Thursday, August 11, 2011

Comparative review of books for guild leaders

Reviews of items that a blogger received as free sample always carry a whiff of writing for profit, and open up the question of whether the writer’s opinion was influenced by the gift. Fortunately I am a slacker, so I managed to accumulate two very similar items I received as review copies. That should hopefully make a comparative review more believably balanced.

The contenders are The Guild Leader’s Handbook, written by Scott F. Adams and published by No Starch Press and The Guild Leader’s Companion, written by Adam “Ferrel” Trzonkowski from Epic Slant, self-published by Epic Slant Press.

Before discussing content, some technical remarks: The Handbook clearly beats the Companion in technical quality. It is a professionally produced book, with better layout, more text per page, and all the bells and whistles like an index at the end. The Companion still is okay, but the layout is clearly less professional, the line spacing is oddly large, and there is no index. But then the Handbook has a list price of $24.95 including E-book (cheaper at Amazon without), and the Companion is $7.65.

Both books have the same purpose: Giving guidance to guild leaders. They talk about managing your guild, recruitment, successful raiding, loot distribution, how to deal with guild drama, and similar subjects. Anybody who has ever read a book about management will quickly realize that these guild leader books are essentially management advice books. The Companion even names his chapters after departments you’d find in a company, like human resources, accounting, public relations, and production. That is logical, because running a guild is essentially a management position. On the one side this means the books are full of advice you might have heard before if you ever visited some management training. On the other side you can read these books and pick up some useful tips about management situations in your job while reading about guilds in MMORPGs. Ferrel’s five guiding STAFF principles are sound advice to anybody being in any position of responsibility in his job.

Both books claim to cover all sorts of guilds, and the Handbook has an extra chapter on PvP and role-playing guilds. But the core of both guilds is the classic raiding guild, thus raiding and loot distribution are well covered. That is not a random choice: A raiding guild is quite obviously very much in need of good management, while some ultra-casual role-playing guild might be okay with some more free-wheeling governance.

From the writing style, the Handbook is the easier read. It is written in a lighter style, and breaks up the text with tables and flowcharts. It also frequently phrases its advice in a more detailed way, for example giving advice on how to name a guild, or how to host a guild website and voice chat. There is a more frequent use of publicly known examples of what happened with guilds in various online games, and other references to common knowledge. The Handbook is the more complete of the two guild leader’s books, with a better chance for you to find the information you need. The downside is that by presenting the issues in a light manner as an entertaining read, the advice is not always really practical. For example the chapter describing various types of people behavior you might encounter in your guild in terms of a system of character classes and specs is a good read, but not necessarily helpful in managing a guild.

The Companion is probably better suited for people who already have a bit of guild experience. It doesn’t cover quite as many subjects, but it covers them somewhat deeper. That leads to mixed results depending on what you are looking for, some people will enjoy 35 pages of annex with detailed written policy examples for guild rules, others will consider that a waste of space. The book is less entertaining to read, but ends up being more serious about guild leadership. There are fewer examples, and they usually come from Ferrel’s own experience, not from events you might already have read about elsewhere. The strength of the Companion is how obviously serious the author is taking guild leadership, but the downside of that is how this makes the Companion the far gloomier of the two books.

In a way the two books are complementary, so if you want the best possible preparation for becoming a guild leader you might consider reading both of them. If not, I’d recommend The Guild Leader’s Handbook for absolute beginners and people who just want to read something entertaining about the subject. The Guild Leader’s Companion I would recommend to those who already have some ideas about guild leadership but would like a deeper and more serious discussion of the subject.

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