18 February 2010

The problem with loot council

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.


Isa said...

I kind of like the lack of transparency with loot council. Pretty much the defining aspect of any loot system is someone is going to try and game it for their benefit. But if you're not entirely sure how it works, you can't do that very easily. I still support keeping detailed records, but not making them public, so you can determine if someone's gripe has merit or not.

Then again, I raid mostly with people who don't care much about loot, and probably any system would work for us. A lack of transparency surely does hurt most guilds most of the time.

Anonymous said...

I feel like loot council can't possibly have enough spreadsheets in the world to make it "fair" and it will always be somewhat subjective. There will be hurt feelings even if it is "fair". Whereas nobody argues with numbers.

Paolo said...

Really nice article, very complementary to my own recent article on problems with LC.

In my last guild, which was also LC, bids were taken in raid chat. This allowed people to withdraw their bids when they saw what other people were upgrading...so in a sense, the LC was extended to the entire raid, at least in part. My current guild takes bids over private whisper, which I find quite frustrating.

The problem with LC is that very few raiders (or raid leaders, or officers) are good managers. Subjective loot assignment (as opposed to objective...like EPGP) is partly about guild progress, and partly about keeping raiders happy, motivated, and team-spirited. These are management skills, and having bad managers run your LC is a recipe for disaster.

The management in my current guild (including its LC, but going beyond it too) is so bad that I'm on the edge of a gquit, even though we're tied for server #2.

Anonymous said...

I too used to be part of a loot council and we always awarded said loot to members who were obviously staying with the guild (anyone past initiate or higher) that the item was the biggest upgrade for. IMO this helps the raid group as a whole because a raid group can more easily deal with gear check with a level playing field of gear across the group.

Thats in the past as I am now in a guild as a member with a biased loot council. members of the loot council are steadily awarding themselves with upgrades that while minor for themselves are huge upgrades for non council members. This is leading to an elite cadre of 3 damage dealers spiking 9k dps and a larger majority of the raid barely scratching 5k. And they wonder why we're failing gear check fights.

They justify their judgements by saying the items are rewards for long membership but this is only hurting the raid group as a whole and they don't seem to consider it as bad. When I mentioned the short comings to their actions their response was to offer me dibbs on the next upgrade for myself after their council members didnt need it.....Needless to say I plan on finding a new guild shortly as this only confirmed my suspicions.