Loot is easy to decide on in random groups. It’s done with the expectation that everyone is clearing for themselves and will not group together again. As such, a random group’s loot system will most often be “Need Before Greed” — effectively decided by randomized dice rolls — or allowing players to reserve one item that might drop from the boss. In teams, however, players will be grouping together on a regular basis, and disputes over loot can quickly cause relationships within a team to sour. Players that feel they aren’t being rewarded won’t want to show up for scheduled raids, or they might even seek a new team altogether.
The Importance of a Loot System
What type of loot system that a group uses isn’t always something players think about when creating or joining a team. Unorganized or inexperienced groups might not even consider how to distribute loot until the team clears an encounter for the first time. Against Extreme primals like Susano or Lakshmi, handing out loot is trivial. Players get what they can use or need, and if multiple players want the same item, the team can farm the boss until everyone gets what they want.
In Savage raiding, loot is limited to a weekly lockout, and it can take four to eight weeks to accumulate enough clears to simply buy a desired item. While this fixes a lot of problems with waiting for a random drop, it requires a lot of time investment to get even one item. Tomestone gear is similarly limited by time, and tomestone gear needs to be further upgraded with limited drops from Savage raids in order to be on par with Savage gear. A fair way of distributing loot drops is necessary for team morale. When an item drops that only one person can use, no one will begrudge them for receiving that item. Repeat instances of one person getting all of the gear that other people could use, however, will wear down even the most patient raiders.
The game splits up gear for jobs quite well already. If a team only has one caster, no one else will need any Casting gear that drops. A team that has a bard but no ninjas or machinists will give all Aiming gear to the bard. Patch 4.0 even further clarified role restrictions on loot, preventing tanks from using DPS accessories. However, it’s impossible to have a group that has absolutely no gear overlap. No matter a group’s composition, at least two DPS will want the same accessories, and all tanks and all healers share the same gear amongst their respective roles. Furthermore, items for upgrading tomestone gear are shared amongst every member of the team.
Some groups employ “Need Before Greed” systems because the system is impartial and seems fairest on the surface. After all, if it all comes down to luck, nobody can accuse anyone of favoritism or getting more than their fair share. Everyone simply rolls, and everyone has an equal chance of getting what they want. If they’re unlucky, there’s always next week or the next time the item drops. Eventually, everyone will get what they want — some people might just get it sooner than others.
In reality, “Need Before Greed” is rarely well-suited for teams that are the same week after week. Even if gaining new gear isn’t every player’s top goal for raiding, it’s still a priority for the majority of the raiding population; at the bare minimum, someone who continues to raid will need better gear to defeat more difficult bosses and keep up with their teammates. This is how the game is designed at a fundamental level. As time goes on, older gear becomes increasingly outclassed and needs to be replaced. When that basic need for new gear isn’t being met, a player will probably reflect on whether it’s just bad luck that they haven’t gotten anything, or if it’s a flaw of the group itself and how it handles loot.
And it’s really obvious when it’s one or the other.
Beyond Need Before Greed
When establishing a loot system, there are, broadly speaking, two schools of thought for how to distribute loot: for the team, or for the individual.
“For the Team” approaches focus on what will best benefit the team’s progression. For example, more raid DPS equals faster clears, so the team might decide to give priority to its highest DPS members in getting geared up. Alternately, the team might give priority to gearing up their healers to help cover mistakes made during fights. This isn’t a statement about the quality of the teammates’ play or about rewarding them specifically; it’s an objective ruling that this is the best way of benefiting the team and meeting the team’s goals, whatever they may be.
“For the Individual” approaches focus on satisfying as many individuals on the raid team as possible. In an ideal world, everyone gets something every lockout, or they at least have priority next time the team raids if they didn’t get anything. For example, if Healer A receives an item, then the next piece of healing gear will go to Healer B. Once Healer B receives their loot, priority switches back to Healer A.
Most formal loot systems can fall under either of these categories in some way. They might have different names or ways of handling loot assignments, but their focus will be on the team or the individual, or they might be a blend of the two.
Which loot system should a team use?
There is no single “best” loot system, as what works and what doesn’t work will depend on a team and its members. Even Need Before Greed has a place in a loot system, most commonly with rare cosmetic items like mounts and minions. However, loot systems need to be agreed upon by every team member, and they also need to be consistent, not just used or discarded when it’s convenient for a select few.
When forming a new raid team, the team’s loot system should be decided on before the team sets foot in any raid; it gets trickier with an already-established team that is used to doing things a certain way. Worse yet, players on the team might perceive a change in loot system as an underhanded attempt at favoring one team member over another. All teammates should be on the same page with the loot system’s rules so they know what to expect when the team acquires loot. Passing on an item for someone else to get is easier when you know that you’ll receive the same treatment later. When rewards are uncertain, players will be more likely to get upset and stir up a loot dispute.
Loot disputes can be a lethal blow to raid team unity; if enough people are upset with how loot is distributed, it can spell the end for the team entirely. Whatever loot system a raid team uses, it should meet the following criteria:
- The loot system is consistent week after week, no matter what drops or who wants the item. If the loot system is set to be based on a priority system, it can’t suddenly turn into a merit-based system next week when there’s an item that the raid leader really wants.
- The loot system fits the team’s goals and desires. A loot system based on performance is unlikely to be enjoyed by a casual team that’s raiding more to spend time together than clear bosses.
- The loot system is understood by everyone on the team. Rules, loopholes, exceptions, and other “twists” on a basic rule should be avoided when possible. Loot systems that take more than a few sentences to describe are probably too complicated.
- The loot system does not pit teammates against each other. As soon as players see each other as the problem, the team is already unraveling.
Though it might seem like a lot of bookkeeping, raid leaders (or whoever handles loot in a raid team) might want to keep a spreadsheet or list of who got loot and when. This can minimize disputes between teammates about loot by not leaving it up to people’s memories for judging who hasn’t gotten anything for a while. Google Spreadsheets are easy to use and easy to share amongst a team. By keeping everything transparent, raid leaders can keep their team satisfied with how loot is handed out.
And, really, that’s what a loot system comes down to — making sure everyone is happy. Raiding is a bit of an odd endgame activity where rewards aren’t certain every time the team clears an encounter, and raids cannot be farmed to get everyone what they want in a short amount of time. To get everyone even one item, it can take multiple clears of an encounter, let alone getting everyone every single item for their job. Investing in a team is an investment in its long-term success and that, eventually, it will be your turn to get a reward for your participation. Violations of that “social contract” are where loot disputes come from. Establish the social contract, however formal or informal it is, for your team — this is what is expected, and this is what is received in return. It might take weeks for everyone to get their single item, but they will be happier knowing for a certainty when it will happen rather than throwing the dice and praying that this time, they get a roll higher than a 10.