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Ready Check: How to handle raid loot systems

Tyler Caraway

Ready Check helps you prepare yourself and your raid for the bosses that simply require killing. Check back with Ready Check each week for the latest pointers on killing adds, not standing in fire, and hoping for loot that won't drop.

There is one simple truth that we must all face: Loot is the most important factor of WoW. We all play for different reasons -- some for friends, others for the thrill of downing new content, and some to be the best. With all of these things, the end result is the same. Run dungeons, you get gear. Deal in PVP, you get gear. Raid? You end up with gear. Gear is unavoidable. It is always the end result of any activity that you perform. Every game has its end, to a story, to a plot -- and WoW's end is gear.

Unlike single-player games wherein loot control is not an issue, WoW deals with multiple people and limited gear. There's only so much stuff to go around, with far more people wanting to get it. To facilitate who gets what, players have relied upon constructed systems of loot distribution. While the way in which loot is handled will vary from guild to guild, there are several standardized systems that are fairly popular. This week, we'll be taking a look at why loot systems are important and the things that you can do in order to minimize loot-related issues within your raid.

The uncomfortable truth

Once again, make no mistake in thinking that loot is unimportant or that loot isn't a reason for why people play this game. On the surface, it may not be the primary reason that any player gets into WoW, in fact I doubt few people play exclusively for loot, but loot is the most tangible reward in this game. Humans, by nature, enjoy such things. We like what we can quantify with numbers.

Ask yourself this: If you were entirely unable to get any loot at all, how long would you continue to play WoW or play with the same raiding group? I mean all loot; if anyone in the raid wanted an item, they'd get it over you, whether they wanted it for a primary spec, a secondary spec, or just for fun. If an alt or new trial happened to be in the raid, they'd get anything they wanted before you. If the raid needs Maelstrom Crystals for enchants, then any potential gear you might use would be sharded instead of going to you. You'd get absolutely nothing. How long do you think it would take before this situation would frustrate you? A month? Two months?

Whether we like to admit it or not, we need to have loot. Of all the cliché things that people proclaim, not caring about loot in WoW is perhaps one of the biggest. I don't think I've ever meet a single soul who has claimed to care about loot, yet I've still come across many who get upset over the way loot in handled in a variety of situations. As I said, loot is the tangible reward of WoW. If players only played for the thrill of killing new bosses, then they would clear all the content once and never go back to it again. After all, once you've managed to kill Ragnaros, what more is there to do? Until the next raid comes out, you've beaten the game; there are no new challenges for you to complete.

So why continue raiding? Why do people go back to the same raid for months at a time if they've managed to clear it? Loot.

Here's another adventure for you to think about. On a standard raid night, you, as a raid leader, proclaim that all of you are going to go raid Icecrown Citadel instead of Firelands that night. How many of your raid members would be perfectly happy with that choice? The next raid night, you go to Serpentshrine Cavern. How long would your raid be willing to continue to run raids where they don't get any tangible loot rewards from it? Now, transmogrification does throw a little bit of a wrench into this plan, so, all loot would have to be left to rot, of course. You're not raiding for loot -- after all, that's not why any of you raid. Your group raids because it enjoys each other's company. You're friends.

So how long would your raid group stay together running old content that has no loot reward involved?

Just as waling against the same boss for months without any progress will break apart a raid, so too will the complete and utter lack of loot. When there's nothing else new to offer, loot is all this game has.

We don't care about loot

The classic mistake that a majority of new raiding guilds or groups make is in how they plan on handling loot. A good number of raid groups start either entirely as a group of friends or mostly as a group of friends. They may not be real-life friends, but they've probably played together for a long time, know each rather well, and generally get along. None of them play for loot, so how they plan on distributing loot is just a non-issue for them. They're likely to go with an open roll or a loot council system, both of which are entirely legitimate in their own right. Things might go smoothly at first, but chances are, everything will come crashing down.

Raiding, and raid leading, changes people. They're new pressure that didn't exist before. People quit for various reasons, new members come into the raid group, old members leave, and even friends always have their own personal dramas with each other. Having a poor or dysfunctional loot system is going to create another level of frustration to any rift that forms within the group.

This is why loot distribution systems are so important. No matter how close you think your raid group is, no matter how little you all care about loot, you absolutely must have a good loot system. "Good" is such an ambiguous word, particularly in this situation. What makes a loot system good? There are actually two different factors which we use in order to judge how good a loot system is.

Loot equality

The first of these factors is equality. In a perfect game with a perfect loot system, every player will get gear at a 1:1 ratio, which is to say that for every piece of loot that one person in the raid gets, every other person in the raid also gets a piece of loot. This belief is rather basic. It's fair. People like fair. More things should be fair. Thus, creating an equitable loot system should be a no-brainer. No one is against the ideal -- so what's the issue?

Sadly, there is an issue -- and that issue is RNG. While any given raid group wants to distribute loot evenly, loot doesn't drop evenly. Say you have a caster dagger and five people want it. Your raid runs off open rolls, so the five of them toss their dice, and the balance druid wins. No harm, no foul. Next boss, a pair of leather caster gloves drops. You don't have a restoration druid, only a balance druid, so he's the only one who can make use of this item; he gets that as well. Your systems is now uneven. The druid has gained more loot than the rest of the raid. Now, say the druid is super-lucky. The next raiding night, a necklace drops that multiple casters once, they all roll, and the druid wins again. Further imbalances.

No matter how much you try, no system is going to be perfectly equal to all raid members at all times. This is due to the fact that loot drops aren't equal to all raid members at all times. The best that you can hope for is inducing artificial equality into the system. The shorter the equality, the better. Short equality? Yes, the faster your loot system drives itself closer to a 1:1 ratio, the better it is considered to be. Eventually, any loot system will reach the 1:1 ratio because eventually everything will drop for every raid member. How close you keep that ratio in the short term dictates the equality of a system.

Loot as a reward

The last judgment we use on systems is one of reward. Loot is the reward for playing this game, and many players feel as though they deserve this reward. Reward is interesting because it totally defies the concept of equality in a loot system; the two are essentially opposites. Instead of awarding loot to players based on the raw notion of what's fair within the raid, you instead have to consider what is fair based on other factors.

If our above druid raids every single night, is always on time, always prepared, yet only gains as much loot as a warlock who shows up one or twice a week depending on what he feels like, might be late, and usually has to ask others for supplies, the druid might feel slighted that he only gets as much loot as the warlock. This druid is putting in more effort than the warlock; therefore, it's natural that he feels he should have a larger reward for doing so.

While retaining the ability of equality, loot systems also have to cater to devotion or reward. The players who contribute the most gain the most. Failure to do this results in frustration for players who feel that their efforts are being valued by the raid as a whole. After all, why should they continue to put in as much time into the game as they do if they could get the exact same reward from the game and only put in half the amount of time that they do currently? There isn't a reason.

Balancing equality and reward

How good a loot system is becomes judged by these two concepts. Any loot system you use needs to give equal consideration to all members while similarly rewarding those players who contribute the most to the success of the raid group. Favoring either side too strongly leads to conflict and issues. Loot may not be the primary reason that any player in your raid plays, but it is always a reason, whether they want to admit to it or not. We as humans play for the rewards. Having a weak or defective loot system is just asking to create additional conflict in a raid that could easily be avoided.

Join us next week as we talk about some of the standard loot systems found in WoW, how they function, their pros and cons, and how they fare on the two scales of judgment.

Ready Check shares all the strategies and inside information you need to take your raiding to the next level. Be sure to look up our strategy guides to Cataclysm's 5-man instances, and for more healer-centric advice, visit Raid Rx.

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