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Planning your Loot System

Planning your Loot System
By Jesse Gumm
Owner of Sigma Star Systems
Operator of DKPSystem.com

There are two things that make running a guild rather complicated: 1) Dealing with people, and 2) setting up the Loot System. This essay will deal primarily with 2, to help you avoid having to dealing with 1, since many "People Problems" stem from Loot issues.

Getting Started: First Decide
There are a TON of options at your disposal for setting up a loot system, even within the "DKP System" sub-category, you'll find several variations. In an ideal world, you could determine a system similar to that of an employer: Pay someone what they're worth. Unfortunately, that's hard to do a game and in a raid of 40 people, as the only people who REALLY stand out are the Main Tanks, Top Healers, Top DPS (and even those can be misleading). I'm digressing here a little bit here, but in short, a DKP System needs to reward participation, and the hands-down easiest way to do that is to reward attendance evenly.

Of the loot systems at your disposal that deal with just that, you have at least the following:
DKP, which itself has numerous variations, such as:
Variable Spending
Variable Earning
Static Price DKP
Static Earning DKP
Suicide Kings
And other variations

You also have other Non-DKP loot systems:
Merit Systems
Priority Systems
Rolling (/shudder)

When choosing a Loot system, you need to accomplish two primary things...

First you need to reward those who make your raid strong. That typically amounts to people who are regular attendees and have a strong grasp of the mechanics of the game. After all, strengthening your regular raiders, strengthens the raids as a whole. Second, you need to devise a system that best curbs drama. Drama about loot is a regular thing in MMO games, as any guild leader will tell you, and so making a system that is fair to everyone will do wonders for curbing drama before it comes up.

The easiest system, but easily the worst of the options is just straight-up rolling. Rolling works for small groups of friends, or for outdated items, but once that group of friends upgrades to a full-on raid, it's time to move to something better; something that will reward those who make your raid stronger. The last thing you want is some initiate to come in and roll highest on the hot new "Awesome Sword of Awesomeness" and leave the guild right away.

Merit System
This is defined simply by the leadership of the guild (occasionally referred to as "the officers" in this essay) handing out loot to whomever they feel deserves it. This system certainly accomplishes the necessary goal of getting loot to who you feel is a primary contributor, however, the subjective nature of it can result in an extremely strong resentment toward the leadership. By lacking the mathematical objectivity of a numeric loot system such as DKP, you can expect to face the accusations of "playing favorites." If you can weather such accusations, this system is easy, and doesn't require any kind of special software to track data or anything. However, it IS still a good idea to do so, just so you can have a history of raid attendance and loot received for internal decision making processes. While this is a somewhat viable solution to handing out loot, I think a system of this nature is more suited to slightly out-dated content and loot. I strongly feel the newest content needs to be determined through a mathematically-based system.

The king of loot systems is the DKP System, which itself is really more of a classification of defining a guild economy, than a well defined loot system. Saying your guild has a DKP System is like a country saying "yeah, we have a monetary system." You could say the USA and the Soviet Union both "had a monetary system" but the systems were very diametrically opposed. I use that example to demonstrate the differences between DKP Systems. While you have differences between Capitalism and Communism, you have similar differences between DKP System iterations.

There are 4 primary variations in a DKP System: Variable Spending, Variable Earning, Static Spending, and Static Earning. What do I mean by this?

Static Spending is the idea that all items have a fixed price. In this case, the item always costs the same amount, and goes to the player with the highest DKP, after which point, their total will be deducted by the fixed price of the item. This method treats earned DKP like a loot order list.

Variable Spending is typically done by auction, with the item going to whomever bids the most on the item (with limitations, such as "you can't bid into the negative," or you can only bid so far negative). This method treats DKP as a form of currency, by which members can spend what they feel an item is worth.

Static Earning is done by assigning a set value to each boss (or other metric for assigning points). In this method, a boss is worth the same amount of points, regardless of how many points are spent on loot.

Variable Earning typically redistributes the number of spent points evenly among the attendees. For example, if you kill a boss and after distributing loot, 20 points were spent total, then those 20 points get divided by the number of players in the raid. For our example, we'll say 40. So 20/40 = 0.5 points will be given to everyone. The purest version of this method only awards points to the raid when an item is looted and the price is redistributed.

Note that the two earning methods and the two spending methods are interweavable. So you could set up a system where all items are auctioned (variable spending), and those spent points are redistributed (variable earning), or you could set up a system where all items and bosses have fixed values (static earning and spending). There are any number of methods that can be used and recombined, and it's really up to you to determine how you want to mix those primary rules.

There are a few other "oddball" DKP System variations out there as well. Suicide Kings is in a way a DKP System. In Suicide Kings, when you buy an item, you spend all the DKP you have, and it goes to whoever is highest ranked and wants the item. There is also a variation where every item costs the same amount OR "half your DKP." For example, an item drops, and you bid. You can bid either the static amount, (in this case, we'll say 5 dkp), or you can bid half of your current DKP. Anyone who bids half their DKP gets priority over anyone who bids 5.

