Managing Your Loot Standings
When comparing loot systems, pay special attention to how easy it is for established players who raid often to gain a massive point lead over new members or those who can't raid as often. While attendance needs to factor into buying power, certain systems are more susceptible than others.
There are two different problems, depending on whether your loot system has fixed prices or not: inflation and list camping.
Inflation affects systems where the cost of an item is driven by player bidding. For whatever reason, one or several players have very large point balances. The going rate for drops rises because the person with a high balance can easily beat anyone who is new. People with low balances don't even have the chance to compete - they could bid their entire balance of points and still have that only equal 1/10th or 1/5th of the balance of an established raider.
List Camping tends to affect systems where item prices are fixed. For the same reasons, someone ends up with a large point balance, so that they have first pick of anything that drops. When they want an item, they get it at the fixed price, but it doesn't make much of an impact on their balance. They essentially stay at the top of the list forever, and when new tiers of content are released, they get geared up first because they keep getting first pick.
That your members will take advantage of these situations isn't a given. I've been in some guilds where people with high balances sometimes feel guilty for always getting first pick, and deferred to lower-geared players to benefit the raid. But this relies on magnanimous behaviour, which also isn't a given. If the person decides to, they can grab a ton of gear, and it's not unheard of for people in this situation to do just that in the days and weeks leading up to a /gquit.
Before I talk about ways to address this, let's look at a few of the common loot systems and the extent to which they are susceptible to these problems.
DKP with Fixed Costs
DKP with fixed costs is susceptible to list camping once you have all the gear you need from the current content. If the loot system continues without a reset through multiple content patches, the lead someone has can become insurmountable.
DKP with Open Bidding
DKP with open bidding is susceptible to inflation, as a well-geared member can gain points while never bidding on gear. If members collude to keep prices low (say an under the table deal to allow one person to pick up an item at the minimum bid price), then it can be susceptible to list camping as well. While this system allows for the greatest level of flexibility for members, it is also the easiest to corrupt.
Zero-sum DKP is not susceptible to inflation (as the number of total points in the system remains constant), but it can be susceptible to list camping. Just how susceptible depends on whether you combine zero-sum with open bids or fixed costs. While this may make zero-sum DKP sound attractive, the major failing of this system is the inability to provide rewards for anything other than loot dropping. Without a way to incentivize progression content, zero-sum can be very demoralizing after a night of wipes. It is better suited to farm content, but I've seen many guilds choose to go directly from their primary loot system to open /roll rather than maintain a parallel zero-sum system for lower-level content.
EP/GP is protected against both list camping and inflation, as the points you receive for raiding (EP) are not directly used for purchasing gear (only to rank people in priority order). In addition, weekly decay of both EP and GP means that the larger the gap between high and low ranked members, the more that is lost during decay. This discourages list camping - with a 10% decay, it takes just seven weeks to remove half of your EP and GP. As any regular reader will know, I'm a big fan of this system because it doesn't share the downsides of the other loot systems (though it does have it's own cons, including the inability to spend what you feel an item is worth to you regardless of your priority).
Ni Karma is a "boosted roll" system, in which your points can be used to supplement your roll if you so choose. There are no item prices, so inflation is not a problem, but you can end up with people at the top of the list after a long period of taking no loot. Due to the way in which the points are used (a winning boosted roll halves your balance), you can only effectively camp the list for one item. Unfortunately, this can lead to people not taking minor upgrades because they are focused on winning the one item they really want and want to save their points.
Suicide Kings is not subject to inflation, as nobody has a balance, just a relative position on a list. When you take loot, you drop to the bottom of the list of people who are in the raid (not the absolute bottom of the list). Like Ni Karma, this can result in list camping for one particularly desired item, as once loot is taken you aren't likely to get another piece right away. I don't see this system being used very much, as it has the same "lack of progression incentives" as zero-sum DKP (and can in fact be called a "zero-sum spend-all" system).
Suicide Kings doesn't tend to be as popular as it was when first introduced, as the "cost" of an item (such as it is in this system) varies based upon who attends a given raid. While this is also true of open-bid DKP, Suicide Kings doesn't give members the level of power they have in open-bid DKP, which makes this downside more glaring.
Reining Things In
Now that we've seen how loot systems can get out of whack, what options do you have for bringing them back under control?
This is most often seen with traditional DKP systems. You might have a pool for Naxxramas, a pool for Ulduar, a pool for Trial of the Crusader and then a pool for Icecrown. This a lot of work to manage, though web packages exist that offer multiple pools as a base feature (I still remember hacking eqDKP a few years ago to manage this for my guild - it wasn't pretty).
