Thursday, July 8, 2010

My real name

Edit:  The situation that prompted this post has changed drastically and the plans that were suggested have been scrapped.  See This link.

There is a tremendous furor in progress on the WOW forums here.  Essentially what has occurred is that Blizzard has announced that everyone using the forums will have to post with their real first and last name when their new forums launch in the near future.  Note that in 48 hours they have accumulated a complaint thread 2000 pages long with 40,000 posts that are almost all negative.  Their plans seem to be focused around two major things:

1.  Clean up the place.  The forums right now are a haven for whining, flaming, cursing, bumping and grandstanding.  I occasionally look at them for a laugh but for any serious purpose I go to a secondary site with strict moderation.  Blizzard wants to make the forums useful and welcoming to new players and they feel that adding this degree of accountability will help that.

2.  Make a social network.  There is a drive in place to partner with Facebook and create a giant social network across all Blizzard games.  Certainly there is a lot of money available in marketing through social networks and there are even benefits for users, but many people don't want a social network, just a game.

People have all kinds of problems with this.  Many of them are concerned about someone in game finding their name, flying to their city and stabbing them.  They should be more concerned about slipping in bathtub or crossing the street.  Some are concerned that future dates will Google them and refuse to date them because they play video games.  Did you know that people you date might NOTICE that you are a gamer at some point?  There are others that feel that if their name appears on a forum their professional reputation will be permanently ruined.  Right, because if someone Googles a lawyer named Fernando Sanchez and notices that some guy named Fernando Sanchez posted on a game forum, obviously their lawyer is a basement dwelling lowlife.

Most the reasons that people give for hating this idea are garbage.  However, there are actually plenty of good reasons to think that forcing people to post with their real names is a bad plan.  First, some people signed up with their real name.  Others signed up as LOOOL NOOB, and any new player to WOW could (should?) sign up with either a nonsense name, a pseudonym, or simply John Smith.  This results in a distinct double standard that Blizzard cannot rectify; some people will be posting on their real name and others will be known as Giant Tool.  Another big issue is what Blizzard expects to do with the 10,000 distinct John Smiths on the forums.  They have said that linking a character to the profile is optional, so there is no way for the majority of players to distinguish between the various John Smiths, many of whom who will certainly refuse to link a character just to confuse people.

Of course another big strike against them is the simple fact that people hate it.  Angering many of your customers and convincing them to cancel subscriptions or not post on the forums is not good business. Even if the concerns they have are bogus there is plenty of argument for offering the service people want to pay for instead of the service you wish they wanted to pay for.  Blizzard had a glowing image in the gaming community until about two days ago and it is tarnishing at a tremendous rate, and whether that is fair or not does not change that.

I think that these changes will work to improve the level of discourse on the forums and reduce the pointless spam and trolling.  Things will get better and the official forums will improve.  However, I also think that there are much better solutions to the problem than what they are proposing.  Forcing everyone to use a single gamertag title for all posts and aggressively handing out permanent bans for bad forum behaviour will achieve all their forum cleanup goals quite easily without causing a ruckus and without any concerns about privacy, however overblown.


  1. Are people actually going to cancel their accounts because they can no longer troll the forums anonymously? Stop using the forums because you don't like the idea I can understand, but quit the game entirely? Realistically the ability to post on the forums adds nothing of value to the majority of people so losing that ability shouldn't be much of a loss.

  2. You should read a couple of pages of the behemoth thread I linked. So many people are cancelling their accounts that account cancellation is nearly impossible, the web page for it is simply overwhelemed. Now many of those people may resubscribe, but the idea that people won't cancel over this is certainly not valid, they can and are. Whether it is warranted is another question entirely of course.

  3. Yeah, are they actually canceling because of this or just to make a point during the lull before the next expansion?

    I canceled my account before Wrath, as you may recall, due to the horridness that was the in game zombie event. I did it to make a point during a period of time I wasn't particularly interested in playing anyway. I would bet most if not all of the current cancellations are in the same boat.

  4. I like this post.

    I, too, don't think that RealID is a great idea, but the level of panic displayed in some places is kind of disturbing in its own right. I thought that people who spend so much time online themselves would know better than to suddenly see internet axe-murderers lurk behind every corner.

  5. Ziggyny: Some of them will certainly resubscribe after everything calms down a bit even if nothing changes. However, given the level of anger and resentment evident in the many, many threads about this topic I must assume that many of those people are quitting for real based just on ReadID.

