So you want to create a website for your guild but do not know where to start? Well, this article is perfect for you then! I just recently went through rebuilding the community website for my online guild and had to face decisions many of which do not have a right answer. Building a website for anyone can be a daunting task, but I am going to share some of my experiences to help you get started with some of today’s most powerful Content Management Systems (CMS).

Figure 1: The Z Guild Site

While it is perfectly acceptable to create a website from scratch, there are a lot of things to worry about if you go this route. Everything from basic user handling to security needs to be addressed, and those are no easy tasks. The more complex you make your website, the more challenging it becomes to track everything. This is where the Content Management Systems come in. Teams of developers have bonded together to create highly customizable website templates that require a limited amount of HTML and programming experience. If you just need a simple static page to display information, then a CMS is complete overkill, but if you need the basic community package, which includes forums and a photo gallery, then a CMS is definitely the way to go.

If you have no programming experience, however, implementing a CMS is a monumental task and not one for the novice. If you play a popular MMO, odds are a hosted-CMS service like Guild Portal probably has a website template for you. These sites lack the minute customization that comes with building your own site, but functionally a hosted-CMS has all of the stuff that a basic gaming guild needs. For a small price, these sites typically can implement more complex features and they will handle all the overhead setup for you. Additionally, for some of the more popular games like World of Warcraft, complex CMS-hosting sites have cropped up that provide some pretty powerful tools that have already been setup and integrated for you.

Figure 2: GuildPortal

For the more technical savvy brave enough to build their own site using one of the pre-created CMS packages, you still need to choose where to host your site. There are numerous webhosts out there that offer a variety of packages. Shopping for the right one is beyond the scope of this article, but be assured that whatever CMS package you choose is supported by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) before signing up for a long-term contract. Some ISPs will even simplify the process by providing point-and-click solutions to installing complex CMS packages for you. It all depends on how much money you are willing to pay.

Figure 3: Drupal 6.0

To make things even more complicated, there are dozens upon dozens of CMS packages that you can use. Huge discussions exist on the best package for the best purpose, and when it is all said and done, there are still many choices to choose from. If your guild plays a single MMO, you could potentially add to this complication as numerous packages exist customized specifically for single games. For example, EQDKP-plus is a highly customized package for MMOs that has everything you need to run a points-based raiding guild. If you are considering setting up a guild that exists exclusively within one online game, then this might be the route for you. However, if your guild is a bit older or more robust as games come and go, this will not do. You’ll need a fully-customizable and highly CMS configurable package like Drupal or Joomla.

Figure 4: Joomla Admin Panel

Right now, these two are probably the most widely used all-in-one CMS packages being deployed for guilds today. Both have very mature communities with thousands of modules and plugins available. Both have pretty steep learning curves though and should not be tackled without some sort of PHP knowledge. At the very minimum, you will need to understand how to upload files to a web-host, probably by using FTP, and setup text-based configuration files to connect to a mysql database backend. Then to customize everything, you’ll need some PHP and CSS hacking abilities. If those terms haven’t scared you, then you should be able to setup the basics.

Drupal is a very flexible CMS that does not give you a whole heck of a lot out of the box. It comes with basic framework to handle user sessions, and a stock forum that pretty much has no features. After loading literally a dozen modules, the Drupal forum will finally be usable enough to set access permissions and function as a community site. Joomla, on the other hand, while equally complex at times, gives a lot more to the web designer out of the box. Still, both packages require a lot of customization to change the stock default layout to something that resembles a personal creation. Also, there are typically a few modules or plugins that will provide similar functionality, so you will need to decide if you want to use the built-in features, like the web forums, or embedded other specialized CMS packages within your site. Typically your best bet is to look at which project has been updated the most. For example, phpbb3 is the most widely used open source forum package in existence. While numerous CMS packages have come and gone, phpbb3 continues to be the leader in the web forum arena. Do you want to use Drupal’s seemingly paltry forum system, or just integrate phpbb3? Likewise, do you use the basic photo gallery module that comes with Joomla or do you integrate the community leader called Gallery3 into the mix?

These are the types of questions you are faced as you build your own CMS-based site. Hopefully if you’ve started the task, you have a few weekends to work, and that is assuming you aren’t trying to migrate data from an old CMS package to a new one. Having recently gone down this path, my site for Z Guild is almost complete. Unfortunately I am not a graphic artist, that is another problem for another day, but functionally Drupal’s Advanced Forums modules with Gallery embedded has been working out very well for us.

Whatever path you choose, be sure to come back and share your experiences. Good luck!