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The ethics of a botched deal, redux

"The ethics of a botched deal" turned out to be a much more popular article than I'd been expecting. I didn't really think the subject matter was going to result in that much commentary, but, having read all of the comments, I think I see why. Everyone's been on at least one end of a bad deal, and stuff like that is a lot more common in the early days of an expansion with new recipes, dungeons, and raids everywhere you look, with the attendant opportunities for costly mistakes.

A few people quite fairly said it would be tough to make a call on the incident given the limited account I'd written in the original article. Others pointed out that you could probably draw an ethical distinction between the Blacksmith's decision to: a). accept a tip, and b). keep the gold gained from vendoring the 2H mace (and I think this is accurate, although it does raise another question. More on this in a bit). Commenters also observed that, the ethics of the Blacksmith's actions aside, you wouldn't necessarily want to be a repeat customer of his for reasons that hadn't been articulated in the original piece.

So behind the cut is a more inclusive look at the issue, a little more background on what happened, and how other players responded to it ingame.

I found the incident to be an interesting moral issue primarily because it wasn't as cut and dried as either of the following:

Scenario A:
Customer contacts Blacksmith with materials and a tip for a 2H mace. Neither notices that the piece is BoP. Blacksmith takes the port to Orgrimmar from Dalaran, makes the mace, gets a skill-up, and discovers that the item can't be traded. Both parties apologize for the mistake, and the Blacksmith offers to forego a tip. Customer insists on paying the tip as compensation for the Blacksmith's time. Blacksmith sells the 2H mace as he has no use for it, and then questions guild chat wondering what the proper course of action was.

Scenario B: Customer contacts Blacksmith with materials and a tip for a 2H mace. Blacksmith notices that the piece is BoP but needs the skill-up. Blacksmith takes the port to Orgrimmar from Dalaran and receives a tip from Customer. Blacksmith makes the mace, gets a skill-up, and "discovers" that the item can't be traded. Customer apologizes for the mistake and departs. Blacksmith sells the 2H mace as he has no use for it, and then posts in guild chat gloating over his good fortune.

You don't exactly need to reach for a copy of Ethics 101 to see that the Blacksmith is a fairly innocent party in A, but is kind of a rat bastard in B. Neither conclusion would have been tough to reach if either of these scenarios had actually been true, and neither (in my opinion) would have been worth writing about for the same reason. But neither scenario actually occurred. According to what the Blacksmith wrote in guild chat directly after the incident occurred , this is --

The real story: Customer contacts Blacksmith with materials and a tip for a 2H mace. Neither notices that the piece is BoP. Blacksmith takes the port to Orgrimmar from Dalaran, makes the mace, gets a skill-up, and discovers that the item can't be traded. Customer apologizes for the mistake, and insists on paying the tip as compensation for the Blacksmith's time. Blacksmith sells the 2H mace as he has no use for it, and then posts in guild chat gloating over his good fortune.

Now, there are several issues here that people raised that all play a role in why I think it's a worthwhile problem for discussion:

38 gold isn't a lot of money in Wrath's economy.

No, it's not. But 38g that isn't yours is still 38g that isn't yours.

The Customer was a noob. The mace was the Blacksmith's and he could do whatever he wanted with it.


The 2H mace was Blacksmith's only by virtue of being BoP. All of the materials for it were the Customer's, and the mace had been intended to be the Customer's, which no one disputes. The game mechanic that prevents the mace from being transferred to the Customer is not ethically relevant here; Customer still technically owns the mace, and thus (I would argue) the proceeds from it.

18g is not going to make up for the cost of materials, so who cares?


Well, I do, for one. So do most people, judging from the comments on the original piece.

I think you're mostly pissed off because Blacksmith had the bad taste to giggle over the incident.

It certainly doesn't help, mostly because it doesn't do much to suggest that the Blacksmith was acting in good faith.

The Blacksmith deserved the tip because Customer gave it to him after they realized the mistake.


Morally I think Blacksmith is in the clear on the 25g tip for this reason. It was given in compensation for his time.

25g is a pretty hefty tip for what essentially boils down to 5 minutes and a hearthstone. It was obviously intended to compensate the Blacksmith for a 2H mace that he (in addition to the Customer) didn't notice was BoP.

Also true -- and a hefty portion of why I wouldn't have taken the tip if I'd been the Blacksmith. I think this is actually the most interesting portion of the debate because it boils down to two competing, but equally correct, directives:
  1. The Customer isn't wrong to offer a tip for the Blacksmith's time, because the Customer made a mistake.
  2. The Blacksmith isn't wrong (or, as it happened, wouldn't have been wrong) to refuse the tip, because the Blacksmith made the same mistake.
Blacksmith was the crafter; I hold him equally responsible, if not more so, than the Customer for knowing that the piece was non-transferable. They both made the same mistake, but Blacksmith -- in accepting the tip, and not giving Customer the 18g from selling the mace -- is forcing the Customer to shoulder 100% of the burden for said mistake, while profiting from it himself.

But which is it, idiot? Should the Blacksmith have taken the tip or not?


Mmmm. Curiouser and curiouser.

I guess the answer to that one depends on what kind of person you consider yourself -- and whether you accept the notion of something called opportunity cost, which (in this example) boils down to the following question:

Is making a quick 38g over a morally gray business deal today worth the potential cost to you in future business you won't receive -- or whatever else said business deal will cost you?

The Wow Economist ran an article on whether to sell or use Titansteel as a kind of a quick and dirty guide to the concept of opportunity cost, but in a nutshell, it's all about what won't happen to you as a result of the decisions you make today. If you want to run with the example that we're already arguing about, Blacksmith's immediate profit is 38g. By contrast, his opportunity cost is the hundreds of gold he would have made in repeat business from Customer and/or Customer's guildies.

What you see now is the 38g. What you don't see is the comment in a random PuG's party chat three months down the line when someone asks about where to get a Blacksmithing piece made, and Customer says, "Well, don't go to (X)."

And, leaving aside all question of ethics, with whom would you rather do business? A blacksmith who kept the tip and the 18g from vendoring the mace? Or a blacksmith who'd apologized, refused the tip, and mailed you the 18g?

And would you want the former person carrying your guild tag?

Blacksmith was a trial member of my guild, and got a negative reaction from guildmates when he related the incident in guild chat. He did not give the name of the player for whom he had made the Saronite Mindcrusher when a guildie asked about it, saying he couldn't remember. People in the guild were pretty disturbed by Blacksmith's flippant attitude and his refusal to accept any responsibility for his part in the mistake. But the clincher was probably the rude response he gave to the member who had asked for Customer's name. An officer online at the time took notice, said, "Congratulations, that's the most expensive 38g you'll ever make," and /gkicked.

Filed under: Blacksmithing, Items, Analysis / Opinion, Odds and ends, Economy, Making money

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