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?

2 thoughts on “Mutually Assured Negativity

  1. Pingback: Console Gamers Update « Trot Line

  2. p@tsh@t

    Ha ha! A classic game theory problem.

    The only real solution I have is a complicated rule-based response escrow system (which presumably you would have the ability as a player to tweak and apply as you desire, or maybe just a couple radio button choices for rules). It might work something like this:

    Unless changed, neutral feedback would be posted automatically after some fixed time period expired. If both players have responded then it resolves and posts.

    Prior to the expiration of the rating period, you could register provisional feedback subject to your own feedback rules (all of which are resolved and posted at the expiration of the rating period).

    I provisionally register a positive. I could also choose among a few rules for giving feedback:

    1. “give what I give”; don’t apply any rules, stare decisis.
    2. “tit-for-tat”; e.g., change my feedback to whatever the other person gives.
    3. “give what I get, only if worse than what I give” e.g., revise downward only
    4. “give what I get, only if better” e.g., upgrade only
    5. “give what I get, if negative”
    6. etc.

    The other player chooses and applies his rules, the system resolves and posts. If they (or you) don’t choose, time expires and a neutral is registered, the other rank is resolved and posted.

    One side effect of course is that if you are going to go negative on an asshat, you have to expect to take a bullet. But unlike an eBa transaction, the group effect probably would mitigate the zero sum mutually assured negativity factor.

    Presumably if you were in a 5 man group with an asshat, the asshat would take 4 negatives and give 4 negatives. Each of the non-asshats would presumably get 3 positives and 1 negative, so asshat is -4 while each group members rating which is +2 (i.e., +3, -1) after kicking the asshat.


Comments are closed.