Being alone in a MMO

336295941_00e23f305fAlejandra Mavroski@Flickr

So the rumours are increasing that patch 3.3.5 is due to drop imminently in WoW, and with it the RealID integration that could potentially make privacy  a thing of the past. One of my reservations about the new scheme is that if you swap RealIDs with a friend, they can see who all of your alts are.

But sometimes, I just want to log on and not be bothered by anyone. Just to pretend I am alone to explore peacefully in a big virtual world, with no social obligations at all.

I used to game with a Finnish friend who would periodically gquit and spend a week or two guildless. Then he’d rejoin. He said it was ‘his log cabin’ time and he’d go hang out in some unpopular zone where he’d never see another player. Now that’s a little extreme, but I wonder how many people enjoy the anonymity of being able to make a new low level alt, tell no one who you are, and just melt into the virtual world.

I used to notice this a lot when my boyfriend (now husband) first moved in with me. We were living in a small one-bedroom flat and whilst there was room for us both, there wasn’t much ‘solo room’ for anyone. And sometimes, being logged into the computer and playing a single player game almost felt as though it genuinely did add some virtual space to the house. For a lot of players, living in cities or far away from open land, being able to explore a virtual world is more virtual space than they might actually see in a year.

As well as an alt or two to just chill out, my bank alts are usually guildless. There’s no special reason for it, but I quite enjoy being able to drop online to quickly check auctions without being drawn into conversations or pestered to play my ((insert group specced character of choice)). I suspect that a lot of healers in particular lean on anonymous alts for some quality solo time in game.

The other bonus of an anonymous alt is that you can easily avoid players you don’t like. I’m sure we all are far too mature to harbour grudges against guildies or other players BUT if one was so inclined, one could log in an alt and check the /who list to make sure the object of derision was not online. Maybe it’s kiddie and immature but we’ve all done it!

So understand my concern about RealID. Even with close personal friends and family, we may sometimes want anonymous alts. This is entirely the type of behaviour that Facebook and, it now appears, Blizzard would like to wipe out. They find it deceptive. They find it unfriendly. But I know my anonymous alts are neither of those things. They’re just an attempt to find some extra me-time online when I can’t do it in any other way. If they didn’t exist, I’d probably go for a long walk or hide in my bedroom with a book.

Do you have anonymous alts? Would you be happy to share that information with your friends list?

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51 thoughts on “Being alone in a MMO

  1. This is pretty much where I sit on the RealID spectrum as well. I have alts on the Alliance and on other servers, not specifically to “hide” but to have somewhere to have a second, parallel existence which isn’t tied to my main.

    The only person I’d feel comfortable giving my RealID to is my partner, but since she sits next to me in the same room there’s not much point.

    I guess we’re just not the target market though. RealID is aimed at real-life friends and family, and basically none of mine play WoW. I could see the appeal if you’re a student and you want to connect with the people down the hall or in another part of the campus though.

    I would still rather there were an “appear offline” option though. It doesn’t seem too big an ask.

  2. Everyone is so exaggerating this RealID thing. It is not a threat for privacy.

    - To become RealID friend you have to exchange your Battle.Net login.
    - Your Battle.Net login is your private e-mail address. (Blizzard fails at security)
    - Whoever has your e-mail address can e-mail you and stalk you for the rest of your life.

    You are not going to hand out your private e-mail address like candy in an MMORPG. In 5 years of WoW I’ve exchanged my e-mail address with only a handful of people. People I like to stay in touch even when outside of WoW. And I don’t mind if these people know all my alts. In fact they already do. They all know my level 1 bank alt.

    The question is easy. Do you want person X to get your e-mail address. Do you want person X to be able to contact you in 20 years because he knows your e-mail address? If your answer is no, then this person will not become a RealID friend. If your answer is yes, why do want to hide from this person?

    And, btw: Anonymous alts should have never existed. Or at least the ignore list should be Battle.net account wide.

