The problem of loot rolls and merit

Adhering to the rule of “it’s best to write while thought is still fresh”, this post is a follow-up on Syp’s poll on protocol which comes with many layers of telling subtext. To continue where I personally left off in my comments there, here’s my general opinion on the matter of rolling for boss loot in that particular situation:

“3rd one for me although I don’t disagree with your choice either. if you feel okay to roll, you’ve every right to, as you said you WERE there too for the kill. but personally, I would feel obligated to let the other clerics have first pick, out of courtesy and empathy for sticking all the way through such a (seemingly) sucky run / group. which they might have had a fair share in of course, but yeah….I don’t see boss loot as an isolated thing; often the last boss in a dungeon really is also the best one for loot and the whole reason why people run it for 30 minutes or however long. I’d feel like a freeloader because I was only there for 5mins. but that’s me and I wouldn’t berate someone in my party for choosing differently (although if they outrolled me like that I would grind my teeth).”

“On further consideration, I think you made a legit choice within a system that is inherently flawed. the fact that raid guilds replace the whole rolls system with DKP, which pays a lot more tribute to meritocracy, is proof of that people don’t get rewarded for just showing up* but spending time. one could apply this to the much shorter dungeon runs too but for obvious reasons of time and missing authority, one cannot establish such ground rules for pugs.” [*as in showing up just for one boss]

I hold to that, although I think it needs some clarification. I will repeat too that I think Syp was 100% in his right to make that choice which is in accord with the system that Trion installed in the game. I would however argue that it’s not a very good system which is proven by situations such as this one – and that there’s still such a thing as individual choice.

So why is the system so bad?

It honestly shocked me a little to find so many comments along the lines of “if you killed the boss it means you deserved to roll for loot, period” – particularly because I think “deserving” has the least to do with anything. Does the system justify the roll? Yes. Does merit justify the roll? Absolutely not.

I think every last MMO player knows that dungeons consist of a great deal more than just bosses (unless they’re called Trial of the Grand Crusader); why else are there dungeons in the first place instead of loot piñatas lined up for us to plow through? Of course the entire journey through a dungeon, the trash packs, the little traps and annoyances along the way that make up 80-90% of the duration, are how players earn the rite of passage to bosses and loot. And therefore too, bosses and boss loot are not isolated events but rather the result and reward for beating the whole dungeon. Sure, for beating boss mechanics too – but if you’ve ever been to harder dungeons or heroics, you know that everything that comes before and in between bosses is often just as tough or even tougher than many of them. And it’s certainly more numerous.

Add to this, that in many dungeons the final boss is also the boss with the best loot – not necessarily because he is the hardest, but because it took friggin’ AGES to get there! I’d like to name good old WoW Scholomance, just to name one example: even in its 5man version, Scholomance was absolutely huge and a group could easily spend ~2 hours in there (certainly a PuG). The very last boss in Scholo was Gandling who, in comparison to the onerous 2 hours before him, wasn’t all that hard – but he dropped the important dungeon set one headpieces that everyone wanted.

Now, had you joined my party right before Gandling (which is the boss I had to farm the most in vanilla WoW due to loot luck from hell) and then outrolled me on the drop, you can bet I would’ve been absolutely devastated and furious. Did you have “a right to”? As long as no other rules were established – I guess. Equally, I would’ve had every right to grind my teeth though. Just because you can do something or have the right to do it, doesn’t mean it’s particularly thoughtful or “deserving”. If people always got what they deserved…well, what a beautiful world that would be.

To make a long story short, my main critique addresses the reasoning that such rolls are deserved – which I believe Syp asked about, partly also because he did have second thoughts. There’s a reason why the moment raidguilds start out, many replace the need/greed-roll system with their own version of DKP (or something similar) and it’s not just because raiding is a generally more time-consuming undertaking than PuGs: while DKP harmonizes loot spread for a guild for example, it also comes with the notion of being meritocratic – players get rewards due to the time they spend raiding overall, not just for showing up for one single boss. DKP is nothing but the attempt to make a currency out of merit and while it isn’t perfect on all accounts, it’s worlds better than random rolls.

To use WoW again as example: just because you killed Arthas once with your new guild doesn’t mean you have any right to his loot – I’m fairly certain that a vast majority of the guilds out there would agree with me. And why? Because the time you spent on getting him down is nowhere close to what other guild members spent. That’s what DKP is about, it doesn’t matter that the raid instance is bigger (the loot is therefore better too) – it’s the same basic question of time/effort spent vs. reward earned.

For obvious reasons you cannot use a meritocratic system like DKP in a PuG. There’s the issue of time, lack of organization and authority and erm… the end how big a deal is a dungeon drop, anyway? I realize many players probably don’t care so much either way (which is fine). I think I have made my point though. The rolls-system is flawed and while that isn’t your fault, you still have a choice. It scares me a little when we stop questioning our own choices just because we’re living in a system that tells us what is okay and what isn’t. No system is perfect.

