I must admit, my first gut reaction to Blizzard announcing that their Real ID initiative would be applied to their forums and that everybody would be required to post using their real name was a Nelson Muntz, “Haw-haw!”
After all, I don’t post to the Blizzard forums. Why should I care?
And I could see the same point which Darren did, that this whole thing would certainly put a few people on better behavior. And I am sure there were others who could see some merit in that. Wasn’t abusive customer behavior one of the reasons that Mark Jacobs opposed having official forums for WAR?
Of course, after that initial flush of schadenfreude, holes began to develop quite quickly in the Utopian forum in my head.
There will always be people who doesn’t care if others know their real name and who will continue to behave like an ass-hats regardless of what sort of information about them is made public. And then there are those with names common enough that knowing their name tells gives you no information whatsoever, some percentage of whom are jerks. (I wonder if there is a correlation between having a common name and bad forum behavior? Is somebody name John Smith more likely to mouth off?)
Out of a population of a couple of million subscribers, I am going to guess that there will be enough such people as to make the change in the tenor of the forums smaller than one might hope.
Then, if you add in the people whose accounts do not actually carry their real name (whoops, did you sell your account to a forum troll?), you begin to wonder if this is going to make any real difference in the war for public decency.
After all, this Real ID in the forums plan is likely to stifle the voices of a lot of average users while being unlikely to hinder the two groups I mentioned above. The signal to noise ratio in the forums will likely stay the same or perhaps even get worse.
So you will be hard pressed to get me to believe that end users will see much benefit from the imposition of real names in the Blizzard forums.
Blizzard will though. I am sure forum posting will drop dramatically. That will make community easier and less expensive to manage.
But unless that is going to cut my monthly subscription price, I’m not sure I care.
The cost of Real ID though, that is pretty steep.
After all, the fundamental principal of a game like World of Warcraft is to deliver an escapist fantasy, to be someone or something you are not in the real world of your every day life and to be a part of a community of others who also seek a similar escape.
Only, suddenly, we really can’t be a part of that community unless we’re ready to link our in-game persona to our real life. Today it is the in-game friends list, tomorrow it will be the forums, what will it be next week. It could be your Real ID associated with your Armory pages if people do not complain now.
And while some declare worry on the subject to be irrational fear, I think they are living in a fools paradise. Certainly there are some people for whom Real ID will make no difference. If you are male and have a reasonably common name and are not, say, looking for a job, then who cares what comes up when people Google your name or look at your Facebook page.
But what happens when your name is a unique search on Google, so all your information is easily obtained once somebody has your name? (That’s me, by the way.)
What happens when you’re a woman and you want to just fit in and enjoy the escapist fantasy without being hit on or treated differently?
What happens when you’re a guy but you play all female characters? Ready to explain that one to all and sundry?
What happens when you have kids who play and they want to be part of the community?
What happens when your last name happens to come from a region that the politicians and news media have declared “bad guys?” (Historically, that has happened to my family. And while it is unlikely to happen today (too many Irish in the country, for one thing) it does make you think when it happens to somebody else.)
Are we all that ready to share?
WoW is entertainment. I’m not sure I’d want a public record available listing out every movie I’ve seen, every television show I’ve watched, or every book I’ve read. So why would I feel differently about video games I’ve played?
Finally, there is the security aspect.
And this is what kills me.
Blizzard goes on and on about account security. They want us to buy authenticators to keep our accounts secure. Fine, I’ll play ball in the name of security. I bought an authenticator.
But I expect Blizzard to be holding up their end of the bargain as well.
And Blizzard cannot say they are doing their best to protect account security on the one hand while proposing to give out our real names on the other.
They made us change our account IDs to an email address. Now they want us to use our real names, so you can now get the email address/account ID of a large number of WoW accounts without much effort. And any hacker can now associate account IDs with all the information about us that is available on the internet. And since most people make up their passwords based on things like names, birthdays, and such of children and spouses, hacking accounts just got that much easier.
All of this is making me wonder what things are going to look like in StarCraft II when it comes out at the end of this month. Is it going to be real names, Real ID, up front from day one? Is everybody I play going to know my real name? There is no way to play StarCraft II without Battle.net (no LAN play, remember?), so if Blizzard is going to display all our names, I won’t want to go there.
All paranoia? Maybe. People who have been victims of loose information tend to be more concerned about it being contained.
But this is light entertainment. If it is engendering paranoia, then it is doing something wrong.
And other have written more clearly and eloquently about this topic than I have. You should go run through the posts, and the comments, at Terra Nova and Broken Toys.
Heck, even SynCaine has an unusually calm, logical, direct and to the point poke at Blizzard.
But I just wanted to put my own thoughts down on this. One of the purposes of this blog is to record what is going on at the time so I can review it later and see how I have changed or not.
And I wanted to complain. Loudly and quickly. If we all say, “Whatever, it doesn’t apply to me,” then at some point the changes will apply to you, and you’ll wish somebody had spoken up earlier.
Addendum – Additional reading on the subject: