Greedy Goblin

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Node ninjas and social norms

There is a common belief among social people: their social norms and unwritten rules keep the society running. If everyone would be selfish and anti-social, the society could not function and everyone would starve.

Victor wrote me a letter about an "unethical" activity, node ninjaing: "Have a server that is rather populated, meaning that at any time there's another player within a reasonable distance of another. Say that Player A finds a node that is guarded by several monsters. He can choose to fight them (thereby using some of his time) with the intention of reaching the node, gathering it and making a profit (work profit). Player B, which is in the vicinity notices that Player A is fighting monsters and swoops in and takes the node. What happens in this instance? Player A does the work (=time), but receives no work profit. Player B does no work (~0 time) but receives business profit. (exploiting Player A's dumbness)

Ok, so what next. Well, it's not illegal so all's fair. Player A says 'screw this shit' and stops cleaning the mobs to the nodes (=0 work, 0 expected work profit). Player B doesn't have any more dumbness to capitalize on so it's (0 business profit). The commodity contained in the nodes go up in price, the crafters using that raw material have to charge more, consumers buy less, crafters make less profit = recession in that segment= everyone suffers.

This is a perfect example because it offers both solutions to the "unwritten law" problem. The first solution is cooperation. If you go out alone to mine, you just have work and no ore. If you go out alone to ninja, you might find some victims, might not, in perfect situation (where nobody is a moron) you find none. However here comes the cooperation: you go out with a partner, one starts mining, the other fight the monsters and split the ore. It's not "morality" that keeps one in the partnership, simply greed: half ore of a mining tour is much more than all the ore of a single mining. And you won't get a second mining if you don't give half ore to your partner. Of course you can cheat your partner and find another one, but that costs time. On the top of that if someone finds a "honest" partner, they stay together and won't take new partners, so I can't get to them. Sooner or later every "honest" guy find each other and the "dishonests" find no victims.

The second solution is regulation: if the situation gets out of hand, the lawmaker (this case Blizzard) must do something. They will set a written law against the harmful activity, for example link the node to the guarding monster. By attacking the monster the mine becomes unlootable to everyone else.

Note that the existence of "social norms" slows both processes down, therefore make it easy to be a parasite. If just 1% of the population ninja nodes - since 99% are ethical - Blizzard is not motivated to do anything (as there are very few whiners), and people don't actively seek partners, as the chance of being ninjaed is low. So the few node ninjas can do whatever they want, making huge profit.

Social norms make parasitism profitable by stopping the "ethical" people from doing it, therefore artificially decrease the supply of parasites. The few parasites get all the resources available. If no one would limit himself from taking money from the table, parasitism would quickly lose profitability by 3 means:
  • The undefended resources would go more ways. There are always morons who don't defend their stuff. If I'm the only one selling arrows as singles, all the gold of the morons go to me. If there are 10 like me, I just get 10% of the gold. With enough "unethical" people, my share would be so low that doesn't worth bothering, I'm better off doing something else, maybe something useful.
  • The morons go down. If there are just few parasites, the moron can get lucky and keep his resources as no parasite found him. If there are many parasites, he will lose surely, so he'll be forced to either not be so dumb, or simply die (stop playing).
  • If the personal defense against parasitism is too expensive, the people would be forced to create some group-solution, like punishing the parasites. (Note: shaking fists and calling them "unethical" is not punishment, just QQ.) Personal defense against IRL robbery would be too hard, so people simply set laws to imprison burglars. However if most people doesn't do legal parasitism, then there will be too few victims, and the others won't bother to set a law. Laws always hurt everyone a bit, so people will only set them if they feel that the danger of lawlessness is higher.
So: the world where everyone is immoral is Utopia, where no one is parasite (for a significant time being). As soon as a loophole is recognized, it will be abused by masses, forcing the society to close the loophole.

Of course one can claim that the other Utopia, where everyone is moral is also parasite-less. However the moral Utopia has two serious problems:
  • It's not evolutionarily stable strategy: if just one immoral person born in this Utopia, he will quickly becomes the richest (= most powerful) man in the system, breaking it apart. If just one moral person born in the immoral Utopia, he simply dies.
  • There are always morons: people who simply act dumb. This is not a moral issue, they don't act because of morality, they act because of stupidity. The immoral Utopia destroys them, the moral keeps them alive, allowing their poliferation.
Finally, linked back to the previous post: those who preach moral, are usually the most immoral members of the society, so following them = being victim. Here I'm not claiming that there are no moral people. I claim that those who talk about morality are usually not doing it.


