even if the individual members of Eh Team were to all exit stage right, what was to stop a new generation of Eh Team from filling their shoes? Individual punishments wouldn't give me the behavior I wanted...only one thing would.

"We'll be making 1st round winning bids empty their DKP pool."

I submitted the post, then returned to my reading in the window labeled Leadership Without Excuses.


Anonymous said...

What book were you reading that you quote in "Sculpting Clay"? It sounds like something I'd like to read.

Chris Paterson said...

@Anonymous - see the last line of the post, which is a link.

I just bought the book myself after reading this post. It tends a little bit towards the usual "management book" style, which irks me, but there are lots of insightful anecdotes... I like like it so far.

Moris Gonzalez said...

I was looking up my old guild and look what I found. Cycotic the mage, from vanilla wow.
One of the most fun times I remember was before burning crusade we stopped raiding and steam rolled wsg and ab.

Anonymous said...

"In our context, selfish doesn't necessarily mean bad. It simply means that humans naturally act with their own self-interest at heart. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner."

Acting in your own interest isn't bad, it's when you're unable to look beyond your own interest, and act solely in your own interests at the expense of other people, that it can become an issue.

The things you end up debating in a Political Economy class. XD