    • “Whoever has your e-mail address can e-mail you and stalk you for the rest of your life.”

      Or at least until you get a new email address :) But why do you think anonymous alts should never have existed?

      • > I think my big issue (other than lack of fine controls) is that
        > there are people who I am happy to know my email address

        Tell them that you don’t want to accept RealID with them.

        > and there are people who I’m happy to know my alts … but they aren’t
        > always the same, even if some of them play the same games as me.

        Tell them you alts and they can add them all to their friends list.
        That’s how it worked up until now.

        > Also, what if you have an argument with one of your friends
        > and want to avoid them for awhile. Should you never play any
        > Blizzard games until you’ve sorted it out?

        …?

        Don’t know… I don’t have arguments with friends…
        I’m male, we don’t do that.

        I do have arguments with people I would never exchange my e-mail with.

        >> Whoever has your e-mail address can e-mail you and stalk you
        >> for the rest of your life.

        > Or at least until you get a new email address :)

        Even no longer used e-mail adresses might leave a trace in the Internet
        which might or might not be able to be abused. But switching an e-mail
        is a non-trivial task. Something you don’t just do.

        > But why do you think anonymous alts should never have existed?

        I do interact with humans in an MMORPG, not with his chars. If I like
        that person, I like the person behind the keyboard. If I dislike that
        person I dislike the person.

        For me it’s only logical to connect with humans and not with characters,
        something WoW made harder then other games like Guild Wars.

        I think you should be responsible for what you do. If you create a
        level 1 on the opposing faction to flame them because they won
        Wintergrasp, you should be forced to put your name tag on it.

        Trade scam was very common in vanilla where it was a valid form of
        playing the game. Again, if you like to scam people, then please give
        the others the ability to know your other chars.

        There are people wo spam /trade. I’ve put the most annoying of them
        on ignore. That’s why we have ignore. But Blizzard, please, if I put
        someone on ignore it means that I’m not interested in anything from him
        ever again. Why do I have to put every alt on ignore again? I don’t like
        this person. I tould you so. Please remove this person from my game
        experience.

        And again, I don’t like it when people check my online status with /who
        or the friend list while I’m not able to see if they are online because
        they hide on an anonymous alt. Whoever is able to see me, should be able
        to be seen by me.

    • Honestly, having had an E-rep, I really enjoyed being able to go incognito, especially while leveling so I wouldn’t get camped for as long as it took me to fly out on my main.

  3. No, I have no anonymous alts. This is mostly due to the fact that in Guild Wars and Star Trek Online the very moment someone knows or friends ONE of your chars, he knows them all. @name or being on the friendlist is enough to identify everyone in STO. A buddy in GW deleted *all* his chars and started from scratch, including the char I friended, but he was still on my friendlist with the name of his old char. This works like this “Current Char (name of the char you friended)” – there is no @name identifier as for Cryptic games, but it works quite similarly.

    My problem with RealID is different! I have no problems with everyone knowing everyone of my alts, but I do not want everyone to know my REAL name.

    There are some ways how anonymous alts can be abused. For price gouging, for betraying, blackmailing, etc.

    But I think we can have a good compromise: If I do not want to get pestered by buddies or guildmates, I can chose to go “OFFLINE”. But this also means nobody can message me by tell.

    I would like an “INVISIBLE” status like in ICQ. Maybe even able to set me invisible for this or that person but for everyone except my friends or maybe only invisible for my friends, whatever. :)

    This would also have a certain drawback: Some of my buddies are always invisible. I only see them because we set each other to visible.

    Or maybe give a character the status “Anonymous Alt”. An Anonymous Alt may neither trade nor drink booze, join guilds or friend people. For that he will have to reveal his true identity.

