Yesterday, Activision-Blizzard wisely listened to their community (and the press) and backed away from the proposed policy to implement the mandatory use of RealID on their community forums.
That doesn't mean this fight is over.
RealID was implemented in-game in the latest patch in such a manner that allows players to opt-out simply by not participating, by refusing any friend requests through the system, or by enabling parental controls on their accounts. The problem, however, is that the RealID system itself uses players' login credentials in order to work. For a company that is known to have vast security holes the size of unexplored space in its battle.net system, this is an unwise move to begin with.
Let's also look at the fact that it is a violation of the TOS and EULA for anyone under the age of 13 to have their own World of Warcraft account, but it is well within the terms of service and the end-user license agreement for any adult to either open an account for their child or to allow their child to create characters on their account. Opening an account for your child enables you to set parental controls specific to that account - no problem there. But creating a character for your nine-year-old on your account, where you probably have not chosen to set parental controls...creates a problem. If you do partake of the RealID system, your nine-year-old child could be mistaken for you - a situation that no reasonable adult really wants, I don't think.
RealID, as currently implemented, is poorly thought out: it allows Joe Snuffy, the friend of my guildmate whom I do not know (and may not want to know), to see who I am, what games I play through Activision-Blizzard, what character I am playing within those games, and exactly where I am and what I am doing within any Activision-Blizzard game at any time that I happen to be logged in. It is not controllable by individual character (which does not allow a parent to shield their child from this random Joe Snuffy guy that they do not know), and it uses the players' actual login credentials in a system that is already so full of security holes that gold spammers and sellers are able to hack accounts almost at will and cost both Activision-Blizzard and individual credit card companies millions of dollars per year in the costs associated with their scams. In short, it is a security disaster.
The fact that Activision-Blizzard wanted to take this security nightmare a step farther and backed down for now doesn't count for much - odds are that the number of canceled preorders of StarCraft II as well as the numbers of canceled accounts in addition to the thousands of pages of outrage on the official forums showed the company that gamers take this breach of privacy and security very seriously. The fact that, in the UK, the proposal violates the law certainly didn't hurt the cause of the RealID opponents, either (God save the Queen...and the House of Commons! Can we get Congress to enact something similar over here across the big pond, please?), as having one policy for the United States, one policy for the UK (does Canada fall under its own laws in this, or does it fall under the laws of the UK in this matter - anyone?), one policy for the rest of the EU, one policy for China, and another policy for the rest of Asia cannot be terribly cost effective and must be a legal nightmare.
Still, gamers, as a rule, are different from the vast majority of folks in two things: we do not tend to be apathetic in terms of legalities and knowing our rights, and we have memories that would make ancient societies pale in comparison.
Gamers rarely ignore fine print on documents. We actually read pesky little things like terms of service agreements, end user license agreements, hell, some of us even read contracts and credit card agreements because we like to know what it is that we're getting ourselves into. While the mythological stereotype exists that many of us are basement-dwelling, socially-inept, uneducated, jobless fools with monitor tans, the reality is that many of us are fairly sharp folks with jobs, spouses, children, homes, and two or more cars in the garage. Many (but not all) of us are anal-retentive, detail-oriented individuals that read everything down to the finest of fine print, and so we hold companies strictly accountable to that which they've stated/promised/advertised.
Which brings me to the point of the memories of many gamers. Get a thousand gamers together in five years and ask them to raise their hands if they remember any of the following:
- Age of Conan beta & launch
- Mike Tyson's Punch Out (holy crap, I just dated myself there, didn't I?!)
- Activision-Blizzard threatening to release gamers' real names on the forums
Odds are that every hand in the room will go up when each item is mentioned (except maybe for Punch Out...you'd have to be *covers mouth, mumbles age* to remember that one), and that all of them except the Punch Out reference (c'mon...that game was hella fun!) will elicit very strong negative reactions even five years from now - which they all should!
But just because Activision-Blizzard has backed down from sharing players' real names for now does not mean every single gamer on the planet does not still have a dog in this fight. This is about profit, pure and simple. Focused marketing, social networking, Facebook mergers - whatever they're doing, this is far from over. To start giving Activision-Blizzard attaboys for backing down after creating a huge controversy with their unbelievable arrogance is foolish and shortsighted at best.
RealID is not bad in and of itself...provided it doesn't use login credentials and personal information in order to create a social atmosphere within Activision-Blizzard products. As it is currently implemented, though, it does force players to give real world information to people that they may not want having that information (via "friends of friends" being able to view such information). Blizzard can and should be able to accomplish the same social atmosphere by using my universal account name - not my e-mail - and by not displaying my real name, and by allowing me to exempt certain characters from being displayed if I so desire, as well as giving me the option to show up as being offline (as a member of guild leadership, I may not want to be found that day if I'm playing my Alliance alt on another server).
Until Activision-Blizzard starts showing some sense of responsibility in this area with RealID, in my opinion, Jon Wood's (Stradden) recent column is right on the money: I've canceled and they're not getting another penny of my money - neither Activision nor Blizzard - until they show some sense and take some responsibility. And no, you can't have my stuff. ;)