Loot Speak: World of Warcraft, Guilds and Loot

Lootspeak I put a squabble over loot right up there with going to the dentist – both are equal bottom on my list of ‘awesome things to do with my time’ and the longer you avoid it, the more it festers.

WoW’s new flexible raiding system has put an end to much of the nonsense surrounding team selection (see /g chat Aug 2012: Swings, Roundabouts and Blenders) but it’s created a few new problems too and how to divvy up the plunder is one of them. Now that raid sizes and team make-up can change at a whim, I’d thought we’d take a look at how some of the loot systems are holding up under the pressure.

Highest roll wins is a no-maintenance way for guilds to split up the loot and thus, the staple of many a raid team. It’s the Fox News of loot systems – fair and balanced. (And I mean by that, not fair or balanced in any way). It doesn’t distribute loot evenly, doesn’t reward people for putting in an effort, and doesn’t care that you altrusitically passed for someone you believe deserves the gear more. It’s RNG and, personally I think, way too popular for its own good – just like Fox News. RNG’s bell curve flattens out nicely over many thousands of rolls. However, over the hundred or so rolls your team will make during an entire tier, it’s near certain that a lucky third of your players will be sitting pretty and start pushing to move on to new content. The unlucky third will end the tier with one or two upgrades after weeks of raiding while the middling third will staunchly and rather zealously hold no opinion at all. I think you all know which group you’re in.

Bottom line, outside of dungeon PUGs, the only people RNG serves are guild officers and MMO developers. They’re the ones spared the effort of imagining, creating and maintaining better, more engaging and fairer mechanics and, because the system is inherently impartial, any disputes can be also be effortlessly dismissed with a quick “don’t blame me, blame rngesus” or a cheeky “sort it out amongst yourselves”. Enough RNG, I say! It’s time to rise up from our puddle of complacency and demand a little more from the powers that be.

Biggest Upgrade
Often coupled with rolling or loot council, this is unequivocably the worst looting system in existence and flexi-raiding has made it worse still – if that is even possible. The trouble is it seems logical. Surely giving loot to the person who needs it most is the most beneficial thing for the entire raid team? Unfortunately there’s a seedy underbelly to this argument that often gets obscured in the cloud of justice and piety that its supporters always seem to espouse. When you give loot to the person that needs it most, you’re actually rewarding the laziest, flakiest people first. In the beginning, loot goes to those who didn’t bother to farm heroic items or acquire crafted gear. Later, as gear levels progress, you’re dishing out the booty to those people who turn up least, fake switch mains four times to gear up alts, or joined your guild 10 mins ago. If you’ve got a regular team and everyone is conscientious – this system is great. If your guild is reveling in the freedom that flexi-raiding provides – this system will make absolutely sure that your least frequent raiders are wearing the shiniest suits.

Fixed Wins
This system limits the amount of loot a player can win within a fixed period. Win a roll and that’s your loot for the night or week. It’s not a terrible system, but any system based on rolling isn’t fair – it’s gambling. Limiting wins does offset the downside of RNG a little but brings a whole new mess of problems – psychological vexation being the main one. If your raiders are any kind of conscientious, one win per lockout can pretty quickly spiral into a crazy mental dialogue – Should I roll on the Pretty-Good Cloak? Or should I wait to roll on my Bad-Ass Weapon? But if the weapon doesn’t drop I’ve missed out on the cloak. So Ima roll on the cloak… but what if I win the cloak and the weapon doesn’t drop but the trinket does!!? Okay… brain avalanche imminent. Activating fail safe devices. Shutdown in 10, 9, 8…”

Suicide Kings
Suicide Kings is another very popular, low-maintenance system. Make a list of your list of raiders. The person at the top of the list has first dibs. When you get some loot you drop to the bottom of the list. If you have consistent group of regulars, gear gets distributed pretty evenly among them. In a flexible raid system, however, Suicide Kings loses some of its sparkle. Back in the days when getting and keeping a spot on a raid team was something you had to earn, the incentive to turn up for every raid was a lot higher. Now that failing to show doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll ruin the lives of 24 people, most are availing themselves of a healthier life balance (and rightly so!).