Generally speaking though, most DKP Systems use a combination of the four primary variations above.

Points and Economics
Once you've picked how you wish to base your system, you have to start picking how points are earned and spent, and the specific point values for items. Some guilds only give points on boss kills, while others implement systems involving such things as "points per hour." Personally, I tend to disagree with a "Points per hour" approach, is it, in a way, rewards failure, and almost encourages people to work more slowly because they'll get more points. In any case, the single most important thing to try to prevent is inflation. Inflation happens when points start losing value, and to compensate, point values of items start to steadily grow (if you're using dynamic spending), or members start accumulating too many points, and the spread becomes difficult to get items to the new members. Unless you're utilizing a dynamic earning system, this can be rather difficult to balance. Generally speaking, in order to maintain a steady economy with your DKP system, you'll have to go to great pains to make sure that points entering the system are properly being balanced out by points leaving the system. The best indicator of this is the average from week to week. If the average DKP is increasing every week, then you know you have an inflation problem, and you must remedy it before it gets out of hand. At the same time, if the average is decreasing (very rare), then you have a deflation problem, and you must also remedy it. The Average DKP needs to remain constant to ensure that the system remains in tact. (This is why DKPSystem.com provides for an "Average" line on the graphs: to allow the guilds to keep a close eye on the inflation of the DKP System)

The easiest way to accomplish this is to use a pure dynamic earning model, whereas points get redistributed via loot to the raid members in attendance. This system has a fairly obvious flaw, however: how do you reward attempts on a boss you haven't finished yet. If you utilize a pure dynamic earning model, you ensure that no points that are earning by killing bosses go unspent, thereby guaranteeing a balance. The problem comes in when you want to award points for attempts that go unsuccessful. Then you have unbalanced points entering the system, effectively causing inflation (while insignificant at first, can become a crippling problem after a few months). Thus, if you want to employ a dynamic earning model, you'll have to have some ways of removing points from the DKP pool, in order to guarantee balance.

Another possible solution is to use static earning and static spending. This effectively means that all points earned and spent are in the control of the officers, who must choose a balance. Doing this, however, is no easy task. The method to do this to ensure that points are earned properly is to try to make sure that bosses are worth roughly the average that is spent on that boss. For example, If BossX, a 40-man raid boss, on average drops 35 points worth of loot, then that boss should be worth 0.875. If you manage to accomplish this perfectly, then on average that boss will result in a zero net loss or gain, which is almost exactly what you want. However, we still have the potential problem in the previous example, with awarding points. This is much more easily dealt with, however. Simply lower the values of the bosses while keeping the loot values the same. Picking the proper value for the boss isn't terribly difficult either, with a little analysis. If on average 10% of the earned points per week come from "boss attempts" which go unanswered, simply lower the prices of the bosses by 10%. Most members won't notice much a difference, but the DKP System will love you for it.

The most complicated method to oversee is a purely dynamic method, such that all items are auctioned (dynamic spending), and all earned points are divided from the spent points (dynamic earning). This is difficult to manage because of the complete lack of control the leadership has over the prices, but because it's effectively a "Zero Sum" system where all points earned are zeroed out by points spent, you have that same problem of awarding attempts. The simple solution is just like the previous example, where you determine on average what percentage of earned points are "unanswered" points. Then simply reduce the amount you redistribute by that percentage. For example, say roughly 15% of earned points are go unanswered. You just kill Boss-Y (a 20-man raid boss) and after distributing loot, a total of 45 points are spent. You would then take the 45 points divided by 20, which yields 2.25 points. Now multiply this number by 0.85 (which is 85%) to get a value of 1.91. This boss would then be worth 1.91 points, and is 15% less than the amount that would have been given to every attending member.

The final hard combination of the 4 methods is the concept of static earned prices with variable spending prices. In this method every boss is worth a fixed number of points, but all items are auctioned. This system is the hardest one to control, because the values of items are almost completely out of your control. With a system like this, however, you can sit back and observe how the system will work itself out, and begin modifying boss prices accordingly, trying to maintain the "Average DKP" as steadily as possible.

If you're going to start a purely dynamic system, you'll want to start all players with an initiate value greater than zero (If everyone started at zero, they wouldn't have any DKP to spend).

A final consideration when choosing point values is to make sure item prices scale accordingly, while still making items desirable at the cost.

Now that all that has been said, it's you have a firm economic basis to begin choosing boss values for your system. Personally, I find it easiest to award points in the range of around 1 per boss, but you can do anything, and that's just a personal preference. If you choose 1 or 1000 for your costs of items or raids, as long as you follow the guidelines above, you should be ok.

Policized Exceptions
There will inevitably be exceptions you'll want to insert into your system. Here are just a few examples with some brief explanations.