    But well… all this to protect us from possible anonymous betrayers? They could simply buy a 2nd account and be totally anonymous. This 2nd account alt thing is also the core of the EVE paranoia that causes extensive player checks before someone is allowed to join a corporation. Or a good reason to shoot anyone on sight, pretending they might possibly be spies. :P

    • I think my big issue (other than lack of fine controls) is that there are people who I am happy to know my email address and there are people who I’m happy to know my alts … but they aren’t always the same, even if some of them play the same games as me.

      Also, what if you have an argument with one of your friends and want to avoid them for awhile. Should you never play any Blizzard games until you’ve sorted it out?

  4. ALL of my alts are private XD.

    I have nothing against groups, although I usually don’t…even with people I know and trust. Most of the time when I log on, I want to get stuff done (I have a need to see my character progressing, or else I lose interest in the game as a whole), and if I have to deviate from what I logged in to do, I get antsy and possibly frustrated. So generally I solo 99% of the time.

    I’m generally the reverse of your Finnish friend: I have to specifically log in with the idea that I’m going to group with someone, so it doesn’t happen that often.

  5. I really don’t understand all the fuzz about Real ID. It’s not as if it’s mandatory to use it. I won’t. I suppose the youngsters with their Facebook lifestyl will.

    The truth is that I don’t really have any friends ingame that I exchange e-mail addresses with (I used to have one, but he’s quit playing). So it’s a non-issue.

    I’m more like the heading of your post. Alone in the MMO (I really thought this post would be about something different!)

    • Yeah, I’m waiting for a meatier article for the headline. ;)

      As to the actual topic at hand, though, I have one or two characters that I share with the world (or at least, anyone who cares to read my blog), and the other eight or so are completely anonymous alts. My Puzzle Pirates altitis is even stronger, with two known characters and about thirty alts.

      Some days I spend more time with alts, some days I play on my “known” character, and I do so for different reasons. I think it’s healthy to have that separation. “Me time” is necessary, even in the most intimate of relationships.

      • Well… a post about being alone in an mmo… I suppose it’s my lack of sense for nuances in English that shows once again. I mixed it up with being “lonely” I suppose. Because even if it’s a huge world with millions of players where you’re supposed to cooperate about things and make a ton of friends – I’m stunned by how incredibly lonely it can be. Or is it just me that pulls out a non combat pet once in a while just to feel less left out on my own?

      • Spinks, I was expecting something more about solo play within an MMO and the pros/cons thereof, not a bit of (excellent) commentary on the psychology of the player. I quite like this article, though, so I’m not complaining.

  6. I do like to keep alts anonymous. Next time I play WoW I’ll simply not use the in-game Friends system. I don’t think it will have a huge effect. I mainly do stuff with a guild so if people want me they can say something in guild chat.

  7. It will become mandatory for anyone in a raiding guild. Human nature being what it is, guilds will first ask for everyone to give out thier real Id so that they can “ping” them if they need a raider. The first time a raid falls apart they’ll require it. Then they’ll start kicking all the people that are “paranoid” and don’t trust them enough to give out thier real ID.

    Mark my words this will make gear score look like fun.

    • I’ll be curious to see whether it does become standard in raiding guilds. Certainly it’d be useful for both players and GMs to be able to see when people are on alts during raid time (and for players, who could just hop on an alt when they’re on substitute duty and know that they’re easily contactable).

      It’s just that once you’re in you have no choice about how to control who sees what.

      • Do you have the phone number of your raid mates? Or do your officers have the phone number of all raid members?

        The technology called telephone is readily available and can be used to call backup people if you need replacement in a raid.

        If your raid already uses the telephone I don’t see how the RealID would change anything. If your raid does not I cannot imagine that RealID will become mandatory in a raid where using the phone is not mandatory.

        (And there will probably be a limit on the number of RealID friends you can have. The friend list was 50 chars, which is 5 accounts with 10 chars each. I wouldn’t be surprised if there would be a cap au 10 RealID friends.)

    • Since I have no idea how to respond to the lowest reply by Kring, I’ll reply to the parent.

