Daily Archives: March 30, 2007

Mutually Assured Negativity

Over on Potshot the whole “asshats” discussion hit a new stride with the suggestion that an eBay feedback system might fit the bill for a social feedback mechanism to correct antisocial behavior.  An excellent way to turn in this discussion in my opinion.  There are certainly questions raised by the idea.  Who gets to rate whom?  How often do you get to rate somebody?  How long until ratings get pruned?  Should the ratings people give out be visible so you can weigh them or should there be a calculation in the rating system that gives weight to the person giving the rating?

But those are details, really.  They can be solved.

There is another problem however.  One with a solution that is not so obvious, at least not to me.

For a while I was the front for my wife and mother-in-law when it came to eBay, so I have a some feel for the dynamics of the feedback system.  Not that it is rocket science, but you generally have to get more than a few transactions in before you start running into the odd scenarios.

I always play the buyer.  I pay promptly and follow the directions of the seller to the letter, asking for clarification if I am at all confused.  My expectation is that I will get a positive rating no matter what else occurs.  I have done my part.

And, 90% of the time, that is the case.  I get a positive rating, sometimes right away, sometimes after some delay, but usually without my having to do anything further.

But once in a while I run into a seller in the grip of “mutually assured negativity.”

That seller will not give me a positive rating unless I give them one first.  I have received notes from sellers following payment that include a requirement that I give positive feedback before they will consider giving any feedback.  And in such a case I find that the seller and I often end up in a stand off worthy of any south of the Rio Grande. 

Having performed my part of the deal successfully I resent having my feedback held hostage.  Since this communication generally occurs before the buyer has delivered, I generally ignore the request.  In fact, being quite stubborn at times, I usually go beyond that and take the position that I will give no feedback until I have received mine.  Two can play at that game!

Generally this means that nobody ends up getting any feedback on the transaction.  Once in a while the other side will look at my record and see that I have never given a negative feedback and only two neutrals and will relent.  At other times I have ended up in email exchanges with the other party that rival the strategic arms limitations treaty negotiations.  I had a 7 month long, once or twice a week email exchange with one seller.  Well, exchange might be stretching it, since it was mostly him sending the email.  One more rating didn’t mean much to me, but he seemed determined to get every single positive he felt he had coming.  Unfortunately, he started out with a very aggressive demand that I give positive feedback first, which put my back up and my Catalan stubbornness in play, and that was about it for any resolution.

Despite my stubbornness, I do understand the position of the seller.  While I am conscientious about my feedback, generally declining to give feedback rather than give a negative, there are a lot of people who are much more capricious with their ratings.  You do not have to look too hard to find people who have given negatives because they felt the shipping and handling charges that were spelled out in the auction on which they bid were too high.

So the whole stand off about getting a positive rating is also to ensure that if you get a negative rating you can retaliate in kind.

eBay put in a response system so that if you received a negative, you could explain yourself.  While this ended up generating a lot of amusing excuses and counter claims, it did not actually solve the problem.  Eventually eBay but in a function that let the buyer and seller remove a negative rating by mutual consent.  While that can take care of those who rate on a whim and regret later, it just extends the “mutually assured negativity” issue another step, so now you can get to, “I’ll remove mine, but only if you remove yours first.”

Sorry, but that is where I came in and I still refused to play.

So how do you solve this problem in an MMO if they cannot (or will not) solve it at eBay?  Or is it even worth solving?

Offline Selling, Then and Now

I keep starting on an piece about the allure of playing an MMO on day one.  One of the key points for old farts like me is that we can tell people how bad it was on day one and how easy kids have it these days.  That and yelling at the neighborhood kids to stay off my lawn is all part of the training that will turn me into a world class curmudgeon some day.

In the spirit of that, I want to go revisit something I mentioned in a previous post about Nomu’s adventure play time and how I could not really use that to compare how easy or hard it was to level up a character in the old days because the mechanics of the game at the time.

Nomu’s adventure play time is somewhat inaccurate in the context of “adventuring” but completely accurate in the context of the early days of EverQuest II.

His adventure play time reflects the fact that when EQ2 first shipped, the only way you could put things up for sale on the broker was to remain online.  Yes, back in the old days, there was no such thing as off-line selling.  So, like many people, I just left my computer on and my character logged into the game 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Nomu would just sit in his inn room waiting for people to buy his stuff while I was at work or asleep.

What was SOE thinking?

I mean here they had a system that actively encouraged players to leave themselves logged into the EverQuest II servers at all times.   While all of these idlers are in their own little inn room instance and not doing a whole lot of anything, they are still generating network traffic.  I cannot believe that anybody thought this was a sound idea.  Off-line selling must surely have been planned but not implemented at launch.  The idea of the SOE server infrastructure team signing off on this makes me laugh.

So Nomu racked up minutes, hours, and days play time without a whole lot of play going on.

And as it worked out, I was in the right time zone to really maximize my online idle time too.

Sony would bring down the servers early every morning Pacific time for patches and maintenance. (And there was a patch every day… you kids have it so easy these days….)  The servers would be up again at least an hour before I had to head to work, so I would log Nomu back in, check to see what he sold, set him up to sell, and head off for the day.

Off-line selling just had to happen.  There was no way it could be avoided.  All these people logged in had to be a drain on SOE’s server resources.

But even when off-line selling was finally implemented not too long after launch, you could only sell from your house vault, which was a 2 slot affair no matter how big your house was.  But if you were online, you could sell from your inventory AND your vault.  I remember seeing people walking very slowly from the bank to their inn room.  They were getting the maximum number of slots by carrying boxes rather than bags to their room to setup for online selling over night.

And, of course, if you were selling expensive items, you really wanted to be online selling so people could come to you and buy them directly and avoid the broker’s fee.  Yes, off-line selling had its own little tax in that fee that encourage people to remain logged in and selling while idle.

It wasn’t until the advent of the salesman’s case (and its item specific cousins) that off-line selling became truly viable and we could all log out characters out for the night.  The salesman’s case stands in for your character and people can come to your inn room and buy things from it without paying the broker’s fee.

In addition, the salesman’s case gave carpenters another useful item to make.  While all of their furniture items are very nice, boxes and salesman’s cases are all they really have going for them in the marketplace.

Of course, after writing this up, I realize that 31 days of play time really isn’t that much at all given how many hours I kept Nomu logged in.  His grand total is 55 days including trade skill time, so I have to believe that some of that selling time got allocated to trade skill as opposed to adventure.