Blizzard yesterday unveiled their plans for the Battle.net Real ID features. In the battle.net of the future, there are only real names and if you want to chat to people across realms/ games then you will need to use them.
Not only that, but by agreeing to use the Real ID feature (and it will require mutual agreement on a per-person basis) you will also be able to:
- Check what games your Real ID friends are playing and what they are doing
- See all of your Real ID friends characters (i.e. all the alts on that account)
- And obviously, you will be able to see their Real Names ™
- … Oh and the names of any of their Real ID friends, even if you aren’t mutual Real ID friends with the person yourself.
What could possibly go wrong with this scheme? Surely no one would give our their Real ID unadvisedly. Or seek to harass someone on all their alts after having an argument in game. Or worse, use the real life information for grooming underage kids. (Note: Blizzard do say there are features for allowing parents to control their kids’ access to this feature but we all know that a lot of parents won’t know or care how to use that.)
And, of course, it is going to link in with Facebook.
It’s not quite as bad as it seems at first glance. You can still maintain a second level of in-game friends, similar to your friends list at the moment. You won’t get the cross-game chat but you will be able to see whether they are online before logging in yourself (a useful feature for avoiding annoying people, I find).
Are we seeing the end of virtual identities?
Blizzard alone won’t change the culture of the internet, but there have been stronger and stronger moves towards using real ids online from all the social media sites.
And for those of us who enjoyed being able to be different people online, it’s the beginning of the end of an era. Your boss will know which games you play. Your facebook friends will know the names of the people you play them with.
And all the cries from people who say, “But I liked keeping parts of my life separate!” will be waved aside. Maybe it’s only a matter of time until your in game id will be shown as RealName:CharName … or maybe they’ll just drop the character name and use a randomised number instead.
Maybe we are just the old guard, the people who don’t play with our real life friends because our real life friends don’t play online games. We are the people who made friends through our games because it was the best way to find people with hobbies in common. And those friends never needed to know our real names because they weren’t part of that side of our lives.
Not to mention that many of the real life people we know might not be friends, per se. Family, work colleagues, co-hobbyists from completely different hobbies – in real life, they don’t need to all know what we do in every minute of our free time. But online, because it suits the advertisers and marketeers to be able to know this, everyone else needs to know it too.
I blame the culture of F2P. Nothing is ever free. And those people who are paying via adverts want to know your name, where you live, what you do in your free time, and anything else about you that they can use for marketing purposes. And they are driving the social networking trends, because they are paying for them.
And finally, real names are nice and all. I like mine. But there are a zillion other people in the world called Jo Ramsay, and the virtual id is still useful to figure out which one of them is me.