Blizzard's Real Name Forum Policy, Good or Bad?

July 9,2010

In case you've been living under a rock, or have just been too busy questing, raiding, looting, earning XP and WoW gold, you might have missed the latest little tidbit from the fine folks at Blizzard HQ, a little tidbit that's caused something of a storm in a very large teacup.

That little tidbit? The news that gamers who post on official Blizzard forums (starting with StarCraft II's community site and eventually spreading to World of Warcraft's as the Cataclysm expansion draws near) will have their real life first and last names exposed to the world.

Wait, what!?!?

Yup. You heard that right; this new change will be a feature of the recently implemented Real ID initiative, which went live on Battle.net not too long ago. Blizzard representative Nethaera (ironic, I know) had this to say regarding the reason for the shift in policy:

“Recently, we introduced our new Real ID feature, 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.

So there you have it, no amount of begging --WoW gold, or even real money pay off -- will spare you this fate. It should be noted however, that these rules also apply to Blizzard employees, so there are no double standards at work here.

But is it really such a terrible thing? Let's look at what these changes might result in.

Internet anonymity takes a massive blow - No matter how awesome the community, there are always a few bad eggs, and the larger the community, the more bad eggs you're bound to find. In a community as colossally massive as World of Warcraft's, you can bet WoW gold you're bound to find more than just a few grumpy Gary's and sinister Susie's.

These folks exist almost exclusively to troll, disrupt and annoy at every turn, and are frequently the ones who complain about pretty much every little change and title update (even if they're good ones) right off the bat. These guys make posting on gaming forums an absolute pain, they're the reason moderators and admins exist, but the fact is that in a community numbering in the millions, you're never going to have enough moderators and admins to bring down the ban-hammer hard enough.

One thing that makes it a lot easier for these community disruptors to ply their trade is the long standing veil of internet anonymity. It's a lot easier for folks to hurl abuse and complain like massive babies, generally making everyone's lives miserable if they feel protected by the fact that no one knows who they are.

With the new Real ID system, folks are more easily identified, and as such some of that anonymity goes away. It's true that they can still hide behind the curtain of being on the other end of a computer possibly thousands of miles away, but for a lot of folks in normal society, just the knowledge that they're responsible for their own actions and can be held accountable is enough to put them off what can best be described as jack-assery.

Better conversations, right? - Real reputations are at stake, folks are more inclined to act like their real life counterparts.  Following the line of thinking above, most posters care about their reps, and don't like to see them damaged, as such they're likely to be more thoughtful and considerate when creating new threads and posting replies in them.

In a sense it's almost like internet forums have grown up with this change, and truth be told it's a bit of a double edged sword. Will this eliminate zaniness and humorous random commenting as folks are now more conscious of how they are perceived? A boss and employee might have been playing on the same server and posting on the same forums for years without ever realizing it, but now with Real ID both become painfully aware of each other, and their actions in this virtual space will likely have a real life effect on how they perceive each other in the real world.

Role playing takes a massive blow... does it? - Tied into point above, suddenly that internet veil of anonymity is removed.

The fact is that this veil isn't such a bad thing. A lot of folks who lead boring, tedious jobs in their day to day lives come to World of Warcraft and other MMO's for a bit of escapism. Some of them are guild leaders, and some just like to putter around for a while to let the stress away. Being able to don the guise of another character and immerse themselves in this world entirely is hugely compelling, what happens when they don't feel like they can shed the title of “John Smith – Employee #8721 at Burger King” when they come home any longer?

That said, another argument is that gamers have been dealing with “non-anonymity” for a long time now. D &D groups and table top gamers have been doing so for a long time, after all in these sorts of games there's no internet anonymity veil to hide behind, you come as you are. Why should this be any different? Are gamers a little too sensitive about this for no reason?

Is there a reason to be sensitive though? - One major worry that has been voiced is the fact that outing players’ real first and last names opens them up to stalking. While it's true that most folks who post on these forums are good natured gamers, and some just looking to troll, there's also likely a small group who have unscrupulous intentions. Being able to gather personal information such as folks first and last names makes it much easier to stalk and generally make life a whole lot more unpleasant as they could glean a fair amount of personal information over a period of time.

Sometimes folks just don't want to be harassed, a lot of WoW players are female, and the sad fact is that when a girl shows up in-game, she gets swamped, and this just makes it a lot easier for females to be identified.

The system is hardly fool-proof – at the end of the day the fact is that if you changed your Battle.net Real ID info, these changes would be reflected on posts you make. There's a way to beat every system, and tenacious gamers and community members will almost always find ways around the rules, but is it worth it?

A better community in the end? - It's a tough call. Ultimately you would hope that civil behavior is adhered to, that conversation gets better, folks develop stronger ties and are able to stay in touch even outside the game world because they know each other's names, that people are more responsible and accountable. However, there will always be a lunatic fringe who ruin things for everyone, it will be very interesting to see how aggressively Blizzard clamps down on this section of the community to ensure things stay clean, especially in the project's earliest days.


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