Sunday, November 06, 2011

On Auction Loot Systems

Ferrel at Epic Slant had a post on Bidding Systems, where he was looking for comments on a zero-sum bid system. I commented with a giant wall of text, and figured I'd post it here as well.

My guild used to run an auction system (English bid, multiple bidding rounds, winner pays bid, like a traditional auction) before we switched to a Loot Council system. What we found is that a bid system works best if the players are willing to be aggressive with bidding. But a lot of players don’t like the feeling that they are competing with fellow guild members–the adversarial nature of the system–and they do things like “pass to someone else, she needs it more”. Which you know sounds like a good thing a tight-knit group would do, but actually tends to warp the bid system.

I’d like to add that the “not bidding aggressively” was not collusion per se. It was more a feeling that bidding aggressively was “impolite”. That aggressive bidding, especially if you had won something already, was somehow saying that gearing up your character is more important than gearing up your guildmate’s character. So out of respect for the social ties that bind the guild together, people refrained from bidding if they saw that someone else really wanted the item.

But in reality, that aggressive bidding was *necessary* for the auction system to work properly. Points needed to be spent, and items need to go for their “true price”.

Like, let’s say you know your popular guildmaster really, really wants Uber-Weapon off this boss you haven’t killed yet. On your first kill, the weapon drops. If your guild is the type of guild who would collectively pass the weapon to GM in appreciation for her hard work, your guild is a bad fit for an auction system. That weapon needs to be auctioned off, to be sold for hundreds of points, even if a relative new person gets the weapon over the GM. There is no room in an auction system for your raiders to feel bad about outbidding the GM for the weapon.

There was also some drama associated with bidding. Like if people knew that Dave wanted an item, they would bid on that item to drive up the price. But if Sally wanted the item, no one would compete against her, letting her have it for very few points. Naturally Dave would get upset at this behavior.

That was my experience with a bid system. I liked it a great deal, our paladins were okay with bidding against each other for items. I think we liked having the rest of guild be amazed that a healing shield would go for hundreds of points. But a lot of the other classes and people had issues with bidding, and it prompted the change in loot systems.

From a more theoretical standpoint, what’s important in a bidding system is not really where the points come from (the zero-sum part). Bid systems tend to flush out point inflation by their nature (again, if people bid aggressively). So you don’t need to use zero-sum. Handing out points based on time or attendance will probably be easier.

The important part is how the auction occurs. English bid is the system everyone knows, but multiple rounds means that it is very time consuming. It’s also a good system to “discover” prices. If you don’t know how much an item is worth, you’ll soon find out as the price starts increasing.

Sealed first-price auction is a single round of secret bids. Whoever bids the highest wins the item, and pays what she bid. It’s fast, but it can be very hard to judge how much to bid. You don’t want to bid thousands of points if you’re the only bidder.

Vickrey auctions are my personal favorite. Like the auction above, there’s only one round of bids. But the winner pays the *second-highest* bid (sometimes second highest + 1). This means that the optimal strategy in a Vickrey auction is to bid what you think the item is worth. You’ll either win the item and pay less than you think the item is worth; or someone else will win and overpay for the item. The problem with Vickrey is that a lot of other people simply don’t “get” the system, and not understanding it leads to dissatisfaction. There can also be some drama when people deliberately pitch bids high in order to make someone who really wants the item pay more. This is mathematically a bad strategy, but can lead to bad blood and harsh feelings.

That’s what I think of auctions. To be honest, if I had a guild that was totally on-board with Vickrey, it would be my preferred loot system. But I think the other two types of auctions have enough disadvantages, especially with regards to speed, that I would not use them if I could use another system instead.


  1. Bidding seemed to work better for us in the larger raids, where there would be several people who wanted an item. In 10 mans, often there's only one or two people who want it anyway so it hardly feels worth bothering.

    Also there was the holy paladin issue where classes who had less competition for most of their drops just had a lot more points to spend on anything else (eg. jewellery) that was contested.

  2. I think bidding "amongst friends" doesn't work with points, it only works with gold or some other tradable commodity. If you're bidding "points" that you've "earned" and these points are destroyed when you win, then everybody who didn't win gets nothing.

    If you bid with (for example) gold and proceeds from the winning bids gets paid out to the other participants of the raid at the end, this changes the dynamic. Rather than competing with your friends in an adversarial system, you are directly sharing the benefit of winning the item with them, because they get paid their proportional share of the value of the item to you.

