This post was resurrected from Chick GM.

So unless you’re living under a rock, then you know they’ve announced the launch date for World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor – November 13th, 2014. And, unless you’re still under that rock, you also probably know that the 6.0 Public Test Realm servers are now live, and that the patch itself is due for launch roughly a month before Warlords is released.

(Also, if you are living under a rock, stop. First, rocks aren’t comfortable homes. Second, if you’re going to be a good leader you need to know what’s coming and prepare for it.)

Now, if you’re anything like me, the release date was the trigger you’ve been waiting for to start making solid Warlords plans. Sure, I’ve been keeping up with Beta information, but always with a grain of salt – because, well, it’s Beta. I don’t mean to be cynical, but I’ve seen a few expansion launches in my time (all of them, to be exact) and as such, I’m not about to go up-in-arms about Beta information until it’s written in something more solid than a flavorful gelatin product that I’m sure has a trademarked name. But let’s face it: a two-month timeline on the release means it’s time to start taking Beta and PTR information more seriously. Because nothing changes the game more than a vertical expansion – and those changes affect no one else more than guild leaders.

So, as an online leader, what does an expansion mean to you that it doesn’t mean to other people? (Conversely, if you’re a member, what should you expect to see your leadership do for preparation, and how can you help them?)

The most important thing a vertical expansion provides is an opportunity for change.

Quick Talk: What Is a Vertical Expansion?

Gamer theorists have identified two types of expansions in virtual worlds: vertical and horizontal. A vertical expansion is any expansion which requires a character’s growth (leveling) in order to reach new content. Meanwhile, its counterpart – the horizontal expansion – provides more content and items to be acquired, without requiring character growth to reach them. So, the SoO patch could be considered a horizontal expansion, while Warlords of Draenor is a vertical expansion.

Vertical expansions create change by requiring us all to level. The gear advantage that we have acquired and the barriers that prevent equal progression disappear, effectively shaking the Etch-A-Sketch of gear hierarchy and forcing us to draw a new picture. In addition, the class balance Etch-A-Sketch will also be shaken, and we’re going to have to relearn our “new” classes and roles (so maybe you won’t need an army of Disc Priests to conquer content? It’s a scary new world out there). Your raiders realize that the playing field has leveled, and you should too.

So in the face of all this potential change, what does an online leader do?

Step 1: Do an internal check.

Find out what aspects of the game you are willing to focus on, both as a leader and a member of a guild. Then keep your mouth shut about them so that you don’t influence the others and you get honest feedback.

Internal doesn’t only mean you, however; it means all “internal” members of your guild. If you can, start discussing the guild’s focus with your officers. It’s best to start broad (but not too broad) and work your way into specifics, so try opening up with a thread about where they want to see the guild in the next expansion. Once you get a feel for that, and everyone is on the same page, begin to look at what you would need to change, strengthen, or cut in order to get to that point. Your recruitment processes, your guild rules, attendance policies, loot distribution, conflict resolution – all of these need to be analyzed.

Try not to influence them too much, but don’t hold back your opinions either. The key to a stable guild going forward will be having all of your officer core in agreement so that everyone is excited and motivated to make the guild the best it can be.

Step 2: Do a popular opinion check.

Sure, right now you’re a casual guild, but what secret hopes do your guildmates hold? Let’s face it, not everyone is going to be on the same page. This step makes sure that you figure out who wants to go in what directions – and if the guild is in agreement with what your officer core is thinking. It may turn out that now is the time that your teammates want to start some raiding – or that your raiding guild is tired and wants to take a step back – and you’ll never know if you don’t ask them. Even if you think you know from this expansion, some people’s opinions are going to change as the possibility of change is higher.

Keep in mind, this step shouldn’t be confused with “do whatever everyone else wants to do” – at the end of the day, you need to remember that you are the guild leader, and just because some people want to take a step back doesn’t mean that you need to throw on the brakes on your competitive progression plans. That’s why I sometimes give this step another name: risk management. At the very least, doing a canvas of your guildies will give you a good idea of who’s here to stay, and who might be on the brink.

The easiest way to do this step, in my opinion, is simply to approach each member of the guild over a period of time. While doing a literal “poll” can be somewhat effective depending on your goals, it can be difficult to elicit true feedback from such a method. Furthermore, by engaging your members in conversation, you’ll be able to react to their responses and really get a feel for each person’s concerns as well as their desires, instead of being black-and-white.

Step 3: Put it all together.

Take your polls, comments, and concerns, and put them in three categories: the leadership, the core, and the future (your newer members). Take a while to look over them and compare/contrast. Once you have a good idea of where everyone lies, it’s time to put it all together into a cohesive plan:

  • If your leadership, core and future are all in alignment: the future path is clear and your life is beautiful. Give your guild recruitment leader/process a pat on the shoulder and start working on your path.
  • If your leadership and core are in alignment but your future is out of alignment: let your future know that you’ve heard their views but that the guild is not going to change to meet their expectations. They are welcome to stay on if they’ll accept the current guild path, but you won’t begrudge them if they look for a guild more inline with their desires. Then take a hard look at your recruitment process and make sure you’re clearly stating the guild focus and asking people about their goals within that process, as a future out of alignment can hint that this may not be the case.
  • If your leadership and core are out of alignment: this sucks. If there is room for compromise, I highly recommend exploring that opportunity first. If not, then one focus has to win out. I will refrain from commenting about which I believe should win out and only say that no matter which side goes the guild has a hard time of rebuilding ahead of it. Whichever side wins, let the guild know as soon as possible so that everyone can make plans. If you are stepping out of the leadership position, a gracious last act would be to help the guild establish their new leadership to the best of your abilities.

Step 4: Lay the groundwork.

Now that you’ve found your guild’s expansion path, it’s time to lay the groundwork.

  • If your guild is continuing along it’s old path: this work is fairly easy. You’ll need to look over all your publicly available information to make sure it’s updated for the coming expansion (applications, website, etc) and you might want to use that time to look over your guild rules to ensure that what you have documented is actually what you’re enforcing.
  • If you’re making a path change: let your guild know right away, so that people know what to expect out of the guild for the future and can make plans accordingly. Then take a look at the guilds on your server who are currently on your desired path. Read all of the guild’s publicly available material and, if you are fortunate enough to be able to find a leader in another guild who is willing to answer your questions, remember that this leader is also preparing his/her guild for the future and you should use the time they make available to use wisely. Armed with this information, you’ll have a good idea of what other guilds offer and their structure. From there you can work with your leadership to determine what you can offer and what new responsibilities and structure need to be doled out. While you’re discussing this, think about how your guild can differentiate itself from your peers in your chosen niche and be sure your recruitment process capitalizes on this distinction.

What about you – are you planning on changing your guild’s focus for the future (or have you already done so in the past)? What steps have you taken?