Picking Your Guildies: The Role of Attraction, Selection, and Attrition

What leads gamers to join one guild in a massively multiplayer game or one clan in an online shooter over another guild or clan? Why do you post on the gaming messageboard that you do as opposed to one of the other countless alternate ones? And once you’re in a group, what kind of things make you leave?

Industrial-organizational psychologists, who use the tropes of psychology to study people in the world of organizations and work, 1 have come up with a lot of theories on why people choose to work for one company over another, why they leave, and how those things affect the “culture” of the place –the shared understanding of what is expected and rewarded within that group. Some of these models lay more credit at the feet of organizational structures, and some credit the environment. But another view known as the Attraction-Selection-Attrition (ASA) model, 2 3 says that it’s the people that determine the culture of whatever organization you’re looking at, be it guild, clan, messageboard, or mod team.

In brief, ASA says that it’s the people in the group that define the culture 4 , not just the environment, structure, or rules of the game. It does this through a three-step cycle:

  1. New members are attracted to the group by what they perceive to be similarity in values, goals, and interests
  2. When petitions are made for membership, the gatekeepers in the organization select would-be members based on who is most similar to them
  3. Attrition happens when people who don’t fit in so neatly after all find better things to do than hang out and deal with the guild drama

Figure 1: The ASA cycle. Also, this whole thing is moderated by lolcats. Somehow. Science is still working on that part.

This isn’t exactly mind blowing, but it has implications if you think it through. One being that it explains the three-pronged mechanism by which cohesive, like-minded groups of people develop over time. People that are at odds with the culture within the guild or clan tend not to want to be a part of it. And if they do, they tend not to be selected for membership. And if that happens, they tend to rage quit over time.

For example, back when I was playing lots of Team Fortress 2 I hung out a lot with guys from a website called “Portal of Evil.” These were guys who ran goofy game mods, played on experimental and occasionally awful maps, and who broadcasted obnoxious music and trash talk over allchat. I played with them regularly because I thought all of this was hilarious and fun. But if hadn’t wanted my Engineer wearing a jaunty party hat or couldn’t tolerate hearing “Baby Got Back” on allchat FOR THE FIFTIETH TIME THAT NIGHT, I would have found someone else to play with or been mocked for complaining.

Likewise, guilds in massively multiplayer games are sometimes interesting in how they evaluate petitions for membership. A friend of mine who wanted to join a hardcore raiding guild in World of Warcraft once described this process as an audition where he was grilled about his play style and history, his character build, his equipment, and how many hours a week he was willing to devote to to the guild. He was then taken along on an actual raid where the guild’s recruiter used UI mods to track his performance in the game along very strict measures to see if he could properly play his role. In the industrial-organizational psychology parlance, we call that kind of thing a job interview and a work sample test. It’s exactly the kind of thing that the “S” part of the ASA model describes. (And if you, dear and handsome reader, have personal experience with this kind of thing, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.)

What’s even more interesting to me is to consider is how game designers and community managers might use something like this model to guide their efforts if community is a big part of their game.

First, the ASA model points to providing players with tools that they can use to communicate their goals, values, and desires to each other. Allowing players to formulate and share a charter that signals these things would be great, as would communication channels like messageboards and private chat to which prospective members could be invited to eavesdrop. Statistics about guild/clan activities could also provide a strong signal –things like rankings, achievement counts, manhours played, headcount, or other metrics could be invaluable to people shopping for a group to become part of.

And this information works both ways –people who aren’t as into PvP combat could self-select out of the process while those who are will find it easier to find guildies who share those values. Heck, what if you borrowed another idea from the world of Industrial-organizational psychology and allowed players to submit anonymous responses to standardized surveys asking about what values their guild or clan holds? “On a scale of 1 to 5, my guild is forgiving of people who miss scheduled events.” Useful.

Game developers might also want to provide tools that team leaders can use to evaluate potential members. Gameplay stats and standardized application blanks could be really useful, as could be information on complaints filed against that person by other players. If you provide a useful tool, players won’t have to rely on third-party tools. Or maybe THAT IS your plan, and you can facilitate it by providing data and APIs upon which players can build.

The point is that both current and potential group members are going to be looking for information about those shared expectations (i.e., organizational culture) in order to make decisions about each point in the Attraction-Selection-Attrition cycle. To the extent that a game or a service outside of a game facilitates that, people will find it useful.


