Tobold's Blog
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Helping others

I was looking for blog on WoW economics, like the WoW Economist, and found a blog called Greedy Goblin. Some useful stuff, but unfortunately people who call themselves greedy goblins don't tend to have the most altruistic of dispositions. So posts like this one, explaining why you shouldn't help others in an online game kind of annoy me.

I regularly help guild mates. Just thinking back over the last few weeks, I've given away for free cut gems from the jewelcrafter and glyphs from my inscriber, I've helped guild groups do dungeons and group quests which I had already completed, and I ran a low level alt through Ragefire Chasm twice to get him geared up, to name just some examples.

One objective reason is that I think the greedy goblin is wrong when he says that helping weaker people weakens the guild, because it transfers resources from the efficient to the less efficient. Fact is that WoW is a game of diminishing returns, where at the level cap it becomes increasingly hard to advance your own character even by tiny amounts, while with the same effort you can advance a lower level character by huge amounts.

But I think the main reason is a subjective one. I do not consider virtual wealth and achievements to be real, but I do consider the people behind the avatars to be real. Many of the people in my guild I know for years now, and helping them to achieve their goals has nothing to do with min-maxing my or the guilds overall performance. It just feels good to help a friend. I play to make myself feel good, and if I achieve that goal by helping others, that works at least as well for me as having fun by advancing my own characters. I rather spend time helping somebody complete a quest he couldn't solo, than earning 10 virtual gold pieces and 500 points of reputation with some NPC faction in the same time from doing a daily quest.

I am in a good guild, "good guild" being defined as there being a lot of people who are willing to help each other, as opposed to being defined as the guild that kills some boss mob first on the server. I don't keep score whether I get more advantage out of help from my guild than I put effort into helping them, because that isn't what a guild is about for me. By helping others I contribute to an environment which is simply nicer, and more pleasant to spend my virtual life in. A bit of my time and some gold that isn't even real isn't too much to spend on that.
To be fair, that post is not "wrong" and makes pretty good points - even it if has to make them in a perhaps.. upfront manner. There is of course a small part of me that disagrees, but after years of WoW - im more inclined to agree and often find myself faking AFK.
Oh, I never said the post was "wrong". I'm just saying that it doesn't correspond to my personal philosophy on the subject. I prefer helping the real people behind the avatars, instead of only caring about my virtual highscores. But even me limit that to guild mates and people I know. I don't give to beggars or answer to random people asking me to boost them through a dungeon either, although I *do* portal people for free with my mage, which tends to surprise them.

Being helpful or not is very much a question of personal values. Whether it is right or wrong what you are doing is between you and your priest, and in this case I don't mean the WoW variety.
What is a tad bit frightening is it appears his opinion that "helping is bad" leaks into the real world and is actually something he believes is a correct way of looking at things. That frightens me.
For me it depends on what the "help" is....and who the recipient is, and also, how they ask

In my (old, I left it) guild most "help" was wanted in the form of a boost through a low level instance

For example, if a guildy I've know a long time asks in guild chat "anyone do me a favour and run my lowbie alt through deadmines" I'm likely to do it, because I've known the guy a while, and I know I'll receive help in return some time (again, I dont keep track of this, I find you just *know* after a while who will return the favour)

If the same guy asks "LF Boost deadmines" I'm much less likely to help....I'm of the opinion that if you cant even be bothered to take 10 seconds to type a proper sentence, why should I give up 20mins of my time for you

Also, if the same guy is CONSTANTLY asking for help, after a couple of times he'll stop getting it for me

Also, if the guy (who presumably has a high level main) never GIVES help when other people ask, he will stop getting help from me

In addition, I am also very weary of boosting new players on their first characters....if all you've done is been boosted, you've probably got some awful bad habits, you've not had to tank, heal or worry abut agro, so as soon as you get close to 80 and have to instance with people of similar level, its likley to mean you suck.....
Whereas if our guild MT wants help running a dps alt through somewhere, I'll do it, because when he hits 80, having played a tank, he's much more likley to know how annoying it is to pull agro etc....

I guess if I was to write this shorter it would simply be "I try to be sensible about who I help and who I dont"
'Agreeableness', which covers altruism, is one of the main scales in the most scientifically supported personality theory, The Big Five. Simply put, most of us lie somewhere between Saint and psychopath on the scale :)
Thanks for reading our blog at the wow economist. I read the goblin too, and I think that you guys might be missing his point a little bit. I certainly don't agree with him all the time, but on this particular post I think his point is interesting. His discussion only has to do with inside the game where people don't have real needs like food, shelter and clean water. He also was sure to be clear about helping people selflessly being bad in the game. If it makes you feel good to help someone, then that is worth something. It also isn't selfless anymore. You are made more happy by doing that. Economists call it deriving utility.