The maths of Suicide Kings, however, depends on a fairly even class/spec/tier split across your team and dictates that the people who turn up every night get about the same as people who only show up for farm night. Humans being humans, every guild will have a couple of ‘them’… the guys that only show up when their name is near the top of the list. The old system tended to spare us by limiting their exposure to raiding in the first place, but flexi-raiding doesn’t do that. If you’ve got more than one or two in your roster, Suicide Kings might quickly become Ninja Rape No-Reach-Around Kings.

Loot Council
What’s that saying… “Power corrupts and absolute power is crap for everyone who either isn’t on the loot council or cybering with someone who is.” Loot Councils are brilliant for hard-core progression guilds, where gearing up tanks, healers and key DPS are top priorities. In these cases, Loot Council is just a small part of the progression machine that also includes class analysis, performance benchmarks and attendance requirements. Plus the guild’s kills, server rank and general prestige act as significant component of the reward you get for your effort, making gear comparatively less important. However, instituting a loot council without the rest of that framework or the glory of ‘World Rank Shit-YEAH!’, can too easily fall victim to the sub-concious trials and tribulations of the day. Before you know it, the majority of loot has found its way into the inner core’s pockets and all you’re doing is crafting the world’s best recruitment messages to spam trade chat with. If you’re not a hard-core progression time but you like the idea of Loot Council, a good way to avoid the potential downside is to establish the parameters by which Loot Council awards loot with the whole guild. Publish that criteria on your website and be sure to include some checks and balances to make sure council member’s stick to the agreed rules.

Developed by the guild Afterlife in 1999, DKP awards Dragon Kill Points for attendance which can then be spent on gear. Within DKP there are lots of different subsystems – zero sum, relational, perfect, bidding. I could write a whole article alone on the pros and cons of each kind. But, at it’s core, DKP uses the following formula to arrive at a priority for loot: Attendance Points Earned – Gear Won = Priority. EPGP expands this system beyond attendance and winning loot using the formula Effort Points / Gear Points to establish priority. Effort points can be awarded for anything from attending a raid, to being on time, wiping a bunch, contributing gold to the guild bank, making pots and chants or insulting someone’s mother. Similarly, Gear Points can be deducted when you win loot, use guild repair money or bank items… or insult someone’s mother. The beauty of DKP & EPGP is that it allows people to set their own priorities and make the choices that suit them. You can save your DKP for the weapon or trinket that everybody wants, or replace crafted items and BoEs without reproach. You can distribute your DKP amongst four of your toons or super-gear one main.

Another huge benefit, of EPGP in particular, is the ability to give bonus DKP to players for making decisions that benefit the team or guild – like a person deciding not to play the FOTM to help rebalance classes or to give new raiders a little piece of sunshine fairly quickly.

The downside of these systems is their corruptibility. Busdriverx on Reddit says it best “… it’s a fair assumption to say that leadership is always corrupt and to find a system that most effectively eliminates that aspect.” Too much bonus DKP, or a system that was designed to support the minority’s definition of fair, rivals Loot Council and Biggest Upgrade for terribad systems. But a good system, designed by the majority of members and faithfully maintained by the officers, will not only help shape the code of conduct for your guild, but will compel people to make considered loot choices and live with the consequences.

One of the reasons discussions about loot are so difficult is the lootwhore brand people risk at the mere mention of gear. It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, absolutely no one puts in the time and effort to maintain a raid schedule for the altruistic reward of helping gear everyone else. Anyone who says they do is stright-up lying. There’ll always be those voices crying “People just need to be nicer and share!” but everyone’s interpretation of a fair share is different. And, as the moody, hormone-driven creatures that we are, even your own interpretation of fair can change from day to day.

The best loot systems are ones that reward players with the things they want, not the things they need – even if you think what they want is stupid. Your raiders should know what they need to do to earn rewards and be able to plan their toon’s gear progression with some modicum of certainty. Loot should be distributed by a means other than chance, as fairly as class and spec distribution in your roster allows and the guild as a whole should decide on that definition of fair. It’s the officer’s job to implement a system to support that definition. Is fair – first come, first serve? highest attendance? most liked? best team player? most even distribution? best for the guild? Only your members can decide on that.

It’s our fun time after all. No one should tell us how to spend it and a fair, self-directed loot system makes for happy players and ultimately a happy guild.

