Overview of Loot Systems

Zomgepics! The joy, the sor­row. The absolute headache for any­one run­ning a guild. This is a fol­lowup arti­cle to The Most Suc­cess­ful Loot Sys­tems.

Any sys­tem that involves large teams and lim­ited loot (for exam­ple, PvE raid­ing in World of War­craft) requires a sys­tem to sort that loot out. If your 25-person group takes down a raid boss, and that boss drops 4 items, how do you deter­mine who gets those items? It takes time and effort to raid, and some­one has to get gear before some­one else.

There are many, many kinds of loot sys­tems. How­ever, all of the ones I’m aware of fall into three broad cat­e­gories: earn and spend, higher author­ity, and random.

Earn/Spend

You earn some­thing out­side of the game through par­tic­i­pa­tion, which I’ll call guild juice. You spend your guild juice com­pet­i­tively on gear that drops in those raids, while your fel­low raiders are doing their guild juice in the same way.

There are many, many kinds of Earn and Spend sys­tems. You might have heard of DKP, which peo­ple com­monly call points, and has dozens of implementations.

Pros:

  • Good feel­ing of user con­trol.
    You earn guild juice by par­tic­i­pat­ing in raids. Save and spend your juice as you like, accord­ing to your guild’s rules. If you decide that you want a piece of loot more than any­one else, then spend more juice than every­one else when you see it. If you don’t have enough juice, then earn more juice.
  • Defined, pub­lic rule sys­tem.
    Con­flicts can (the­o­ret­i­cally) be resolved by point­ing at your guild’s posted pol­icy: “Lis­ten, I’m sorry that you want to spend your juice on your alt, but we’ve got a rule for that right here.”
  • Quick.
    Item is up, whis­per me your juice bid. Done.

Cons:

  • Can be a night­mare to admin­is­ter. Addons usu­ally come into play at some point, and these addons are typ­i­cally per­fect for the author but not for you.
  • Self­ish peo­ple will game the sys­tem.
    A first­hand exam­ple: When I became raid leader, I inher­ited a DKP point sys­tem. Mem­bers would not show up for raids on time, know­ing that there was 20+ min­utes of trash to clear before the first boss. I con­vinced the offi­cers to put a small bonus for being at the instance 5 min early. Mem­bers then showed up 5 min early, yay! Then they went afk, boo. I know that this says a lot about the peo­ple I was raid­ing with, but my point is that there is no point sys­tem that can­not be gamed.
    Every time you reward behav­ior you want to see, some­one will actu­ally put effort into find­ing the point of least effort and dis­rupt your happy and healthy raid envi­ron­ment. Once this hap­pens, it becomes harder to cor­rect the behav­ior, because they can point at your guild’s posted pol­icy, too. Which leads to fix­ing that par­tic­u­lar weak­ness with a new rule. Which leads to new flaws that are exposed and abused. Which leads to another new rule, until you get a loot sys­tem that is twenty-odd pages long with peo­ple quot­ing “arti­cle 4, sec­tion b, para­graphs 3 and 5″ in their argu­ments and your healthy raid envi­ro­ment being gamed just as effec­tively. (Not that I’ve ever been down that road)
  • These sys­tems can be com­pli­cated.
    Earn/spend can feel sim­ple but actu­ally be the oppo­site. Some point sys­tems end up only accu­rately described with macro­eco­nomic terms. This means that you can have prob­lems where the per­son doesn’t even under­stand what they’re doing is wrong.
    A first­hand exam­ple: I had to try to a group of well-meaning play­ers why col­lu­sion in a points sys­tem is bad. I failed, as I couldn’t find a sim­ple way to explain col­lu­sion. And all they wanted to do was pass loot to each other.

My favorite earn/spend sys­tem is Sui­cide Kings (oth­er­wise known as spend-all DKP). Nice par­tic­i­pant con­trol, easy to admin­is­ter, very lit­tle gam­ing possible.

