Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
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Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday is recycling day: Zero sum game

Those of you who have no interest in the CSM7 election will want to skip this post.  It's a long bit of political philosophy, mixed with a lot of game theory, and as such is rather esoteric.  You have been warned.  ;-)

A little over a year ago, while in the midst of my own campaign for CSM6, I wrote a little post that I called "Not a zero sum game".  Once the election was over, I wrote a little Open Letter to The Mittani, congratulating him on his victory but pointing out a few truths as I saw them.  In both posts, I made a couple of related points that are really coming to a head this week in this year's election:
  • You can't vote against a CSM election candidate; even if,
  • you vote for some other CSM candidate.
As I put it in the first post: the CSM election is not a zero sum game.  Zero sum games, by their definition, either have an equal number of winners and losers, or the amount of some commodity at stake adds up to zero when net adds and net losses among the players are summed up.  Tic-Tac-Toe is a zero sum game: there is one winner and one loser, or the game ties.  Chess is a zero sum game twice over: there is one winner and one loser; and every piece taken by one player is lost by the other.  Poker is a zero sum game: the amount of money won by one player equals the amount lost by the others.  An EVE fight is almost a zero-sum game: the winner gets to loot the proceeds of the hulls of the loser.  Such fights aren't zero sum games only because hull values are lost and 50% of the destroyed modules and cargo are lost.

And a CSM election is also not a zero sum game.

Riverini and I talk from time to time and when he was thinking about running, he asked me what I thought.  I told him two things, quite honestly:
  1. He had a ton of name recognition, and as long as he didn't make too many mistakes, that name recognition would probably get him elected; and,
  2. next to The Mittani, he was probably the most hated person in New Eden, he would be flamed incessantly if he ran, and he should be ready for that but not worry about it or respond to it.

I told him that since there's no way to vote against candidates in the CSM election, he shouldn't worry too much about the second point hurting his chances.  If the CSM election model were changed such that you could spend your vote voting against a candidate, there's no way Mittens would be on the CSM today.  People would come out of the woodwork to vote against him.  But they can't do that.  This isn't a situation where you vote for one U.S. Presidential candidate because you don't like the other one.  Mittens, as a lawyer, understands this.  The law is also not a zero sum game.

You can worry about losing votes in a CSM election because you say something that someone doesn't agree with, and causes them to switch their vote to someone else.  That's valid.  But you don't have to worry that people don't like you.  Anyone who doesn't like you wouldn't have voted for you anyway, so you're not losing anything.

Therefore, there's no sense worrying about it.

This brings me to all of the recent hand-wringing going on about the various tactics that some CSM candidates are using to drum up votes.  Susan Black over at @GamerChick42 wrote a long open letter to Trebor Daehdoow, asking him to stop using direct EVEmails.  Others are bitching about Darius III again spamming Jita and scamming people for their votes there.  Trebor himself agitates against Mittens calling EVE players pubbies and jokingly says that if he's elected chair, he'll sell the chairmanship to Mittens for one trillion ISK and then use that to reimburse everyone the Goons ganked in ice belts last year.  Mittens calls his opponents all sorts of names and engages in ridiculous ad hominem attacks on some of them.  And some people agitate about Mintrolio being in our out of character.

None of it matters.  None of it!  You can't vote against a CSM candidate.  Anyone who cares about these negative attacks wouldn't have voted for the person under attack anyway.  All publicity is therefore good publicity.  The negative attacks just increase the overall drama and potentially, player interest in the election.

Not bored yet?  OK, now I'm going to get really technical on you.  I'd argue that a CSM election is actually an example of a Pareto efficiency game.  Vilfredo Pareto, an economist, devised a system for measuring economic systems and income distributions.  In short, this system described a way to measure whether changes to an economic system made people involved in it better off, or worse off.  Any change to an economic system that made at least one person better off without making anyone else worse off was called a Pareto improvement.

Every person that bitches about Trebor's spam, or Mittens trolling, or Mintrolio being in our out of character, or Darius III's scamming, that impacts at least one person to vote in the CSM election who otherwise wouldn't have, is causing a Pareto improvement to the CSM election.  No matter what you think, no individuals are made worse off when this happens.  When you bitch that Trebor's spam makes you mad, and you therefore decide to vote for Hans Jagerblitzen, Trebor is not harmed in the slightest, and Hans's situation is bettered.  At worst, the situation remains "Pareto optimal", or at best there is a Pareto improvement if you previously didn't intend to vote but Trebor made you mad enough to.

With that in mind, take a look at the first graph in the Wikipedia entry above.  It shows that whether an economy is producing a lot of guns and very little butter (point B), or a lot of butter and very few guns (point C), as long as the economy is working at its maximum state, the economy is Pareto optimal.  But if you're at point C, and you produce one more gun without a reduction in butter production, that's a Pareto improvement.  By the same token, if you produce one more vote for Hans without reducing Trebor's vote count, that's also a Pareto improvement.