Miztickow said...

Grand Master Skinner Miztickow approves of node ninjas.

Anonymous said...

In case of WOW, you could just make sure your gatherer is a class with a pet (hunter, unholy DK, shadowpriest, frostmage) where the pet gets the agro, your character can do some quick gathering (herbs or ore) and then finish off what the pet started.

In defense of the node-ninjas: they cannot know what professions you have and whatever you are killing may just be a questmob to you (so you'd have to speak up)

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, moral people do not exist. Those who claim to be moral are hypocrites. You cannot be perfectly moral, the world will use you, misuse you, steal your money, and misuse you again if you are perfectly moral.
Add that moral is usually based on emotional expirience(witch is a stupid thing to base something on) and it's becoming very clear that it would be very stupid to be moral.

Orcstar said...

"Player B has no dumbness to Capitalize upon."

Well, if player B is both a node-ninja and a miner and his behaviour forces A out of the market, we DO have a winner: "player B". Less people mining, higher ore prices: more profit for him.

Logically, every miner would be also a node ninja if that forces others out of business.

There still would be ores, just less at a higher price.

Vinnz said...

The team solution is flawed as well: the 'node-miner' may disappear without giving its share to the 'mob-tanker'. A smaller scale social norm (such as 'breaking an agreement with your partner is socially unacceptable') is required.

Gevlon said...

@Vinnz: no, if I'm (as miner) better off staying in the group. I mean if we mine a node in 2 minutes, then giving him the half gives me 1 node/4 mins. If I don't share, he will kick me and I have to find another miner. If finding another victim costs me more than 4 mins, I should share.

Nils said...

However here comes the cooperation: you go out with a partner, one starts mining, the other fight the monsters and split the ore. It's not "morality" that keeps one in the partnership, simply greed:

Without moral your partner betrayed you...

Anonymous said...

I think most people just pretend to be moral so that they don't get ostracised by society. Once they have anonymity their morality goes out the window, just look at the troll comments on any blog for an example of that.

Zazkadin said...

You say there is only two solutions to the nod ninjaing issue (teaming up or regulation), but you forget the third option, that is a near-reality, that is the self-regulation through morality.

It is indeed an unwritten rule that thou shall not ninja nodes. As long as a sufficiently high ratio of the players sticks to this rule, it remains profitable to mine nodes, even if occasionally one is ninjad by someone who doesn't care bout the rules.

This is a well-accepted theory (sorry, I can't remember the name), that can even calculate the ratio between moral an immoral people in a society. Because there is a balance: if everyone is moral (i.e. doesn't ninja) it is very profitable to become a ninja, because you can find victims everywhere. If too many people ninja, the moral people stop mining and the ninjas can't find any victims.

Anonymous said...

If main mining char is rogue or hunter - problem solved. See ninja creeping up? Wanish and take node back while "ninja" is happily fighting mobs now (assuming the other one can't do the same or will be confused enough to do the same).

Weapon X said...

Let's face it, if you don't destroy an enemy near a node - then you risk him ninja'ing it.

A PVP server can allow you to eliminate half of your competition (on average).

You can always distract same faction with a whisper.

My view is always to eliminate any potential competition. The opposite faction guy is at least going to try and ninja the node - or attack you whilst you are. If he doesn't 0 he's weak and deserves to be killed anyways (but is that a moral view?)

pippen1001 said...

You could team up with a herbalist that fight mobs for you but also can get his share of flowers. then you would optimize time spent.

Nils said...

My last comment was perhaps a bit short. In my opinion the problem is about complexity:

For example if you go along with a partner to collect the minerals you could devide the gain after every node or at the end. The most efficient way is to do it at the end, but this also encourages betrayal most.

So in the end you need Blizzard to regulate it.

In the real world there are now two problems:
1) We don't have a Blizzard, but only people who govern us and these people have interests on their own. A stable government that works for the benefit of the population in the short, medium and long run ist probably the most important difference between poor and rich states. It is one of the biggest challenges for humankind there is!

2) Complexity of the problem. To make a new regulation for every bad behaviour ends in a too complex state, full of regulations that need to be watched (police) and interpreted (lawyers). Thus, such a system is a lott less efficient than a system where everybody simply behaves morally.

That's why evolution has favoured societies that behave to some degree morally.

