If you look at the Guild Relations Forums, there are a lot of posts of (ex-)Guild Masters decrying the new Guild Takeover mechanisms. This is where, if a GM does not log on for an entire month, the next highest ranked officer can take over the GM position, demoting the original GM. A lot of the GRF regulars are responding that:
- This was the policy all along, it just required a Help ticket previously.
- You can't really be a good GM if you don't log on for a month.
- If you are going to be gone for a month, you should promote someone trustworthy to the second-in-command rank.
These points are all correct, but I feel that they are missing something. Something about how the relationship between guild and the individuals in guilds has changed over WoW's history, and something about the nature of ownership.
Ownership is complicated concept. To own an item implies that one has a great deal of control over that item, often absolute control. If I own a chair, I can sit on it, move it around, paint it, disassemble it, burn it, chop it to pieces, sell it, give it away, or any other myriad options.
Conversely, if there exists an object to which I can do all of the actions above, then for all intents and purposes, I "own" that object.
In common parlance, a corporation is "owned" by the shareholders. But that relationship is not the same relationship as my ownership of my chair. In fact, it is so different that several academics declare that using the word "own" is wrong and misleading. As Professor Stephen Bainbridge of UCLA puts it:
Ownership implies a thing capable of being owned. To be sure, we often talk about the corporation as though it were such a thing, but when we do so we engage in reification. While it may be necessary to reify the corporation for semantic convenience, it can mislead. Conceptually, the corporation is not a thing, but rather simply a set of contracts between various stakeholders pursuant to which services are provided and rights with respect to a set of assets are allocated.
Because shareholders are simply one of the inputs bound together by this web of voluntary agreements, ownership is not a meaningful concept in nexus of contracts theory. Someone owns each input, but no one owns the totality. Instead, the corporation is an aggregation of people bound together by a complex web of contractual relationships.
Application to Guilds
The above description does sound a lot like World of Warcraft guilds. Sure, the contracts are implicit rather than explicit, and there's very little money involved, but the basic concept of a "web of voluntary agreements" holds.
But when WoW first started, in practice Guild Masters held such mechanical power over the guild that it could be said--with accuracy--that a Guild Masters "owned" her respective guild. A GM could disband her guild, kick people out, promote people, prevent individuals from talking in guild chat, etc. And there was really nothing a non-GM could do. Because of this power, a lot of GMs felt a true sense of ownership.
However, this ownership did not really matter. Mechanically a guild was nothing more than a glorified chat channel and a tag over your character's head. If the GM abused her authority or disappeared for months, the other guild members simply left and reformed with a new name, with no major loss, save for particularly stylish guild names.
As the years have passed though, the guild entity has taken on more and more "real" weight. First we had common guild banks, then shared repair costs. Then with Cataclysm we got the entire system of guild perks, and automatic guild contributions.
Now, regular members have a higher stake in a guild. If you have to leave, you lose all the perks, all the stuff in the guild bank, etc. Thanks to automatic contributions, everyone in the guild has contributed to the guild's current state. Even if everyone in the guild but the guild master leaves and reforms, there is still significant loss.
Basically, the idea that a guild is a nexus of contracts has gotten more and more important. Finally, in Patch 4.3, we got the ability to dethrone guild masters in specific circumstances. This is a recognition that the balance of power in a guild is too far weighted on the guild master's side, and some of the power needs to come back, especially in the situation where the guild master simply disappears.
This re-balancing of powers makes perfect and necessary sense if you think of the guild as a nexus of contracts between current players. But it also conflicts with a lot of guild masters' sense of "ownership". To this type of GM, she created the guild, she got the signatures, she did all the work, she has all the power. In a sense, she is merely letting other people play in "her" guild.
In the past, such views would have been perfectly correct, and still are correct. How can you say that a Guild Master does not own a guild if she can kick everyone else out of it?
To this GM, the takeovers are nothing less than theft. The theft of the property she "owns", that she has worked to build up. And thus she has a very visceral reaction to that theft.
That reaction is far more understandable than most of the GRF regulars are willing to admit. And I think it is a somewhat valid reaction. I think that Guild Masters have an understandable sense of ownership of their respective guilds, and the entire lifespan of WoW up to the last few months has encouraged that sense of ownership.
I am not certain that Guild Takeovers were the best option possible in light of the way power is balanced in a guild. But on the other hand, because of that power balance, a GM who disappears for over a month can cripple a guild, and the Guild Takeover becomes necessary.