One more voter increases the power and influence of CSM7, no matter who is on it.  Therefore, by bitching about the process, if you cause even one more person to vote who otherwise would not have, you cause a Pareto improvement and strengthen the process.  Trebor knows this -- he's a game theorist himself -- which is why he's not overly concerned when people bitch at him for "spamming".  You're not going to get Trebor to stop by doing this.  Likewise, I don't think Mittens has ever heard of Vilfredo Pareto, but I suspect he understands and uses this theory instinctively regardless.  If you vote for Trebor, wishing you could vote against Mittens because you despise him, you still add to Mittens's power and his mandate.  The number of CSM voters increases, therefore the overall CSM's power increases because "more players care."

Only if these things cause you to sit out the election is the CSM's situation not improved.

Anyway, just a little Friday afternoon philosophy for you.


  1. Karbox DelacroixMarch 9, 2012 at 2:14 PM

    God, this is about to get off the rails into deep philosophy, but part of the advance offered by Pareto was that it put a constraint on Utilitarianism by privileging existing distributions. What do I mean by this? Simply put there is an unrepentant, old school version of Utilitarianism that justified eugenics and slavery. The reason you were able to get rid of the euphemistically entitled "social undesirables" is because they supposedly were negative utility added and you could increase average utility by decreasing the denominator. Also, if your privileged group was believed to be capable of enjoying the finer things in life, then it was perfectly acceptable to keep the Irish destitute, because they were brutes who waste any increase in wage upon more children and strong drink.

    Something is Pareto efficient if you are unable to make someone better off without making some else worse off. If you allow misanthropy into the model, almost everything is Pareto efficient. A Pareto improvement is when you make someone else better off without making another person worse off. You are also somewhat conflating between what is good for the CSM with what is good for the individual candidates. The single that vote that pushes someone out from being an alternate is not Pareto improving to that person.

  2. I'm not gonna get into Pareto's beliefs about power distribution, fascism, et cetera. It's WELL beyond the scope of this blog. I will say that if you allow misanthropy into the model, by definition someone is going to be worse off and therefore, you won't be left with a Pareto improvement.

    And yes, this is definitely a "big picture" blog post, not a blog post aimed at any particular CSM candidate. If five thousand more people suddenly decide to vote, and those five thousand extra votes spread across seven candidates push Trebor off the CSM entirely, then yes, Trebor's situation is worsened. But the strength of the CSM is increased due to higher player involvement.

    1. Karbox DelacroixMarch 9, 2012 at 3:17 PM

      Come on, Jester. I have been dying to debate the merits of classical economics and political philosophy since I first started playing EVE. Stand athwart the shoulder of Bentham and Malthus and Mill. JOIN the Dark Side(tm)!

  3. You are very smart, and that was very interesting.
    However, you are somewhat contradictory to what Wikipedia says I think....
    First you compare 'bitching' against voting. This is not Pareto optimal unless everyone votes, because in a situation where you can possibly have a Pareto improvement (Ie: more votes added), it's not considered Pareto optimal, or Pareto efficient. Therefore the situation cannot 'remain Pareto optimal' because it was never there.

    Secondly, you then break up your y-axis by talking about individuals. IE: 'Trebor vs Hans.' This is kind of like pointing to the Wikipedia graph and saying that the graph tells you about the relationships between the production of guns and the production of goat's milk butter. Logically, you can't really deduce that.

    You lose me a little because you go back and forth between Bitching Vs CSM as a whole and Bitching VS Trebor and Trebor VS Hans, and you try to claim it all as one graph of sorts. It's like you were sometimes discussing the relationships between machine guns and cow milks butter, and sometimes between machine guns and butter in general, etc. etc. etc. all while trying to prove the point that gun production doesn't affect jersey cow's milk butter.

    Also, your verbal graph is a little skewed. Where you talk about people who vote for one candidate vs another, you are introducing potential votes into your equation, but only for one axis! If you're going to talk about potential votes you need to do it across the board, and in this situation Trebor does lose potential votes which means he is negatively impacted.

    Saying he's not would be like having a graph where you are comparing gun production during war on one axis, and butter production during peace on the other, and saying that it is a true representation of the relationships between gun production and butter production.

    In the end, economists care mostly about reaching efficency, right? So in the end, it's not about Susan's bitching or whether Hans ends up 'stealing' a dozen votes that would otherwise be Trebors. It's not about whether Susan wasted her time or not in bitching because Hans didn't get more votes or because Trebor didn't get less.

    In the end, it's about getting more people to actually take an interest to vote...;)

    Also, just a little thing....you talk about the CSM's power increasing with more votes. Whether Trebor wins by 50, or 80...whether Hans wins by 100 or 30...the CSM will still have the same amount of power--

    1. It's been ages since I studied this stuff in school, so I doubt I remembered all the details.

      That said, "guns and butter" are are obviously metaphorical. The curve represents the maximum number of votes at any given moment in time, the number of dimensions defined by the number of candidates. In this case, we're in 40-dimensional space. Whether Mittens gets them all at one end, Trebor gets all of them at the other end, or the votes are mixed, the size of that 40-dimensional space is either Pareto optimal or it isn't.