      Why on earth is raiding so important a phone is required? I was in the top guild on my server and only the officers needed to trade phone numbers. It was an honor system then, and I really just do not understand why it became more prolific, especially in BC.

      • That’s what I meant. If you don’t use the phone system yet in your raid, I don’t see why RealID would become mandatory for your raid.

        Not everything Blizzard creates changes the world. It’s not like anyone is using the WoW in game voice chat or the Blizzard raid frames.

  8. I haven’t done much looking into the RealID situation, but if it has a feature similar to most IM programs where I can Appear Offline or Invisible, I’d have to say that feature likely solves the concerns you’ve talked about here at least.

    • That would work fine for me too. I don’t think it would be difficult for them to put in a few fine-tuning controls to let people control their level of privacy, but it doesn’t sound as though they have any interest in doing it.

      Here’s the RealID information, I’ll probably jot down a few more notes about it later.

      • I always miss the “appear offline to people who appear offline” option as I don’t like the system ICQ uses where people can check if you’re online without giving their status away. That’s creepy and stalking. It’s like waling over to your friends house and watching through the windows without knocking on the door. Don’t do that.

  9. Personally my problem with Real ID is that I am not allowed to chose my privacy setting. I know i’d use it a lot more if I was allowed to select certain levels for certain toons.
    Just like Spinks, I have certain alts that none knows about. I like to keep it that way. There are times when I want to be social and there are times when I do not. My choice of alt varies with this.
    I.e. I’d love to be able to talk to a lot of my old server friends cross-server, but i will not use real ID with them, because I won’t have the choice of… I won’t have any choice at all.

    @kring; stop being stupid. It isn’t about wanting to hide, did you read the post? Wanting time alone, while still wanting to play a game, is not about doing suspicious activity or hiding anything. It is about enjoying the anonymity that online games can also provide.
    Sometimes I just want to immerse myself into a game and not know anyone. You should try it sometime, its nice.
    @lar, Wouldn’t it be nice if we could talk together cross-server when we both felt like it? Sort of like messenger, but in game? I know I’d love it. Only (and im repeating myself i know) id also love to be able to turn it off.

    • If you’re willing to give you’re e-mail address to someone, why not use a real messenger? Then you have your cross server communication and you can shut it down whenever you like.

      You want to be reachable on toon X with RealID friends but you want to hide… immerse on toon Y? What about people who want to chat to you from Starcraft? Can they only reach you on toon Y? Or on both? Do you also unplug your phone when you’re on toon X to not disturb your immersion?

      It’s easy. Don’t use RealID with friends who don’t respect your wish for privacy.

      • That’s a very good question. There are going to be lots and lots of different ways to communicate with other people online — every single social networking site and program wants to offer the same functionality.

        So which will people pick? Twitter, facebook, IM, googletalk, blizzard chat, steam … it’s all getting crowded in there.

      • That’s kind of the point of the discussion though, isn’t it? Not that people hate the very existence of RealID, but that it doesn’t look very appealing compared to outside alternatives. Yes, it will make keeping in contact in-game more convenient, but at the expense of more fine-tuned privacy settings. I think it’s fair to ask if that’s worth it.

    • Awww. I keep forgetting that some blogging friends actually are playing on EU realms. Ofc I’d like to be able to chat with you! Hm… maybe I’ll get a Real ID after all?

      Quote from the patch notes: “Players can now select from three statuses which will be visible to their friends: Available, Away and Busy”

      Shouldn’t that be enough to cover? If you would flag Away or Busy I wouldn’t dream of approaching you with a whisper.

      • I can definitely think of a few bloggers who I’ve love to be able to chat with :)

        Those three statuses sound new, hadn’t heard about that before. That actually might fit my requirements pretty well.

        The other thing about realID is that we’re not getting it in Europe until next week, so we’ll be able to watch from afar as they iron out the kinks in the US.

      • “Available, Away, and Busy.”

        AVAILABLE = logged in and free to chat? i.e. not in a Raid, fighting a Boss, in a BG, etc.