Higher Author­ity

This is also known as Loot Coun­cil. The Higher Author­ity (HA) is one or more peo­ple who keep score in their head, and assign loot to mem­bers of the raid as it drops. The raid trusts that the HA gets the assign­ments correct.

Pros:

  • When the Higher Author­ity gets it right, every­thing is right.
    A smart and atten­tive per­son knows bet­ter than any arbi­trary set of rules what each per­son does to help a guild’s progress. As one GM told me, all that rules in an earn/spend sys­tem try to describe is what every­one already knows any­way, so why not dis­pense with the arti­fi­cial rules and just go by judge­ment?
    The HA knows what the mem­bers are look­ing for, knows which egos need to be stroked and which ones are more self­less, know how to main­tain the jug­gling act of rewards-versus-effort going indef­i­nitely. When done well, every­one trusts that the HA will get the loot to the most deserv­ing peo­ple, and be fair about it, and keep every­one moti­vated and on the right track. It’s per­fect when it’s work­ing well.
  • Can Be Fastest.
    HA sees item, HA assigns item. No admin­is­tra­tion or book­keep­ing. This is the most com­mon case.

Cons:

  • When the Higher Author­ity is wrong, it’s so wrong.
    Take every­thing I listed above, and then pic­ture HA only get­ting it right 70% of the time, or bla­tantly favor­ing one group of peo­ple (offi­cers, rel­a­tives, spouses) over every­one else. This is usu­ally easy to see, and these raids/guilds fail quickly.
    More com­monly, though, imag­ine that the HA gets every­thing 97% cor­rect, but with one or two peo­ple con­sis­tently wrong, whether due to:

    • per­sonal bias (“lol hunters”)
    • per­son­al­ity con­flicts (“this per­son is so damn annoying”)
    • lack of under­stand­ing (“this per­son has the least over­heal­ing, they are doing best”)

    In my expe­ri­ence, when a per­son feels that they’re on the out­side of a HA’s wrong deci­sion, there is noth­ing more aggra­vat­ing and drama-inducing. Because the sys­tem is the HA, a prob­lem with the sys­tem is a direct con­flict with the HA. Hence, the higher drama multiplier.

  • Peo­ple can game the Higher Author­ity.
    How do you game a per­son? Social hack­ing. A cer­tain kind of per­son (read: Guild Can­cer) will shame­lessly buddy up to the HA and try to ingra­ti­ate them­selves just for this rea­son.
    A first­hand (offtopic but related) exam­ple: In my guild we have a rotat­ing GM role. We have a guy who shame­lessly bud­died up to every GM for two years, through six GMs, want­ing to be an offi­cer. The sev­enth guild GM, he finally found a per­son who his shtick worked on, and voila he’s an offi­cer. Hacked!
    The same kind of crap can hap­pen to the HA:

    Guild Can­cer says, “Hey HA, you want some help run­ning an alt through an instance?“
    HA thinks, “Wow, I never knew that this per­son was so inter­ested in help­ing others.”

    (For the record, despite call­ing such a per­son Guild Can­cer, I try to be dis­pas­sion­ate about these kinds of things. In my opin­ion, being aware of such trends in peo­ple is part of being a leader.)

  • Can Be Slow­est.
    If the HA is a group of peo­ple, and those peo­ple dis­agree on where a piece of loot should go, the raid comes to a halt while the HA hashes it out. And as any raid leader will tell you, idle time kills raids.

So, how do you know if you have the right peo­ple run­ning it? How does the HA know if they’re doing it right, with the cor­rect bal­ance of objec­tive and cor­rect? How does the HA main­tain the trust nec­es­sary to keep this sys­tem going?

Again, that’s why guild lead­er­ship gets the big bucks.

Ran­dom

This is also known as Need/Greed. A piece of loot drops, every­one who’s inter­ested in it exe­cutes some kind of ran­dom die roll, and the win­ner gets the loot. This is often the “default” loot sys­tem because it’s imple­mented with in-game tools. Vir­tu­ally every pickup group uses Random.

