It's too easy to be wrong

| Tuesday, March 23, 2010
The internet is giving rise to a whole new morality. Or lack of. I've noticed a pattern: things which nearly effortless are hard to see as wrong.

A few Sundays ago I wrote not so nicely about the orb speculators. Gevlon wrote a strange sort of rebuttal, boiling down to "The higher the price is, the more likely it will be used by someone worthwhile." That's actually less ridiculous than it sounds, I agree with the general concept. Others commented in my post, some quite offended by my suggestion that buying, holding, and reselling, which change absolutely nothing about the product, not making it into something more valuable, is unethical. Somehow the market has become the new morality for some people. If it's profitable it must be okay!

But that's not my point here. Instead I want to look at it from another angle: the way people could not even consider that there could be anything wrong. Why not? I believe it is because buying up 5-10g orbs is as simple as a few clicks and seems to have no effect on anyone or anything until you resell in a few weeks for massive profits. It looks like printing money but without even causing inflation.

It's easy and it benefits me, how could it be wrong?

I see a similar behavior in software and music piracy. I bet a dozen clicks and a bit of waiting could get you 95% of the music or software you'd ever want. If it was wrong, why would it be so easy? Bad things are hard, like stealing and murder and that sort of thing. Thieves have to break windows and stuff, not click a mouse a dozen times. It doesn't help that it's not theft the way we'd see it in the real world.

The internet, electronics in general, are a strange sort of world, and the words and rules of the 'real world' don't work quite right there. For another example, see Tobold try to figure out friends on Facebook. Friends that aren't friends but we call friends. Facebook friend sounds also insulting. But really anything less than friend sounds a bit mean, as if to say "Just so we're clear, we're not actually friends, so don't get any ideas." But on the easy note, think of how easy it is to friend someone. Trivial. While it's nor morally wrong, it is perhaps dishonest, but it's so easy, we don't really bother to consider: Is this person actually a friend? Actually in the past year or so I started ignoring friend requests for people I didn't see at least once a week. Then I just stopped checking Facebook at all. This process of doing nothing was assisted by my login/saved name eventually running out and it being 'too hard' (relative to benefit) to actually type in my name and password check it anymore.

I think of when Tobold experimented with anonymous, unmoderated comments, not even deleting anything. And told everyone first. Someone spammed NIGGER a few dozen times. He probably thought it was funny. And what's the harm? Just 6 letters and some copy-paste. Harmlessly easy. The trolls and spammers have it so easy. Imagine on the forums; quote, "wrong", post. Just like that you can annoy someone and potentially derail a thread. But it's so easy, why would anyone ever hold that against them?

The ninja in randoms, the person who gets the drop they want and bails, the partial guild runs that kick competition just before the boss: they're all so easy.

Click click click. It can't be wrong! It was so easy.

What it comes down to is failure to engage the mind. Trivially easy activities don't force us to take time or effort to consider them. We don't justify them because we don't have time. They are done and done.

Imagine if buying orbs required going to a buyer and explaining "Prices are going to go up, but this is a gamble, so I am willing to take on that risk to give you gold now. However keep in mind that if I am so sure of the risk to buy up not just your orbs, but those of many other people, it's probably a sure shot. Really you're an idiot to sell them to be at these prices" And you can't macro it into your trade macro, gotta say it per stack.

Or if music piracy required going all the way to the store, opening the CD, copying it to your laptop, and carefully rewrapping it.

Or if leaving an instance or kicking someone required taking the few seconds to give a reason.

Obviously these will reduce activity purely due to the added inconvenience. But I believe there will be a further effect as people think during it "What am I doing?"


Quicksilver said...

Have you read about Kant's Categorical Imperative? I believe the answer you are looking for lies in that direction.

The Gnome of Zurich said...

I completely disagree about frozen orbs. Well, not completely, the guy who is actively trying to keep the news from spreading is doing wrong, although really he's just a whiny idiot -- it's not like anybody is going to read that and be less likely to tell people about the patch change.

Somebody who merely offers low prices and stocks the orbs for later is not different than any other kind of speculator. I'm not going to claim I add a ton of value by speculating, but I believe that I add some and it is in a similar manner to the retail shop.

The difference is that I am transporting goods in time, rather than in space. If I log on to my banker and see a ton of large brilliant shards (or any farm item for which I know the market well) listed at 1/2 their normal price, I will buy them all up and relist them for the normal price, or a bit higher. How does this help?

Well, those shards at their correct price will be used more slowly than at the bargain basement price, which means that when whomever gets the baron's mount and stops farming shards and maybe some other dude who does it for gold gets his bike or whatever, and the market goes dry, instead of prices spiking to double normal, I'll be waiting with a nice big stash that I am quite happy to sell for 120-130% of normal price instead having them be either unavailable or triple+ priced until somebody gets sick of that and decides to farm them again.

Same thing with frozen orbs. Every frozen orb that a speculator buys now, both raises the current market for orbs, and lowers the post-patch market for orbs plus the most valuable things you can get with an orb turn-in.

The speculator is transporting those items from now, when you cannot use them to make frost lotus, to later, when you can.

The fact that there were a ton of people doing this is *why* frozen orbs were selling for 20g on my server within a few days of that announcement, so now anybody who pays attention to the ah knows frozen orbs are expected to be worth around 20g, and thus they are worth that *now* -- because of speculators. If nobody read the patch notes and consistently bought any frozen orb on the market for 5-10g, the price on the ah would still be 6-10g, and not 15-25g.