1. Hey, I’m one of them guys!
2. Schneider, B. (1987). The people make the place. Personnel Psychology, 40, 437-453.
3. Schneider, B., et al. (1995). The ASA Framework: An Update. Personnel Psychology, 48, 747-761.
4. it also acknowledges the disproportional weight of the organization’s founders in determining culture, but that’s another article

28 thoughts on “Picking Your Guildies: The Role of Attraction, Selection, and Attrition

  1. Pingback: How do I learn to share my video games with my family? | Wicked Games

  2. To respond to your request for anecdotes involving guild recruitment:

    My experiences deal primarily with hardcore raiding guilds in 1.x WoW. The application process was done on the guild’s private forums, which typically had an Application sticky to serve as a template.

    The first time I applied to a guild, I was severely under-geared and under-experienced. But my responses were articulate, and I demonstrated my dedication to the game and my character. I got replies such as, “This is the best application I’ve ever seen.” I was accepted without any testing phase.

    The second guild application I wrote was much more drawn out (since I now had the gear and experience), but just as professional. I was once again accepted without a test phase.

    The culture of both of those guilds were opposites of each other–one blasted music in Ventrilo, joked around, and had many e-peen contests, while the latter was very high-strung, Vent was for leaders only, everyone had to be on schedule and on par constantly. One was a party, the other was a machine.

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  4. Aside from the gear and spec questions (Armory didn’t exist back then), there were questions relating to how I was actively improving my character outside of a raiding environment; age and location (living on the east coast while raiding in an Aussie guild is a big deal); past guild history and experience; and if I was willing to change specs upon request.

    I left the first guild because I live on the east coast and was raiding 1AM to 6AM πŸ˜›

  5. Nice piece, Jamie.

    I’m the guild leader for a raiding guild in World of Warcraft. I would describe us as a mid-level progression guild, though we’re the top hordeside guild on our PVE-RP server. For most of our current 40+ members, I was involved in their application, vent interview, and trial raid. Here are the questions we ask on our online application:

    1. How old are you?
    2. Where are you from?
    3. What is your class?
    4. What is your primary spec, and why?
    5. What is your secondary spec, and why?
    6. How many days played do you have on your raiding character?
    7. Are you the original owner of the account that your raiding character is located on?
    8. Provide a link to your armory page.

    1. What server are you currently on and what other server(s) has your character been on?
    2. What guilds have you previously been in and what server were they each on?
    3. Why were you removed from or why did you leave your last guild?
    4. Have you applied to any other guilds? Do you plan to apply to another guild before your application to Mischief is reviewed? If so, where else have you applied or plan on applying?
    5. If you have any references such as officers in your current or former guild(s) or current members of Mischief, please name them.
    6. Provide link(s) to any and all WWS, WMO, or WOL reports you were involved with in your last guild(s).

    1. What 25-man ICC experience do you have, including hardmodes?
    2. What 10-man ICC experience do you have, including hardmodes?
    3. Describe your ToC experience, including hardmodes and significant achievements.
    4. What days out of the week can you NOT be online and ready to raid?
    5. What time do you log in to World of Warcraft? (Central/Server Time)
    6. What time do you normally log out of World of Warcraft?
    7. What time is the earliest you can start raiding? and what time is the latest you can finish raiding?
    8. How many non-raiding hours do you spend in World of Warcraft each week?

    Hardware Information
    1. Do you have ventrilo?
    2. Do you have a working microphone and headset?
    3. How many times a week does your computer crash?
    4. How many times a week do you lose internet connection?


    On a scale of 1 to 10, rate your in-fight reflexes: 1 = if there is fire, I will stand in it; 10 = healers love me because i’m quick like a ninja. Why did you give yourself that rating?

    On a scale of 1 to 10, rate your tolerance for learning nights: 1 = call me when it’s on farm; 10 = repair gold is the best gold I’ve ever spent. Why did you give yourself that rating?

    On a scale of 1 to 10, rate your self-reliance: 1 = I’ll usually drink the flask if you give it to me, but no promises; 10 = My stock of raid consumables will last until the next expansion. Why did you give yourself that rating?

    On a scale of 1 to 10, rate your class-knowledge: 1 = I don’t know, I just press “3” over and over; 10 = If only Blizzard would listen to me, I could fix this class for good. Why did you give yourself that rating?

