Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Logic of Honor

I often have a hard time convincing people to 1v1 me or to trust my word during a ransom attempt. Despite being the executor of a pirate cartel that is exceptionally well known for our honor, and despite how illogical it would be for me as a career pirate to violate such agreement, still the average EVE pilot will not trust me. Even other PvPers will rarely concede ransom money or agree to a 1v1, and I usually have to spent fifteen minutes or so chatting with someone, weedling and persuading them to do it.

Why, you might ask, is this a problem? And why did it get to be this way?

Before getting into the causes of this epidemic of mistrust, I will talk a minute about why it is in my personal and professional best interests to be “honorable” –which is to say, trustworthy– in behavior.

I am a career pirate. Though I have other means of making isk, I rarely take advantage of them. I make isk and cover my loses almost exclusively through my actions as a pirate. I do this because it’s fun, and it is a challenge. I only play games that challenge me, and I’ve gotten to the point in EVE where simply getting kills is easy. If I was only playing for kills, I’d join a blobbing pirate corp like Beyond Divinity and never leave my battleship, hot-dropping people with motherships and carriers whenever outnumbered. Once again I stress that there is nothing wrong with this way of playing, merely that I don’t personally enjoy it. I simply do not find this style challenging.

Making isk as a cutthroat, however, is a challenge. In a game of eat or be eaten, flying without the assurance of big blob backup, earning (and more importantly, keeping) isk is very difficult. Every time you lose a ship, you have an isk deficit you need to make up before you can start earning isk again. Every time you engage in a fight, you have to weigh the potential gain vs the potential loss, and figure out if you can afford it. Even worse, I have (as you may know if you’ve read my post on my kiting cane fit) very expensive taste in ships and fittings. When you fly a ship that costs 90m to lose (after insurance) into a fight, and a 150m Recon(that’s about the cost of one of my rapiers, fully fit) at the same time on your other screen, you need to be exceptionally cautious.

If you can avoid losing too much money, the issue of earning more comes into play. A fully T2 fit HAC or BC usually drops between 5m and 20m in items when it explodes (including T2 drones and faction ammo). That estimate comes before the slightly reduced buy order prices I often end up settling for, and then you have to split the earnings with any gang members. Earning money merely from loot is thus only a small part of being a career pirate. Loot just about pays for my ammo and repairs, but unless I luck out and someone drops a fancy faction mod, they don’t pay for new ships or replacements (though looted mods that I can use, such as DCU IIs, T2 Drones and T2 ACs do reduce the cost of new ships).

For positive isk flow, you need to ransom or camp. While the occasional gatecamp can be fun, I find that it largely falls into the “blob the hell out of them” category of play, and I only do it when I’m really bored and have a fully fit out battleship laying around. So that leaves ransoms. Old-School pirate ransoming has somewhat gone out of style in EVE. Many pirates reason “if you’re willing to pay for your ship, you must have something worth losing!” Still others will ransom then blow the opponent up anyway, figuring they just got paid twice for the kill.

This post is largely about the self-defeating logic of the second type, but I will briefly talk about the first while I’m at it. First off, whenever you blow up a ship, financially you’re throwing the dice. What if the opponent was all T1 fit? What if all the expensive modules pop and you’re left with a named small blaster and some ammo (or worse, he has a single faction mod and it gets popped). Conversely, what if the victim is faction fit, and your ransom earns you less isk than you could have gained?

First off, when you pop a foe, only about 10-30% of the modules survive. This is an automatic cut in possible profit: if you yourself are flying an expensively fit battlecruiser, you would have to kill about five fully T2 fit battlecruisers just to make up the cost of your modules, much less the ship. Another factor to consider is the psychology of the kind of person who faction fits: arrogance.

The arrogant often will refuse to pay a ransom, even if it is paltry compared to the price of their fit. In my experience, the LEAST likely person to pay a ransom is the person who really, really should. I have only once found out after the fact that a ransom victim was more expensively fit than I charged, but many many times (four, in recent memory) a ransom victim has told me to go fuck myself (or simply blocked me) and turned out to be fully faction fit.

A few more things to consider for the “if they are willing to pay for their ship, they must have something worth losing!” crowd: the price of T2 ships, the cost of modules vs how many drop when they pop, and the gap between price of ship, insurance cost and insurance payout. Not to mention the mere convenience of not having to buy and fit another ship, and the possible risk of getting your pod caught and killed. All in all, paying a ransom is a pretty good investment for your victim, and a good profit on your part compared to merely killing them.

A good investment, that is, if they can be reasonably sure that you will hold up on your end of the bargain. And this is where the logic of Honor comes into play.

EVE players rarely will pay a ransom after being asked once. You have to sit there and provide evidence, logic and sometimes even character references before they will be willing to pay. The reason is that most so-called pirates have absolutely no sense of business. Being honorable is NOT about morality: it is good business.

Now, suppose a business in real life provided a specific service, such as house cleaning. The business asks people to pre-pay on a credit card some kind of reasonable sum, low enough that people are willing to pay for the service. So you go to this business, you pay them the sum, and they never show up. Now imagine you went to competing company with the same policy of pre-charging and roughly the same service. You chose to trust them and pre-pay for the service, and they too never show up and will not answer your phone calls.

So how likely are you to pre-pay for house cleaning in the future?

The problem is that pirates are now seen as untrustworthy. So many outlaw pvpers of EVE have mission running alts, massive gank tactics, or other means of income/preserving ships that the career pirate has become a rare breed. But everyone, career pirate or no, likes money, so many of these non-career pirates still ransom. These pilots, not truly needing the isk and/or not seeing the long-term ramifications of violating the agreement, usually blow up their opponents whether they pay or not. This has become such a prevalent trend that the concept of “don’t pay ransoms, it’s a useless gesture” has become imbedded deeply in the psychology of EVE players, especially carebears.

