Friday, January 9, 2009

Gearing up oneself or one's guild?

Gevlon, the Greedy Goblin, is the most selfish blogger I know. And I mean that in a completely non-judgemental way. His unique philosophical outlook makes his blog posts interesting, especially when they clash with somebody else's blog. So while Matticus is complaining about a paladin who stopped raiding because he had enough gear for himself, instead of helping the rest of the guild gear up, Gevlon defends the point of view of that paladin. The underlying question is whether we raid to gear up just ourselves, or whether we raid to gear up our guild.

While I'd normally lean towards seeing raids as a guild activity, and thus loot being best distributed for the maximum good of the guild, last night something happened which made me rethink that position. We did Naxxramas in heroic 25-man mode for the first time, and cleared the plague wing, which isn't half bad for a first night. And some epic dropped which lots of players wanted (not including me). And suddenly our officers decided on a new loot distribution rule, and let only those players roll for the item for who it would replace a blue item. People already wearing epics weren't eligible. That caused some consternation with some players, including me, who had invested heavily in crafted or boe epics from the auction house. I have a crafted epic robe, gloves, and ring, and bought epic cloak, plus a trinket I bought with emblems of heroism. So all other things being equal, a hypothetical other priest who didn't spend that much gold and emblems on epics has a significantly higher chance of getting an epic loot assigned to than I do, while at the same time contributing less healing, due to lower stats. That not only doesn't seem very fair, but it also creates a bad incentive structure. If the least prepared reap the most rewards, then nobody will want to take the time to farm the money or materials for crafted epics. Having a guild policy which basically punishes people for acquiring epics on their own doesn't seem very wise to me.

Distributing loot without checking for whom it is the biggest upgrade leads to the most active players being "full" with epics faster, simply because getting epics then just becomes a matter of statistic probability. The more often you are in a raid, the more likely you are to be present when some loot you could use drops, and thus the more epics you get if loot is distributed with random rolls, or nobody else wants that particular item. On the one side that is good, because it rewards the player for showing up often to raids. On the other side that is bad, because sooner or later the player will have all the epics he can possibly get from that raid dungeon, but the guild can't move on to the next place, because the less active raiders are still missing too much gear. The situation Matticus describes, the paladin taking a break until Blizzard releases Ulduar is only the latest possible effect of that. In earlier times the player with full epic gear would instead have been likely to quit his current guild and join one further advanced.

So we end up with a conundrum: Either we reward people with epics in proportion to the effort they put into raiding, and risk losing them. Or we distribute epics there where they do the most good, which ends up rewarding those players the most who prepare and raid least. While I'm far from celebrating selfishness in the way Gevlon does, I nevertheless am not so naive as to believe that we could arrive at having guilds in which all members are completely unselfish. Epics (and legendaries) remain the biggest reward World of Warcraft hands out, and thus the way in which they are distributed creates strong incentives for behavior. Having to decide how to distribute epics is not easy, if you realize that either you reward doing less, or you push those doing more towards taking leave or just plain leaving. The only other alternative is to assume that people with a full set of epics will want to run the same raid dungeon over and over, just to equip the other players in their guild. That amount of selflessness is unfortunately quite rare, as experience shows.

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