But then…

…. I am not quite finished! There’s in fact another valid question I could bring up in favor of rolling: why should Syp be penalized by entering a party that has already advanced as far into the dungeon (which he had no way of knowing)? In some MMOs this even means being saved to the instance with no chance of re-running it the same day. Why shouldn’t he roll on the item when he actually joined to help and made killing the boss possible in the first place? What if he spent 30 minutes in a queue and this is his only chance at a group for the day?

Now that would be, in my humble opinion, a much better justification. If you choose to go with this reasoning, I would not only say he had every right to roll – but he actually deserved to. If PuGs are a deal of “you give some, you gain some”, this strikes me as better “payment” or contribution on his part than pushing a couple of spells for five minutes. If we take all circumstances into account, his contribution consisted of more than merely five minutes.

Bottom line: I don’t think this would change my own choice of action, but it’s a more acceptable reasoning to me personally. Considering it took writing a blog post (plus checking spelling!), I don’t like anyone’s chances to garner equal sympathy or argumentative effort from a random PuG-member though. What it shows me is one (more) reason why I never liked PuGs much in WoW or Rift and why I prefer reward systems à la GW2 these days. You might not have time to agree on complex loot rules in a PuG, but the game can most certainly come up with a better designed, in-built system for you.


  1. Is this a good time to say I love the DDO loot system? Everyone gets something that *they* can use from the dungeon’s end loot box. It’s orders of magnitude more fun than WoW’s system.

    1. Not played DDO but yes, that sounds awesome (better than in GW2 too!).

      I guess some will say what does loot matter anyway and part of me agrees, but if you install a system at least make one that doesn’t put players into PvP mode while PvEing… 😉 the focus and drama all around loot is increased by stuff like that – it would be nicer to focus on other things…like cooperation..

  2. *Cough* Rift, not WoW *Cough* 😉

    You put forth a great of arguments for DKP *in an established raid guild* all that logic goes out the window in a LFG-tool-based PUG. As you youself said, Syp didn’t aske to be put ina PUG that only had the last boss to kill, the random system put him there. Therefore, whatever went before was irrelevant. Though I answered Syp a little differently, I reconsidered and would now say he has even more right to roll if he was asked specifically by one of the current group to join and help finish the boss. After all, as was said in the comments on Bio Break , they wouldn’t have been able to finish without him.

    While I don’t completely agree with DKP, it is a reasonably fair way of doing things. I would prefer the LOTRO system more, or a currency/vendor system. Hmm, short post of my own coming out.

    1. I know his example is about Rift 🙂 I don’t see how any examples given of WoW would be different though – a lot more players/readers have pugged or raided in WoW than Rift, so I made that conscious choice in order to be able to refer to popular bosses or locations.

      I agree there were several circumstances about Syp’s run that justified rolling (which I’ve written too), I just didn’t like the reasoning presented in certain comments that were left. and disagreements are great food for a new post! 😉

    2. I think Rowan was referring to this line, which threw me as well as it implies that Syp’s story was about WoW:

      I will repeat too that I think Syp was 100% in his right to make that choice which is in accord with the system that Blizzard installed in the game.

    3. Ow, thanks! I did think so much about my own WoW experiences while writing this, that this slipped in by error! fixed now 🙂

  3. Hmm… I must admit this isn’t a point of view I’ve ever considered. To me the “Need or greed” system always worked well because it cut a lot of time discussing to see who could use what or wanted it. On Everquest 2, with my usual group of friends, our rule was always that if you could use it, just roll “Need”, otherwise roll “greed”. It didn’t matter if it was a shiny or a piece of gear. Some times that would apply for alts too as a lot of us had alts that were getting close in the levels.

    Keep in mind though that I only did normal dungeons in there and avoided PuGs like the plague. So that colored a lot of my experiences on the subject.

    Still, I do agree that system isn’t perfect and that people can avoid taking responsibility for being a jerk to others and ninja-looting by using the excuse that the “system allowed it therefore it wasn’t their fault”. I just think it might be the less bureaucratic route though.

    Also, it goes to show how sad that in a type of game so dependent on cooperation that it still so common for it to have systems that will bring out the bad side of people. In this case, loot. I look forward to Guild Wars 2 way to handle loot just so I don’t have to deal with this kind of thing anymore too.

    1. I think among friends you can easily keep a nonchalant roll practise – everyone knows everyone and even if someone is sad over a missed item, you know you’ll go back together. so from that PoV everything is easier with friends and there’s also more sharing joy than with a random stranger.
      like you I always avoided PuGs, I was always guilded. 🙂 and I definitely prefer MMOs that take the whole drama out of loot distribution. the thing is, while I am rather careless for loot these days anyway, some of the crappy and selfish behaviour in WoW still winds me up; it just insults my sense of fairness.

