Rant: The "Real ID" Debacle
In an absolutely stunning announcement on July 6th, Blizzard has released the details of their "Real ID" system that is set to roll out across all of the games. The new system will mandate the use of subscribers real world first and last names in order to get functionality and access aspects of its services. The core of the announcement reads as follows...
"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."
The announcement goes on to say...
"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. "
Following the announcement and the details of the new system, the World of Warcraft forums have erupted, with the discussion thread growing to well over 1900 pages with the overwhelming majority of customers expressing outrage at the new policy. Clearly this announcement puts the online community at a pivot point in terms of online privacy.
Frankly I'm completely baffled at the rationale behind this decision. Do they honestly think that by requiring people to post under their real first and last names that it will generate a more beneficial discussion? I think pretty much every MMO gamer knows that most of the Blizzard forums are notorious for trolls, but it comes with the territory of having such a massive subscriber base. I think most people would agree that more extensive forum moderation is a better solution than having your customer expose their real identity to the wilds of the internet. If anything, I'd wager that a policy of this nature would do more to stifle communication based purely on the fact that people are not going to be willing to expose their identity just to voice an opinion, concern, or report a bug in a video game.
Just how exposed are we once our name gets out there? I'll use myself as an example. I've used the name "Paragus" or "Paragus Rants" as my character / forum name is pretty much every MMO I've played since 2004. On every forum for the MMOs I have played, my signature has pretty much been identical. A simple google search of my gamer name pulls up forum posts from almost ever MMO I have played since using the name, including Darkfall, Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, and Aion. "Paragus" is simply a gamer name I've used for a few years, but when you imagine giving anyone access to the same information with a name used for your entire life, and the prospect becomes uncomfortable to say the least. The internet never forgets, and this is why anonymity in cyber-space is in everyone's best interest.
One quick anecdote on how a little information can go a long way. Back when Darkfall first launched with it's limited release, much of my guild was camping out on the account page trying to catch the store online like many others. One night while I was asleep, the store did manage to pop up for a short time while some guildmates spotted the opening. My house phone rang in the wee hours but I didn't get out of bed. Apparently one of my guild members had used the internet to find my house phone with little more than my name and general location. While I didn't get out of bed, I was fortunate that this person is someone I've known online for years, but at the same time disturbed at how easy it was for someone to get that type of information. (I don't even know my own house phone number by heart!)
You don't need to really have much of an imagination to start thinking of ways this can go wrong. Let's put aside the fact that ID theft is one of the fastest growing crimes around, and think of some of fringe elements of gamers. With your real information floating around, it's not a stretch for some nerd rager to come looking for you. Women on the internet will now have a harder time hiding that fact from internet weirdos. The possibilities are practically endless.
I haven't been a World of Warcraft player since 2006, but I am someone who is a prospective customer for Starcraft 2, as well as many in my guild. This sort of news has caused a lot of my guys to pause and reconsider if they still want to purchase. I'm sure a lot of us probably will, and just avoid the forums hoping this tactic doesn't spill over into other areas. I don't really think that we need Blizzard to create the next Facebook in battlenet, but that's just my 2 cents.
Maybe I'm overreacting, but I am curious to hear the thoughts of this community on this topic. What say you?
Co-Leader of Inquisition
EDIT July 9th: Looks like Blizzard has listened to reason and reversed the decision to go through with this.