Blizzard backs down on forums – a million voices cried out and were heard

This is the post, from Michael Morhaime:

I’d like to take some time to speak with all of you regarding our desire to make the Blizzard forums a better place for players to discuss our games. We’ve been constantly monitoring the feedback you’ve given us, as well as internally discussing your concerns about the use of real names on our forums. As a result of those discussions, we’ve decided at this time that real names will not be required for posting on official Blizzard forums.

It’s important to note that we still remain committed to improving our forums. Our efforts are driven 100% by the desire to find ways to make our community areas more welcoming for players and encourage more constructive conversations about our games. We will still move forward with new forum features such as conversation threading, the ability to rate posts up or down, improved search functionality, and more. However, when we launch the new StarCraft II forums that include these new features, you will be posting by your StarCraft II character name + character code, not your real name. The upgraded World of Warcraft forums with these new features will launch close to the release of Cataclysm, and also will not require your real name.

So that’s good news.

And just a brief word about internet activism too – sometimes it works. So please, if in your travels you come across some other issue which hits you this hard, not just gaming related … remember this week.

In which Blizzard drinks the realID coolaid

So here’s my brief list of people who might have a legitimate reason for not wanting their real name to show up on Blizzard forums:

  • anyone who is worried about gender/ racial harassment and whose name reveals their gender/ race/ etc
  • anyone worried about harassment from other players for any other reason (eg. nasty ex-partner, etc.)
  • any community manager – these guys regularly get death threats. (Albeit not from realID accounts, I assume.)
  • anyone unlucky enough to share their name with a convicted criminal, paedophile, or anyone famous (expect to get harassed in game.)
  • anyone with an unusual name who works in a field where it would look really bad if they play games with minors in their spare time (eg. teaching), esp. where many people might not understand gaming culture.
  • anyone who prefers to keep their gaming life separate from their professional life, and who knows people who play WoW who they would prefer did not also know their characters.
  • anyone who prefers to choose who knows their real name, rather than ‘anyone who browses the forums’

I’m just puzzled at Blizzard taking the step from, “Of course you will be able to control who sees your realID,” to “we changed our minds and decided that anyone who browses forums should see it.” I presume forums will definitely be easier to moderate when no one posts to them.

Note: I realise that just about everyone is posting about this. But the more people complain the more it gets heard.

The battle(.net) for your real name

Blizzard yesterday unveiled their plans for the Real ID features. In the 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.