Whether we’ve seen it in friends or experienced it ourselves, we have all witnessed gaming burnout. Of course, it is a natural part of the raiding life cycle – but when the conditions are right, it can spread faster through a guild than wildfire through a forest. It can feel like one of the most hopeless situations a GM can face, but by learning the signs and some basic tips on how to deal with them, you may be able to control the spread and come out relatively unscathed – even if it is your thirtieth week staring at the boss’ toenails.

1. Know the signs.

There are two certain signs which almost always predict a massive burnout epidemic: changes in life or schedule, and lulls in content. Caught unaware, either of these situations can quickly make even the most stalwart player listless, and fully ignite any pre-existing inclinations. Unfortunately for guilds, two of the worst culprits are already upon us: summertime, and the pre-expansion downtime.

The good news is that burnout is usually a gradual process, and raiders often show a spectrum of signs when moving from one point to other. These signs are numerous, but some of the most common include:

  • Change in attitude. The guy who normally came to you with a list of complaints every night didn’t finally take your advice to chill out – he might just not care anymore. This goes for any unprecedented attitude changes, but often anger, frustration, and apathy are among the most common.
  • Looking elsewhere. No, not other guilds – other sources of entertainment. To a degree, finding other entertainment is a good thing, but if a raider is spending all of his time in another MMO and barely logs on in time for raid, it may be a warning sign that they’re pulling away.
  • Disappearing act. Although jumping to conclusions is never a good thing, it’s often safe to assume that when normally punctual players start turning up late, or not at all, it’s likely burnout. Whether they let you know or not, the disappearing act usually stretches into long strings of absences until you’ve all but forgotten their names.

2. Be proactive.

Many raiders wait until the damage is nearly irreparable; it is better for the leadership to make the first move. If you think a member might be burnt out, send him a message to see where he stands. The earlier you catch it, the better a chance you have of working out a mutually-beneficial solution, like:

  • Allowing extra time off;
  • Allowing a role-swap to an alt (assuming they’re good at it);
  • Agreeing to swap him in only when necessary (note: do keep in mind the effect this can have on other raiders);
  • Or – if nothing else – seeing if they will agree to remain “on-call” until a suitable replacement can be found.

That last solution is key: while many cases can definitely be helped, there are some which just can’t. It may feel like giving up, but if a raider is adamant that he is done, it’s best to simply let it go. By refusing to accept no for an answer, you will have one very unhappy raider who doesn’t want to be there at all – and in the end, you will only find yourself in the same situation, but with a badly burned bridge between you.

If you do not have one already, consider creating a retired raider rank in your guild: it ensures that those members who retire in good faith still have a home in your guild, even if they’re not raiding at the moment, which in turn helps to foster a lasting guild culture for years to come.

3. Be understanding, but firm.

If a raider has lost interest in the game and no solution can be agreed upon, let him know you understand. However, it is important that you be firm on one point: he is more than welcome to take time off, but his raiding spot is not guaranteed when and if he decides to return. Stating this explicitly allows you to recruit for their spot without causing confusion or anger; it also keeps your guild from becoming a “revolving door” in which there is no consequence for retiring during the “boring parts.”

4. Slow the spread.

Much like a fire, one burnt out player can ignite many others who are teetering on the edge. A proactive GM should consider adding preemptive solutions to curb burnouts before they happen. Consider:

  • Allowing a mixture of alts and mains in your raids. Simply seeing the same content from a new perspective can do wonders.
  • Giving scheduled time off, perhaps one week per month or so.
  • Maintaining a guild community across games. For example, make sections in your guild’s forums to discuss other games, and create guilds (or the equivalent) in the more popular games for your guild to congregate in and maintain their social bonds (while making sure that the guild remains at the forefront).
  • Dedicating some nights to other guild activities, like T14/T15 achievement runs.
  • Starting up a Guild Karaoke Night (mandatory, of course).

5. Don’t fan the flames.

One of the worst things you can do for burnout is to give too much freedom. Think about it: if your guild is built on a foundation of killing content together every week, not doing that can be disastrous. Whether it’s your first kill or your fortieth, the simple act of logging on and spending a few hours crushing content together means a lot for guild integrity. Although it can be tempting (for both parties) to take the month off, the guild will most likely suffer.

6. Focus on the future.

While you can’t magically make WoD release next week, you can do your part in keeping discussion – and interest – alive. Now is the time when you should be planning with your officers about your guild’s goals in the coming expansion and cementing key details in place – why not share those plans with your guild? Doing so allows your guild to weigh in and feel more in the know, rather than in the dark. Plus, they may even give you some ideas!

7. Relax, and wait for the smoke to clear.

Losing members can be hard, especially when those members have been long-standing guildmates or friends, as they so often are. However, it is important to remember that in the end, burnout is natural, and despite all your best efforts there will always be those cases that just can’t be helped. In the end, it is best to let them go gracefully, keep your recruitment active, and keep on pushing forward.

Although it is a difficult time for everyone, burnout doesn’t need to burn through your guild. In fact, by making some simple changes and careful planning, you might actually be able to use burnout phases to strengthen your guild’s structure and resolve. How does your guild deal with burnout?