Tobold's Blog
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.
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.

This worked for more than 5 years for my current guild, we called it "brain on" system. It kinda worked in EQ, cause we got less raid loots, wich barely were upgrades to the stuff, you could get without a full blown raid.

Things get different, when upgrades are only reachable from huge raids, cause now you do not have to satisfy 5 people, you have 50 (or 40 in WoW). I knew my entry would leave the wrong impression. I would love a system wich works without DKP points, where everyone is capable to think. This is an illusion though. Since we do have a DKP system, the loot drama showed up, but the distribution got way more efficient.

I was a member of two major raiding guilds once. Those guilds never ever got any kind of loot drama. This suprised me, now i know the reason for this. Their loot systems were very efficient and fair, for the majority of players. This is were the problem lies. Raiding guilds, most of the time, have a players from equal types. There is no gap between one rarely seen on raid, and one always playing. This is why they watch for attendance percentages. They value this, cause it prevents loot drama.

Problem steps in, when Player "rarely seen on raids" wins the loot over Player "always seen". WoW totally lacks a third level of rewards besides items and faction. Especially when the game does not offer any kind of value for the time invested, the guild needs to offer something. Even when we dont had DKPs and i got no loot or faction or anything, Everquest rewarded me with experience for AA points. I got something for the time thrown into, yes i need this. Let it be that my ingame hair changes color every hour or so, but give me some feedback.

Since this whole raiding mechanism started, many guilds have invented endless possibilities for loot distribution. There is no one-loot-system-fits-all solution yet. Some just work better, some do not.
WoW totally lacks a third level of rewards besides items and faction. Especially when the game does not offer any kind of value for the time invested, the guild needs to offer something.

In Zul'Gurub WoW uses the faction system to effectively hand out additional raid rewards. "Player rarely raiding ZG" in a brain-on guild would not be allowed to get a "primal" ZG item, because he doesn't have the faction required to use it. So "Player often raiding ZG" gets an epic reward by handing in the primal plus the coins and bijous from his raids (which my guild manages from the guild bank), which isn't available to the rare raider.

I don't believe that guilds where all the players are at the same level and raid equally often being a stable situation. Sure, you avoid the problems between the frequent and less frequent raiders. But sooner or later enough people leave to push the guild under the critical size for raiding, and then you either stop raiding, or you need to bring some new people in, at which point the question how much loot the new guys should get will reappear.

I think a guild with continuous recruitment, which deals with the issue of new players in raids all the time, is a lot more stable in the long run.
My guild works a zero sum DKP system which I'm a huge fan of. Minimum bids are 30 DKP (and the majority of Molten Core items go for that amount), items rarely go over 100 DKP, and all players start with 100 DKP.

This seems to work great because hoarding points is a very difficult proposition. Those that do hoard points are almost always wanting one specific item and are going to spend most of their points the first time it drops.

As long as nobody ends up with a ridiculous amount of points for an extended period, all new players introduced to raiding are in a very fair position point wise. Usually close to the middle.

The only down side to pure DKP is that people no longer feel it necessary to use their brains. We have people buy items that will minimally help them, just because they have the points, when other classes could really use the upgrade and it would be more beneficial for the guild as a whole.
There are addons to help with DKP. My guild uses one to track raid attendance and DKP - all automated I believe. It even interfaces with some web code and is visible over the web. Take a look.


You didn't mention the Master Looter (ML) system in your post or comment. The ML system is very useful in preventing the all-need rollers and in dolling out items according to a rule set. Most raid PUGs use ML and a predefined set of rules (usually the customary 1 blue/1 class set pc per person). Most raid RUGs also follow the 'class set pcs go to that class if needed' and avoid the Priest-wanting-Dreadmist issue entirely.

In Onyxia/MC/BWL/AQ/ZG, ML is used exclusively. It keeps everyone honest and following that predefined rule set. Not to say discussions don't take place, just that the ML is the final arbiter.


I am a huge fan of my guild's DKP system. Very briefly our current DKP system - and know that my guild does take a few non-guild members on raids, if needed, as needed, etc.