      And you can't cheat by saying "well, the size of the space is going to constantly change." Though that's true, you still have to pick a moment in time, even if that moment in time is "when the election is over." I just choose to look at discrete snapshots of earlier moments in time, times in which you and I and Trebor and Mittens and everyone else potentially changes the size of that 40-dimensional space.

      Because of the particular rules of the CSM election (you can't retract your vote), EVERY action that increases the number of votes also causes a Pareto improvement. Including all such bitching, whining, open letters, etc.

      That's kind the point I was making. ;-)

    2. Oh, and I obviously disagree with you that the CSM has zero power, and so do all of the candidates.

  4. Nice post, Jester. But one error: I was not joking when I said I'd sell Alex the chairmanship. He makes a huge deal about how important the chair is, while I think it's only value is ego-massage.

    So in the unlikely event that I get the most votes, we shall see how much he really values it. :)

  5. https://forums.eveonline.com/default.aspx?g=posts&m=907750#post907750

    Darius III > Didnt have them anyway
    Darius III > didnt lose anything

  6. In a close race, a vote for one candidate is functionally equivalent to a vote against another candidate; instead of needing X votes to get 7th they need X+1. Mittens may not worry about that, but the people on the bubble for CSM or alt positions certainly are.

  7. I think you're missing one important point here, Jester. Only the top 7 candidates get a seat. So if Trebor's spam increases votes for Hans, Trebor risks losing his seat because he doesn't reach the threshold.

    1. Wrong. There are 14 seats, all of whom are expected to actively engage in the CSM process. The top 7 available vote-getters are the ones who get to go to Iceland for summits but it seems clear that the CSM and CCP are amenable to the idea of the remaining 7 being present or at least listening in remotely.

    2. 7, 14, no matter....there is still a threshold that a candidate has to cross and if a candidates actions results in someone else, getting the vote, there is still a risk that the candidated does not get a seat.

  8. It's still a zero sum game. It's useful to pretend it's not a zero sum game because _all_ the candidates are terrible at influencing votes.

    You gain by securing marginal votes and convincing abstainers to vote for you. Also, because the net sum is variable, every abstainer you convince to vote reduces the value of every vote just a little. Including all the votes that are locked up for other candidates!

    I'll be abstaining this year like I did last year.

  9. I often chuckle about people getting mad at Trebor's spamming. I got 2 emails and could care less. Though, the really dissapointing thing about Trebor is that he didn't have the foresight to develop a permission-based marketing list like Hans did.

    Hans; the guy who didn't have a blog nor any efame prior to CSM had the foresight and ingenuity to build his own permission-based list thus increasing the virality of this message. But Trebor and quite a few other incumbents didn't do this at all.

    Hans, at the minimum will place 2nd in votes. And he now posses a threat, albeit very small right now, to challenge Mittens for chairmanship.

  10. You miss one possibility: what if someone who was thinking about voting for Trebor gets pissed at him and don't vote at all (or votes to some other)?

    It's not a theoretical question, it happened with me. I was going to vote for Seleene due to his great industry plans, but when I read the official community.eveonline.com introduction, I've seen nothing but PR bullshit and changed my mind, voted for my second preference, Hans.

  11. Just a question. This election has an abstain button. Couldn't that be seen as going pareto negative if the circus of CSM haters use it to show dissatisfaction of the CSM?

  12. To all the variations on: "What if someone gets pissed at the negativity and doesn't vote? Does that pull us off the Pareto optimal?" Answer: yes. However, I'm not convinced that it's happening.

    Anyone who cares enough to express being pissed off is apparently caring enough to give their vote to *someone*.

    1. Its not really a Pareto Optimal though. If it were, any vote would increase the value of the all of the votes. In this case, its possible that a vote of discontent can dilute the value of the other votes because of the threshold. That may or may not be happening, but the result isn't a Pareto Optimum.



  14. EVE vs RL corollary: political parties often find the biggest asshats to run for office, because it galvanizes your voter base. Sure it may galvanize your opponent's base too (against you), but their asshat has the same effect on yours, so no problem.
    Secondary EVE/RL corollary: Mittens could in fact sweep the 2016 elections and take the Presidency of the Divided States of Murrica in a landslide by virtue of being the biggest asshat the world has ever seen. :-D

  15. Hmm.
    Interesting. Though one question for you jester.
    If you are opposing mittens as chairman, would you not effectively voting against him if you vote "that other guy" who got the second best chances to become chairman?

    Every vote counts, and if 7 other people get more votes than mittens he will not make it into the cms. Its just that votes against him are far less worth than votes for him. I bet we have even enough mittens haters in eve to do this. Or maybe not ;)

  16. You would not vote ageinst mittens, his 10k votes would stil be 10k votes. but by inflaming someone to actualy vote. you would increase the whole process by giving it more legalty thru more pepole caring. so it depends, are you looking at it from a singel canditates view. or are you looking at the whole process and the value of the whole process.


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