Pros:

  • Quick and easy.
    “X dropped. Roll.” Over and done.
  • Absolutely no favoritism.
    Unless you are friends with prob­a­bil­ity, like I am. I’m kidding.

Cons:

  • Peo­ple don’t under­stand prob­a­bil­ity.
    Oth­er­wise known as: “I lost again?!” I know that this is a broad and crass gen­er­al­iza­tion, but some peo­ple are just ill-informed when it comes to luck, chance, fate, prob­a­bil­ity, what­ever you want to call it. Peo­ple don’t like what they don’t under­stand. Some per­cent­age of peo­ple are just going to flip out when ran­dom means ran­dom. They won’t under­stand that it’s per­fectly fair when some­one wins twice, four times, six times in a row.
  • Fair isn’t always the goal.
    When a per­son never sees their zomgepic drop, and then when it finally does, fails to win it. You can put on a sem­i­nar with the sub­ject Prob­a­bil­ity Works and Why It’s Fair, but the answer you’re likely to get is “What­ever, I haven’t got­ten loot in 30 raids, so I’m leav­ing this guild for that one, which doesn’t roll for loot. /gquit“
    Peo­ple expect their con­tri­bu­tions to add up, they expect some kind of score to be kept… whether they’re aware of it or not. This is why most guilds with a per­sis­tent raid­ing effort don’t use Ran­dom on the parts they con­sider to be important.
  • Has a pickup feel to it, even within a guild run.
    In my expe­ri­ence, peo­ple treat Ran­dom loot with less con­sid­er­a­tion for fel­low guild­mates.
    A first­hand exam­ple: My guild finally did take down the PvE boss from PvP Win­ter­grasp. An item dropped that is a nice upgrade for some­one who PvPs. A good friend of mine, who is usu­ally gen­er­ous to the point of being loot-averse, rolled on and won the item despite hav­ing a loathing for PvP. Mean­while, there were sev­eral PvP enthu­si­asts for whom the item was a greatly desired upgrade. I asked him why he rolled, and he said, “It was a free roll.“
    When you offer some­thing up for a free roll where peo­ple have to opt out, you’re going to see weird (unde­sired) behavior.

Final Thoughts

There are many com­bi­na­tions of the above three sys­tems. Lim­it­ing who can roll is a mix of HA/Random. Spend­ing accu­mu­lated points to influ­ence a ran­dom die roll is EarnSpend/Random.

If you look at the pros/cons for each major com­po­nent, they’re mir­ror images. Every upside has a cor­re­spond­ing down­side. Rules and points means the (likely) pos­si­bil­ity of peo­ple who manip­u­late rules. Trust in HA means the pos­si­bil­ity of the HA let­ting some­one down. Ran­dom is fair, but fair once isn’t fair always.

That’s why I said that there is no cor­rect loot sys­tem. There is only cor­rect enough for your guild, and the answer to that is deter­mined by the lead­er­ship of your guild’s offi­cers, the par­tic­u­lar hills and val­leys you’ve all encoun­tered.

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4 thoughts on “Overview of Loot Systems

  1. Matticus

    Absolutely bang on with all pros and cons. Although I do think SK mer­its a sec­tion of its own because my under­stand is that its a lit­tle more dif­fer­ent than stan­dard DKP types.

  2. Oriniwen

    I think you’re cor­rect in say­ing that the best loot sys­tem is whichever one is best for your guild. It sounds trite, even tau­to­log­i­cal, but it’s still true. What­ever sys­tem your guild has faith in and causes a min­i­mum of QQ (QQ is always non-zero. grrr.) then that’s the one for you. I don’t know why loot sys­tems are all the rage inthe blog­sphere these days, but I talked about the EPGP sys­tem and how it ush­ered in a new era of peace and pros­per­ity and feral druids lay­ing down next to sheeped tar­gets. It works for us. If you have a guild like us, and have loot sys­tem issues, I rec­comend it. And it’s not as fid­dly to admin­is­ter as it seems. Really!

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