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Ready Check: Looking into DKP loot systems

Ready Check helps you prepare yourself and your raid for the bosses that simply require killing. Check back with Ready Check each week for the latest pointers on killing adds, not standing in fire, and hoping for loot that won't drop.

Welcome back, raiders. In our last edition, we talked about the importance of having a solid loot system as a part of a solid raiding team. Loot is the end result of playing this game, no matter which sector it is that you choose to focus on. Having a great distribution system for all the shiny trinkets that your raid stumbles across insider the corpses of giant beasts helps to ensure that everything runs smoothly. As was mentioned last week, each loot system is judged based on how equally it distributes loot as well as how well it rewards player participation.

This week, we'll be taking a look at one of the more common loot systems that you come across in WoW and how they all rank. Remember, loot distribution is always something that should be taken seriously, but more than that, there is no one right answer. Which system works for one raid group might not pan out for another. The ultimate goal is to avoid any and all loot problems in a raid; provided that a system avoids that, then the rest doesn't matter.

What is a DKP system?

We'll start off easy by going with perhaps the most well known of all the loot systems. DKP, or Dragon Kill Points, is an artificial currency-style loot system. There are tons and tons of variations on the classic DKP system out there, and which it is that you come across all depends on the person who created it. At the core, DKP is merely using an imaginary set of tokens or points in order to bid on dropped items; from there, everything branches out.

The first snag of any DKP system comes in point generation. Originally, DKP was a system that rewarded players exclusively based upon kills that they were present for (hence the name). Over the years, this philosophy has generally fallen off to the wayside. While some raiding groups may still use the classic method of awarding points to players based on each boss they are present for a kill on, most instead focus on rewarding players for other matters. Generally, we see DKP awarded for attending raids, rather than based off what occurs within the raid. This is done to create a more equitable system.

The boss-kill reward system has one major flaw: It doesn't reward progression. Sticking it out for a boss that the raid has been struggling on doesn't reward the player anything, although the raid leader might be considerate and award the raiders attempt DKP for their efforts. Even with those rewards, a player will usually earn far more DKP by showing up on a farm night and not for a progression night. This can potentially lead to a major issue where raiders stop showing up for progression because they aren't amply rewarded for doing so. For this reason, most raids have shifted to the flat DKP gain based on attendance.

Overall, DKP is normally a highly equitable system in that it offers no special treatment toward any one raid member. Remember that DKP is an imaginary number, ergo what number it is doesn't really matter. You can choose to reward players 100 or 1 DKP every single raid; neither makes a difference. The flaw with DKP systems, however, is inflation, which is easier to combat with smaller numbers. Keep that in mind.

The struggle against inflation

Inflation is a strange word in our day and age, and it is equally strange to hear it applied to a video game system. As I mentioned, inflation is perhaps the largest flaw that any DKP system risks. In theory, you want DKP to be a zero-sum system (although that should not be confused with zero-sum DKP, which is a method of point distribution). Essentially, the goal is to attempt to ensure that just as many points come out of any DKP system as go into it. You want to avoid any group of players from hoarding DKP.

DKP hoarding creates multiple issues inside any given system. The most common and generally the most fought-against is that it squashes the ability for newer raid members to ever get loot in a timely order; they will always be last on the loot list. This tends to happen quite frequently in many DKP systems, but there are a few ways to avoid it.

Keep it short; keep it small. It's much easier to create a system based around hoarding when you offer up large amounts of DKP. The more you limit DKP, the more precious each point becomes. By slowing the progression of hoarding, you prevent it from ever occurring.

Enforce scaling minimums. Most DKP systems have a form of minimum bid that can be placed on an item. A good way to combat inflation is to have this minimum scale based on the current total DKP a player has. This way, hoarding becomes more and more expensive.

Avoid phantom DKP. There are plenty of times when raid leaders like to reward players for their efforts. Downing a particularly difficult new boss sometimes feels like it should be worth more because of the time it took to get it. Adding in DKP to a system is a fast way to corrupt it.

While I don't generally like DKP systems, they can usually work rather well provided that you are cautious in dealing with inflation. Remember, keep your numbers small; smaller numbers are always easier to work with. The easiest way to avoid inflation is to make inflation impossible. While that seems an unobtainable goal, there are ways to reach it.

The matter of price fixing

Another flaw in DKP systems that you need to watch out for is price fixing. Many DKP systems are reliant upon the raid as a whole in order to work fairly. Price fixing is a method where players conspire together in order to bid low on specific items that they share so that they retain more DKP for those items which they have competition against. Normally you will see this occur within classes or perhaps for certain item types.