  4. I agree that “it’s okay because the game allows it” is a weak argument by itself, but I think the fact that people are making that argument is merely a symptom of the greater game design we see in many MMOs these days.

    Whenever WoW introduced some new adjustment to who can roll on what and when in the dungeon finder, adjustments to vote kick timers, deserter debuffs and so on – and people always clamour for more of these – all I could think was: Why not encourage people to treat each other as human beings to begin with? Then you wouldn’t need all these micro rules.

    1. Hehe I agree…but then we know why 🙂 common sense is not something that can be assumed. in my first raidguild in WoW, we had to learn this the hard way; at some point we wrote e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g down, rather safe than sorry. tbh thats another reason why I prefer small group-play nowadays, finding common ground with a few selected people is much easier than in a big crowd (or with strangers obviously).

  5. DKP works better than random rolls for multi-session gaming because it has a “memory” and can be used to even out the loot distribution, and also reward people for hard work that didn’t result in loot drops, so all the folks who had the wipes and the repair bills have priority over the guy who only joined in time for the farming runs. On the other hand, I’ve seen HIDEOUS drama within a guild over how the DKP rules should work as various people put forward “improvements” that tend to favour their own circumstances 🙂

    For a one-off PuG run, loot rolls are the only way you can distribute loot unless the game works on an individual loot or a token system – but both of those lack some of the excitement of having the boss drop a few items of awesomeness that have to be distributed. Individual loot where everyone gets an item from each boss results in people getting all their gear too quickly, as opposed to each boss only dropping a couple of items between the entire group. Token/mark systems such as the one LotRO has moved to feel more like working for a paycheck than uncovering wondrous loot.

    Beyond that though, I’m with Shintar – the issue is more around people acting like assholes than the specific loot rules. Unfortunately, the more you try and constrain behaviour with rules the more asshole-ish people get in worming around and twisting said rules. With people of good will, you don’t NEED detailed rules. With jerks, they’ll use whatever rules you have to their own advantage.

    BTW, I think I’ve dropped off your blogroll since the recent site upgrade. Don’t worry though, you haven’t missed much 🙂

    1. DKP “improvements” *shudder*! 😉 yeah, we always steered clear of that. I like the very transparent and clear basic ruleset of DKP. the only real issues my guilds ever had was when the loot tables and stuff like the token groups messed everything up (it’s not nice to have half the guild in top gear with a ton of DKP and the other half undergeared and waiting desperately to spend horrendously high prices for their second tier token). at some point we even trashed tokens of certain groups while the others still waited for theirs to drop. -.- DKP has no solution for inflation etc.

      I still think you can handle loot differently in an MMO overall, PuGs included; the DDO approach for instance sounds awesome. there’s still the excitement of random rewards but the team doesn’t get to decide anymore who gets what. this lack of control isn’t any loss in a PuG…and not actually in a group of friends either. it seems very generous of course – but then, wouldn’t it be beneficial in many ways if loot lost most of its manipluative power in group cooperation? if you take that focus away, people start playing differently. see PvP where you fight for objectives together and everyone gets honor on the side (also based on individual performance) to do what he will with it. I agree on the loss of wonder here as you earn currency – but DDO seems to have fixed that issue.

      and DOH@blogroll! thanks, it’s fixed now! =) still missing a couple but time will surely bring them back.

  6. > but he dropped the important Tier 1 headpieces that everyone wanted.

    He dropped the Dungeon Set 1 (D1) head, which was often referred as T0. T1 head drops from Garr. 🙂

    > There’s a reason why the moment raidguilds start out, many
    > replace the need/greed-roll system with their own version
    > of DKP

    I think you’re completely wrong here.

    A 5 man heroic has a high chance of getting completed. And it surely was designed to be cleared in a single session. On the other side, raids are designed to require weeks or month of investment until you reach the end boss. For a raid it’s more important that you’re available as much as possible then that that you’re in the raid for any specific kill. That’s why we use systems that reward player for being available as much as possible.

    The tank satchel is comparable to that. You get it for being available although you don’t profit from the dungeon.

    > For obvious reasons you cannot use a meritocratic system like DKP
    > in a PuG. There’s the issue of time, lack of organization and
    > authority and erm…..

    I don’t care if you run Scholo 100 times without luck, that doesn’t entitle you more for a drop then me running it for the first time because I don’t gain anything from your 100 runs. In a raid, the raid and every member would profit from your last 100 runs. That’s why we won’t have a DKP for PuG 5 mans.

