The Real ID Bomb

Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman Gamer scorned.

In 1697, when William Congrave wrote that memorable quote in his play, “The Mourning Bride”, he obviously didn’t include the part about gamers nor did he have us in mind. But the events of this week that began on Tuesday when community managers of the World of Warcraft forums announced in the forums that sometime shortly before Cataclysm (WoW’s 3rd expansion) goes live, a new forum system was going to be implemented in which people who choose to post on the forums will be required to do so using their Real ID which for most people is their real life first and last name. And while I’m sure that the brains that run Blizzard Entertainment expected some amount of blow back I don’t think they necessarily expected the hate bomb that exploded over what many saw as a huge violation of their privacy rights. Apparently Blizzard hadn’t been paying any attention to the rage that Facebook caused with it’s huge privacy violations.

In just over 3 days from the time of the announcement, the forum thread had reached nearly 50,000 posts, the vast majority of which were highly critical of the upcoming change.

Now, I understand what Blizzard was trying to do. The official World of Warcraft forums have earned a legitimate reputation for being an untamed wilderness of hate, flame wars, and trolling, as well has being highly unwelcoming to new players to the game.

How ever, there are very legitimate concerns about having your identity exposed to the cesspool of the internet, and doubly so when you tie it to game that can and has driven people to the emotional edge.

For example…

Sikketh, a human paladin on the Thunderhorn server posted his real name and dared people to find him in an attempt to show people that their fears of being stalked and hunted down based solely on their name were unfounded. Valis, who writes on a blog called What you did there, I see it, took up the challenge and within 20 minuets or so had not only tracked Sikketh down but had called him and talked to him at the place where he works.

With just his first and last name and his wow toon’s name, I was able to find his twitter, facebook, home address, home phone number, work address, work phone number and parent’s names. The whole process took about 20 minutes. I immediately called the house, but no one was home. I sat on the idea of calling his work for a bit, and eventually decided to do so (he did ask for it).

You can read the rest of Valis’s post on the event here. As you can see, in today’s internet driven world, there isn’t a whole lot stopping someone who you have supposedly wronged in a video game from tracking you down and doing you real harm or worse. The exposure of real life names in the WoW forums would make it a simple matter of time before another Julien Barreaux would emerge.

Many of WoW’s blogging community, such as Lissanna of Restokin, who often write guides to post in the forums and generally help people have come out strongly against the change and have decided to stop posting in the official forums if the use of real names were to go live. Even the mainstream media like MSNBC, BBC, and Wall Street Journal, picked up on the rage that had struck the Blizzard forums.

Everything finally came to head today (Friday) when CEO and Cofounder Mike Morhaime posted the following.

Hello everyone,

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 Battle.net 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.

I want to make sure it’s clear that our plans for the forums are completely separate from our plans for the optional in-game Real ID system now live with World of Warcraft and launching soon with StarCraft II. We believe that the powerful communications functionality enabled by Real ID, such as cross-game and cross-realm chat, make Battle.net a great place for players to stay connected to real-life friends and family while playing Blizzard games. And of course, you’ll still be able to keep your relationships at the anonymous, character level if you so choose when you communicate with other players in game. Over time, we will continue to evolve Real ID on Battle.net to add new and exciting functionality within our games for players who decide to use the feature.

In closing, I want to point out that our connection with our community has always been and will always be extremely important to us. We strongly believe that Every Voice Matters, ( http://us.blizzard.com/en-us/company/about/mission.html ) and we feel fortunate to have a community that cares so passionately about our games. We will always appreciate the feedback and support of our players, which has been a key to Blizzard’s success from the beginning.

Mike Morhaime
CEO & Cofounder
Blizzard Entertainment Blue

 

I’m glad that Blizzard has come to their senses and I think that there is something big that people can seriously learn from this. In today’s age of the internet and social networking, the idea of privacy and anonymity is quickly becoming a thing of the past just as if it were a frog that is slowly being cooked by a gradually increasing flame. It’s very easy to make friendships online and to causally post information that in any other setting would seem harmless and innocent on forums, Facebook, and Twitter. We often don’t think about the fact that once something is posted and out there it’s pretty much there for good and it effects almost every facet of our lives. It’s only when someone like Facebook, or Blizzard accidently turns up the flame too quickly that we, the frog, jump, realizing that hey something is wrong here. And while the blow back that Blizzard has received has forced them to change plans this time, chances are we will just go back into our internet induced comma while some other company turns up the flame just a little bit more while we are staring off in our bug eyed bliss.

Ummmm… Flies.

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