The most common DKP fixing occurs for items that are more specific such as rogue daggers, hunter bows, or other items that only a limited number of raiders would use, like caster leather. All of the players who want this item will all agree to bid a certain amount of DKP, often their minimum allowed bid. In this way, they ensure that none of them spend an exorbitant amount of DKP for an item with little competition, leaving them able to bid high on items they have to fight multiple people for such as tier pieces.

It's a sad fact, but most DKP systems simply cannot be rigged to combat this type of system; the only true solution is to confront the offenders to try and force them to change their methods, but even that is not a guarantee that they'll stop. There are types of DKP systems that inherently prevent this behavior, such as suicide DKP, but for the most part, you have to rely upon your raiding team to act fairly. Keeping DKP values low with relatively restrictive minimums is one method of preemptively curbing this in a standard DKP system.

Zero sum DKP systems

I had mentioned zero sum DKP earlier; now let's go into what that is. Zero sum DKP is a system of DKP acquisition that attempts to create a normalized system in which here everyone in the raid floats toward a natural value of zero DKP. Essentially, each item is assigned a value of DKP, usually either 10 or 25 depending on the number of raiders, and players then spend that DKP in order to get an item. DKP is only earned when players spend DKP. For example, Druid A wants a staff that drops and pays 25 DKP for it. Everyone in the raid, including Druid A, now gains 1 DKP; 25 DKP was spent, and there are 25 raiders with the total DKP being divided equally among all raid members.

Zero sum works flawlessly in theory, but the theory is unfortunately flawed. Zero sum has to operate on a few factors that are false, leaving the system just as open to inflation as any other system. In order to maintain the effect of zero, you have to always have the same players present, and they must always gain the same relative number of items, neither of which happens. Because the players change and the relative number of items isn't equalized between players, you always end up with older, well-equipped players' having far more DKP than the rest of the raid. As players get forced into the negatives, it becomes difficult for them to climb back out again, creating a natural disparity against certain players and any potentially new recruits.

Zero sum, while still somewhat popular, is not a very good DKP system to follow. It involves a lot of maintenance and rarely delivers on the namesake without artificial interference. I'm of the opinion that you should avoid zero sum DKP systems, but many people like them, so if you want to go for it, then go for it.

Suicide DKP systems

Another, slightly newer DKP system is suicide DKP. Suicide DKP operates upon the same basis as the common Suicide Kings loot system. In it, DKP is awarded virtually however the raid leader would like, through kills, attendance, loots, what have you. Players stock up on their DKP, but every item costs all of their remaining DKP, granting the notion of "suicide." The player who receives the loot is the one with the most DKP on hand yet automatically loses all of that DKP upon getting it. Effectively, this method of DKP totally destroys inflation and hoarding; players are instead pushed to spend their DKP early and often, as higher numbers aren't any more valuable than lower ones.

While very effective at removing all the issues commonly associated with standard DKP systems, suicide DKP has one flaw of its own: a heavy reliance on rolls. Given that most players will be at zero at any given time, you'll often come across multiple people wanting the same item who have the same DKP value. At this point, the solution is to have a roll-off to determine who ends up winning the loot. You'll come across this rather frequently, which makes the system seem more like a modified roll distribution instead of a real DKP system.

The problem of off-spec items

One last problem with most DKP systems that I have not mentioned is the matter of off-spec gear. Hybrid characters generally don't use two different specs for their given role; often times, they spec into two different roles that require completely different gearing. Worse yet, there may be times where the raid calls upon these players to actively use their secondary specs, normally asking a hybrid DPSer switch to tanking or healing. These players need to have the loot to support these roles, yet getting it is an issue.

In any DKP system, there can never be "free" items. Giving out items for no DKP creates a vacuum in the system and it leaves it open to abuse. Instead, you always have to charge these players something for the item that they want. While fair, it can be highly frustrating for hybrid players, as they often feel they are being punished for helping to support the raid. Sadly, there is no easy solution to this problem. Again, DKP must always be charged for items regardless of their intended use; the best that you can do is to attempt to mitigate the damage that is done.

Having a lower minimum for these players to spend in order to gain off-spec items helps in most traditional DKP systems. Yet doing this also opens up the system to abuse by players getting main-spec items cheaper than they would normally. For zero sum, there is no easy solution, and often this is one of the primary causes of inflation and hoarding within the system. Suicide DKP somewhat circumvents the matter as all players are often thrust back to zero, but it leaves the players feeling constantly stuck at the zero mark. The best you can do is to do your best to help mitigate the damage in any way you can.

Remember to join us next week where we explore yet another common loot system.

Ready Check shares all the strategies and inside information you need to take your raiding to the next level. Be sure to look up our strategy guides to Cataclysm's 5-man instances, and for more healer-centric advice, visit Raid Rx.

Filed under: Raiding, Ready Check (Raiding)

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