    1. Not sure if you missed some info there, but the whole point is based on whether it isn’t somewhat greedy to roll need when you didn’t help getting to the boss and clearing the entire dungeon. If people spend an hour in a 5man and you join in the last few minutes – that was the premise. Not how many times you ever ran a dungeon vs someone else in the party.

      And dungeon set one indeed. It’s been a while. 🙂

    2. You compared the situation to DKP and explained why it could be considered greedy, depending on the point of view. I agree, there is no one and only one answer to the question if you should roll on that item or not.

      But I don’t agree that the DKP discussion has anything to do with it. 🙂 We don’t have DKP because it’s fair. We have DKP because it gets peoples ass into runs where nothing drops for them.

    3. I disagree 🙂 DKP serves a lot of reasons and fair loot distribution is one of them (aka loot in relation to time spent). joining wipenights is too, as you say. or managing loot spread is yet another. DKP regulates all of this and I’ve known a ton of raiders who would never have joined a loot council or other type of non-DKP raidguild because they wanted transparent and fair shares of loot. anyone who has experienced the loot drama of longterm raiders being outrolled by a newcomer knows what I speak of.

      and the same questions of merit or fairness CAN be made for the 5man situation Syp presented. just because it’s a shorter and anonymous run doesn’t mean we can’t ask the question of merit – and it sure doesn’t mean that there’s never loot drama in PuGs because of it. PuGs are just less noteworthy but the question of fairness isn’t simply absent there. not to me, anyway.

    4. > I disagree 🙂 DKP serves a lot of reasons and fair loot
      > distribution is one of them (aka loot in relation to time
      > spent).

      DKP has the nice side effect of fair loot distribution (or perceived fair loot distribution). But I don’t think raid leader pick DKP for that reason, they pick if because it gets the raid going. DKP is there to serve the raid. Because it’s the thing that fills the ranks on wipe nights.

      > but the question of fairness isn’t simply absent there.
      > not to me, anyway.

      Is it fair to roll and the item if you only joined for the last boss fight? No, it’s not. The others have worked much more for it.

      Is it fair to not roll on the item because you only helped for the last boss fight? No, it’s not. You’ve invested time and gold (e.g. repairs). You deserve to be rewarded for your help.

      The problem is that sparse resources cannot be distributed in a fair way. Never. And that’s part of the fun of the game… (unless it happens to you 🙂

    5. “But I don’t think raid leader pick DKP for that reason”

      it’s your right to think that. my experiences after 6 years of WoW raiding are simply different, so at least for all the raidguilds I’ve lead, loot distribution was a core reason to use DKP.
      either way, I think my main point is clear with or without our particular agreement on WHY raidguilds choose a DKP system. 😉 it seems we agree on the general notion of why certain loot rolls are tricky and why the inbuilt system doesn’t always have the best answer, just one possible answer.

  7. Loot is one of the worst implemented systems in current mmo’s. It’s very rare that you become happy that someone _else_ gets an item they want, so the common responses to loot distribution are: 1) I get my item and nobody else cares, 2) I get my item and people are mad at me because they don’t think I should have gotten it, 3) I don’t get my item and I don’t care, or 4) I don’t get my item and I feel wronged because I think I should have gotten it. All either neutral or negative in terms of fun/happiness experienced. Raiding builds friendships, loot kills friendships. Loot received is something you have almost no control over, but it’s also the first thing that many guilds and group mates will judge you on.

    There are many better systems out there, so I don’t understand why games persist with this very contentious method. Why not give everyone a non-trade-able random item off the loot table? You’ll still need lots of kills on average for the item you actually want, but if you don’t get it, then it’s because the loot gods hate you, not because one of your friends viciously stole it from you. 😮

    Why not give everyone a bag/coffer/whatever that would contain a chance at items you’d want, otherwise gold or consumables? Why not move the loot away from the bosses themselves and just have kills reward loot-points or faction rep or whatever and get your upgrade through that? Why not set unlockable/always-available tiers of loot, unlocked as you kill the boss 1, 5, 10, 20 times?

    There are so many ways it could be done better, without cutting into how long it takes to gear up, but also without all the unpleasantness in the current system.

    1. No disagreement there! 🙂
      It’s sad in a way, but it seems a loot distribution system needs to be completely detached from the group and address individual earnings (like for DDO) in order to work best – aka avoid all the ugliness that transpires where different people are supposed to agree on a fair spread of loot. but then…we’ve also long stopped attempting this in the real world and installed more complex salary systems. MMOs have always had to deal with many of the same social issues we know from everyday life, they are not that different. am looking forward to new concepts.

      the thing that bugs me the most though about the whole topic is that I didn’t open it because I’ve been particularly wronged in PuGs ever – but rather, that I do not understand why it’s so hard to pass on an item sometime when clearly others have put in more effort than yourself. if I expect others to be considerate, so should I be. (and this is the general debate and not necessarily very close anymore to Syp’s example).

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