As close as social structures get in New Eden, it's often billed as a cold, harsh universe where anything goes and you have to keep your wits around you. This is primarily due to market-like forces dominating decision-making when players who don't personally know each other interact. A relationship can be characterised as following market or business rules rather than social rules when it's dominated by prices, value, risk and immediate reciprocity. In this market-based business world, we don't do any favours and everything comes with a price. In this world, the contracts we form with players are exact and getting the best deal for yourself is paramount.
It's virtually impossible not to use business thinking when interacting with some players. When we have no emotional stake in the other player, we default to this individual and potentially selfish way of thinking. You wouldn't haul goods across EVE for free for someone you barely know and they certainly wouldn't trust a stranger with their cargo. The player who needs something hauled will ask for a collateral payment and the hauler would want to be adequately compensated for his time. Each player understands that the primary rule of the business game is to garner as much reward for themselves as they can at the lowest possible expense. The other player will end up with as bad a deal as you can get them to accept.
Upsetting the balance:
Both social and market forces have their places in New Eden as long as we keep them separate. We use social rules with our friends and business rules with business clients. Everything is fine until the social and business worlds somehow collide. In a series of experiments by professors Uri Gneezy and Aldo Rustichini, it was identified that the introduction of market values to a social situation can have long term negative effects.
It was further shown that treating a social relationship as a business one by involving money is often seen as a betrayal of the implied social contract. This would be like charging a friend or corp-mate in EVE to do them a favour or telling them it's not worth your time to help them. The social contract is violated and as a result that friend is unlikely to extend a favour to you in the future. The same can happen in reverse, where you offer a monetary reward for doing something that should be a simple favour. Most of us would do a friend a favour for free but get money involved and things get complicated.
Under a social contract, there's an implicit obligation to accommodate reasonable requests. If suddenly you add a monetary reward for doing a favour, that obligation disappears. The price paid by someone for not doing you a favour is no longer guilt at letting down a friend, instead it's a few million ISK they won't make. By introducing market forces to a social situation, you've inadvertently offered a price, or in this case an opportunity cost, for which someone can buy themselves out of their obligation. The relationship is now a business one with clear-cut profit-based choices. This can be particularly dangerous in EVE as building up a social relationship with a corp-mate often accompanies trusting them with access to potentially steal items from you or your corporation. Once someone believes the social contract they've been adhering to as part of their corp has been betrayed in favour of business rules, they may switch to a greedier business mode and decide it's a good idea to empty the corp hangers.
Fostering strong social bonds between players is the cornerstone of much of EVE's endgame. It's the groups with strong social ties that are the most motivated to work together and the inclusion of monetary incentives can be devastating to that kind of teamwork dynamic. In their social experiments, Gneezy and Rustichini discovered that the conversion of a social relationship to a business one is not just damaging but also extremely hard to reverse, with long-term consequences. This research suggests a few common-sense guidelines for getting along in EVE; Keep work separate from play, try not to let your ISK and your friends mix and try to uphold the implied social contracts you have with friends.
Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at massively.com. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you want to message him, send him an e-mail at brendan.drain AT weblogsinc DOT com.