World of Warcraft players are generally aware that the newest patch will introduce a new LFG tool, one that forces the Need Before Greed option on any pick-up groups put together through the tool. The Need Before Greed loot option is being changed accordingly to new rule sets, in which in order to roll need, it must be the primary armor type of the class (no mail for paladins, etc.) and must be appropriately statted (no spellpower gear for melee classes.) This naturally upset a portion of the player base, particularly hybrids.
In discussing the change, Ghostcrawler said, "Looting to some extent is always going to have a heavily social component. There's only so much we can do (or should do) to try and 'solve' that problem for players."
The crab is right. Ever since multi-player games have had treasure, loot has been a sensitive social issue among players. Thrust that delicate component into a massive game in which social interaction plays a huge part, and there is no denying that trouble will happen constantly. Feelings get hurt, and not only do personal reputations get hurt, but even the reputations of friends and guilds can get dragged into the mix. I doubt there's a single one of us that hasn't at one point or another been part of loot drama.
Because "who gets what" has become so dramatic, players have come up with all sorts of loot systems in an attempt to play fair. "Need Before Greed" is an ancient system by most standards, and one of the most basic, common sense systems: what is needed by a player for equipment upgrades takes precedence over any other desires for the item in the party. Simple and functional, but too many complicated questions arise: what constitutes need? Do particular classes get prioritized over others? Do certain players have more worth than others, are certain upgrades worth more than others?
More evolved loot systems have been born over the years. There's DKP (Dragon Kill Points), Zero Sum DKP, Suicide Kings, Ni Karma, Loot Council, One More, weighted rolling, Spend-All, Fixed Price DKP, DKP Bidding - the list goes on. Each has its own set of complex rules, and none manage to satisfy every potential loot receiver fully. Like it or not, there's emotion in getting loot, whether we get lucky and win that super rare drop we may never see again, or whether we spend three months searching for a particular weapon, only to have it finally drop and lose the roll. I've seen and heard about countless instances where someone didn't get the item they wanted; seen players get torn apart because they got an item and others were jealous. When it comes to loot, we're a pack of dogs fighting over a single bone.
From a game development point of view, there are a few ways to handle this issue. The most idealistic is to do away with a loot system entirely - not a very popular system with players, as Age of Conan and The Chronicles of Spellborn can attest; players often feel cheated if their gear means nothing. Another option would be to allow players to freely receive the loot they desire; at the end of an encounter, allow every player that participated to choose one single item as a reward. The problem with a system that rewards everyone, however, is that it begins to trivialize loot, reducing the desire to run encounters more than once or twice for rewards. What else? Should MMOs simply reward tokens to everyone, and allow players to accumulate them and spend them for all loot rewards?
No loot system that game developers could come up with would satisfy everyone. That's why loot systems lean on players to overcome their social issues to create a fair system. For a regular player in a pick up group, that may not be so hard. Consider the pressure on guild leaders however. As the blog Epic Slant puts it, "At every turn guild administrators should craft their loot system as best they can to encourage winning as a team and furthering the core values of the guild." In a way, a loot system for a guild acts as a filter to sort "good" guild members - those that enhance, support, and fit the guild's code of ethics - from the "bad." Even raid leaders have to go through this weeding process, sometimes mid-raid.
To be honest, I believe most of us are fair in our attitudes toward loot and loot distribution, but I've also been told I see the good in everyone. Problems with loot systems rarely stem from the majority: it's always the minority of the players (even if that minority is the group leader.) Somewhere, there's an unspoken norm in each game, and even among each server, which indicates its degree of care toward loot and how it should be handed out. The problems stem from players who, for whatever reason, digress from this 'norm,' whether it's something as simple as a defining main spec versus off spec needs, or something as radical as a selfish belief of entitlement to specific loot items with no rationale. It's in these instances where players will either, work things out, give someone a boot, or walk out. "Loot ninjas" are quickly called out and have their reputation dragged through the bowels of the community, while the dozens of friendly actions on loot, such as passing to someone who needs the item better, go generally unspoken of and unrewarded.
While you consider the implications of our self-built MMO societies, and how various games lean toward socialist, capitalist, and other means, I'll end this with a reminder of why loot rules, both social and mechanical, are so important. On my first World of Warcraft server, Scarlet Crusade, an entire meme was born around a single ninja looter. His name was Rahurm, and his crime was ninjaing Dal'Rend's Sacred Charge in Upper Blackrock Spire because, per his reasoning, he was tired of losing the roll for the item. His name became not only synonymous with ninja looting, but became a substitute for the term "ninja looting" itself.
So, in the words of Rahurm, consider this when you're about to group and set loot rules: "Lol hey torant you idiot your the stupid ass that didnt ML it and my brother thinks your rules are crap need if u need lol you dont need BoP's Moron and my brother laughs at you when he see's you walking around on WoW and hey if u dont ML in a PuG u deserve to get ninjaed upon you ass"