Leading a Free Company is no joke. Anyone who has done so will agree with me, I’d like to think. It’s pitiless, thankless work and you’ll usually have people against you for the most ridiculous reasons. It’s a worthwhile experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world though. So if you’re wanting to lead a FC in Stormblood, hear me out.
Have a Dream
The first tip I’d have to give is so simple, but honestly? You need to actually want to lead a Free Company. When I started mine when A Realm Reborn dropped, it was out of necessity. I had the money and we needed to get started on building. Wanting to lead because no one else will or because you can’t find the perfect FC home for you might not be such a great idea unless you also have a dream of the home you can make for others.
I was so lost with Fail Brigade because I didn’t have that dream or that vision. I didn’t know what I wanted going in, and it swayed beyond anything that was healthy for me. Figure out exactly what you want, no matter how lofty or idealistic, and start looking to chisel it into a reality from there.
Know Your Strengths
What kind of a Master will you be? The Ruler type, who sets policies and looks in every now and then to ensure nothing is on fire? Or the Leader, who walks with their members directly? I can attest that a healthy blend of these two is almost a necessity, even if it means from two different people. For instance, if you’re the type of person who gets too drained from always being the person having to reach out to others–being a Leader is probably not something you can do. However, you might be better at writing policy and managing things behind the scenes–making you a good Ruler.
At the very least, a Free Company needs a good, solid Leader. It can go without a Ruler for a while depending on what kind of Free Company you’re making… but eventually all need some form of rules. It’s impossible to gather more than one person together and not experience some kind of conflict, and having simple and clear rules to judge with can help to eliminate too many bad gray zones. However, a Leader’s judgment is also required in perceiving the difference between the Heart of the Law and the Word of the Law.
Say you have a rule that means players can’t take items out of the chest without permission. Someone takes a minion that’s been in there for months, and someone else freaks out. Will you kick them? Or will you instead use this as a learning opportunity for both parties involved? Likewise–if a break is significantly more serious then they might need the immediate removal without seeking any understanding.
Know Your Weaknesses
Remember how I said the Ruler and the Leader can be two different people? Right. An important part of leading a Free Company is being able to know your weaknesses. You should be able to reflect on yourself and also see the traits in others that you need. Say you’re awful at being involved with the community outside of your Free Company–but someone else is. They might be a good choice for a recruiter or a FC public relations person.
Selecting Officers to help you is an incredibly difficult process though–or it should be anyway. Do they have a good sense of character? Is their vision of the Free Company synonymous with yours–or is it something you can at least compromise with? Are they motivated to be an Officer at all? As in, are they leading before getting any title? Will they be people you can rely on to complete their assigned duties? How is the strength of their maturity, communication skills, and emotional intelligence? How are you going to measure who gets to be an Officer, and how are you going to say why?
Giving up something you’re not the best at to someone who can do it better says a lot. Both about you and your care for the Free Company. If you give that power to someone who will abuse it, or make unnecessary gray zones for their friends then that’s a poor reflection of your own ability. Are you going to keep Officers around who are just a bunch of “Yes men”, or will you keep those around who share your dream even if it means stopping you from ruining it?
From experience, no one likes this. Your Officers won’t want to sit and talk about it. Your members won’t want to read over it. Too many people think it’s too serious for “just a video game” until the day when shit hits the fan and everyone’s freaking out because why did you kick A when you didn’t kick B. Taking a bit to be serious and stern on making simple and clean policies and the few moments to help enforce them will save lots of trouble in the long run.
Your charter or rules or policies or whatever should always be as simple as possible. No, this doesn’t mean “Rule 1: don’t be a dick” and call it a day. What does “be a dick” even mean? How many gray zones does that create? Find a simple set of rules that will eliminate as many loopholes and opportunities for gray zone abuse as possible. Remember–the idea behind your rules isn’t just to enforce and punish but to help teach. Loopholes and gray zones should never exist to benefit friends for the sake of friendship. If you can use your rules to enforce warnings and sit with members to help them understand why XYZ is wrong, then you’ve done a great job.
Policies that are simple enough are also more likely to endure culture shifts in your Free Company–and even beyond you being in it if you quit. Sure they may adjust a bit between social and raiding or even tack on things from new features… but the core idea should remain the same. Having specific rules and policies that no one understands months down the road doesn’t help anyone. “Joe eats burgers only on Tuesday”… okay, who is Joe?! Keeping them simple has the added benefit of maybe more people being willing to read them. Seriously, your charter shouldn’t be as long as a CVS receipt.
Know to No
This is a very difficult lesson that I’m still internalizing. As a Master, you might find yourself worried about the reputation of your Free Company and of yourself. As the one who sets the rules and enforces them, there’ll always be a bit of stigma against you. Always people who cause problems simply because they love causing problems. And how dare you kick them because you’re just oppressing their legitimate views, you tyrant! It’s hard enough as it is and people seem to enjoy making it harder–even if they might not know it themselves.
