Thursday, January 23, 2014

3.51. Uncoiling the Snake

"Oh the sleepless nights",
A thread in the DoD officer forums that draws
attention to a flaw in the guild's loot system

If I Had No Loot

The officer forums erupted; it was Sir Klocker. "Oh the sleepless nights" bore the title of the thread. Once again, a misunderstanding had left people with hurt feelings, mixed messages, and ultimately they were confused about the acquisition of gear. Was I upset or not? Was he supposed to bid on Band of the Traitor King or not? Most importantly, why wasn't "use your best judgement" and "lead by example" enough of a guide? I took great pains to tie up any loose ends that could be misinterpreted by both the moral and the malicious, yet confusion lingered. Sir Klocker wasn't an isolated incident; more and more guildies found themselves confused by the seemingly straightforward system I laid out upon our arrival in Northrend. Ambiguity persisted because of a specific game mechanic I hadn't considered for.

It's hard to give deep consideration to what effect a particular game mechanic will have on a guild's loot system...

...when the mechanic doesn't exist yet.

---

Not so long ago, the problem was completely different. Raids were chock full of stingy Scrooge McDucks sitting on astronomical piles of DKP, preparing for an item that might never drop. The raid wasn't getting any stronger as a result. Valuable upgrades were being tossed to the side or dusted. These marginal upgrades (often called sidegrades) weren't as luscious as some of those big name pieces. Misguided arguments driven by personal lust and greed made those incredibly magnificent weapons and shields drive my raid's intent. Raiding for loot rather than progression itself caused the self-absorbed to rise to surface, and Blain wiped those off with a single stroke. Those who remained got a new lesson: better gear may augment your stats, but isn't the reason why you fail.

That's completely on you, buddy.

So the raiders learned the hard lesson about their failings, a slow, painful process of introspection and eventual epiphany. By exploring strategy, discussing mechanics, sharing new addons they'd discovered...they all gained new insight, and their reason to raid grew crystal clear. At last, they no longer blamed loot for their failures. If I noticed them falling back into their old ways, I repeated my rule of thumb: Plan to never see the item you want -- make the best use of the upgrades available to you. And to stymie the loot paradox from coiling back upon itself, Blain stopped it dead in its tracks by setting a definitive cutoff point. Once we'd killed Boss X a few times, we were moving on to more treacherous territory...whether players had Askhandi or not. Players didn't have time to bitch and whine about missing upgrades, because before they opened their mouths, we were already retiring MC for BWL, BWL for AQ40, and AQ40 for Naxxramas. Without a channel to complain about lacking gear, they remained focused on progression which produced (surprise, surprise): lots and lots of boss kills.

...along with a hefty amount of loot, besides.

That was a raiding era of a different day. Blain had long since retired from raid leadership. Several followed in his footsteps, ultimately leading us to Omaric and Bretthew. The druid and the paladin were no less passionate about progression and excitement of killing bosses in raids. They just felt we had more to do before we rushed into the biggest challenges. Why bash our heads against an insanely difficult heroic Anub'arak when tier 10 was a mere few weeks away? With an encroaching iLevel of 264 from the 25-Man version of Icecrown, they rationalized that our time was better spent continuing to plug holes in the gear gaps for many of our non-Elite folk.

But when those aforementioned lesser-geared folks didn't get an opportunity to loot, a gaping hole in my rules manifested. The snake was looking for its tail.

Main vs. Off

Dual Specialization became an everyday luxury that brought with it problems of its own. Though during the raiding era of TBC and earlier it was much more difficult to find a player with multiple able bodied characters that were raid-ready, handling the distribution of loot was as simple as adding a new character to the DKP pool. Hip deep in Wrath content, loot distribution became a tad more muddied, especially with my Elite 1st round bidding rules looped into the mix.

By now, most players in the roster held a deep seated motivation to loot anything and everything for upgrades along the path to victory. These motivations stemmed from the new order set forth by Blain many moons ago. The new variable in the mix was the off-spec. Now carrying a second talent set (which was often deployed mid-raid), players had a need to build an entirely new set of gear. Realizing this, but without giving the off-spec a great deal of attention, the officers and I defaulted to telling players "stick to the 5 DKP minimum bid" when scooping up items for the off-spec. It was important to keep the already complex loot rules from spiraling out of control. By encouraging players to bid on (or near) the minimum, off-spec looting should have kept their gearing strategy from standing in the way of someone's main spec.

That was the theory, at least.

The first of us to notice the flaw in practice were ones with small amounts of DKP; I fell into this bucket. Players who took my mantra to its extreme would shoot their entire load on items that didn't necessarily warrant such a high investment. Shrewd players (particularly tanks) were in a superb bidding spot: there was usually never more than one or two other players in the raid bidding against them. They hit the books and did the research ahead of the raid. They knew who they were going up against for specific items, they reviewed the DKP website which cataloged every player's earnings, and measured their bids thoughtfully and conservatively.

I was not one of these players.

Even with the knowledge I'd only be going up against one or two other tanks, I continued to bid high on items I most assuredly felt I would never see again, and my DKP pool emptied out quickly. It was at that point I began to see key pieces for my tanking set going to players that weren't tanks. This infuriated me, but what could I do? My DKP bidding pool was expunged, hovering slightly below the minimum 5 DKP bid. So when these items were issued out to players who weren't planning to use them, I directed my passive aggressive anger toward them, rather than acknowledge the flaw in the guild's rules.

