I used to think the loot council method of awarding raid drops was super. That was when I was an officer and was more concerned about the success of my guild than reward and recognition for individuals. Now I am a probationary raider in another loot council guild and see the system from the other side. And I have to say, it's not as super as it used to be. I can see the flaws and cracks in the system — but more importantly, I can also see that what I thought as an officer was good for my guild may well have contributed to its collapse.
A loot council, as I mean it, is simply a group of raiders who decide between them who gets the drops. In my experience, it usually consists of whichever officers of the guild are in the raid at the time, although it doesn't have to be. Each council will have its own ideas and guidelines for making these decisions, but the primary reason for using a council over other distribution systems is to ensure that the loot is put to best use for the good of the guild. And this is where loot councils start to break down.
The problem is that the needs of the guild are constantly in flux, making it very difficult to write up a clear and consistent set of rules — one day a guild may want to reward a player for their commitment, another they may want to better equip a tank or healer for an upcoming challenge, sometimes they may need to use loot to keep key players loyal. Every drop, every day, is different; a loot council will often have to contradict past decisions to achieve present aims. And this is compounded by the fact that different players may be making the decisions from day-to-day, possibly creating even greater inconsistency in the process.
For the player base, this can be confusing and frustrating. It is demotivating to miss out on upgrades week after week when there is no apparent pattern to the awards. It's even harder when loot council decisions are made in private and not explained afterwards (as they invariably are). This lack of transparency is easily avoided with some clear guidelines on a forum or in the guild information, but these are often necessarily vague to allow for every eventuality.
Loot council principles also lead easily to bad decisions. Loot councils may take current items into account when assessing an upgrade — something which you can't control easily with other systems — but that doesn't always mean the right person gets the item. I have seen items with spirit go to shamen and paladins over cloth and leather users, items with agility go to death knights over hunters and rogues, and items with mp5 go to dps over healers. While the individual benefited from an upgrade, people who could have benefited more lost out, and as long as a player is sporting a sub-optimal piece of itemisation, they will be on the lookout to replace it as soon as the next opportunity arises. In the long-run, this is not the best use of gear for any guild.
To be fair, not all loot councils allow players to roll on sub-optimal gear, or would necessarily award it over more suitable players. But the system encourages council members to make these mistakes by its very aims — almost anything can be justified for the good of the guild. Such a selfless act is easy to defend and player may feel churlish to challenge. In loot arguments, "good of the guild" is the trump card and needs no further explanation.
In the end, a loot council is a self-consciously biased court that casts judgement on players without the right to reply: X raids more than Y, N is a better player than M and so on. These judgements are rarely scientific but based on personal opinion and knowledge — and are therefore open to both conscious and unconscious influence. How do you know X raids more than Y? Or that N is better than M? You just think it, or you have the evidence to back it up? How long have these comparisons held true, and what makes you think they will remain so?
Of course, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Many players on loot councils make good decisions on loot every day, and it contributes effectively to the progress of many guilds through challenging new content. But I'm not talking about players, I'm talking about the system, and this one, I have come to realise, is fraught with pitfalls to catch even the best guilds out.
A sure sign that you have fallen for them is a rising turnover or falling signup. Chances are, the people leaving or not showing up are the same ones not getting loot. Here, the loot council can easily lull you into a false sense of security. You naturally value the players receiving the loot over the ones who aren't (that's why they got the loot), so you may well think the missing faces are expendable. Until, that is, you realise you can't field a 25-man raid without them. And before you know it, your two ten-man teams are one, and even that becomes a struggle.
To be fair, many guilds have made loot council work for them. I'm not saying it's unworkable, just flawed. To avoid the pitfalls as best as possible, a guild must be absolutely transparent about the process it uses to award drops and it must be consistent and fair in applying it. I would also recommend keeping detailed and visible records of drops and decisions, so that both the council and regular raiders can monitor the system's implementation and keep a check on bias and misuse.
Of course, some of the problems here are common to other distibution methods too. There's no value judgement intended on DKP or rolling here, just some food-for-thought on one particular system.