    On a scale of 1 to 10, rate your ability to take criticism: 1 = DON’T TELL ME HOW TO PLAY!; 10 = I want to be the best, and I’d love to hear how you think I can improve. Why did you give yourself that rating?

    1. What do you want to achieve in joining Mischief?
    2. Tell us why you would be a better choice for Mischief over another applicant of your class and spec?
    3. What is the principal aspect of your personality?
    4. What qualities do you appreciate most in your friends?
    5. What makes you happy?
    6. What makes you miserable?
    7. What is your favorite movie?
    8. What is your favorite book?
    9. What is your favorite curse word?

  6. …continued.

    Assuming they pass the application, and pass the trial raid, the applicant arrives at the hard part which is the vent interview. The interview takes between 30 and 90 minutes. During the interview, we like to have at least two officers present to triangulate on the applicant’s personality. And it really is a personality test. We answer a lot of questions about the guild, but mostly we’re trying to get a feel for the candidates level of socialization and how well their personality will fit with our current guildies.

    We try to put them on the spot and make them a little uncomfortable at some point in the interview. Being stressed and giving verbal feedback in real time tells us a lot about how they’ll handle themselves “in person” during guild activities or hang outs.

    It’s tough sometimes to break through the interview-style responses the candidates give, and get down to their actual personality. I’ve had to go way out there to try to get a read on some people. I remember one guy was just a perfect mirrored sphere of personality and I tried for an hour to find a crack. Finally I got him talking about stuff that was not game related at all (baking cupcakes) and we talked cooking for 15 minutes.

    Whatever it takes to find out if they can fit into the family!

    As a result of this thorough process, our guild has extremely low turnover, and members that have been part of the crew for 4-5 years.

  7. @ Ague
    Huh, fascinating. You have in I-O psychology terms what sounds like an application blank, some screening questions, a work sample, and an interview. All the screening questions up until the Scale Questions make sense to me, but I’d be surprised if you get a lot of truly useful information out of the other stuff. Especially the “what’s your favorite book?” kind of stuff. Those remind me of bad job interview questions that that I tear my hair out trying to get hiring managers to avoid. Better to stick to stuff that actually addresses skills, knowledge, and aptitudes that will actually come into play in the game.

    For example, it would be interesting to develop what are called “situational judgment questions” that present the person with situations (say dealing with a tricky encounter or dealing with conflict with another member), then ask them how they’d deal with them. Have a set of criteria established for rating their answer so that you know what kinds of behaviors on the applicant’s part are what you’re looking for. When put together and used properly, these kinds of questions are very good at evaluating job candidates, and I suspect they’d do just as well selecting raid members.

    Heck, part of me now wants to set up shop as a consultant to help guilds develop these kinds of systems. You guys got tons of money lying around to pay for those kinds of services, right?

  8. One of the places this effect is very obvious is in forums/chatrooms/mailing lists/whatever. A certain mind-set emerges early on, often seemingly quite randomly. Those who agree are attracted to the current viewpoint, and stick around. Those who disagree either never post in the first place, or are quickly driven away.

    The problem is that often the group that set up the forum believe that the forum viewpoint is representative of the wider base of people, and act accordingly. Finding out the range of opinions is a tougher question.

  9. @Jamie Madigan

    Actually, the officers often scroll down to the “what’s your favorite book” stuff and read that first. Those questions have nothing to do with game aptitude, but the responses to those questions do provide us some insights (and sometimes we’ll even talk about the book/movie during the interview).

    The most telling answer, though, is “I don’t read.” We are people that read, and we find that other people who read fit more easily into our group culture. Not because we’re a book club, but because people who read are also more alike in greater things.

  10. @Jamie Madigan

    Regarding becoming a consultant for guild recruitment, I don’t think it’s a bad idea! But I would do it in another way…

    I’m thinking of a cross between monster.com (job openings) and match.com (points of compatibility) where guild-seekers and guild-leaders fill out surveys of questions you devise to find a good “culture match”. That, combined with an armory check or a combat log parse could be successful in putting the right people with the right guild.

  11. @Graham
    Yep, absolutely. In an earlier draft of this article I addressed the downside of group homogeneity, including things like the echo chamber effect, decline in creativity, stagnation, inflexibility, etc., but I cut it to save for another day since things were getting a little meandering. The insular nature of some messageboards, chat, and listservs is a prime example.