...which is why Sir Klocker, and many others like him, remained confused about our system.

"Stormrage (he's a pony again)"
Artwork by 0Riane0

Brony! Broni! Broné!

With the advent of alts taking filler spots in the main 25-Man progression raid, the problem only worsened. Descendants of Draenor soon had a new generation of Lyticvirus-style players: folks nerdy enough to level up multiple alts and bring them to raids. I was fine with this. New alts, coupled with dual specializations, granted my raid rotations an unheralded level of flexibility. On nights of dire need, to be able to point to a player at random and tell them, "bench the caster and bring me your tank" was like a dream come true for a casual/hardcore raiding guild leader. I could, at last, bend and flow with the tides of the roster lineup changes -- it was a feature exponentially more valuable than any option to extend a raid lock Blizzard tossed my way. But with the alts filling spots in progression, the snake continued to search for its tail and my problems only compounded.

Any guildy that wished to provide alternate services quickly rose to prominence. One such player was my newest assignment to lead the Alt-25, Mangetsu. Fresh from his recent promotion to Avatar, Mangetsu's warlock weaved fel energies like a tapestry, ripping bosses in half with insane DPS. When it came time to flip over to the Alt-25, Mangetsu carried out his leadership duties via his death knight Amalgam. So when the night rolled around that Bretthew texted me that he had an emergency computer hardware problem, I looked to option Amalgam as a replacment. It would work -- we were bursting with new ranged DPS, many of whom wished for upgrades in Ulduar, and Mangetsu was already top-of-the-line in hybrid tier 8 & 9. It was the most logical choice, and Mang happily flipped to Amalgam, helping tank our way through the nightly clear in yet another stress-free evening of raid work.

That is, until we sliced open Ignis the Furnace Master's gut and Heart of Iron poured out.

Luck had not been on our side with this tanking trinket in the past. The first time it dropped, Omaric was able to pick it up...only to switch to Ikey months later, leaving it to collect dust on his former main. The only other time it graced our presence was that diabolical week in August '09, the one that left me stranded in Williston, North Dakota while Bretthew and Omaric attended BlizzCon. All three of us missed our shot, and it went to the paladin Shimerice, who almost exclusively played holy. In her hands, the Heart of Iron would most likely never see the light of day.

As Neps finished taking bids for it, many of us felt like we knew it would go to Omaric. He had been waiting patiently since June to reacquire the trinket for Ikey bear. The bids wrapped up and Neps announced the winner: Amalgam, Mangetsu's alt. Omaric had always bid far more conservatively than I, knowing he only needed to go up against Bretthew for such items. On this particular evening, the possibility of losing Heart of Iron to an alt hadn't even crossed his mind.

That gamble was to his detriment.

Mangetsu was humble and thankful for the win, none the wiser to Omaric's loss, much like Sir Klocker had been when "stealing away" a tanking ring from me. But these were the rules! My rules! They allowed for this behavior and even encouraged it! It was a perfectly acceptable bid, fully within the regulations of our flawed loot system. The snake had indeed been uncoiled and the result was a looting mentality which was now far too broad. The rule that applied to mains was shortsighted when applied to alts.

The trinket was sent over to Amalgam, and players quietly shared their disgust with me behind the curtains of whispered tells. Bheer summed it up succinctly in a crushing whisper; my heart sank as I read it, because it confirmed my failure to solve this issue in our new loot rules:

"If you had implemented main spec vs. off spec bidding, this never would've happened."

---

As the night tapered off, I caught a glimpse of Blain logging in; he had been back for several weeks now. His face appeared for the first time in many months during our completion of Firefighter culminating in a shower of Ironbound proto-drakes. It was good to have my old friend back in action as I expected his time away from the game had re-energized him. We could use that energy in Icecrown Citadel, now mere weeks away. I shot him a playful tell,

"I thought you were supposed to be getting a life? The outdoors are highly overrated."

There was no response. He either wasn't amused or something had his attention. I popped open the guild roster, scrolled to his name and examined his location in the world. He was in an arena...unsurprisingly. In WoW terminology, it was the same as having a giant "OCCUPIED - DO NOT DISTURB" hanging around the player's neck. I steered the Time Lost Proto-Drake across Icecrown in search of the last few rares left for Frostbitten, and after a few minutes, a response finally arrived. As was his nature, he did away with the small talk and got straight to the point:

"Why aren't we working on the heroic Tournament achievements?"

I sighed. He wasn't going to like my answer.

7 comments:

Alex said...

Yeah, the true protagonist of this story makes his comeback.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Alex,

The secret is out!

Blain said...

Very rare that I'd be referred to as a protagonist! haha I'll take it! This story gets a lot more fun, trust me.

Cheeseus said...

This is why I always see DKP as "money" you earn. You want something, you spend your earned money. If someone has a problem with it, then they should have earned more, or spent less.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Cheeseus,

And you are absolutely entitled to that opinion!

...even though it is wrong. :)

Mangetsu said...

Man, I remember this. And I totally felt bad about it, and wanted to concede after. I remember bidding about 60 DKP for that item, which was surprisingly cheap at that time, and being very surprised that he didn't bid any more for it. I was planning on going higher, but took my chances. That was a huge upgrade for us even then though, and I think I used it to the end of the Icecrown patch.

Tyler Iacono said...

I still have nightmares Mang. :D