We aren't perfectly moral people, because
1) We are too many.
2) There is evolutionary pressure that makes us not perfectly moral - you have described some of it.

Ratshag said...

This argument for an "immoral utopia" assumes that dishonest people cannot work together, which is ridiculous. If you get rid of social norms, the result is not a utopia, but rather gangs working together to steal from those who do the work. Think mafia, or Liberia in the 1990s. I imagine even Gevlon would consider it not very utopian when a pack of 12-year-olds with AK-47s break into his house and blow him away.

Anonymous said...

Node-ninjas are a non-issue if your class has any kind of crowd control.

If mining is that important to you, have a mining spec. On my DK, I have Hungering Cold that locks down mobs in range. Land, HC, mine, then nuke the mob.

Gives no opportunity for the ninja to strike.

If you don't do something like this (Frost Nova, Entangling Roots, Shield Slam), then you deserve to have your node ninja'd, because you fail at mining/herbing/whatever.

Quicksilver said...

So in a way, you are trying to invalidate Kant's categorical imperative by arguing that the universal axioms cannot withstand the pressure of a market equilibrium...


A more in depth analysis would be required in order to see if this hypothesis of yours holds out in a more variate spectrum of moral dilemmas.

Samus said...


I'm afraid that once again you underestimate the value of social norms controlling the masses of morons by assuming that people will make the smart decision.

You are not a mugger. You could go out right now and rob someone. It would be quite profitable for the effort. Why do you not? Because of an ape-subroutine that tells you to obey the law no matter what?

No. You do not because the risk is far too high in comparison to the reward. While you could greatly minimize the risk of getting caught, getting caught carries a huge penalty. Just like wearing a seat belt in your car. The odds of getting into a crash are low, but the implications if you DO crash are huge.

But you are smart and have a good paying job. Morons are not smart and do not have high paying jobs. The reward from robbing someone is much higher in comparison to the pay he could get otherwise, and he is too dumb to understand the risks. So, here in the real world there is plenty of crime, even in a world where crime is a stupid choice.

I would also point out that in a society where morons are allowed to die, morons are faced with a choice near the end: kill and steal from smart people, or just die. Whether it's just their moron survival instincts or because it IS the logical of the two choices, they will kill and steal from smart people.

Mousus said...

The only class/spec combinations that don't have a less than 1 minute cooldown method of locking down a single mob for at least 5 seconds to allow you to mine seem to be non-prot warriors and blood dks (and frost DKs that skipped hungering cold), thus it seems odd that people don't consider the natural solution to node ninjaing to mine the node before fighting the mob. It would seem that having the power to do so and refusing is merely inviting others to prey upon your stupidity and thus it isn't possible to immorally ninja a node as anyone fighting a mob next to an ungathered node with the exception of those 3 specs is either stupid or not a gatherer.

List for those too lazy to think through it:
Mage- Poly/Frost nova
Priest- Shackle/Fear
Druid- Bash/Entangling roots/Cyclone
Shaman- Stoneclaw totem (so long as you don't have lightning shield up at higher levels)
Hunter- Freezing trap/Pet
Warlock- Fear/Banish/Pet
Paladin- Hammer of Justice/Repentance/Turn Evil
Rogue- Sap/Blind
Death Knight- (Pet)/(Hungering cold)
Warrior- (Concussion Blow)/(Intimidating Shout)

pippen1001 said...

also being a hunter or any other pet class eliminates the mobs, just have teh pet tank the mobs while you mine

Victor said...

When I e-mailed this mail, I didn't expect it being treated out here.

Regardless, the vast majority of you can't see the forest because of the trees. It's irrelevant whether or not one can insure against node ninjas. It was an example (contrived at that), but nevertheless I think it carried the message across quite well.

To put it into perspective, my original mail was longer than that and showed that this kind of behaviour is akin to the prisoner's dilemma, in which a Nash equilibrium (which Gevlon rightfully extended to the amoral utopia), is in the BEST case zero sum, generating no wealth from synergy. The moral utopia is not a Nash equilibrium, yet it has an aggregate benefit of over zero, despite benefiting each of the individuals less.

I'm not a wide-eyed socialist, and I don't expect people to treat me as one. I'm not even saying that we'd be all better off living in a 'moral' utopia, since, by its very definition, it's unattainable.

