We’re raiding! Or operating, I guess, as Star Wars: The Old Republic’s end game instances are called operations. So, we’re operating! And it’s great!
Every aspect of it is satisfying for me: the required teamwork, the pressure not to let the group down, the elation when the boss is reduced to zero health, the sense of camaraderie between my fellow operators and myself. I even enjoy when we wipe because it leads to group strategizing on how to do a better job. There’s only one thing that I truly hate about operating: the loot.
After the jump, what the hell is wrong with me
About six months ago, my brother came busting into my room at 3 AM. He was still on his college student sleep schedule, which meant crashing most of the day and gaming most of the night.
“Loot bags!” he yelled at me.
“Boot bags?” I mumbled, still mostly asleep.
“Loot bags!” he repeated, then ran out of my room.
I was pretty sure it just an odd dream up until a week before SWTOR’s release when he explained what exactly that was all about.
“Loot bags. They were supposed to be the solution to loot drops,” he told me. “But ever since announcing it, there’s been no updates and beta testers say they aren’t in game.”
“What’s a loot bag?”
“Whenever a boss would be killed, everyone would get bag filled with a piece of gear or badges that they can trade in for items. It would mean everyone gets something which would have been awesome.”
“What’s wrong with not having loot bags?”
“The most annoying part of running a raid is divvying out the loot. It doesn’t matter how you do it, someone is going to feel like they’re not getting their fair share, and blame is going to be placed on the game designers, then, eventually, the guild officers.”
“How can we prevent that?”
“We have to do the best possible job to implement the most fair and impartial loot system possible.”
“There are more than one?”
“Yeah, there’s a bunch, going way back to the Everquest days. There used to be raids in EQ1 with like a hundred people, they were a nightmare to run. You’d kill a dragon and he’d drop, like, boots and a sword, not nearly enough for everyone. To deal with it, raid leaders created a points based system called DKP — Dragon Kill Points. You show up to a raid, you get ten points; your group kills the boss, you get another ten; things like that. When something you want drops, you bid your points towards the item against anyone else who wants it.”
“Yes and no. In concept it’s simple, but then people start hoarding their points, or coordinating in groups to underbid each other. It can get nasty fast. There’s a pretty famous video where a dude totally rages out during a raid and starts deducting ‘dee–kay–pee’ from everyone who messes up.”
“Oh. We don’t want that.”
“No, and we don’t need it. DKP is only really effective with huge groups and we have eight dudes. We won’t have to use that.”
“What else is there?”
“There’s another system called suicide kings.”
“Isn’t that a gang in Los Angeles?”
“No, that’s the Latin Kings. They’re not from LA, they’re from Chicago, but they have chapters all over the country,” Alex tells me. He was a criminal justice major and is a big fan of that show Gangland. “Suicide kings is also simple; everyone rolls a virtual die and we make a list, highest to lowest. When something drops that the person at the top of the list wants, they get it and go to the bottom of the list.”
“What are the downsides to that one?”
“The guy at the top of the list may want something more than need something. This helmet will give me plus three strength if I had it and plus thirty if you had it, but because I’m higher on the list than you, I get it. Cue argument.”
“That’s not good.”
“No. There’s also another option, a loot council.”
“Ooh. What’s that?”
“Whenever there’s a drop, three designated people hop into another Ventrilo channel and decide who will get what, to best maximize the guild’s strength.”
“I dunno about that one… power corrupts, right?”
“Exactly. Even in a dumb video game people will take virtual bribes and make underhanded deals, which can ruin a guild, and friendships. On top of that, there’s always going to be at least one person who thinks you’re purposely denying them their share of the loot. Always.”
“How do you get around that?”
“We would have to rotate out who is on the council every month or two. That’ll get us around accusations of constant favoritism, plus former council members will hopefully forgive any mistakes because they know how difficult it can be.”
“That sounds okay, but do we really need it? Three guys to give loot to five other guys?”
“Hmm. Yeah, it does seem a bit much.”
We talk it over more and eventually decide to combine the ideas behind suicide kings and loot council. If someone needs an item then they get it, but the next one goes to someone else in the operation. We call it the Don’t Be A Dick About It system. It makes perfect sense for our group, as most of us have played games with each other for years and are already friends.
The first boss fight we attempt — a giant robot — takes us three tries, but we eventually bring him down. There’s a cheer from vent, but then confusion. No one can roll on any of the items he dropped — it’s already been assigned to people.
“Wait, what?” I ask Alex. “Is that like a loot bag?”
“Sort of, I guess. I don’t understand why they would do that though. I could have used that trooper helmet, but the game gave it to Sair, the other trooper, and he already has an awesome helmet. This sucks.”
“Yeah!” Four other guys agree with him.
Back in my college days, I took a psychology class where we learned about a study with young children and goodie bags (you know, the “thanks for coming” prize kids get at the end of birthday parties?). The study found that kids were way happier when they were just given a bag full of candy as opposed to watching it handed out randomly from a pile. Clearly Bioware didn’t take Psych 101 with me, because now I have a group of angry children upset that someone else got the Reese’s Pieces of gear drops and they got one of those crappy Dum–Dum pops.
“We’ll deal with it,” I tell everyone. “I’m sure Alex will get something next time.”
But he doesn’t — Sair gets three more items and Alex gets nothing.
“This is ridiculous,” Alex says to himself.
“I’m sorry!” Sair says. “I wish I could trade it to you, like in World of Warcraft. They at least give you thirty minutes to trade before it binds to you. Hell, they at least let you pass on something if you don’t want it.”
“At least he’s not being a dick about it,” I tell Alex. He just scowls at me.
As the weeks go by and we raid more and more, it begins to get very frustrating. I get the same belt three times while our other smuggler gets no belt. Still, our group gets geared enough to move onto the harder difficulty, in which bosses have way more health and do more damage. On our first night of trying it, it takes the whole three hour raid time to kill the first boss. Once again, I hear cheers then groans.
“Wait, now we can roll or pass on everything?” I ask. “Nothing has been assigned?”
“Why would they do that?!” Alex says. “Why have two different ways of getting loot? That seriously makes no sense. We should be able to roll on everything, normal or hard mode!”
I wish I could tell him why, but I don’t have an answer for him. Bioware has tried to distance its game as best as it can from being “WoW in space” but this is one instance where I wish they would just copy the MMO King. Let us use the loot system we want to use by giving us the tools to implement it. Instead, we’re stuck waiting as the game randomly assigns loot until we finally have the strength to move on.
Until then, though, I’m holding a contest for whoever can get the most duplicate belts. So far, I’m winning.
Rudy Basso, an accountant with an English degree, is living proof that your major really doesn’t matter that much. His series Farming Vader will appear here every Friday. You can find more of his writing (and occasional acting) at Cows Come Home.