1 DKP for attending. 0.5 DKP per boss killed. 1 DKP for killing a new boss the first time & 0.25 per failed attempt. 5 DKP awarded to new guild members in their first raid. Two classes of items: bid & random. You can win at most 1 bid item & 1 random item in an instance (e.g. weekly MC, weekly Onyxia - counted separately). (This rule subject to bending if no one else needs the item, e.g. you're the only Rogue who needs the Nightslayer bracers that dropped but you already used your random. You will still pay the DKP random-cost but receive the item "for free" so to speak.)

Items go for bid first. Person with the most DKP who bids wins the item. A bid win costs 1/2 DKP + 5. (E.g. If you have 20 DKP, a winning bid will have you spend 15 DKP.) Must have at least 5 DKP to bid. Lowest you can go is 0 DKP, no negatives. Anyone with 10 DKP or less will zero out their DKP total.

If no bids, the item goes to random. Those interested roll on the item, winning roll wins. A winning random costs the winner 1 DKP (aka 1/5th of the DKP value for that item).

Although you must have 1 DKP to win a random, if you use your bid thus reducing your DKP total to 0, you can still win a random that raid instance. (A little funky here but basically anyone can win a random in the instance.)

BOE class pcs are randomed among those who need and cost 0 DKP, though they do count as a random. (I.e. If you already won a random this instance, no rolling for you.)

We do not DE items if someone can/will use them.

Looking at the guild's rules, there are some funky things about legendary items and outdoor raid bosses and Domo chest class-specific items (Priest/Hunter epic quests) that I'm omitting here.

Trade-specific patterns will be randomed among those who can learn it instantly. Must learn it instantly. Costs 0 DKP. Can only win 1 of these per instance unless no one else wants it. Do not count as your random item.

All DKP totals frozen at start of that night's instance. DKP recalculated at end of that night's instance.

All DKP earned and spent will be updated (on the web) within 24 hours, not at the end of each individual event. The DKP spent and the restriction of 1 bid and 1 random per raid cycle is applicable immediately.


Because the guild has been raiding MC for a bit already, quite a few attendees have MC pieces already. Thus, a number of class pcs and other items are not being fought over by *everyone*.

Very few people save up their DKP. Under the system, it's far better to spend your DKP rather than saving it since it gets cut in half+5. It does mean some people (those saving) are reluctant to use their bid, leading to less bid competition over some pcs.


I passed on all loot my first Onyxia/Silithus Lords raiding with the guild (earned 3.5 DKP) so I started my first MC raid with 8.5 DKP (including the 5 DKP guild signing bonus). Won a Seal of the Archmagus that first MC Raid. :-)

Since DKP are awarded after the raid, I effectively entered MC with 8.5 DKP (spent all of that) and came out with 5 DKP (earning 1 for attendance and 8 bosses worth at 0.5 each) and the Seal.

Second MC Raid I bid on Felheart Gloves and won Felheart Shoulders as my random. Even after that (last week), I'm now at 10.37 DKP going into BWL & MC this week. I'm not the highest but I'm not the lowest. If more Felheart drops in MC, chances are I can win a bid on it or random on it.


Just wanted to give an example of an alternate DKP system that I particularly like. I used to be a fan of the random+(amount) system that you use, Tobold. But I've changed camps a bit, especially as my guild's system incorporates choices and a round-robin approach that doesn't lead to the same people always winning.

By cutting saved points in half, there's less of an incentive to save (unless you *really* want one item in particular), fewer people *do* save, and even those who save aren't necessarily guaranteed to win again after they spend their savings.


I've only played DAoC, SWG and a smidgen of AC before WoW. What other games incorporate a bop aspect to equipped/used items? I thought WoW was somewhat novel in that arena since you can't twink with used items a la Diablo 2/DAoC/SWG.


Long comment.

In any case, loot rules and loot concerns are among the most devisive aspects of the game. They are often at the core of group disputes amidst cries of "HE NINJAD MY SOWRD" etc.

