I’m older than most gamers, even most WoW gamers. I’ve seen a lot of stupid in my time. I’ve seen pre-Internet stupid, back when you actually had to go out and be in the physical vicinity of people to be stupid, instead of taping your stupid and putting it up on Youtube and getting a million views and becoming an instant celebrity, like the Paris Hilton of stupid. (But I repeat myself.)
So when I see stupid that’s I think so incredible, so earth-shattering, so epic as to be a veritable Stupidomourne, you know that it’s really, really stupid.
And it wasn’t done by some random PUG moron. Nope. This stupid could only come from the mothership itself…Blizzard:
Recently, we introduced our new Real ID feature – http://www.battle.net/realid/ , a new way to stay connected with your friends on the new Battle.net. Today, we wanted to give you a heads up about our plans for Real ID on our official forums, discuss the design philosophy behind the changes we’re making, and give you a first look at some of the new features we’re adding to the forums to help improve the quality of conversations and make the forums an even more enjoyable place for players to visit.
The first and most significant change is that in the near future, anyone posting or replying to a post on official Blizzard forums will be doing so using their Real ID — that is, their real-life first and last name — with the option to also display the name of their primary in-game character alongside it. These changes will go into effect on all StarCraft II forums with the launch of the new community site prior to the July 27 release of the game, with the World of Warcraft site and forums following suit near the launch of Cataclysm. The classic Battle.net forums, including those for Diablo II and Warcraft III, will be moving to a new legacy forum section with the release of the StarCraft II community site and at that time will also transition to using Real ID for posting.
The official forums have always been a great place to discuss the latest info on our games, offer ideas and suggestions, and share experiences with other players — however, the forums have also earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness run wild. Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before. With this change, you’ll see blue posters (i.e. Blizzard employees) posting by their real first and last names on our forums as well.
With the launch of the new Battle.net, it’s important to us to create a new and different kind of online gaming environment — one that’s highly social, and which provides an ideal place for gamers to form long-lasting, meaningful relationships. All of our design decisions surrounding Real ID — including these forum changes — have been made with this goal in mind.
We’ve given a great deal of consideration to the design of Real ID as a company, as gamers, and as enthusiastic users of the various online-gaming, communication, and social-networking services that have become available in recent years. As these services have become more and more popular, gamers have become part of an increasingly connected and intimate global community – friendships are much more easily forged across long distances, and at conventions like PAX or our own BlizzCon, we’ve seen first-hand how gamers who may have never actually met in person have formed meaningful real-life relationships across borders and oceans. As the way gamers interact with one another continues to evolve, our goal is to ensure Battle.net is equipped to handle the ever-changing social-gaming experience for years to come.
So here’s the TL;DR version: When Cataclysm drops, the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is the WoW forums will be reborn in a format that will require you to display the first and last name hooked to your battle.net account. Displaying the name of your “primary in-game character,” however that’s chosen, is optional.
How in hell could anybody think this is a good idea? True, I have to release the name hooked to my RealID account if I want to RealID friend somebody, but that is a voluntary commitment on my part, and only those people I want to see it will see it. With this change, if I want to post on the forums, everybody on the forums will have the chance to see my real name. My only choices according to Blizzard? Post, and reveal my real name; or “opt-out” by not posting. There is no option to use a “gamertag” or hide your name. Post with real name, or don’t post. That’s it.
Guess which option a loud and pissed-off majority of the posters on that thread are going to take? The original thread I linked is over twelve hundred pages–pages, people, not posts, pages–and still expanding at the rate of roughly one new comment every three seconds. And of the thirty or forty pages I skimmed through, comments are running about 95-5 against requiring real names on the forums.
See, this change is not going to magically turn the forums into Happy Unicorn Land no matter what the Irvine Mothership says. Newsflash to Blizzard: Forum trolls are forum trolls because they just don’t care about productively contributing to the discussion. Most of them don’t really care if you know their real names because they know decent people aren’t going to go to the trouble to harass them. What this change will do is run off the productive, polite, helpful posters who don’t want Little Johnny Dickhead to know their real name and start digging around on Google or Facebook. Grats Blizzard. You’re trying to fix your blighted wasteland forums by dropping a neutron bomb on the people keeping the barbarian hordes at bay.
Oh, but it gets better. Imagine you are a female gamer. Doesn’t matter if all your toons are male and nobody knows you’re ZOMG A GURL because you never get on Ventrilo. If you post on the forums, there it is, “Stephanie Gamergrrl,” out there for everyone to see. And here come the creeps on your server out of the woodwork. Don’t believe me? Find a female WoW acquaintance and ask her if she’s ever had a problem with being sexually harassed. You’d be surprised how high a percentage of “yes” answers you’ll get. And it doesn’t have to be female gamers that have trouble. What does trade chat look like on your server? Cesspool, right? Racist occasionally in between the [Anal] jokes, I’d imagine. Now imagine posting on your realm forums as Hu Lao or Abdul Amnar or…you get the idea.
Ever tried to look for a job? Employers routinely Google interviewees’ names nowadays as part of background checking. Would you want a prospective boss to see your in-depth twelve-paragraph post on warlock theorycrafting and think, “he probably did that at work, we don’t want him here?”
“So,” you’re saying, “all you have to do is not post on the forums, and there’s no problem!” Yes. Ever tried to call Blizzard to get technical support? They tell you to post on the forums. What if you want to give Blizzard feedback on a class feature, or maybe you want to get on the PTR and help test a patch and file a bug report. While they aren’t necessary to enjoy World of Warcraft, Blizzard’s forums are active for a reason. They’re useful. And now Big Blue is giving you a choice, either put your name out there for everyone to see, or withdraw from contributing to that useful community.
The more I think about this, the madder I get. Not out of any particular personal sense of violation; I have a very generic name and really don’t hide it that much anyway, so I personally would not be hugely worried. This isn’t about me. It’s about the fact that they’re taking what we in the medical IT biz call “Personally Identifiable Information”–your name–and forcing you to put it out there publicly in order to use their forums.
So is this it? I’m not so sure. Ever since Activision took Blizzard over, they’ve become very enamored of the whole “social gaming” buzz and microtransactions. They’re already integrating battle.net with Facebook (which should’ve been a clear warning that something privacy-shattering like this was coming). Their statement above is full of “social” references. It seems obvious that Activision wants to take battle.net beyond what it is now and into the realm of a Steam or Xbox/Windows Live, and maybe even beyond that.
What I think they’re forgetting is that many–maybe most–of us signed up for World of Warcraft not giving a flying damn about a “social networking experience.” What we want is a game. A game where we can ditch the real world for a few hours and go pretend we’re a giant plate-clad Sioux minotaur or a slinky elven vixen, a stout dwarf or a demon-consorting warlock of unimagined power. Maybe we don’t want the world to know that Leggomyeggolas the mighty hunter is actually Johnny Snarfle, pimply-faced checkout boy at Target.
This is the World of Warcraft, Activision. It is not the World of Farmville. You forget that at your peril.
(A number of folks around the WoWosphere have deconstructed this a lot better than I just did. Be sure to check out Spinks, Larisa, Chas at Righteous Orbs, and Anna at Too Many Annas just for starters.)