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On Rift Guilds and Bidding Systems

Rift TreasureIniquity and I have been on a tear lately when it comes to Rift raiding. Once we dropped Lord Greenscale everything just clicked. We now have the capability of clearing all of GSB and basically to Alsbeth in a single two and a half hour period (though we tend to leave the Herald alive for our second raid day). It won’t be very long before she falls and ushers us to the gates of Hammerknell. This entirely new tier of raiding has us really thinking about our loot system. It works well, there is no doubt about that, but there are some problems. Problems that we think we can solve with bidding!

Loot systems are all about levels of control and fairness. You want to be as fair as you possibly can and offer the right amount of control to keep the system working as intended. Loot isn’t about rewarding players so much as ensuring your guild has the appropriate tools to continue your progression. In Iniquity the officers and I do our best to give as much control of the system to our members. They don’t need to be watched constantly. They are mature adults who do a wonderful job of working with each other to ensure everyone gets a piece of the pie. As officers we would just get in the way. In our current system we took control of one major aspect: item costs. In doing so we did an average job at best and I feel that there are some glaring mistakes in our system.

We took an approach of “one size fits all.” That means all items of a certain type (breastplates, weapons, etc.) cost the same. This seems pretty fair and reasonable. Where this breaks down is in the subtle differences. You might say that all 33 DPS weapons are equal and you’d be close to right. The DPS number is far more important that the statistics. That doesn’t change the fact that some 33 DPS weapons will be better and more desirable. In our system they’re the same price. Someone might pass on one, which would upgrade the whole guild, to wait on another that is equal cost but better. It has always been my position that if an item is an upgrade for someone, even if a small one, the system should encourage them to take that item over it rotting. If we charge full price that won’t happen. If we let members name a price we stand a chance!

Enter the Bidding

Generally I don’t like bidding systems. They are very easy to game and abuse. Rift and Iniquity, however, offer a perfect opportunity for this kind of system to thrive. If we discuss gaming that normally is an issue of class price fixing. Let me give you an example. In your guild you have three clerics and two warriors. They all wear plate armor. The clerics secretly get together and agree that on any cleric specific item (intra-class) they will never bid over five points. This means that when plate armor drops and they have to compete with warriors (extra-class) they will have more points to spend. The same is true for items that are usable for many classes.

You saw a whole lot of this in EverQuest. Many classes shared a desire for certain items. In Rift you see almost no instances of this. Yes, some warriors might go after leather and some clerics may seek cloth but it isn’t typical. The only real extra-class competition you have is on weapons. Can the system be gamed? Certainly so! The chances of it happening are just far less likely because there is an extreme minority of extra-class loot.

Iniquity is also a particular honest and close-knit group of individuals. Gaming the system where possible just isn’t in the nature of our members. I don’t have to keep an eye on them to make sure they’re playing fair. Beyond the good nature of my members our system also offers another clear check against gaming. We use a zero-sum point system. If you bid low and win low then everyone gets a lower pool of points. Slowly over time our range of points gets smaller and smaller until you simply can’t game anymore. We plan to use a minimum so by bidding small our range decreases. Eventually you just can’t go any smaller and things will correct themselves. It seems like a solid check!

Fear and loathing in Telara

We do seem to have a fairly anti-bid feel in the guild because I think most people feel like I do. These systems are notoriously corrupt. I could come up with at least twelve ways to cheat them in EverQuest if I wanted to. We base our opinions on experiences like that and it means fighting an uphill battle to change perceptions. I think this will work for a Rift guild. We’ll have to see.

Does anyone have any experience with a zero-sum bidding loot system?

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8 Responses to On Rift Guilds and Bidding Systems

  1. Rohan says:

    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.

    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.

    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.

  2. Rohan says:

    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.

    • Ferrel says:

      Great write up an insight on the system. Based on your experience we would probably not do well under a bidding system.

      Our guild mates aren’t really the adversarial type and they do exactly what you suggested about passing items. We have a lot of that. Lots of passing for the more even distribution. I suppose we’ll have to figure out something because we have two major issues:

      1. Pricing items correctly.
      2. People not taking marginal upgrades.

      I want to address both of those without having to come up with a ton of complex, specialized rules.

  3. Pingback: On Auction Loot Systems | Game Ninja

  4. Starseeker says:

    My EQ2 guild used silent bidding. We went 2 rounds, 30 seconds each. First round all bids were sent to the officer doing the loot (raid leader or someone designated if the raid leader was bidding). At the end of the first round, the highest bid number was announced, but not who the highest bidder was. The second round commenced, and bids were again given for the item silently, at the end of the second round the highest amount was announced with the winners name. Winner paid that price. If there was only 1 bid on the item then they paid what they bid in the first round.
    It worked ok for a year and a half. I ran the loot system, and had my officers take bid if I was bidding. The issues came up after I left, and I had heard there were some calls of cheating on the part of the new leader…fudging the bids since no one could see them.

    Unfortunately without alot of research in drops i can’t really suggest a way to value items for you, I guess my only suggestion would be if you have an item drop that is a minor upgrade and nobody wants, perhaps offer it at half cost?

    I’ve never used zero sum, however so not sure how that would work.

  5. Vatec says:

    My guild (The System Lords – Estrael – Defiant) will be using a very similar system, but list-based rather than point-based.

    The senior officers keep a list for each major category (Warrior Tank, Warrior DPS, Cleric Tank, Cleric Heals, etc.). When an item drops, it is quickly evaluated by consensus (usually pretty obvious in Rift). Any player on the appropriate list can then choose to risk his/her spot on the list to take the item: highest one takes it and drops to the bottom of the list. Everyone currently attending the event, moves up. Non-attendees retain their current position.

    If no one values the item highly enough to give up their spot on the list, all remaining people who are interested /roll. Those who are on the specific list /roll 200, those who are not /roll 100. Whoever wins does -not- lose their spot, because they did not choose to risk it.

    Example: The Warrior DPS list consists of Alice, Bob, Chuck, Dale, and Ellen. A good two-handed sword drops, but Chuck is a dual-wielder and Bob already has better; Dale didn’t attend today’s raid. Alice and Ellen both are willing to give up their spot on the list. Alice is ahead of Bob, so she wins and moves to the “bottom” of the list. The new list will be Bob, Chuck, Ellen, Dale, and Alice. Note that Dale is still in the #4 spot because he is not present. Ellen -is- present, so she moves up from #5 to #3.

    The system is simple, straightforward, and transparent. The only “judgment” issues are the categorization of the loot (we’re still discussing things like high-Dex rings for DPS Warriors) and the initial ordering of the lists (most likely will be decided based on who already has the best gear; they’ll be lower on the list to start, to give the less-geared people a better shot at upgrades initially; but you could easily argue for a different prioritization; what matters is that the initial lists are built by consensus and are public knowledge).

    Our raid leader used this system for loot distribution in WoW and reports that there was essentially no “loot drama.”