I think WoW's ML system has helped create some choice in avoiding or forcibly trusting others with loot distribution. I also think that WoW's NBG (default Group Loot) is a nice default method that is highly useful, and forcibly honest, at times. Of course with bop items in the game, it's a good thing WoW has these systems - else we'd all really be screwed. ;-)
Whoops! 2 things:

"(This rule subject to bending if no one else needs the item, e.g. you're the only Rogue who needs the Nightslayer bracers that dropped but you already used your random. You will still pay the DKP random-cost but receive the item "for free" so to speak.)"

I forgot, if you're the only one who needs the class pc, whether or not you used your random, it defaults to you and costs 0 DKP. HOWEVER, if it defaults to you because others who need it already used their bid or random, it counts as your random and costs you 1 DKP as above.


My guild talks things out and is very pleasant about loot. No drama that I've seen yet. None tolerated either. Everyone is very nice and willing to work things out, some even pass on usable items for others. If your guild is nice and willing to work with each other rather than against each other, it makes a *BIG* difference.
Our guild wasn't built to raid. When I and the co-founders set it up, we hadn't even heard of "Raiding". I was an Asherons Call player, and the others had played EQ, but only for a few months, and then never progressing beyond the low level content.

The guild was formed when DAoC was released, Oct 2001. Many of the people we recruited were older gamers, many with families, and some with odd shift patterns. This remains a fairly true to this date, the guild isn't full of "hardcore" WoW nuts. We have alot of MMOG newbies, and lot of people with families that are unable to always be available to raid.

So that left a problem with us. We could have gone for a full DKP system, but many of the players I describe above wouldn't have come raiding with us. In fact, a good proportion of them complained forcably when the merest notion of "DKP" was raised. They knew that a hardcore DKP system would make them the "have nots". Equally, those that played often and went on every raid complained that they deserve their epics more because of their commitment.

It was a nasty debate, and I know a couple of the officers fell out and havent been on good terms since.

In the end I came up with the system that Tobold mentions in his blog. It was a halfway house, where the hardcore always raiding guildie gets a significant advantage, but the once in a blue moon raider at least has an outside chance of winning instead.

Its a compromise, and like all compromises it isn't perfect. But it has served us well so far, though it is high time we looked at it again and tweaked it.

Full on DKP works if your guild is built on the principle that the majority of your players are there to raid. If you don't raid much, you'll likely not win an epic ever, until such time as all the regulars are kitted out of cause...if that ever happens in a constantly growing guild and an improving game content!

This whole issue is a big one for guilds like us. Can we really upset guild members that have been with us for over 4 years? No! As usual, the solutions are never easy!

I may even abolish the entire DKP and bring it back down to simple common sense and trust the Master Looter to keep a cool head :P
The guild I'm in uses a simple zero-sum DKP system that I think is very effective. I've only gotten to go to MC twice, and will likely never get to go again due to time constraints, but I've seen the system in action and think its a good one.

All players start with 0 points. Every item in MC has a point value. For instance, Giantstalker Gloves are 60 points. If the raid kills a boss and it drops those gloves, 60 points are divided between all raid members at the end of the raid. If you want an item, you pay its point cost, with the option to "buy" going to the person with the highest points.

For example, Hunter A has 1 point, Hunter B has 20 points. GS gloves drop. Hunter B has the option to take the gloves. He does so and now is at -40 points. Next boss drops some hunter loot worth 80 points. Hunter A now has the highest number of points and has the option to take the item. If he did, he'd be at -79 points. At the end of the raid, points are tallied for items dropped and distributed.

Hunter A finishes with -61 points, Hunter B finishes with -22 points. Next raid, Hunter C plays as well. He's a newbie hunter with 0 points. If Hunter loot drops, he has the highest points and can choose to take the item.

I like this system because it doesn't really punish you for being new or only raiding rarely, and it doesn't punish someone who raids all the time because the only way they'd lose to someone new is if they've been getting a LOT of epics in a short period of time. I've never heard of loot drama in this guild.