The goblin also always says that he gives his ideas for free. I've made over 2,000g from reading his stuff over the past few weeks at least. Anyway, thanks for reading. The goblins not so bad. Did you see his post about giving away christmas presents? :)
Generally I don't want to be a burden to others so I very rarely ask for help. Sometimes I ask for information though since that's not something that takes long to answer.

Helping others, well that's to be honest a question about what the help is. Generally I don't have much time online and want to spend that time relatively effectively. I've never "boosted" anyone through any low level instance, but that's probably mostly down to that I don't really understand the reason why someone should be boosted at all. The gear they get will be replaced in a few levels. And if it's for twinking for BGs then it's in my opinion borderline griefing against the people they fight against so that's not good either.

Don't get me wrong though, if someone asks for help and is relatively close by I don't really mind. Espescially if it's a guildie. And when someone asks a questions I usually answer unless someone else already did it before me. Crafting I offer freely to guildies if I can help and with their mats, or if I only spend the material for skilling anyway. I'm usually far behind others in the guild though so don't get many requests.

That link to the Greedy Goblin blog post seemed very odd to me though. And I agree with Caleb that it's frightening that he seems to act the same way in the real world.
I think there's a lot to be said for ending up in a friendly guild of smart, helpful people who all help each other out, know how to take no for an answer, and are good company. And helping people you like when you feel like it can make you feel good and also help build social links.

But I think he's right. The game kind of penalizes you for being overly helpful. People won't necessarily help in return. Your friendly guild may not have the raid progression that you are looking for. There's a point where you can weigh up what you want and how you want to do it and see how your previous long built up relationships won't help. And the guy who just applies to the harder core raid guild will get to see the stuff long before the guy who decides to stick with his friends.
I think it's the definition of 'help' that's the issue here. The way I read the goblin, I take him to mean 'help' as in the free giving out of resources (like gear or PLs) to people who ask for handouts.

And boy, do we meet a lot of those in MMOs who seem to have learned that just opening their mouth and pleading for something gets them what they want without having to really work for it. Beggars, in other words. Just freely giving them something makes us feel altruistic, it's a lazy charity handout and probably okay once or twice, but I do agree with the goblin that it doesn't help the other person become better.

It's the old "Give a man a fish to last him a day, or teach him how to fish to last for a lifetime" proverb working here. I do think that the investment of time to run other guildies through dungeons you've outleveled, or better yet, actually getting down and dirty with an appropriate level alt is the valuable teaching/spreading information kind of help. As long as there's actual teaching involved, whether through simple silent demonstration of what's correct to do to get through a dungeon or so on.

Not just, "Here, I just rounded up everything beating ineffectually on my uber-leet armor, go run through the empty corridor to turn in your quest, and by the way, you'll never be able to do this until you get to my cool level, etc." That's just charity PLing. :)

Any help given that teaches dependency on you as the resource to always hit up is probably not a good idea for anyone, information as a resource excepted. Help should end up teaching the other party until he becomes an equal to you. If he's already an equal to you, then I don't think the goblin defines it as help any longer. Probably something like the fair and equal exchange of favors. :P

Thing is, I think many people perceive their guildies to be equals to them by dint of sharing a community, even if they are in fact weaker in terms of gear or game knowledge or skill.
People trying to take advantage of others shouldn't receive help.
But what's the point of playing an MMO if you never help anyone?
I can understand the frustration if you are constantly interrupted by requests for help while you are trying to achieve your own objectives but its something you just deal with. When it happens to me I will either not reply, if its a public request, or decline politely if it is a private request: "I can't come now I am busy at the AH, I might be free to help in a hour or so".

I do not agree with Goblin's assertion that is it a bad thing to help weaker players. His argument only makes any kind of sense if the only measure of value you put on the game is the "power" of players or guilds. What about the pleasure of community, the pride of being able to help out fellow kinsmates. For many of us (especially folks like me who will never be achieving server firsts) these simple pleasures have far more intrinsic value than mere character advancement. I guess I am echoing @Cuthbert's comment above when he used the technical phrase "deriving utility".