  12. I came to look at the comments to discuss those downsides. I think it’s as important (or moreso) for an online game designer, manager, community manager, business owner, or any number of other roles to work on mitigating or eliminating those debilitating effects of ASA “culture feedback loops” than to foster them. Looking forward to that article. : )

  13. I used to be one of the original members of the #2 ranked progression guild on a server. We played through all of wow 1.0, a period of 2 years, and we held our position throughout that time. We never overtook the #1 guild, but we did steal a couple of server first kills from them. This is just to say, we were a guild playing the most cutting edge and challenging content and we managed to hold together and maintain the quality of our players over a long period of time.

    Our recruitment process was simple – purely performance based. For 40 man raids, with 8 classes, there were roughly 6 slots for each class making 48. We recruited 20% over what was necessary, assuming 10% non-shows we would have 10% of players sitting out on any one night ready to replace anyone who had to leave. The class leader (say, the rogue leader) was made responsible for the recruiting process – he was “given” 6 slots in a raid group, and it was his responsibility to fill those slots with 6 good rogues. If there was one missing he had to recruit one. The trial period was long – 4 weeks – at the end of which the rogue leader would decide whether to keep the applicant or not. The trials were picked based on gear and history – new players aren’t experienced / geared enough to join our guild, so every player has “trail” through other guilds which we can track. There wasn’t any urgency in recruiting which is why we could take our time evaluating new recruits and reject them if we didn’t like them, and during the trial period they would be contributing towards raids just like ordinary members. Also, most of the interaction of a player was only within his “department” – rogues didn’t know what mages were doing in the raids, and didn’t really care. They didn’t compete for item drops, and to some degree they didn’t compete in performance either – most of the % variation in damage done between classes can be attributed to game balancing, not skill variation. This made personality matching a lot less of a problem because as a rogue you only had to really get along with the other rogues – it seems that recruiting has scalability problems, and reducing and isolated players into small teams makes it easier.

    Our experience may be out of the norm. We never really had personality dramas. I suspect this is because we are so far out in the long tail (top 0.1% of all players) that by the time you are selecting from this population, most players will have similar personalities anyway – highly dedicated, motivated by winning, intelligent, and the “bad” ones or “troublemakers” would have crashed and burned out of lesser ranked guilds before reaching us. This is a classic example of the first mover advantage where the best guilds have very few issues recruiting talented and mature players.

    On another note, I led and recruited for 10 man competitive pvp teams over a period of several years. PVP teams were harder – the team comes under a lot more pressure and stress, especially when dealing with the frustration of losing. I find in these cases, my recruitment strategy is focused along motivations. Among the motivations –

    1. Winning (prestige, self satisfaction)
    2. Item Rewards (rewards gained through winning)
    3. Fun (enjoyment of game)
    4. Community (belonging, being part of a team)
    5. Learning (seeing improvement in skill)

    I’m sure you can draw some parallels between this and the work by Kiersey.

    Mainly, I’ve found the root causes of most disagreements are due to differences in what players want: in which case, like in your selection theory, they’re simply in the wrong team. I’ve found that players can tolerate large variations in personality as long as they feel they are working together towards the same goal. I set up several teams, one to cater for each group.

  14. I don’t know how well this example fits in to the ASA cycle you are discussing. I used to be an officer in a casual-but-competent WoW guild. We were never among the top raiding guilds on the server, but were generally able to clear the top level instances eventually; Blackwing Lair was finally beatem about the time AQ40 came out, and so on. Several months behind the best, but we got there.

    But we were primarily a fun guild, and had a whole lot of members who never raided at all (and organised the occasional raid at 1-4 am just for the one member who lived in Australia, which was great fun if rather chaotic).

    Our main problem was that the people who really wanted to do hard-core raiding found it all a little frustrating. We weren’t as good as the top guilds. We had a fair few members who really weren’t that good at raiding (myself included) but who were willing to try. We had occasional breaks during play for one guy who had to go pray (he was a muslim), or for breastfeeding the baby (one of the tanks was a new mother; we had a rather older average age than most guilds). Such times tended to degenerate into singing over teamspeak.

    So the ‘hardcore’ people tended to leave to join the top end guilds. Some of them, incidentally, found that although they enjoyed the raiding, they missed the fun of our guild, and came back. Until they missed the raiding again, and tended to bounce between the “relaxed fun” and “hardcore progress” modes and guilds.

