DKP In Practice – Retributive Justice

Warning! The following video is NSFW and features a lot of swearing and shouting. Turn the volume down if watching.

Internet memes have somehow worked their way into mainstream culture. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise, given that that’s the whole point of memes… Nevertheless, I still find it odd when those stupid little in-jokes I chuckled at years ago on 4chan wind up on a friend’s facebook wall, hot linked from some copy-cat website like 9gag or icanhas. It’s similar to when you hear someone hum that song you like from an obscure underground artist that only you and a handful of people know about even though they’ve been around for ages. “Oh, I love them! They’re on the radio all the time,” the friend says, as if they haven’t just turned your world upside down.

Still, these are the way of things, and what can we do but browse through and enjoy the <insert university, place, culture etc.> memes facebook group. One does not simply ignore a good meme. (Incidentally, a personal gripe; this meme has turned into an extremely unfunny, ‘One does not simply..’ and then, I don’t know, eat one slice of pizza or something. Far funnier, the meme was originally variants on ways not to get into Mordor. There are some great ones out there, here’s a favourite of mine).


WoW is no exception to the rule. If it’s funny, it won’t remain a community secret for long. Who hasn’t heard of Leeroy Jenkins (the video has 34 million views on youtube)? WoW Insider recently made a blog post listing most of the WoW memes from over the years, and the post is definitely worth a read. One video they highlight is the one I have linked as the subject of this post. Two phrases from this video have become particularly widespread, “more dots!” and “handle it!” which have subsequently been acknowledged by Blizzzard and are now achievements players can actually earn within the game. The phrase that I will always remember from the video though is this one;  “THAT’S A 50 DKP MINUS!!” (Caps intended).

So what’s the background to this video and why are we looking at it today? Onyxia was a 40 person raid boss back in Vanilla WoW, and as with all bosses, required a lot of coordination to successfully take down. Someone needs to organize, motivate and lead a group of would-be raiders into an outfit that would have any chance of success. ‘Dives’ was the raid leader of a guild called Wipe Club, and is the friendly voice we hear in the video, bringing his own style of raid leading to the table (which was amazingly quite successful).

As I mentioned in the first post looking at distributive systems, a desirable aspect of any DKP system is to be able to reward perceived effort. It feels right that someone who turns up to all the progress raids which offer no rewards should have first dibs on the loot, over the person who only turns up for the kills. In this sense, we want to reward the people who deserve it most (this is actually quite contentious; more to follow..).  So one thing we can do with DKP in addition to awarding it at an hourly rate rather than per boss kill, is to incentivise beneficial practices with DKP bonuses. Turn up to the raid on time, fully prepared? Have a DKP bonus. Read all the tactics for the night, capped your valor points to get those upgrades outside of the raid? Bonus DKP.

But by the same token, DKP could be taken away as a form of retributive justice. The guild has been working on a boss the whole night say, with a simple ‘don’t stand in the fire’ mechanic. Despite repeated warnings and plenty of time to learn, some players just aren’t getting it, and fed up the raid leader announces, “anyone who dies to fire loses 50 DKP!” And suddenly everyone plays perfectly. Or do they?

Dives has obviously decided to take action with this raid and warn his players that standing in the wrong place is inexcusable, and will promptly result in the loss of 50 DKP, the idea being that this will be motivation enough for people not to make mistakes. We can safely assume that a 50 DKP loss would be a good motivation; nevertheless, Crushim falls foul of a mechanic and wipes the raid. That’s a 50 DKP minus!

One point to discuss is whether this is actually a beneficial practice when it comes to raiding guilds (or sports teams and businesses even, for that matter). As it turns out, Dives revealed that Crushim never actually received his DKP penalty (in an interview which seems to have disappeared from the net), and this is certainly my experience with attempted retributive justice; they just don’t pan how we intend. I remember with one guild I was in, some players just couldn’t do the lava waves or the fire phase of Ragnaros (FL version). They would fail every attempt and not learn, and cause wipe after wipe. The solution was to implement DKP losses for failures, but this was a failure on a much larger scale. The same players kept failing and lost their DKP, but when normally reliable players made the same mistake, no punishment was dished out. Guild drama inevitably ensued, revealing deep rifts and essentially the end of the guild.

Perhaps this is just a fault of poor implementation, but I don’t think blind application of DKP losses for all mistakes would have made any difference either. It might in some ways have been fairer, but the idea behind the move was to finally encourage some players to try hard and get the mechanic right, not to punish already hard working players who happened to make a mistake and get it wrong that one time. DKP penalties might well have a place for some guilds in certain circumstances, but dishing them out for failures on a mechanic should always be carefully considered.

The other point I want to draw upon is more philosophical and concerns desert based distributive justice, which are systems that try to reward things based on who deserves what. It has been argued by some that desert should have no place in distributive justice, essentially because it’s hard, if not impossible, to determine what counts towards someone deserving something and whether they deserve it over someone else. Contrastingly, this is not the case with retributive justice, where desert seems to play an obvious role. We send the criminal to jail because he deserves it. This has led to an asymmetry thesis for desert based distributive and retributive justice. Desert plays a role in the latter, but not the former.

I think distributive systems in MMO’s present interesting cases for this thesis, which we might have reasons to doubt[1]. If DKP systems are designed to reward based upon who deserves what, then there seems to be the relevant symmetry between the distributive and retributive cases. DKP, which determines how we distribute rewards, is awarded or taken away for the same kinds of practices, for example, performing well or poorly in a raid. It seems plausible that the same arguments put forward for saying one player deserves to lose DKP might also be conversely used to say that another player deserves bonus DKP. There seems to be a symmetry rather than asymmetry, between the two cases. But whether or not DKP systems are desert based systems is not obvious and currently an active part of my work.

I leave you with a compilation clip from some of Wipe Club’s adventures, featuring more of Dives raid leading and some more threats of DKP losses (again, very much NSFW with strong language and high volume).

[1] Moriarty, J. (2003). Against the Asymmetry of Desert. Nous, 37:3 518-536.

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