Even within the narrow sense of game progression though I see plenty value in helping out others. I am lucky to be in a friendly helpful Lotro Kinship where there is a culture of helping each other. Every time I help out a lower level newbie I am re-inforcing that culture by deed and by example. That culture has real value - I in turn get plenty of help when I need it, perhaps from someone I helped before but often from someone else. Its a kind of pay it forward thing. Of course some folk try to abuse that culture and leech on fellow guildies. Somehow those folks just don't seem to stick around long enough for it to be a problem. I can't remember anyone ever actually being kicked out but I can remember several cases where folk quit of their own accord when it became obvious that they didn't fit in.
I think I have more of an issue of how he (the Goblin) presents his argument and his actual internal dialogue justifying his selfishness more than the end result of his actions. I probably tended to behave more the way that he describes but it doesn't actually reflect my train of thought.

As others have stated, there are a lot of lazy players looking for free handouts and free power-leveling. Dungeon runners was even worse than WoW in this regard. So usually I'll draw the line at only helping friends or helping someone if there's a short answer or solution. Once in a blue moon, I'd offer the somewhat a**hat answer of telling them to go look it up on - especially when it'd give them a more accurate answer than what I'd remember.
In economic terms: My utility function involves interpersonal relationships, and values them higher than virtual purple pixels or higher numbers beside the "gold" label.
Sounds like if Blizzard makes an exclusive achievement based guild membership, length of stay that will be cool. Other goodies like an extra socket, extra enchant, reduced repair bills (yeah I know gbank does it) for someone belonging to a guild for more then 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, etc.
I agree with some of his points. There's a lot of definitions of "helping" someone, and some of them feel inadequate to me. I don't give to beggars (in game), I don't like seeing loot go to people who won't use it well, etc. But I view his "I'm strong, supplicant is weak" argument as flawed. I think there's a lot of assumption there--both that someone asking for help is weak, and that help is wasted on someone weaker.

I object to the "asking for help is a sign of weakness" idea both in game, and in real life. No man is an island, and all that. Everyone is able to help, and everyone needs help at some point in their lives (virtual or actual). You are not diminished when you require help; I firmly believe that this attitude leads to a lot of fixable problems becoming worse.

But let's say it's true, that someone asking for your help is weaker than you. Going with the goblin's nomenclature of himself as X, and the supplicant as X/2, he argues that applying a resource to X/2 can never have as great an effect as it would applying it to X. If help really could be applied like a math equation, additively or multiplicatively, maybe this holds up. But I don't think this is how it works. Just try viewing "strength" in the game as an S-curve--applying a resource to someone lower down on the S-curve can provide a benefit of much larger magnitude than applying it to someone closer to the end. In fact it seems intuitively obvious to me that applying a resource to a "weaker" player may in fact push that player further than it could push the "stronger" player, if the person asking for help is innately a better player simply lacking in the ability to put as much effort into the game. The goblin may think he covers this by being always willing to help with ideas, but I see no reason why larger, more tangible resources could not have the same effect.
It does seem that, in his rush to make the point that giving stuff to "weaker" people is bad, he missed a few examples (like the previous post, the friends/community aspect, the diminishing gear or other resource returns in the game.) Certainly with gear, a well geared person may reach a point where most of what they get is sidegrades or slight upgrades, while a less geared person will get a huge improvement from a piece of equipment.

I also think he missed the fact that, if players in a guild know each other, they'll probably have played together awhile and have a good sense of how to work together, while leaving behind a "weaker" player means that the person has to adapt to how the new "stronger" group, or person, plays, as well as adapt the social structure, internal politics, etc. of the group and the new person to fit together.

There do seem to be a lot of people on the internet that see a free market as not merely a useful resource management system, but as something to be religiously worshipped, and/or as a personal philosophy to live by, and end up applying free market ideas to where they don't apply well, or twisting them so much as to not be useful.
This goes to show there is a substantive difference in blogging styles and as it relates to the reading audience. Many blogs out there are people simply just trying to brag and feel as though they have a reason to write about it. Greedy Goblin is pretty much that type of blog and that type of format.

The WoW Economist, I would call them more altruistic insofar as they are over there blogging on the game as pure enthusiasts who think (1) there is something to learn about the economy, (2) are willing to without regard post ideas and tips for the collective good of the player base, (3) are very supportive in commenting and post participation to the posts. For example, one commenter made a post bringing up achievements as a factor and the writers put a poll up to survey the readers for feedback to try and get some data.