You need to learn to be firm with your members. Focus on understanding them (remember that emotional intelligence bit!) and trying to help teach them what goes and what doesn’t. Just be ready to say “no” and don’t let them walk all over you. Be willing to learn as well and admit when you’re wrong–to always stay humble. Yet humble as you need to be, you’re not a Master for the sake of being everyone’s friend. You’re the Mama Bear, and when your cubs need discipline–no matter how hard it can be, no matter how hated you think it might make you, no matter what problems you fear it might cause–it’s your job to deal with them. Kick should almost always be your last option, but it should be an option you also aren’t afraid to use when it comes the time to do so.
Learn to Let Go
You might be worried about your vision of the Free Company shifting beyond what you had imagined. While this is usually prevented by good Officer selection, it’s sometimes impossible to avoid some culture shifts as your Free Company grows. You can’t and will never be able to force people into anything–and if so you may need to reflect on your leadership a bit.
People will come and go–let them. If they want to leave the FC for whatever their reasons, it’s your job to wish them well and actually mean it. Don’t hold onto sour notes that’ll only put you in a somber mood–because that seeps into your Free Company quickly. Be willing to hear people out–no matter how silly–as long as it isn’t interfering with your health and obligations. Don’t hold onto policies that aren’t working, especially if they’re being challenged by your members.
Sometimes what you want to control, or a decision you’ve made that you’re stubborn on, needs to be changed or removed. That can be hard when you also need to be firm and strong–this feels like it’s the exact opposite. But it’s not. As long as you approach your Officers, your members, and yourself in a constructive manner then everything will work out for the better. Don’t worry that someone left and took half your Free Company with them. Learn from it and help those who remain without making it into a bitter memory. You can still miss people while realizing you’re both better off without one another.
Open and Honest Communication
First off, let’s tackle the elephant in this section. Don’t use honesty as an excuse for being mean. Okay! Good.
Now–another key aspect to being a good Master and having a healthy Free Company environment is open and honest communication. This means you’re honest with yourself, first and foremost. Can you handle what’s on your plate right now? Do you need help? What sorts of obligations do you have? Is leading interfering with them? Is leading preventing you from enjoying the game? It’s always important to reflect on yourself for these and many other questions. You also need to address any of the answers you get that are relevant to your Free Company, with your Free Company.
Let your Officers and members know of your boundaries–and that everything else goes. Be willing to adapt as you need and let them know of that. Keep open transparency with what’s going on behind the doors of Officer meetings and your own thoughts on how the Free Company is doing. If there are problems lurking around and people are being told through the grapevine, they’re going to be concerned–especially about any dishonesty. This includes information kept from them. How can you trust people when you’re hearing it from others instead of themselves, right? Be willing to talk about the problem and how you want to resolve it. Field opinions and hear things from their different sides. Your solution should never be a “don’t worry, I’ve got this under control”… especially when you don’t explain it further.
Keeping everything as honest as possible will help your health and the health of your Free Company in the long run. Even if it means people leave–remember, learn to let go.
Define Your Free Company
With all of that in mind, what kind of Free Company do you want to lead? What are the goals of your Free Company, in other words? Do you want to compete for World Firsts? Are you fine with midcore or casual raiding? Do you want a social group like a hangout, or do you want to do put on neat group activities like A Stage Reborn has done? The different goals, objectives, and intent of your Free Company the different things it’ll need.
For instance, a raiding Free Company would need much more strict recruitment than, say, a super casual social Free Company. Not that a social FC doesn’t need recruitment policies–because it should have them! Letting just anyone in can spoil the environment very quickly. Though… that doesn’t seem to matter for zerg FCs, and some of those work out just fine. Know what you want and what you’re getting yourself into, because the problems vary pretty drastically between the different types. You’ll also be able to find better resources more applicable to your needs, promote Officers who are more readily capable for helping you out, and find members who are excited for your specific intent.
If you recruit for a social Free Company but then evolve later into a raiding Free Company, you should have a whole ton of patience with people. You need to expect to be ready to find some diamonds in the rough, and to sit down for a few hours and try and explain how stats work at all. Likewise, if you recruit for a raiding Free Company but only end up making a social Free Company… expect to have people who might possibly not be a good fit for your much more casual culture. Even if they mean well, helpful comments from a raider can really hurt a much more casual player because the level of seriousness is just worlds apart.
Think about how you’ll be handling recruitment for your Free Company. Start with thinking about the intended size of your Free Company. Do you want some massive machine filled with people? Maybe something of an adequately medium size with a bunch of different
cliques groups of friends? Perhaps something smaller and more intimate? Now think about how you’ll recruit and what methods you will use. Reddit? Twitter? Tumblr? Shouts? Filtered or unfiltered? These can all vary depending on the size and the type of Free Company you’re running.
