Case Study in Miscommunication

I spend a fair amount of time arguing with people over the internet. It's a fun intellectual exercise much of the time, and I avoid it when it is not. However, there is no better place to see the wonders of miscommunication than on the internet. Quite simply, reading comprehension is not what it used to be.

The following is something of a case study using a conversation I recently had regarding fundamental economic issues within World of Warcraft.

Before diving into the case study several terms need to be defined and clarified.

"AH" stands for "Auction House". Auction Houses are an ebay-like interface through which players may place auctions for their goods and wares.

"Enchanters" are a profession within the game. Enchanters can increase the power of an item or set of gear by creating an "enchant". Enchanting requires materials (often abbreviated "mats") in order to do this, which are consumed in the creation of the "enchant". In order to increase one's professional skill one must craft many "enchants", which can be a very expensive process.

World of Warcraft is divided into "servers". Each server represents an identical but separate version of the same universe, differentiated only by the players present there. Each server has its own population and economy emergent from these players. Players can change which server they play on, but only at cost. As such, players tend to play on a single server and take a possessive stance on them (referring to them as "me server", "your server" or "their server").

Terms defined, our miscommunication begins with the following message board post.

I'm curious if any other enchanters are having the following problem on their server. A number of enchanters, probably unaware of the upcoming changes, have been advertising that they'll pay gold to anyone bringing their own mats for an enchant if they skill up in the process. Typical "tips" are going between 10-25g.

This doesn't prevent enchanters from selling materials on the AH, which is obviously the most lucrative part of the profession, but it severely undermines attempts to sell vellums/enchants on the AH or to make gold by doing in-person enchants.

The player making this post has observed what they see as a new phenomenon in their local economy. Enchanters seeking to increase their skill have taken to offering money in order to increase the amount of business. The player has also observed an effect this has on the economy, the raw materials for enchanting are now more expensive than the finished product.

The crux of the post, however, is the very first sentence. The author wishes to know the magnitude of the phenomenon.

The response proves interesting.

Does it? I got a couple of enchants off the AH yesterday because they were cheaper than the mats cost, not to mention the convenience factor of finding someone to get the enchant done. If anything, it's a clever marketing ploy( although if they don't get a skillup, you're left paying full mats price, which may not be a bargin), but I don't think it has an affect on the overall market.

There are several puzzling aspects to this response. First, the information the origination post seeks is not mentioned. Second, the first sentences appear to be a rebuttal of the idea that the described phenomenon has the stated effect on the economy, yet instead provides supporting evidence. For someone looking to verify the magnitude of a new phenomenon this response seems, at best, to be wholly confused and fallacious.

However, a second look at the response reveals the miscommunication. The responder has latched onto the word "problem" and identified the problem as the second paragraph. From this perspective the issue isn't the specific practice. As such, he responds by explaining why there isn't a problem!

This isn't immediately obvious, and thus is born the following reply from the original author.

You effectively proved my point. Selling something for less than the cost of materials is selling at cost. You saved money, but the enchanter didn't. If one must sell at cost in order to reliably move auctions there's little incentive to go that route, hence an undermined market.

Offering money to bring in enchant business may be a marketing ploy, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it clever. Clever marketing ploys increase profits; this ploy decreases profits sharply. It doesn't matter if you whiff a skillup and don't have to pay, few people tip someone who was paying for business and there's no guarantee that people are bringing you materials from your own auctions. Additionally it sets expectations that put you out of business once you max out your skill. You can't keep competing with the people still offering money if they skill up, and the AH now reflects the fact that everyone expects enchants to be cheaper than their materials cost. In short, you were better off not leveling beyond the point where you could DE everything.

Again, the biggest profit is, was, and likely will always be the materials themselves. The point is that the incidental income and branching options for an enchanter attempting to maximize their profit have been cut off by lazy/stupid marketing ploys, and I wondered if this was a problem unique to my server or if it was widespread.

A resounding rebuttal, but the energy was wholly misdirected. From the author's perspective he's clearing up a fallacious argument to make room for the point of his curiosity, but in fact is only stoking the flames of confusion. His peer will see this as an attempt to reassert that this is, in fact, a problem.

There is actually a growing problem in this conversation. The original author is increasingly focused on the specifics, while the responder is diverging into greater and greater generality. What started as a simple misconception as to what was the crucial point is now diverging into a true chasm.

I think you're missing the point. You're treating the entire profession as a profit-driven venture, when for many, many people it's entirely not. I'm leveling my main's blacksmithing because I enjoy wearing the gear, not because it's going to be making me a profit( it's entirely the opposite of making a profit actually). Similarly, I'm not leveling my alt's enchanting, because it's far more profitable to sell _all_ the enchanting mats I get - and I don't care whether he's an uber-enchanter.

As for the giving gold for the privilege of doing the enchant, it's a "clever" ploy in that you're assuming no risk, you're offering a "cash-back" incentive, and your alternative in leveling is trying to sell the glut of enchants you're doing at below-cost anyway.

Notice immediately that what interests the original author has been relegated to a tertiary importance by the responder. Not only is it separated from the responder's most focused point, but it's subservient to the issue of its own cleverness! The responder himself remains focused on "the problem" and identifies the original author's viewpoint as a potential source of his inability to understand that "the problem" isn't a problem, or at least isn't new and interesting. Well-meaning as he may be, this will only open the chasm even wider.

The original author responds.

I'm treating the profession entirely as a profit driven venture because this is largely the goal of this thread and those posting here. Competing with the noted categories of people is an implicit part of doing so and not something that is likely to surprise anyone familiar with WoW's economy.

My three part point is simply this: There are people on my server paying to enchant other people's gear for skillups if they bring their own materials, this effectively undermines the profitability of anything but selling raw enchanting materials, is this a localized or widespread phenomenon?

What motivates these people isn't relevant to my question and concern.

The original author has identified that this discussion has veered wildly off the track he was wishing to discuss and attempts to reground the discussion with the second paragraph. Unfortunately the conversation is too far gone at this point. The second paragraph will be completely misunderstood, diluted as it is by the first paragraph and the concluding sentence.

The responder's reply:

In response to your single-pointed question: This hasn't changed, well...ever in my experience. So not only is it widespread, but it's hardly worth noting. The only interesting part is that it's a new and clever way of subsidizing the painful leveling process - much better than coming up with the mats and selling those same enchants on the AH below-cost. Since I've started playing, it's never been hard to find people willing to( and often advertising ) provide leveling enchants for free. The "tip" in these situations is the opportunity to get a leveling point. Sometimes you'll even find folks willing to give you the enchant with their mats, just so it doesn't go to waste. Less common now with the vellums, but not out of the ordinary either.

The miscommunication is complete. "The problem" has now absorbed the original author's point of interest. The responder will continue to discuss the general notion of undercutting while the original author continues to express his interest in a new, unique case thereof. Until one or the other identifies this issue no understanding can be reached.

This case study may be applied practically in either resolving communications issues on in causing them. Skilled trolls likely make use of these slight misunderstandings to perpetuate conversations that might otherwise end. By being only one step out of sync with their target they create a dissonance which any human naturally wishes to resolve.

This concludes the study. Though it should be noted that the original author did manage to identify the source of the conflict and, after a few attempts, managed to resolve the confusion.

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