Over my many years of experience in MMORPG's I have seen many guilds and many types of leadership and guild structures. However, as I am approaching the actual writing proposal of my dissertation I am noticing more and more patterns of interaction in a game that mirrors real life. After all we are real people behind these characters, with real pasts and real experiences that contribute to our online persona's. I see an online game as a system within the system of life. The game is not made of individuals nor are we free of the constraints of our own contextual interactions within this greater system. We are more then just the sum of our parts.
Structural systems theory applies particularly well to the guild aspect of the game. Whether it be a guild, linkshell or kinship it is a substructure within the game that contains its own inherent set of spoken and unspoken rules. Just as the family system has a hierarchy, so does the guild structure. In addition to this hierarchy we have boundaries between the subsystems of a guild as well as expected patterns of interaction. Below I outline some of the familiar traditional guild structures and the according structural components.
The Dictatorship- Probably one of the oldest and most classic types of guild structure. There is a clear hierarchy defined here with one person, "the guild leader" clearly at the top of the decision chain. The remaining guild is separated into members. Now the boundaries between the members and the leader can also be varied. A guild with rigid boundaries would not welcome as much input from the members, and typically what the guild leader says is what goes. A guild with clear boundaries has a leader who has arranged for a cooperative flow of information from the members, and from themselves to them. The Dictatorship with clear boundaries is often the most functional and successful among this guild type. Finally, a dictatorship with diffuse boundaries is one in which members are frequently crossing the lines into leadership, yet the leader still attempts to have the final word. This often leads to confusion and drama and is the least functional version of this type of guild.
Note: Typically because of the risk of instability of a guild and increased pressure on a dictator to handle all the affairs, it is common for the leader to choose a confident whom he may designate co-leader or leader in his stead. This decreases pressure from the guild leader and can reduce burnout. This is an adaptation of a dictatorship, but also is typically the healthiest version of this guild style (think mother-father parenting dyad).
The Ranked guild (think military)- This is the guild that has established itself primarily with specific rules and structural components in mind. The ranks can vary in size from 3 ranks to 20+ A traditional military guild might utilize a officer system in addition to a sub officer system. A system like this is highly structured in a way so that each member has a small set of job functions to perform and delegates up or down the chain as necessary. This is another clear hierarchy that most often contains rigid boundaries between the subsystems. Often times this is a guild so preoccupied with maintaining its structure it becomes incapable of real progress as its own structural functioning becomes too limiting. Members in this guild often complain of feeling that leadership is out of touch or inaccessible.
The Officer Guild- The Officer guild is another popular model in which the hierarchy consists of a team of individuals that work cooperatively to make decisions for the guild. An original guild leader or the founder may or may not take a higher position in this substructure. The number of officers can vary from 2+. Many times the officers have clearly defined roles such as raid leader, banker and recruitment etc. Other times the officers may function as a group to make decisions for the guild for loot distribution (ie; loot council). In an officer run guild with rigid boundaries officers will frequently interact with each other more then the members, which can lead to problems. A guild of this type with clear boundaries will have room for communication but not coercion. Officers with clear boundaries would interact as a team and not undermine each other in front of members. If this type of guild has diffuse boundaries we get the "too many chiefs, not enough Indians" effect. In addition the diffuse boundaries will confuse members and often lead to member coalitions vs the officers (think of mixed or blended family in which the parents and step-parents are involved in parenting).
The No body's in charge guild- This is perhaps one of the most difficult type of guild to maintain its own structure. In effect it has no hierarchy and all the members are on the same level. Some strictly social guilds may have this structure or groups of friends that play together in real life. The boundaries are diffuse as there is no hierarchy. This structure is difficult to maintain because of the individual personality factor variable. Due to people's own experiences and there genetic predisposition to either introversion or extroversion there will always be people vying for leadership like positions. A herd of sheep does not typically make their own path and this guild type will invariably experience conflict (think of the sibling subsystem with no parents).
So what type of guild do you function best in? Will you strive towards experiencing a different "family" structure or will you be drawn to repeat it. My own personality will predispose me to needing a stronger structure and clearly defined roles to function in. I will absolutely and perhaps unconsciously assume roles of leadership when there is none, but I also value a free flow of communication and feedback. I enjoy officers in a game who are accessible and open to feedback (even if they do not take it). Given the opportunity with weak leadership and diffuse boundaries I would take a more manipulative stance, however, with a strong hierarchy and clear boundaries I am content just doing my job or role as a member.