I personally appreciate a filtered approach. Not actually directly recruiting members, and anyone wishing to join needs to fill out an application on your Free Company’s website. It seems a bit much and too serious for a lot of people, and probably unnecessary hassle for your Officers. But I guarantee it’ll help keep a lot of the problem seeds out. Keep your application relatively unobtrusive–you don’t need to know every detail of their life and applications that are too long are too strong of a filter. As long as they fill out information relevant to what you’ll need to know about your members in regards to your type of Free Company, that should be a good start. Try to make it fun and engaging if possible–throw in some elements they won’t expect like asking them their favorite battle cry!
If you need more members in your Free Company, start looking into actually doing things with your current members. Get some trusty and good members together and enter PF with some basic information on your Free Company (name and website) while offering content clears, for instance. People will join to get their wins in–and while you’re doing that you can sell them by letting them experience a taste of your Free Company culture. Maybe you won’t always make members, but you might make some friends which has other handy benefits. Recruiting by actually contributing to your server’s community is almost always the best way to go–either in clears or fun events–because it sets you apart from the crowd in a really good way.
Technology – Website
Let’s start with everyone’s favorite: the Free Company website. If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard “we have a website?”… Ugh. The usefulness of your Free Company’s website, if you choose to have one, depends entirely on you and how you establish your Free Company’s culture. You should probably have one at the very least for people to submit applications through. The in-game method is just a few fries short of a complete meal.
A simple and clean (see the trend?) structure and design for your Free Company’s website can help in many ways. Seeing a professional and easy to navigate site does wonders for recruitment–I can’t tell you how many people have joined my FCs in the past because of my efforts with the website. Don’t have too much nonsense on the site. Keep it simple, and keep as much as static as possible. If you have to go in and update content all the time it’ll be a huge hassle and might burn you out. I’d recommend news/events on the front page, and maybe a few static pages for “about us”, “rules”, and a page for your application.
I strongly suggest against forums in this day and age. They’re old, clunky, and take a lot of work to render well on mobile devices. People are already on services like Twitter and Discord. Do the research with what your members use and what you think they’ll appreciate getting to know. Be willing to reach out to where they are and they’ll always appreciate that–even if it isn’t in words. You can put widgets on a sidebar for both an “official” FC Twitter account and for Discord to help get your members to start using them. Both work well on mobile too–which is when most members are even able to keep up with FC news and information!
Technology – Social Media
Sometimes keeping a social media account active can be tough, especially for those not used to it. Maybe you’ll have an Officer who loves this sort of thing, but either way having one and using it well can pay off tremendously. Sharing screenshots of the fun events you’ve been doing as a Free Company and the clears your members are getting can be an easy way to build up interest for others joining you. Interacting with the community as a whole can help to build a great name for your Free Company and its members, which in turn might mean an easier time for your members in PF. There’s no real downside to this as long as you keep it relatively active, friendly, and fun!
Technology – Discord
I’m going to talk about Discord for your Free Company’s VoIP service. As a lass who formerly worked on a VoIP R&D team and who has used every VoIP product available to the consumer market (and some beyond that!) I can say with confidence that Discord is amazing and is continuing to improve even still. It can be very hard at first, trying to get your members to adjust to Discord if they’re not using it already. Sometimes it doesn’t work so well on some connections–although this is expressively rare. Some people can’t figure out how to install it… which might be something wrong with their PC, I’m not sure. VoIP in general isn’t very friendly for, say, your PS4 members as they need to have a laptop or their cellphone ready or something.
Anyway. The more you work to help your members install it and figure it out, the more benefit you’ll see. There’s virtually zero drawbacks except for having to keep Skype open for the few people still needing it to keep up with their Grandma or whatever. Who knows? Maybe their Grandma is on Discord and doesn’t want their grandchild to feel left behind so SHE keeps Skype installed. Communication! Discord is a great way to handle text chat off of the game. It’s easy to share news, information, cat pictures, memes, GIFs, and whatever else you may need. The sound quality is superb without any of the crazy Wizard adjustments you need to do for TeamSpeak, Ventrilo, Mumble, etc. And if you need to configure anything–the user experience of Discord’s menu is fantastic!
Just… shove everyone onto Discord. Shove them and don’t look back. Pick up people and shove them in. They’ll fit! Somehow. Eventually. And if you’re someone who can’t use Discord for a legitimate reason? …I am terribly sorry that you are missing out and hope at least one person keeps whatever you can use installed for you sake.
I could go on and on and on about this. Maybe dive into events and how to schedule them or something, but most everything else seems pretty specific for Free Companies to decide on. Now go forth and make a home for everyone to enjoy… and maybe a subchannel somewhere to laugh about the multitude of Rurouni Kenshin party chat macros we can be expecting with Samurai being unlocked.