I think for sure that there are ethics and morale debates of the game just like in real life. I don't think I would necessarily spend time critiquing his methods and motives, I think you can choose to support any blog you want with viewership, I choose the WoW Economist over that blog because of what they seem to be trying to do.
Maybe I'm the odd man out here, but I fail to see why websites/blogs pretend that their "information on how to play game X" is any better than someone elses. MMO's are social games, and after paying their $15 bucks a month, a player is afforded the right to play a game any way they want to as long as it does not violate the EULA/TOS.

Sure, strategy guides and websites that offer information about how to min/max characters and gold earnings are fine, but they should stick to offering "information" only. The moment a website or Blog starts defining "correct" or "preferred" playstyles, it has crossed the line and stopped being objective. It's the first sign that Hugh Briss is in control, and is attempting to impose a self applied "elevation of status" where "our way of playing" is better than anyone elses" become more important than remaining object and respecting the rights of EVERY player to play how they want.

I'm with Tobold on this one, as I always remember that there is a person with feelings behind that avatar on my screen when I interact with players in the virtual world of online MMO's.
Personally, I never help beggars, because it just encourages them to ask more and more. I have never given money directly to a beggar in real life either; I make donations to charitable organizations that help them out instead.

I am generally unlikely to help anyone asking for it if they sound like an ungrateful idiot, and I'm sure most of us have gotten good at parsing that from a sentence or two over time. I may help with something small if it only takes a few minutes of my time and the person sounds nice, just because I get more utility out of it than the utility I lose from leveling slower. People in my new guild generally *offer* help, and go out of their way to pay each other back. But I've been in guilds where there are a lot of greedy kids (emotionally at least :P) begging for help, and rather than ignore them I usually just quit the guild after a while.

I think a lot of people make decisions not to help jerks in-game, it's just the way the post is phrased that maybe stirs people up a bit.
This guy sounds like my boss. He's into the whole Ayn Rand philosophy. Drives me nuts.
I know this is an old post, but I'm just getting caught up from the holidays =)

Reading through Tobold's post, as well as some of the comments here, has inclined me to share something that I've been feeling for a while now.

When I first started playing WoW, I helped anyone that asked for it...unfortunately I have found that kindness is not always returned in favor though. I play a resto druid, and I honestly love to heal. So much so that I also have a holy paladin, a holy priest and with the enhance changes I just repec'd my shaman to resto as well. I am often the first person that is asked for help when someone is looking for a healer, or is looking to get a group together (That and my boyfriend likes to tank as much as I like to heal. We often level tank/healer combos as it makes instances much easier, and we enjoy those roles). More often then not, even if I'm in the middle of something else, I will stop what I'm doing and go heal x instance, or y group quest. I also hear myself saying "if you can't find someone by the time I'm done doing x, I can come heal for you" only to have the requester give up on looking for an alternative healer and invite me to a group immediately.

For the most part this is fine, although at times I feel like I'm playing the game to service the whims of others instead of doing what I'd like to do for that day (and at times even being made to feel guilty for not dropping what I'm doing to go help someone). Realizing this, I have occasionally started putting what I want to do first, otherwise I'd never accomplish the goals that I have set for myself as I'd constantly be helping other people meet their goals at the detriment to my own enjoyability.

That being said, I DO have a shadow priest and a mage (as well as an alliance warlock and hunter, but as all my healers are horde, it's a non-issue if I'm on these two toons). Sometimes it's fun to pew pew as opposed healing and I do enjoy the DPS aspect of the game, it's a nice change of pace. Where I grow overly frustrated is when I'd like to do something on one of these non-healing toons, and I am forced to resort to pugging (which I don't mind doing), because all of those people that I've gone to heal aren't interested in returning the favor. I find myself getting almost bitter when I ask all of those people that I help on a regular basis "Hey, does anyone have a few minutes to help me with. . ." only to get silence back in return. Or when I join a group and when it comes up short a healer hearing "Beru, can't you just hop over and heal so we can get this done" (I find this extremely irritating in alt-friendly raid instances that are run, as I heal raids during our normal raid schedule and sometimes I want a change of pace too!). I am fortunate in the fact that I play WoW with another member of my household who I can always get for help with group quests, but that does little for me in the way of a 5 man instance other than provide me with a tank.

Don't get me wrong, I love my guild, and they are a great bunch of people. I just honestly don't think that they realize that this is occuring, and it's partly my fault as I am more the type of person just to quietly brood over it than to openly complain about it, so they may not even know that I'm feeling this frustration.

I guess what I'm trying to say, is that sometimes it's just as important to look out for "number 1" as it is to offer your assistance to other people =) I don't think this makes me a bad person or that I have poor morale values, but for a person like me that has a hard time telling people "no" it's important to remember that you are important too.
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