The problem with fixed pools is that when people end up with a large balance and know the next content tier is coming up, they want to spend the points. Unless you're dealing with a situation like Trial of the Crusader vs Ulduar where you know you'll still keep visiting the previous tier of content, those points will do you relatively little good once the new patch arrives. You are effectively resetting everyone's contribution to zero at the time the new patch drops, which can be a bit demoralizing.
The thought from some members may be "the guild might not even be in a position to enter Icecrown without all the hard work I put into TotC, so why shouldn't I grab every minor upgrade before the points become useless?" This can lead to undergeared people who join you late in a content patch not getting the upgrades they need to compete in the next tier because the people with high balances are picking up sidegrades or minor upgrades.
You may also find problems with hard modes - should points earned in normal difficulty be usable for gear that drops in heroic? What about 10 person vs 25 person? You could go crazy and have four new pools created when patch 3.2 drops, or you could try to organize pools by perceived difficulty instead of which tier of gear they belong to.
This also gets problematic with the new hard mode toggle being introduced in Icecrown - if you give say 10 DKP for every hour spend raiding, but you know you're going to attempt one boss on hard mode, when do you switch pools? Do you use the normal pool for all trash and normal bosses, then use the heroic pool just for hard mode boss loot? You may find that your raiders have very little DKP to spend in that case, as only time spent attempting a hard mode boss give points that can then be spent on that bosses' loot.
Multiple Pools with Cross-Pool Transfers
Multiple pools have the reset problem, in that you can't carry your effort from one tier into the next. You can't just move points freely from one pool to another (otherwise you effectively just have one pool), but you can allow people to convert from one pool to the next pool up at a given ratio. Say you have 500 points from Trial of the Crusader, you can turn that into 50 points in the Icecrown pool (using a 10:1 ratio). It still lets you carry effort forward and tends to discourage the minor upgrade problem described above, but it's a lot of administrative work for leadership. You need a forum to request transfers and someone to keep on top of pending requests. You may also find the need to limit the amount transferred, either in total or per week.
One Pool with a Complete Reset Each Patch
This is the simplest system to manage, but probably the least fair to your raiders. You will have the same problem as multiple pools with people taking every last bit of gear out of the old instance as the weeks before the new patch wind down. People who had a large balance but take a break are also hit hard in this system, as they can find themselves back at the bottom of the ladder but without any extra gear to show for it.
One Pool With Decay or Tax
Just like the EP/GP system has built in, you can add a periodic decay or tax rate to your system. This tends to address list camping, but as players with higher balances lose more, expect to see the same level of loot grab as a new patch approaches.
You can also choose to implement a small tax (say 5%) while you're actively raiding an instance, then a larger one-time hit (say 25%) immediately before the next patch drops.
Depending on your loot system, make sure that you decay all values that contribute to someone's standing. EP/GP decays both values, which means that while the EP and GP values change, the relative order never changes (because the PR value doesn't change).
This technique doesn't work with zero-sum systems, as the total points in that system should remain constant.
One Pool With A Complete Reset Each Expansion
This is what many guilds tend to do by default if they don't choose one of the other methods outlined here. It doesn't tend to have as negative an impact on members, as you get a fair amount of shakeup during expansions and people can mentally get behind a point reset as being part of the gear reset that comes with every WoW expansion. It isn't going to make that much difference whether you enter Cataclysm wearing tier 9 or tier 10 gear - it's all going to get replaced when you start the first raid instance of the new expansion.
There's no real work for leaders to do here, and members can't really expect any more than this unless you make promised to them, but taking a more strategic approach to loot system management does tend to make you stand out when competing for a limited number of raiders.
Can't We All Just Be Friends?
No loot system is perfect. Any loot system performs better when the people participating in it are capable of thinking about more than themselves. But human nature being what it is, you sometimes have to take steps to protect your members from greed and collusion. We're approaching a major content patch, and the next expansion is on the horizon. If you haven't thought about the issues of managing your loot standings as you progress through content before, now is the time. Your members are far more likely to accept major changes to policies and loot distribution methods when they're introduced alongside a major patch.
Have you experienced problems with inflation, list camping, or other loot system problems? Have you found a unique way to work around them? Or are you using a completely different loot system that has its own unique problems (and no, /roll doesn't count as a "loot system").
Until Next Time