In the world of Massively Multiplayer Online Games, guilds live and die like generations of fruit flies. In the time it takes you to read this review, another group of friends will probably have decided to go their separate ways. Due to what is commonly referred to as 'drama', and the nature of the currently most popular online game, the modern MMOG guild tends to be a short-lived affair. A book published about a single guild, then, has to be discussing a singular organization. And indeed, The Syndicate has lasted for over a decade. Well known in both Ultima Online and EverQuest, and going strong into the days of World of Warcraft, they've had numerous public successes and some notorious failures. Their tale is a strange, and utterly personal view of the history of Massive games. It's also highly self-aggrandizing and probably contentious, but that's to be expected. Legend of the Syndicate is a publication worth reading by anyone interested in the history of the Massive genre, or the future of social networks online.To hear Sean Stalzer tell it, The Syndicate is the noblest, most amazing online community ever formed. Guildleader of the organization, founder, and head of the guild's social network via a 'benevolent dictatorship', Stalzer is also the author of this title. The book primarily consists of written descriptions of the guild's history interspersed with fictionalized accounts of in-game events. On the page, guild actions become larger than life; at over 500 members, the guild itself seems the same way.
At first blush, it's hard not to see the whole thing as a little silly. Massive games are an incredibly important part of the future of gaming. Outside of guilds who compete in pro gaming events, though, I think most gamers see guilds as a convenient way to make friends and play the game. Organizations to be taken seriously, for sure, but not something you really consider being a part of your life ten years from now.
The Syndicate, just the same, is a very different outfit. What Stalzer has set up, and what the book is 'selling', is a group hundreds strong that operates under the slogan "In Friendship We Conquer." Over the years the organization has trademarked its name and logo, has beta tested over a dozen Massively Multiplayer games, and consults with a game guide publisher. The Syndicate now seems as much a business arrangement, or fraternal organization, as a gaming guild. They have a yearly conference that regularly draws more than hundred people, with game company representatives attending to brief them on in-development titles.
As a history of the guild, it actually works very well as a reflection of the Massively Multiplayer genre. The group moves with the trials and tribulations of Ultima Online, through to EverQuest, and then on to World of Warcraft, as I imagine many other individual players and guilds have done. By examining and discussing the guild's successes as an organization, Seltzer does a surprisingly insightful job of highlighting their good points. Though they've been decried as elitist and single-minded, The Syndicate can honestly make many claims to success.
What marrs the good story (the fictional one) and the inspiring tale (of real-life camaraderie) is the propagandist tone of the work. It is to be expected that Seltzer would feel pride at what he's put together, but likely as a result of this being a first published offering the book sometimes reads a lot like a recruiting pamphlet. Another 'first effort' sign is the lack of polish in phrasing and (unfortunately), spelling. The list of games that they've tested is riddled with errors. Further runs of the book, one would hope, will correct these fundamental errors.
Ultimately the audience for this book is somewhat narrow; folks interested in the history of the Massive genre will find this interesting, and avid players of EverQuest or UO have probably at least heard of the guild. Certainly, for members of The Syndicate, they now have something guaranteed to wig out their family members. "There's a book about your little club?" Outside of novelty value, I'm not sure there's a lot of other people who might find this text enlightening. For those few, though, a peak behind the curtain at The Syndicate will be fascinating. Propaganda aside, you have to hand it to a group that's kept it together for over a decade. The chance to see how that worked out is a unique one, and well worth taking.
If you're in any way interested in the book, Gamasutra has a full chapter of the book available online. The offered text, Chapter One in the book, takes a look at the guild's formation.
You can purchase Legend of the Syndicate from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.