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EVE Evolved: When social and market values collide


Research into the social sciences suggests that people interact with each other in two separate modes. One mode is governed by primarily social influences and the other by basic market forces. Which one we choose in any given interaction has a profound impact on the way we interact with each other. Perhaps nowhere in the gaming world are these forces played out as strongly as in EVE Online, with its lack of economic regulation and tight-knit social structures. EVE players routinely form social relationships with other pilots, their corporation leaders and corpmates. On the flip-side, we interact with hundreds of players we don't know using more selfish market-driven rules as we trade, haggle over prices or even just buy something from the market. But how do these two types of player-to-player interaction coexist in the same universe and what problems can arise when they collide?

In this complex and in-depth article, I examine the relationships we form with other players, why they're important and what can happen when we inadvertently cross the line from an implied social contract to a market-based business one.

Social domination:
As is typical with MMOs, EVE players form short and long term friendships with other players. These relationships are characterised as social because they bear the same hallmarks as real-life social relationships. We would do a corp-mate a favour like logging into a market alt to check the price of something or help them with a particularly hard mission. We gladly spend a great deal of time helping out the players we connect with, offering advice on ship fittings, writing guides and helping people out with gifts. The value of our time or the rewards we'll reap aren't even considered. Instead our primary considerations are reputation-based, such as how others think of us and how we think of ourselves.

The social contract is implied and unwritten but universally understood. We do our friends a favour because we expect they would do us a favour in the future. Eventual reciprocity is expected, but we don't care exactly when the favour will be repayed or who it comes from and we certainly don't keep track of who owes a favour to whom. In this social world, we forgo personal wealth and profitability in exchange for getting along well with other players. Regardless of how much ISK you can make running level 4 missions solo, you're never too busy to help out a friend doing level 3 missions or invite them to join you for a bit of a boost. If it's not too inconvenient, you'd probably haul items to a trade hub for a friend or buy something for them and haul it to your home base. They'd trust you with their cargo or ISK and you wouldn't expect monetary compensation for your time.

The importance of social relationships:
Maintaining social relationships with other people is the cornerstone of much of EVE's emergent gameplay. While there's a lot you can do solo, it's what you can accomplish with other people that forms EVE's true endgame content. From territorial warfare or running a corporation to wormhole expeditions and PvP gangs, a lot hinges on having other people to play with. The types of relationships pilots maintain with each other are extremely important. Social obligation and implied reciprocity are potent motivators, having an even stronger influence than a reasonable monetary reward. In New Eden, it's the groups of pilots with strong social bonds that really make things happen.

Working together is a key part of a PvP pilot's social contract with his comrades. They'll have each other's backs and typically produce far better results than individual mercenaries or other hired help. Similarly, mission-running corps and wormhole expeditions both rely on co-operation. This is particularly true of wormhole expeditions, where living in a starbase necessitates that each pilot be trusted with access to the communal ship hangers. Corp-mates rely on each other out there in Sleeper space and strong social ties are essential.

Read on to page 2, where I look at market-based business relationships and how introducing market forces into a social relationship can ruin things.

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