    The bit that might not fit in to ASA directly though is that we had a fair few people join the guild who didn’t really want to be part of the guild, and knew that in advance. What they wanted was to join the hardcore guilds, but they didn’t have enough experience, or good enough gear. SO they joined our “we’ll give anyone a try” guild which raided well enough to help them improve their gear, and then when they were up to par, they’d leave for a hardcore guild.

    The same thing happens in the world of work of course, with people taking jobs they don’t really want, or for companies they don’t actually want to work for, to get experience, or a foot in the door. A similar tale is of a friend of mine wanted to work in television. Since that is a rather over-subscribed field, it is very hard to get a job in the absence of experience. She ended up working for a TV company for free for a year or two, until she had enough experience that she could point to to succesfully get a paid job in the industry. Of course, she wasn’t doing a job she didn’t want to do; she was doing what she wanted, just not for the money she wanted (and had the luxury of being able to borrow enough money to work for free for two years).

  15. @xd
    Good post, thanks. It’s fascinating to me that with a few changes in your wording to refer to real world organizations, what you’re describing would be called “human capital management” by any Human Resources department. It’s the practice of determining what skills and knowledge your group needs, then identifying people to either bring on or train to fill those gaps.

  16. @Phill
    Another good post. And I think it actually fits in with the ASA model quite well. Those people may come on board, but when their goals and expectations change, they leave. The model predicts this.

  17. This model fits well with less formal groups. I used to play Modern Warfare for hours each night but never as part of a clan. Over time I got frustrated with always getting matched up as the top player on a team of randomly-matched players, going up against organized clans. (There’s another topic – what drives people to seek membership in groups?) One game I was lucky enough to be matched up with a couple brothers and the three of us tore up the clan we played against. After that we played nightly. Attraction/selection was based on: willingness to work as a team, then skill, then maybe sense of humor. Over time we would pick up a player from someone’s friends list and give them a very informal tryout. We didn’t really care how good they were – they just had to communicate and play as a team. If they didn’t do that we wouldn’t invite him the next day. Attrition: I was the first to go – self-initiated b/c the group culture took a turn for the ugly.

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  21. Wow, I could talk about this subject at length. My husband and I run a World of Warcraft raiding guild that’s almost four years old. I’m the human resources side – recruiting players, handling interpersonal issues, and occasionally acting as a private disciplinarian. My husband is the accountant and strategist who determines goals, measures progress, and distributes the rewards.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that the careful alignment of player goals can be challenged by changes to the game itself. Changes in raid size have had a tremendous impact on guild strategies and needs. The addition in the latest expansion of “hard mode” versions of existing fights with preferential loot has also caused previously aligned players to disagree on what is best. The ASA model is the perfect way to explain why I don’t tend to sweat the parting words of players who were only in our guild a brief time. Where ASA falls short is in its ability to navigate issues caused by changes in the game environment.

    So far, former members of my guild have created four other raiding guilds. Some continue to compete with us for new talent. As the years went by, I grew increasingly better at predicting breakups and minimizing the impact to our guild. Part of this comes from developing a strong guild identity where those who don’t fit in well feel uncomfortable and quickly leave. I’ve even come to see many instances of parting ways as necessary and sometimes very useful. By determining who we’re not, we affirm who we are.

    Along the way, I found that there is an almost Darwinian pressure on raiding guilds to become more professional and business-like. I warn potential officers to expect their position to feel like a part time job. My husband as GM does something more like a full-time job. I’m somewhere in between. It’s a big operation.

    Considering the amount of virtual wealth created in these games, it’s amazing to consider that there are probably over a hundred thousand people doing this stuff for free. It’s not just that officers, guild leaders, recruiters, and raid leaders don’t get paid. Some actually pay for the privilege by purchasing guild resources like web site hosting and group chat facilities. This is a whole area of legal gaming commerce that professional game designers have forfeited to hobbyists. While there are some like me who engage in the process in order to learn about it, I’m honestly baffled as to why other players do this volunteer work.

    As for recruiting, you might be interested to know that I ask about predicted raid attendance in my recruitment form three times and in three different ways. Why? Players have a broad tendency to overestimate their availability. Even knowing their past, they will predict a more robust future. And it’s not just to please the recruiter either. Players choose entirely the wrong guilds based on their bonkers self evaluations. I can almost always detect the truth by comparing the three answers to the same basic question while looking for discrepancies.

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