What I wanted to say is that between a 'moral' utopia and an 'amoral' one there are several equilibrium points. This was only a thought exercise to show that there is not only one equilibrium point, and that whether you're moral or amoral, you have to know WHY you are such, what are the benefits and the drawbacks. You can choose to be moral or amoral, but it's more important to make the choice on behavioural analysis of the society and not follow gut instinct.


""Player B has no dumbness to Capitalize upon."

Well, if player B is both a node-ninja and a miner and his behaviour forces A out of the market, we DO have a winner: "player B". Less people mining, higher ore prices: more profit for him.

Logically, every miner would be also a node ninja if that forces others out of business.

There still would be ores, just less at a higher price."

Not true. If player B pushes player A out and starts killing mobs and mining he takes over player A's behaviour, essentially BECOMING player A. As such, he will be almost certainly be preyed upon by a second player B in the vicinity. It's a self-perpetuating vicious cycle in which the equilibrium point is when there are NO player A's (or B turned A) left. My conclusion is right, in the absence of information asymmetry, the equilibrium point is when ALL the ores guarded by mobs remain uncollected.

Victor said...

Further note:

Zero sum is not the same as a negative-sum outcome.

An amoral utopia is by its very definition zero-sum.

A world filled with muggers, killers and murderers would be strongly negative-sum, and not even an utopia. A world in which everyone follows their profit interest at the expense of everyone else, and where there is no law, is a chaotic utopia (dystopia) which is in non-equilibrium, and will collapse (either through reduction to an 'amoral' utopia -regulated by law-, a jump to a 'partially moral' quasi-utopia -regulated by incomplete law and incomplete moral- or by everyone dying.)

Not surprisingly, a negative sum dystopia doesn't live for very long.

Anonymous said...

Its not an unwritten law. Its against the TOS to ninja a node intentionally like that unless there is a pvp solution. Unfortunately though it usually takes a lot of evidence to get the GMs to do something. I had one guy follow me around and mine every node I tried. Rather than go somewhere else I wrote a ticket. That toon wasn't seen again.

So be careful once the GMs forgive, repeated they do not especially if on the same faction.

Braille said...

From Victor:
"My conclusion is right, in the absence of information asymmetry, the equilibrium point is when ALL the ores guarded by mobs remain uncollected."

No, as many have already posted, the equilibrium point is when most of those who collect ores have some way to tie up the mobs around the node while collecting the ore. Since there are only a few specs in the game that can't easily tie up the mobs, this is a simple solution, but it takes some intelligence and a non-victim mentallity.

Another solution will occur in tandem with the first for those that lack the intelligence to tie up the mobs and have a victim mentallity. These will be the Player A people who get ninja'd by Player B people so seldomly that continuing to gather without tying up the mobs is still more profitable for them than giving up. They'll complain when someone ninjas a node from them, but most of the time they don't get ninja'd, so they continue.

The reason the second happens in conjunction with the first is that the first makes the ninja's task much harder to maintain. If most successful miners are tying up the mobs while they loot, the ones that don't are more scarce and therefore harder to locate. This means the ninja is not profitable as a profession in itself, but only helps as a supplement to the gathering power of the intelligent miner that knows to tie up the mobs while they loot.

Anonymous said...


I thought that you couldn't use the gathering skill while in combat.

Nils said...

The best solution for this very specific problem:

At node 1 player A protects and player B takes the ore.

At node 2 player B protects and player A takes the ore.

At node 3 player A ...

But we aren't really talking about WoW-ore here. I hope we are not :)

Gevlon said...

@Victor: the amoral Utopia contains "ethical muggers", meaning "people who would mug without internal moral barrier". For them to be "real muggers", profitability is needed. Someone who mugs when it's unprofitable is not unethical but dumb.

In the immoral Utopia no one would mug simply because there would be effective personal defenses and systemic punishment for it.

Anonymous said...

I like to farm stuff in dungeons while the other people are too busy thinking about asking first. Or while they're busy killing mobs, and I'm just keeping an eye on VuhDo to be sure they're not in imminent danger of dying. :)

Tree said...

In part you are suggesting that the "moral" society is incapable of protecting itself from those who are immoral. This is in part what a legal system is designed to do, to enforce certain minumum standards of morality. Not on the "be kind to your mother" kind of level, but on the "don't rape or kill people" level.

Moreover, you seem to be suggesting that regulation is a good thing, an intriguing position for a goblin. :D

Nielas said...

This type of discussion really drives home how artificial the constructs of WoW are. Node Ninjas only exist because of the handwavy way property rights are handled in a game. The mechanics for 'staking a claim' do not exist in WoW so any RL constructs surrounding that concept go out the window. Players try to form new ways to treat this issue but lack the in-game tools to make it work.