Gearing out the Main Tank: The main tank is usually the pivot point of the raid, especially in WoW in places like Molten Core, where you really only need one main tank. An under geared Main Tank is either going to die very easily, and will over stress the healers. As such, it's a good idea to either force items to the Main Tanks, or set up some kind of understanding, whereas the other plate wearers are willing to pass on items which would greatly benefit the Main Tank.

Setting some sort of inactive rule: If you have members who rarely raid, but might happen to have more points than a regular raider who just happened to spend a lot of points, it might be worthwhile to consider setting some threshold where a member becomes "inactive" and is therefore ineligible for loot over an "active" member despite the DKP Standings. This could cause some drama, as someone could play the "favoritism" card if they are being marked inactive, and so to ensure that no drama occurs, it would be best to make some rigid rules regarding this, so that when someone gets marked inactive, they don't immediately call foul. Rules like "If you don't attend a single raid for 2 weeks, you go inactive" for example, are rigid and therefore undebatable when someone gets marked inactive. They can't play the "favorites" card.

Probation Periods: You can also bar people from looting by implementing a probation period whereas a previously good member all of a sudden goes sour and under performs, you could place said member on probation, thus barring them from loot until their performance increases.

Naturally, every guild will find other reasons to make exceptions to stringent rules, but it's a good idea to make sure these rules are written out so that no one gets a new rule handed to them at an inopportune time. If it's verbalized on your website or somewhere else, then there is no excuse for not knowing the rules. So make sure you have these rules well established before telling someone they are all of a sudden not getting the item they were expecting.

More Policies for Consideration
It is possible for someone, given almost many setups, to hold out on spending DKP until they've accumulated enough that it's possible for them to begin a cycle of sweeping all new loot indefinitely. Given that, there are methods of helping to prevent situations like that for occurring. One method is to implement a "Tax" or to implement a "Decay" system.

Tax: An example of setting up a Tax system would be in charging an increased percentage of the purchased item cost depending on the number of points the purchaser has. For example, lets say for a system which awards on average 1 point per boss kill in an instance, after a bit of time, it wouldn't be uncommon for someone to get 100 points. Lets say, we'll charge a 0.5% tax for every point you have. Therefore, someone having 150 points, would be charged an increase in cost on an item by 75%. An item purchased for, say, 20 points, then would actually be charged 35 points, because the cost of the item would be increased by 75% of 20 (which is 15). Doing a policy like this would help to discourage people from hoarding points, and if someone decides they want to attempt to hoard, will definitely feel a sting. If someone decided they wanted to wait until they had 200 or 300 points, and thereby having an item cost increase of 100% or 150% would definitely regret hoarding those points.

Decay: The topic of decay is almost large enough to have it's own essay, but I'll do my best to summarize the concept of decay, and why I feel it's essential to ANY DKP System. The purposes of a DKP System is naturally to reward participation. However, an important reason for implementing decay, is to effectively put weight on recent activity, and recent activity should be weighed more, while at the same time, old events shouldn't be discarded completely.

The decay implementation that DKPSystem.com supports is a method in which the earned and spent points begins decaying slowly, and accelerates over time. There are two more decay implementations coming on DKPSystem.com: Linear Decay (where points decay at a constant rate until reaching some minimum value), and "Power Decay" where the points will start decaying relatively quickly and taper off toward the end.

In any case, I strongly advise the usage of a system of decay. Perhaps I'll write an essay describing the mathematical and economical reasons for decay, but I very strongly feel it's a great idea.

There are two more policies that are worth mentioning for DKP System implementation. How far someone should be able to bid into the negative, and the problem of "PvE Only Gear on a PvP Server."

When implementing an auction-based system, you'll ultimately need to determine how negative, if at all, you want members to be able to bid. After all, if someone can bid infinitely into the negative, there's no point in a DKP System. So you'll have to determine how low people can go. There is the standard of "You can't bid negative at all," and that's a fairly straightforward approach. However, personally, when implementing it, I think it's a good idea to put some weight on raid regularity, when determining how deep into the negatives one can bid. For example, you could implement a rule that says "you can bid negative the number of points you earned last week."

The other thing you'll get into, if you play on a PvP server and have many members who are into PvP and so don't want to spend a lot of DKP on items that don't give them "big numbers." Many members want to get the next big weapon, or items that increase your crit chance or the amount of damage your spells and abilities do. The problem with that is that they'll pass on key items that increase survivability (Defense and Armor, or Resistance Gear). The big problem associated with that is that many of those items are absolutely necessary. If you want your guild to progress, you need to do your best to make sure items like resistance gear doesn't rot or get "sharded." So, ideally, it's a good idea to make those items cost lower, simply to encourage picking up those items. Every little bit helps.

Well, hopefully this guide will be of help to a guild building a DKP System. For someone who hasn't done it in the past, it can certainly be a daunting task. After reading this guide, you should at least have a solid understanding of the primary functions and caveats associated with a system of this type. I strongly advise also reading the Wikipedia article on DKP.