The only downside is a result of blizzard's random loot distribution. If the guild runs MC 10 times and no priest loot drops, the priests who attended will have a LOT of points. If a new priest starts raiding, he's not going to see any epics for a long time unless other priests generously pass. This isn't unfair, and no different than any other DKP system, but it is unfortunate.
Some guilds are set up as friendly "societies" where non-"l33t" gamers can still achieve things great things through teamwork - game mechanics permiting. Others focus solely on powering through content in a military style and to hell with the all-important "community" aspect.

By attempting to convert a casual guild into a raiding guild - no matter how noble the intentions - and opening the doors to all and sundry, you risk losing what made that community special in the first place, with casual members increasingly "drowned out" of forums and /gu by the noise of here-today, gone-tomorrow newcomers who've only signed up for the promise of purple pixels.

WoW's greed-driven endgame forced many guilds into this unfortunate position - expand or expire - and Tigole and Co's seeming obsession with pandering to the hardcore few is the most regrettable aspect of an otherwise excellent mmorpg. Hopefully at some point they'll study the figures and start catering for the majority.

As for DKP v Master Looter, that's a moot point with a close-knit guild, and with so many views to appease you can never hope to keep everyone happy - but if you go for the latter just make sure it's done by someone whiter than white and respected by the entire membership. ;)
In Zul'Gurub WoW uses the faction system to effectively hand out additional raid rewards. "Player rarely raiding ZG" in a brain-on guild would not be allowed to get a "primal" ZG item, because he doesn't have the faction required to use it. So "Player often raiding ZG" gets an epic reward by handing in the primal plus the coins and bijous from his raids (which my guild manages from the guild bank), which isn't available to the rare raider.

Interesting. Your guild handles this, like it should be handled, but not everyone is doing it that way. I still see the new faction prequisites as a pure grind meter: do your homework first, and you may get a shot for loots. Just like a build in DKP system. Do gain enough DKPs first, then you will get your chance.

You probably know the "Head Collection" quest from ZG. This is the perfect solution to itemize a zone and to reward everyone participating. Scarlet Monastery had the same quest. I would have like to do it again to gain a second quest reward. They should stick to this idea. Let there be dozens of steps for "Head Collections". I like the idea to gain something out of every kill, not just the first.
The ZG head collection is flawed though. I agree that including the Hexxer head was too much (I finished the quest, but I'm aware that I'm also going to ZG with people in better than blue gear and used to raid encounters). The thing that bothers me is the Channelers heads. If each head could only be gotten once, no big deal. However, if you can only kill 1 boss (say snake or bat) you can still finish the quest. It would just take 15 days.

I like the idea of the head (or some other trophy) gathering as well, but they still need to encourage people to push further into dungeons. Sure, the tiger/spider bosses may take a few tries for those used to smaller dungeons but what's wrong with taking a few tries?
The reason I didn't say much about Master Loot is that it puts a lot of burden on one person. I ended up being Master Looter on one recent small guild rate, and I hated the stress. Between the guy who protested that we used ML at all, to those who were in a hurry and felt I was distributing loot to slow, it was pretty stressful. And I would have hated to have to decided some difficult case on who is allowed to roll on what.

There are certainly people who make good Master Looters, but sooner or later the guy gets the blame for taking a decision in a loot dispute.
I love the ML system and I even like *being* the ML! Okay, I can be a bit of a control-freak if I want to and being the ML caters not only to that desire but also any lingering concerns over fair loot distribution and loot rules.

The ML system exchanges trust in every individual in the group for trust/faith in the ML. It also exchanges ultimate decision-making in the same manner. I like that, generally. It does shift the burden to the ML but it also stops the buck there. Whatever the ML says goes. It has to. There is no appeal process, no undo button. You're exhcanging a democracy for a dictatorship with respect to loot. And I'm in favor of the benevolent, enlightened dictatorship (in general). ;-)

As for blame, that's a mantle the ML automatically assumes. Comes with the territory. Likewise disputes. But that's also why it's good to have the "loot rules" established, known or explained prior to beginning any group or raid. It prevents subsequent discord, provides advance notice and enables those who disagree with the rules to leave at an early stage when it is appropriate and less injurious to the group/raid.
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