The battle(.net) for your real name

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.

RT @all Apparently social networking is big with the kids these days

Tipa@West Karana and Pete@Dragonchasers have both written about the new Dragon Age: Origins character creator that was released yesterday. Dragon Age: Origins, for those who don’t follow upcoming games, is due to be released in November by Bioware and is a single player RPG, along a similar style to the Baldur’s Gate series. It’s going to be a large game and Bioware have been churning out loads and loads of trailers for it –  for example, each different character origin has its own video.

I love these kinds of games, even though I have a really poor track record for actually completing them. This one is going to involve lots of downloadable content (the first DLC module that you can pay for is going to be available on the same day that the game is released, which is possibly being just a little over-eager), and … err … vast amounts of blood spraying all over the place if the website is anything to go by.

What’s more interesting is that Bioware are launching a new social website based around Dragon Age. You can upload character portraits from the character creator already to your account and share them with friends, and will be able to upload achievements, information about where it is in the story, and talent/skill choices. Naturally you can also message other people through the site, use it to host dragon age blogs, and organise project teams to create new dragon age modules and addons with the toolset that’s coming with the game.

It’s a different take from Blizzard’s battle.net which seems to be more about being able to message people while they are in game and organise good matches for SC2 battles.

I do wonder how many social networking sites most players really want to keep up with — one for every different manufacturer is already starting to feel like a hassle. But I applaud Bioware for letting me create a pretty female dwarf (whilst cursing them for putting together a city elf background that actually tempts me to play an elf) and if anyone wants to friend me there, my username is Spinksville.

Blizzard’s new vision for a social network

This has been a strong week for MMO news. As well as the Champions Online pricing model, the CoH response, and lots of video of Aion in action, Blizzard slipped in their second quarter conference call.

And one of the highlights was their plans for battle.net. Battle.net began life as Blizzard’s online gaming service, and was released at the same time as the original Diablo. It never involved member fees and was also easy to access from Blizzard’s games. Blizzard has even claimed in the past that it was the largest online gaming network, bar none.

“When you look at Battle.net and you look at the subscriber base we have with World of Warcraft, even Xbox Live is not even close to us… I think we absolutely are winning. And you can count on us bringing MMORGs as well as more games that would be playable over Battle.net.”

- Paul Sams (2006)

So with this background, it’s maybe surprising that Blizzard has taken so long to have another look at battle.net. They’re talking about adding social networking features, cross-game communication, unified account management, and more. It’s important enough that Starcraft II is being delayed so that battle.net can be ready in time. And no one delays a surefire hit unless they think they’ll make more money in the long run by waiting.

I’ll definitely be expecting to hear more about this at Blizzcon, in fact it may end up being the biggest change coming down the line influencing how all games are played online in future. And if you think that sounds bold, bear in mind that although Blizzard have a well-earned reputation for collecting ideas from other games and polishing them up, in the online gaming field they have always been one step ahead of the pack. (And I also wonder how much it’ll cost us …)

On another note, although cross-game communication sounds neat, I wish they’d steal an idea from EQ2 and give us cross-server communication first!!

What would you want to see on an  overhauled battle.net?