Thursday, March 16, 2006
Loot distribution systems
Some of my blog entries are totally spontaneous. Others have crystallized in my mind over a longer period, and sometimes I even do some proper research on the issue. I had planned for some time to write something about loot distribution systems. I did find one nice blog entry from Chrismue on it; I can give you the link, but the blog is in German and thus you might not be able to understand much of it. So I'll go ahead and give my own view on the subject.
In a perfect world, where greed doesn't exist and nobody makes mistakes, you don't need a loot distribution system. In the real world it turned out to be very necessary, as earlier games often had problems with "ninjalooting", people grabbing more than their fair share of loot in a group by being always the first to loot, often even looting before the combat was finished. The invention of items which are "bind on pickup", that can't be traded, made loot systems even more necessary, as sometimes people would accidentally pick up an item somebody else could have used better, and then were unable to pass it to him even if they wanted to.
World of Warcraft already has a quite advanced loot distribution system built into the game. Free-for-all is possible, but it is not even the default mode. The default is called group-loot: Grey and white items are looted by taking round robin turns. Green and better items are displayed to all group members, who then can decide to pass, roll need, or roll greed on it. If you pass you don't get anything. If you pick need, a random dice roll for everybody who picked need determines who gets the item. Picking greed falls in between, stating that if nobody wants the thing, you'd take it for selling. If nobody selects need, a random dice roll between the people who selected greed determines who gets the item.
Group loot is a sophisticated enough system for most pickup groups. Most people are willing to select "need" only on equipment which is really better than the piece they are currently wearing. So usually the blue bind on pickup gear is needed by somebody, and the green stuff is distributed by everybody selecting greed. Worst case scenario in a pickup group is somebody selecting "need" on everything, at which point you either kick him out of the group, or everybody starts selecting "need" all the time.
As soon as you start forming groups regularly with your guild, instead of with random people, other considerations come into play. If you are reasonably sure that you will group with the same people again and again, it makes sense to consider who in the group would benefit the most from some item. For example the tier 0 set items are not strictly class specific, and a priest could wear Devout items as well as Magister or Dreadmist and profit from them. But as Dreadmist for example has relatively high bonuses to stamina, which is very useful to warlocks, but less useful to priests, it would make sense for the priest in the group to let the warlock have the item. That way the warlock gets stronger, which will help the priest in the future, and if later the Devout piece drops, the priest can assume that the warlock would pass on it.
That works pretty well in my guild. Recently we looted some leggings which were an upgrade to three of the spell casters present, and we ended up comparing what we were currently wearing, and giving it to the guy who had the worst legs, for whom it was the biggest upgrade. Unfortunately even my guild is not living in a perfect world, and the "common sense" loot distribution doesn't work in all cases, because sometimes people don't agree what common sense is. My warrior lost a roll on Drakki's shield in UBRS against a shaman, where the shaman argued that for him it was a big upgrade, and I argued that a shield with +10 defence skill is a warrior shield and he should go looking for a shield with +int instead. Even if you are in "master looter" mode, where one guy has the final decision on who gets what, these situations aren't easy to resolve, and put a lot of stress on the one master looter.
Things become even more complicated when raiding places like Molten Core. Many trash mobs don't have any loot at all, while the bosses drop 2 epic items. So after a typical raid you might have some people with no loot at all, having to pay for their repair bill by farming gold, while a few of the others got one or more highly valuable epic items. In one recent MC raid I participated in we only had very few druids, and by a statistical fluke found lots of druid gear, so that of 8 epic items in total one druid received 3 epics, while there was absolutely no item for the many priests and warriors present.
One of the reasons why there are very few to none pickup raids to Molten Core is this unbalanced loot distribution. It simply doesn't make sense to spend 4 hours with strangers and ending up in the negative, just for having a small chance to be the lucky lottery winner. A guild raid to MC is more interesting, because you can count on everybody gaining more know-how of how to beat, and even if it isn't you who gains the epic items, somebody else getting stronger will help you the next time around.
But even in a guild raid to Molten Core, neither the built-in loot system nor "common sense" will always be enough. As these places don't have enough loot to give something to everybody, you might well have one guy going on half a dozen guild raids to MC and never seeing an item for his class drop. Then when an item he could use finally drops, he would be pretty upset if that item is given to somebody who is on his first raid to there. Argueably the guy going on many rights has contributed more to the continued success of the guild in MC, and deserves the item more than somebody of the same class who rarely goes raiding. That is why most guilds that raid regularly have some sort of raid point system, which is managed internally by the guild, with no support from the game interface. (I wonder if anyone ever wrote an addon to handle this)
One fairly typical system is the DKP (Dragon Kill Points) system, which dates back to Everquest, but is used by many guilds in World of Warcraft as well. In that system everybody who participates in a raid receives a number of points for participation, or a number of points per boss killed. And when an item is dropped that several players want, the item is auctioned off to the highest bidder of points, who then loses the amount of points bid, and thus has less chance to get the next item.
My guild uses a different system, developed by our guildmaster Wivelrod with input from other guild members: Like in a DKP system you get points for every raid you participate in. But you don't bid points for an item, you can only use either all of your points or nothing. The player(s) with the most points gets a +50 on his /random 100 roll, and is thus very likely, but not absolutely sure, to win. Only if he wins, he loses all his raid points. The system isn't perfect, and we use it only for Molten Core now, but it avoids some of the problems a full DKP system has with collusion in auctions, and not giving casual raiders enough hope to gain anything.
The advantage of such point systems is that it can encourage people to go on raids even when they already have the loot from that particular raid dungeon. And everybody gets the feeling that even if he didn't win anything this time, at least he improved his chances to get something the next time. The disadvantage of raid point systems is that they all overly favor people who go on raids more often. Because even without points, somebody doing twice as many raids already has twice the chance of getting something.
This is a fairly difficult policy option for a guild. If you distribute loot on a "who needs it most" basis, the newer players are favored. If you distribute loot with a raid point system, the players being longer in the guild and those who participate most often in raids are favored. Both ways have dangers in their extremes: If the newer players get most of the loot, it is difficult to persuade the more experienced guildies to lead the newbies through places that the older players have already visited far too often. If the older players get most of the loot, then there is a risk that the newer players never go on raids, or even leave and split the guild to effectively reset the raid point tables. Guilds have a natural attrition at the top, with older players becoming bored after some time and leaving, thus they have an interest in bringing a steady stream of new players into their ranks, before their numbers shrink so much that nobody can go raiding any more. But at the same time you need to keep the older players happy, so they don't leave all that fast.
Getting a raid together is already not easy for a guild. The fact that different players are differently far advanced in their meta-levels and the progression from UBRS raid via ZG and MC to one day Onyxia, BWL, or AQ, makes this even harder. Those who drove the progress of the guild as a whole will, when the guild arrives at BWL, think that they deserve the tier 2 loot more than somebody who just made level 60. But these newer players will not be motivated to go to places where they can't play a major role in the success of the raid due to their lower meta-level, if they obviously don't have a chance to get loot there due to some DKP system.
Loot systems are evolving all the time. World of Warcraft has this need/greed system that evolved in previous game integrated in their game already. That makes me wonder if one day games will have integrated loot distribution systems for guilds, with the game itself counting raid points. As advanced WoW is with group loot, as backward it is in everything concerning guild management. EQ2 for example has far better web-based guild management tools than WoW. On the other hand the interface of WoW is pretty flexible, and has already been improved several times, so maybe one day even a guild raid point system will be integrated.