Simply advertising "WTB frozen orbs 6g ea." isn't wrong either. Yes, you will get business from people who don't know better, but is that rally different from the macros I see all day long buying shards, herbs, skins, ores, etc. for 50% of what they will consistently sell in quantity for on the AH?

Some people don't know from the ah or aren't willing to wait for their money, or whatever. If I'm not actively encouraging their ignorance, I don't think I'm doing anything more wrong than a retailer, who *could* give you the name and phone number of their wholesale vendors but don't.

Michael Young said...

I buy an item when it's available in abundance, when everyone who wants one is able to find one.

I sell it when the item is rare, when people who really want them aren't able to find them.

If I didn't buy the item, it would be wasted when in abundance and unavailable when rare. Because I chose to speculate, I've removed the chance for someone to buy it who only wanted it a little (they'd only buy it at the cheap price) and provided the chance for someone to buy it who wanted it a lot (they were willing to buy at the more expensive price).

By speculating I've put goods into the hands of people who have the greater desire for the item. The profit I make is my payment for acting to correct the imbalance in the availability of the good over time.

Klepsacovic said...

@Okrane S.: I had not. It sounds worth reading into more. Unfortunately rather than write a comment worthy of a post of its own (cough cough Mr. Gnome), I will instead go with a snarky response: He sounds like a social.

@The Gnome of Zurich: I have a post somewhere about the value of speculators as market-stabilizers; maybe I haven't published it yet. I'll have to dig that one out, wherever I left it.

The people buying in mass quantities, as I've interpreted them (and done myself) are doing so to act as cheap crafters. The benefits of the cheaper materials are partially passed on to customers. Also their tendency to accept any amount COD offers convenience which the AH cannot provide.

For the retailer example; one of the purposes of the retail is to have those contacts. They are selling that information, indirectly. So in that case, to simply give it away would be as contrary to the purpose of the business as giving away merchandise.

@Michael Young: In a better-informed and functioning economy, farming habits would change to match prices; farming less of cheap and more of expensive. I suppose I cannot fault you for providing a service which the farmers should be doing themselves.

Ngita said...

You seem to be equating ethical with non-easy.

ie in the real world putting your money into term deposit and getting 6%, Non ethical.

Investigating and identifying various struggling companies and investing in them. Ethical.

Playing the AH is the in game equivalent of the stock market, owning your own home or even just running a corner store. Its not music piracy just 2 people who disagree if something is worth buying or selling at a certain price point.

Klepsacovic said...

@Ngita: I didn't mean to imply that easy implies unethical. What I was trying to express is that people more easily accept as ethical those things which are easy.

I really should have just left out the orb part, that seems to have derailed what I wanted to say.

Ngita said...

I read it again ignoring the frozen orb commentary.

I believe covers it quite well:)

But sometimes you can't even be nice to people. On occasion I sell leather-working patches. I had been on the AH in the last 10 minutes and knew that the current cost of patches was 20 gold below cost(none where mine). Somebody wanted a patch crafted and advised him to just buy a patch and sell the mats. He insisted that he wanted a patch made with his mats. I guess if I had been a gevlon I would have brought a patch, traded him it for the mats and pocketed the extra 20g profit on top of the tip once I had sold the mats.

Craig Eddy said...

I hate ninjas. Y not just farm a low level instance? maybe ull be lucky and not be hated so much. its like "Hey its a green. MUST NEED! MUST ANNOY THAT TANK WHO ALSO NEEDED!" My pally encounters this alot. Like a rogue needed plate tanking shoulders. Cmon man

Cassandri said...

Isn't buying up something when it's cheap and reselling later just speculating? I mean, people do that all the time on the Auction House.

I don't really think it's right or wrong.

Smart buyers will plan in advance and shop for items over the span of days/weeks. So if someone really wants to get the better of me (as a smart buyer) they need to control the market well and truly for at least a few weeks.

But I don't like the mentality that if something makes you a profit it's right. That doesn't hold true in the business world either. It also doesn't mean that you're going to get some kind of punishment from Blizzard so it's up to the individual to decide if their in game business activities are worth pursuing.

TheGecko said...

Seems like an argument about ethical capitalism, or not. IMHO, the buying and selling of items in any game shouldn't involve ethics - this isn't real life, and no one really suffers if I make a profit from speculation.

Real life may well be different, however.

Klepsacovic said...

@Ngita: I don't think I've done the buy-off-AH-to-'craft' thing, but my JC sometimes has unsold gems whose price crashed (I didn't want to chase them down) and traded those when people asked for cuts. The way I see it, they're trying to get the better deal out of me, thinking the AH is cheaper. Turnabout is fair play!

@DarkHonor: Yes, ninjas are bad.

@Cassandri: As a crafter I run a couple times a day searches for cheap mats when I go to post auctions.

@TheGecko: While this is just a game, that's not a very fun claim to make. A while back I wrote about someone who intentionally destroyed an Undying (whatever the no deaths Naxx achievement is) run at KT, yelling that it's just a game. Being a game doesn't justify being a bad person, even virtually. However in this case it appears I was wrong, that the orb speculators aren't such bad people afer all. Except the cover-up guy, he's a jackass.

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