/gchat: The Good, The Bad And The Guildy

/gchat is our new and ongoing column on guilds and the fun, conflicts, laughs and rage-quits they contain. If you have a topic you’d like covered, drop Jemima a line!

By far the two most common causes of grief surrounding your whole guild experience are absent leadership and being in the wrong guild.

Absent leadership is pretty easy to spot, unless you live in Poland and rolled on Gav Daragon because you thought it sounded like a tasty sausage, but that is an article for another day.

Being in the wrong guild is often much more difficult to recognise.

Like most made-for-TV-movie relationships, you don’t want to see the problems. You’ve already invested a lot into the guild: made great friends, had great times, gone for long walks through the rakghoul-infested swamps of Taris at sunset and stopped for a romantic dinner at Karagga’s Palace.

Problems start as minor annoyances, but like a frog being slow-boiled, they can quickly escalate into train wrecks without you even being conscious of it. Bargains that should be made out loud and with other people are made silently and with yourself. “I’ll give them one more week to pick me for the team and if they don’t…  I’m leaving!! I swear to god!”

Next thing you know you’re throwing chairs and saucepans at walls and the police are asking you to sit in separate rooms – well, replace chairs and saucepans with mice and keyboards at monitors… and there’s no police – but you get my drift.

Assuming your leadership is present and does care about the guild, unhappiness with your current guild is more likely a symptom of the fact that they don’t care about you.

So how do you recognise the warning signs that you’re in the wrong guild?

If you’re in a social guild, but constantly frustrated that they can’t organise their way out of a paper bag – you’re in the wrong guild.

Social guilds are great for new players still trying to figure out the game, their class and what they want to do at end-game. They’re also fantastic for the lone-wolf or the family guy who logs in on Tuesday evenings, when the wife is at book-club, and are happy to PUG on the rare occasions when they feel like participating in structured activities.

But raids and ranked warzones are not like all-night movie cinemas – you can’t just buy a ticket for the next showing. You need rules, level and gear requirements. You need a fixed number and mix of classes to commit and then actually show to even give it a try, let alone succeed.

But the lack of these rules, requirements and obligations is the very thing that fundamentally defines a social guild. If you’re frustrated at your guild’s inability to provide enough structured content for you, it sounds like it’s time for you to specialise and move on.

If you’re in a raiding guild but find yourself too often benched, you’re in the wrong guild.

Casual, hardcore, semi-hardcore, decaf-halfcore with a twist of lemon – there’s a million different kinds of raiding guilds out there from absolute beginner to sponsored professional. But the devil is in the detail and when you start adding in rules and requirements, you have to make sure they work for you. You can generally liken the officers of raiding guilds to a hot chip on a beach of seagulls – trying to keep everyone happy with not quite enough to go around. So the key here is to make sure that you don’t want special treatment.

If you want the flexibility to raid as and when you choose on a moment’s notice, make sure you’re in a casual raiding guild and be prepared to sit out when you don’t necessarily want to. If you want a known schedule: min/max your gear; don’t stand in stuff; find a guild that guarantees positions to core raiders or works on a fixed rotating schedule; and show up when you say you will even when you don’t want to. Find out how they distribute loot and be honest with yourself – will you still be happy with that system once your ‘probation’ period is over?

Above all, make sure the raid team you’re on matches your experience level. Gear is easy to acquire – developing skills take time. If you’re constantly frustrated by the clown-show around you, it’s time to move on. If you’re too frequently the one wiping the team, you’re likely to find yourself having long conversations with Mr Bench.

If you’re in a PvP guild and you’re not getting matches, you probably suck at PvP.

Unlike PvE, in PvP there are no do-overs, there’s no we’ll get ‘em next week, and every win and loss gets recorded in the indelible ‘inspect player’ scorecard. Your performance is measured by the numbers and published to all those present at the end of the match. By necessity, PvPers live on the ruthless side of life and PvP team leaders have to be cut-throat to win. There’s still a requirement for some class balance but not to the same extent as raiding so if you’re getting benched, chances are you’re just not as good as the other people wanting to go.

Practice more and get better. Stop clicking or find out what that means. Roll a class or respec to one that’s more suited to PvP. Find a lower ranked team so you look good by comparison or turn that toon into the most formidable crafter on the Fleet.

Whatever your problems are there is a guild out there for you!