        BUSY = logged in but Raiding, in Combat, in a BG, etc?

        AWAY = What exactly? What does ‘Away’ mean?

        Is it simply another word for AFK? Do you automatically go ‘Away’ after 5 minutes of inactivity? Because you’re either online or you’re not, so if you show up in the list as ‘Away’ doesn’t that mean you’re still online? So what’s the point of being ‘Away’? I just don’t have the faith in Blizzard that ‘Away’ will be the same as ‘Not even logged in’.

        Consider that “when you agree to become Real ID friends with another player, both of you will automatically see all the other characters on your friends list” and that “you’ll even see any characters your friend creates in future Blizzard games” there really is no hiding once you share Real IDs.

        “Oh, I see John is on his Bank alt but ‘Away’.”

        This one is possibly of great concern to many: “When you click on one of your Real ID friends, you will be able to see the names of his or her other Real ID friends, even if you are not Real ID friends with those players yourself.”

        And vice versa…meaning although YOU’RE very careful with whom you share your Real ID, your Real ID friends are not so discerning, and they accept Real ID requests from every Tom, Dick, Harry, & Jane that comes their way. And all of those people? They can now see you. The real you. Not just your character’s name but your Real ID, your full name…and they can now send you a Real ID request.

        Here’s the kicker: “To stop using Real ID, simply remove all of your Real ID friends from your friends list, and do not accept any more Real ID friend requests.”

        Do not accept any more Real ID Friend requests? Do not accept them??? Where’s the Opt Out option? Where’s the “Automatically reject” option?

        Do you know what this really is? It’s Facebook. WoW is becoming Facebook. What’s next? Parterning with Zynga and implementing requirements like “You must have 501 Friends to Raid this Instance”?

        To all the skeptics, we’re not paranoid, you’re too trusting.

      • I’m missing “appear to be offline” tbh, or “this toon will not appear to realID friends”.
        I just like to keep seperate things seperate, the way they implement realID, won’t be able to, and thusly I won’t use it to the extend that I would have, if I had had better options i.e. if blizzard has thought it through before implementing their ideas.

        So I am very much on the same page as Shintar

  10. I had an anonymous alt. It was nice to ‘hide’ for a bit every so often, and even to try joining a different guild here or there just to get a different perspective. I soon found that I was not happy with any of the other guilds that I joined, and being guildless, the ‘silence’ was deafening. He is anonymous no more.

  11. Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe we’d all be better off with some confrontation, some honest “I am playing my alt, I don’t want to heal for you” and “I don’t want to talk to you right now, that’s why I’m on this character.” Maybe we shouldn’t be hiding.

    • The big problem is with other people not accepting that your time is YOUR time.

      You’re in a Raiding Guild, it’s Raid night, and they can’t go because they need a Healer. They can see you’re online on an Alt (maybe ‘Busy’ or ‘Away’), so don’t you think they’ll message you and ask you to come Heal for them? And when you tell them ‘No’ (or ignore them) don’t you think that’s going to piss some people off. They might look elsewhere but not get someone, and meanwhile there you are, just fooling around in Un’goro doing Lord knows what (maybe they’ll even send someone there to fidn you), but whatever it is you’re doing there you’re NOT HEALING FOR THEM!!!

      You: I already said I wasn’t Raiding tonight.

      Them: Yeah, but we didn’t realize you were just going to mess around on an Alt. You know this is Raid night. You’re our Healer, for Pete’s sake! We can’t do this without you!

      • This is exactly a scenario I would predict will come up.
        I, as many of you also enjoy the quiet and “my-won-time” on and alt from time to time. And that is gonna be very difficult with the implementaion of RealID.
        I would like it to be on a char to char basis. In that way you are more in control of it all.
        But then again that ofc also limits the use of it. And how to manage that crossgames.
        An idea would be to have a list of all your chars in your battlenet page. And there you should be able to active or de-active whatever chars you have in any of blizzards games. To control the level of privacy yourself.