    It doesn't have to be gold, though that is probably the most common share-the-spoils bid system because of its simplicity.

  3. I like EPGP the best of the various DKP systems. The best part of the system is how you "lose" points the higher up on the list you are, which means you should pretty much always bid on an item you want. This always allows new members to relatively easy get loot, without having to spend months trying to catch up with the veterans.

    My 10 man guild uses Suicide Kings now, which is really a very simplified DKP system. You have an ordered list, and whoever is highest on the list of the bidders, gets the item. But she is then put at the very bottom of the list, and everyone else moves up a spot. It does the same as EPGP, in that there is no benefit of being on top of the list, so you'll want to bid on something rather than just sit there and get nothing.

  4. I'm curious if you find Loot Council problematic. We had these two main issues during the month long process:

    1- It's slow. Especially in raids where you kill lots of bosses. Having to have a discussion and evaluating each case takes time and can kill momentum.

    2- As the loot council, we tended to feel pressure to award loots to the guildies rather than ourselves, even when we felt that we deserved it. It's awkward to say, I'm awarding this to myself and not you.

    After our loot council experiment, we switched to Suicide Kings which was fast and efficient.

    Before loot council, we used a simple DKP system which was this. Each raid you attended earned you three points (only 1 if you left early for any reason). Highest DKP won the item (if more than one person at the same DKP wanted an item it would go to roll-off). Person who won the item, dropped to zero dkp. This was efficient, not too difficult to track. Problem was it felt slower than SK and people would sometimes hold-out for an item that might drop later, rather than spend dkp on an item that was an obvious upgrade for them.

  5. @Jeremy, LC can be slow. We generally speed it up by having similar people roll for the item. For example, if five DPS want the item, and there's no obvious "best upgrade", we'll often just let the five people roll for the item.

    Where we get really slow is where the two situations are not really comparable.

    I.e. Person A is upgrading a i378 tier piece to an i391 tier piece. Person B wants to upgrade an i391 non-tier piece to the i391 tier in order to get the 4-pc set bonus.

    I don't really know which is the better option in that case. But that case is somewhat rare.

    As for your SK system, I am a little concerned because SK is more or less the same system as Spend-All DKP, which is your original system. It suffers from the same flaw, where someone at the top of the list refuses to suicide for a marginal upgrade, which is then sharded.

    So I wonder why SK works for you, when Spend-All DKP failed.

  6. Rohan
    I've experienced (for good or bad) a lot of different loot systems. I've found that each has to fit the guild that uses it, which is essentially what your post says.

    However, I've personally found that the best system is a loot council. It seems a lot of the feeling about it is that it takes a long time, but my experience wasn't like that. We usually all agreed immediately with who should get the item, and if people had questions or concerns we'd hear them after the raid, privately. We continued moving and pulling which the council took place (if it was longer than a few seconds), and that was that. Each officer in the raid simply sent a tell to the RL (me, at the time this was happening), and majority won, with a tie going to the RL. That was very unlikely, though.

    In a 25 man guild, that might be a tougher call, but I think if you really know your raiders and have a consistent team, it's an easy choice.

    The bidding systems I worked with took forever, even if they were silent and private. Additionally, since everyone had to think about their bid, it stopped the raid. When I look for a looting system, I look for one that keeps the raid moving to continue the momentum of the kill; nothing's worse than getting a kill and then not playing for a half hour.

    Nice post!

  7. SK works, I think, because of the psychology behind people seeing the list move so quickly. With DKP you felt like you had to accumulate more points than someone who you might compete against. Because you had points and they could be hoarded, some people felt compelled to do so.

    With SK, Player One wins an item and drops to the bottom and even if Player Two won something on the last boss he/she finds his/herself now ahead of Player one. Sure, Player One can still hold out for an item, but then it might go to a competitor below him/her on the list. Him/her doesn't care because they weren't on top anyway. If Player One was holding out, they might get the piece they were after (if it dropped eventually), but Player Two who was competing for similar gear might see two or three upgrades in the meantime.

    @Rohan: How do you handle members of the council getting gear? Is there resentment when it feels self rewarding?

    Also, completely unrelated but I am a huge Douglas Coupland fan and this post kept making me think of his latest book, Player One: What Is To Become of Us. A great quick read about a modern down social collapse (there is also several analogies to the simplicity of life in 2D video games):

  8. We haven't really had issues with council members getting gear, as far as I know. They do a good job of spreading gear around.

  9. The fact that SK doesn't distinguish between a bracer and weapon upgrade seems to be its largest issue.