At teh same time the contents of a single node have a trivial worth so losing it is fairly inconsequential and at the same time a 'professional' node ninja is wasting his time.

As far as Gevlon's 'social theories' go they constantly oversetimate the intelligence of the immoral/amoral people and underestimate/dismiss the intelligence of the moral people. In his immoral Utopia the stupid immoral people will swamp the smart immoral people just as the stupid people would in the moral Utopia. He is also too quick to dismiss the major effiency that a moral, trusting environment brings to people.

Ratshag said...

"In the immoral Utopia no one would mug simply because there would be effective personal defenses and systemic punishment for it."

Why? If there are no social norms, why would the people with the power to impose systematic punishment upon muggers choose to do so? There are plenty of historic examples of these people instead saying to the muggers "go ahead and mug, just stay away from my friends and be sure to give me a cut of your revenue (or I'll kill you)." Depending on the social management skills of the people involved, you may end up with a stable (but poor) kleptocracy, or you could end up with anarchy and blood in the streets. What you won't get, and what no one who has tried this has ever gotten, is a healthy, profitable utopia.

Unknown said...

WoW =/= the real world. In RL one can say get the F*#* off my node (not that there are "nodes" in the real word, which makes it even more of a stretch). The ninja would then have a choice of leaving or risking an actual confrontation.

The only cost in WoW is time which along with complete anonymity necessarily promotes asshattery. There is absolutely no danger for the ninja. In RL however the costs for the ninja can be much higher.

Sten Düring said...

Every pally has access to another tool as well.


They want that node that bad, they can clear out the trash. You're on your way to the next one, with a guaranteed getting there first, as it's impossible to mount up while in combat.

Zan said...

Solution: Play a hunter.

Victor said...

@Braille. Again, you're getting hung on technicalities. My example is flawed because it contains some means of defense against it. I wanted to illustrate the concept without implementing too many variables. It's not supposed to be an ad-literam depiction of what happens in WoW.

On the subject of regulation. For a goblin, when there are lots of stupid people, regulation is a bad thing. When there's lots of other goblins, regulation is a good thing, since, well no one can be smarter than everyone else all the time. Besides, don't you agree? A negative-sum activity is not economically sustainable for any significant amount of time, regardless of personal profit.

However, Gevlon omitted two very important concepts from his amoral utopia: Bureaucracy and corruption. Bureaucracy is directly proportional to the amount of 'loopholes' that are found in a law, while corruption grows proportionally to bureaucracy (the persons who know the closed 'loopholes' best can be paid off by others to let them open for profit. To regulate that, even more bureacucracy is required or really high punishments.) However, the punishment cost cannot be too high (meaning when converted to currency, higher than the aggregate profit that would be generated by having the loophole closed) otherwise this society slips into the aforementioned negative sum game.

Both bureaucracy and corruption would be unknown in a 'moral' utopia, since everyone would auto-police themselves. (while suffering from the other drawbacks of course).

Well that safely sums it up that there's no ideal utopia with no drawbacks.

Also, some people seem to put equality between social , dumb, and moral.

It's actually not as easy. There are antisocial moral people (let's call them hermits, monks or whatever), there are social amoral people (such as well, any politician. You can't get very far in politics by being antisocial.)

Smartness is also independent of either trait. You have smart social amoral people (such as say, organized crime bosses - you need social connections to keep your skin safe.) There's also antisocial amoral smart people (people who ran any kind of profit venture in the absence of a legal framework on their own).

Social moral dumb people are the norm, while social moral smart people are rather far in between but I think the best example of them are any kind of developer that devotes some of his time into GNU, copyleft or any kind of 'free' technology. (Of course, it's not free because it carries an opportunity cost. You can call them 'dumb' from an economic perspective, but not everyone can develop technology.)

Urk, anyway all this might not even be true, but that's why it's on the internet. For discussion.

Anonymous said...

I don't have statistical evidence but it sounds like you're basing your data off of the idea that ALL nodes have mobs at them that must be killed when this is clearly not the case. Hell I'd say 90% of nodes can be mined without mob interference.

Anonymous said...

On a related note, if you are wanting to farm nodes, you should make your farmer a hunter. If a node is being defended by a mob, you can sic your pet on him, grab the node, order your pet passive, feign death, and then mount up.