For those of us who live off of ransoms and loot alone, this is an especially worrying trend. Unfortunately, I can do little or nothing to dissuade the kind of player who violates ransom. When I argue for honor, my cries fall on deaf ears. Dishonoring a ransom gets you paid twice, right? Well yes, but it’s a one time investment. For example, someone offers you five dollars to help them carry their groceries in from the car every day. Supposing you take the five dollars, then chose not to carry in the groceries. (First off, let us COMPLETELY dismiss the moral implications, since the metaphore is pertaining entirely to a video game. Let us pretend this is a perfectly moral thing to do and focus on the financial aspects) If you’re following the logic of the Dishonorable pirate, you just won twice: you got five dollars, and you didn’t have to work for it. But consider that this person would have paid you again and again, each time you helped them carry in the groceries, and now he will not.

Furthermore, this man will be less likely to trust others to help him for money in the future. The aspect that most pirates do not seem to grasp is that while repeat business from a single ransom victim is unlikely, the overall effect on the ransom environment is repercussive. You are but a single part of a larger problem, as the pirates of EVE have by and large consensually agreed to not honor ransoms. Even if 50% of EVE pirates frequently honored ransoms, the 50% who don’t (ignoring the constant influx of possible fresh victims) would eventually cause all EVE players to stop paying. If you continually encounter those who honor the ransom agreement, you are inclined to pay the ransom whenever it seems logical to. If you encounter even a single dishonorer and pay them, you are inclined to never pay again.

The exact same logic applies to 1v1 or duels. Whenever I challenge someone to a 1v1, there are always two factors at play on my decision for the challenge. First, I NEVER challenge someone who I am not confident I can beat. Though I am occasionally wrong in my assessment and end up losing, more often than not I correctly judge my foe and I end up winning, causing a gain for me (their loot, or even sometimes a ransom if I am exceptionally clearly the winner). The other major factor I always account for is the possibility of the other person violating the compact. As such, I ALWAYS have a gang on standby unless the fight is taking place at a safe, and if they want to gang with me to oversee me (to prevent me from ganking them) I make sure I create the gang so they can’t sneakily invite gang mates on me. This gang DOES NOT interfere with the fight (pursuant of the above logic pertaining to ransoms) but they remain available to keep me from losing if the other person is less honorable. (All in all, ironically, this means it is not in your best interests to take me up on a 1v1 offer: if I'm offering, it's because I know I can beat you.)

Dueling for me is thus clean profit. As long as I don’t misjudge my foe, I’m guaranteed profit: if they violate the duel, my standby gang (which usually contains at least one falcon) will nullify the enemy gang unless it is truly overwhelming, and if I win the 1v1 without them interfering I’ve gained their loot with no loss on my part. Since dueling is not only fun, but also profitable, I not only challenge many people to 1v1s, but I make absolutely sure to never violate a 1v1 agreement, and that my alliance does the same.

It isn’t morality, its business, and a logical businessman does much better than an impulsive one.

Now, not everyone needs or wants to earn isk pirating, and some pirates outright enjoy griefing and causing others discomfort and misfortune. Although such behavior disgusts me, there’s nothing about the game (both meta and setting) that does or should prevent such behavior. Greifers are as much a part of EVE as spaceships are, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But, if you are a pirate, especially a career pirate, and you are NOT a griefer, I strongly encourage, nay, beg you to be an honorable one.

In the long run, we all benefit.

-Skira Ranos, Old-Fashioned Pirate

The Blood Money Cartel Code can be found here: Blood Code


  1. Another fun post.

    I wonder if isn't just greifers undermining the perception of ransoms being honored.

    I've been mission ganking (I say gank, although it's nearly 100% solo, but still) in a certain system for nearly two years now. The locals really do not like me. When I enter local I'm greeted with stuff like, "Vermin in system", "Careful, probing scum here" and "Endless in local".

    I can't even begin to recall the number of ransom attempts I've made in there and the number of missioners who have paid me. In two years I've never dishonored a ransom there. Yet I still get the inevitable question of, "How can I trust you'll honor it", even from the ultra-long term residents and their corpmates who recognize me by name everytime I take a trip out to this local.

    I think it's something similar to the carebears' absolute love of self-destruct and their undying resistance to any self-destruct changes. I think it's another passive-aggressive way of the carebears combatting pirates.

    Imagine you want to run missions in your low sec hub. Imagine that gankers who know what they're doing love to come and ransom your guys, because ransoming is easily 25x as profitable. If you spread the disinformation that they won't honor ransoms, even when they do, you're attacking their profit, and indirectly their motivation to stay in your system.

    I certainly aggree with your assessment of other reasons (and, realistically, the ones you suggest are probably the major contributing factors) but over the years I've noticed a trend in both the ingame behaviors and forum posting behaviors of the dedicated mission runners, and I think their dislike of the people ganking them twists their agenda from telling people the facts to screwing the pirates ganking them.

    Keep up the good posts man, eve food-for-thought is a great timekiller at work :)

  2. Often get the answer from the ppl try to ransome that why should they pay,as i/we will destroy then anyhow despite we would be sacked from the corp emediately if dishounored a ransom or 1vs1.So totally agree with you.

  3. Excellent article. That's all. Keep it up.

  4. +1!

    I couldn't agree more, and yes, dedicated griefers disgust me, too.

  5. lo'ken gave this to me as i'm looking into beening a priate, it makes sence not to dishounor yourself or the corp you are with. thanks for the read very helpfull.