      • Why would you like to be reachable by people from StarCraft when you’re on char X and not when you’re on char Y? That makes no sense to me. It’s a communication from outside WoW targeted at “YOU”. Not at your character.

        And if it’s only for people in WoW, the old friend list wont go away.

      • It might be a communication from inside WoW though, this blurs the lines.

        But the big thing really, aside from being able to see all the alts, is actually being able to see what someone is doing in game. Is it really still an outside communication when someone can see whether you’re chilling in Dalaran or in a raid? That’s rather a step beyond Facebook, I think.

      • If you’re skipping out on raids you said you’d go to, shame on you.

        If you never agreed to heal for your guild, and they hate you for saying no, shame on them and you deserve a better guild.

        If you’re busy with something else, be it WoW or personal and you can’t attend the raid, but want to…tell them. If they’re angry, go back to previous statement.

        Honestly though all the people I’m saying complaining about the system are people without Real Life friends playing WoW. I currently have 5-6 people I know who play WoW and soon someone who will play SC2, and I have 4 on my list already. If you don’t have anyone you trust don’t use the system. It’s that simple. You lived without it last week you’ll live without it next week. If you just now read what it does and were hyped up about it…well, they’ve been talking about it for months now. It was up to you to see if it was for you back then.

        If you want alone time that’s up to you, and I’m sure Blizzard will look into getting some changes in. But they want to keep this simple and effective. If it’s not for you, don’t use it. I predict most people who use this will be the Xbox Live generation anyways.

      • “You lived without it last week you’ll live without it next week.”

        I don’t quite buy it. Did you tell all these close RL friends who every single one of your WoW alts was last week? And if not, why do you suddenly want to tell them now?

  12. The other thing I wonder is who wants to chat while they’re playing Starcraft 2. I thought that type of RTS was all about actions per second, not taking a few mins to discuss the weather with your mate in WoW.

    • Games that offer matches and such usually have game rooms and lobbies. The current Starcraft lobbies are rudimentary but I think they’ll be better come SC2, and offer the possibilities of clans more easily.

  13. I don’t see Real ID as a threat to my privacy, because I won’t be using it. And anyone spamming a Real ID request to me will end on my /ignore, friend of foe. And I think it’s a half assed idea that will end up being a griefing tool and/or nightmare for many, thus is the reason I will be choosing not to use it. Period.

  14. I definitely have private alts that I don’t really want others to know about. As you said, sometimes a bit of private time or the ability to skip a raid without having to not log on is needed. Of course, if you do it too often perhaps it’s time to reconsider if you want to be in that guild….

    But, yeah, a bit of privacy is a good thing.

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  16. I do have and enjoy my anonymous alts.

    This and only this is the reason I will not be using RealID. I don’t mind people knowing my email, I am not worried about stalkers, and I am not paranoid about anyone’s friend knowing my real name.

    But when I want my quiet time in game, I know exactly which toons I can get that on right now. Most of my alts get to about lvl 40-50 before anyone except my SO knows they exist. They are my escape, and I will not give that up.

    If RealID had a way to flag certain toons as ‘hidden’? I would sign right up. Until then? No thanks :)

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  19. Yes, I want to have more privacy – at the moment, there are three groups who can see my toons – my raid guild can see some (Group A)- I opt into various chat channels on some of the alts – and my social guild (Group B) – again, there is guild chat or a social chat channel, and there are the ones that are anonymous – lowbie cross faction ones, which are actually very calming to play – so far (Group C).

    I like the idea of being available to group A on toons 1-4, being available to group B on toons 1-8 and being available to a subset of group B on toons 9 and 10.

    I am convinced that it will be difficult to refuse RealID requests, without offence, when they have been in the game for a while – say 6 months. And that it will be like “refusing to share” or “not being a team player”.

  20. You’ve articulated my feelings so perfectly, there’s no need for me to add anything. I just wanted to say thank you.

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