    Shintar: Just so. I have the opinion that both Blizzard and the forumites are being pretty foolish on this topic. Thinking "People are stupid" hardly makes me unique, but there it is nonetheless.

  6. A couple of interesting links:

    1) The result of one of the current forum CMs giving out his real name on the Blizzard forums:

    2) One of the reasons this is all coming about. Starcraft 2 & Facebook:

    3) South Korea and China have both passed laws that online forums with a certain size user base are required to use real names.
    China link:
    Korean link:

  7. Obviously people targeted Bashiok to make a point. While this isn't the treatment that everyone can expect on the forums if they post under their real name, I think real world harassment of community managers could happen a lot. The idea that a customer service professional would have to give out personal, potentially identifying, information about themselves to people complaining about their company is a pretty bad one. Of course if Blizzard doesn't have their own employees post under their real names then people are going to be absolutely livid.

    From Blizzard's perspective I think that while it is true that the odds that anything bad is going to happen to you from posting your name are very slim, they are underestimating the bad publicity they are going to get when something bad inevitably happens to *someone*. It doesn't have to be an axe murderer, just sufficient harassment. There are plenty of media outlets that are always happy to jump on a "This video game ruined this persons' life" story and they will be pleased to have a new angle on it.

  8. Yeah, the point about news services is completely true. The event in question wouldn't even have to be remotely verifiable, if some person simply claimed that they were cyber stalked due to RealID it would get printed and spread across the internet and Blizzard would look really bad. No one would bother (or could succeed?) at checking the truth of the story and I would bet a ton of money that someone will try it just to bloody Blizzard's nose.

  9. I think people are really overblowing this issue and I don't think you can actually assume anyone quitting the game 'over this' is actually quitting the game because of it. They'll be back or they were going to leave anyway. This change doesn't actually affect the game itself. All it could do is keep people from posting on the official message boards. This could hurt guilds who don't have a single officer willing to post recruitment posts I guess, or crafters who want to pimp their 'unique' recipes on the boards, but beyond that it really isn't going to change anything if you just stop posting. Many players don't post at all anyway.

    I read a bit of the uproar last night and it really seems very overblown. I did a quick search on Facebook for my real name and stopped counting once I hit 250 with no end in sight. Having the name Nick Page associated with a WoW message board account simply isn't going to change anything at all. It isn't going to increase the odds I get beat up. It isn't going to get my identity stolen. It isn't going to cost me a job. You're more likely to find identifiable information about me by searching the internet for Ziggyny than you are searching for Nick Page.

    I also searched for a few of my friends who I thought had unique names, and there were a dozen people with Redcape's exact real name. (And like 50-60 more with slight variations.) There were many Sthennos. I couldn't even get useful information out of Snidely because it confused his last name with a common girl's name. There were countless Bungos.

    Armed with only your real name and the knowledge you play World of Warcraft I could realistically get no information about anyone I looked for.

    Blizzard employees are certainly more vulnerable since you have an extra piece of information which could be used to find where they live and potentially do things to them that way. Women can be more easily targeted for harassment this way. Guys playing female characters could lose out on perks they may be trying to get.

    Really, it's just a change. People don't like change and they love to roll down slippery slopes so there's a big uproar now but in the grand scheme of things this isn't really going to have a big impact in a year.

  10. Well, I'm firmly in the camp that I won't be associating a RealID with my Blizzard account for any reason, and would probably delete my account if it became necessary. (Hum, time to start *reading* those ToS updates.) I do this for the same reason I don't have a Facebook/Live/Flickr/etc. account; because I value my privacy and prefer to control my online persona.

    That said, there is also a much more serious reason to be concerned about RealID. MMORPGs provide a channel for many people to express/identify themselves in a way they cannot in reality. Particularly many of the most at-risk groups. The combination of anonymity and an expressive avatar, together with the ability to find a social group of others like them, is a unique thing.

    I'm thinking particularly of at-risk teens. Consider that there are more than 10 different "official" Alateen guilds in the US, every server has a GLBT guild, even Catholic/Mormon/Jewish guilds. Any of these provide peer support which might simply not exist anywhere else.

    Sure, right now RealID only applies to forums. But what happens if it becomes applied, even indirectly, to accounts? Is this a precursor of things to come?

  11. Well, it's over. Blizzard has issued a statement saying they won't be going through with this change. What was that, four days?

  12. It already is applied directly to your account, but only people you choose to see it can see it. The only difference with the forums is you choose to let everyone see it if you choose to post.

    Reading the article about China, it sounds like they're going to be requiring their citizens to use their government ID to sign into online games, which would enable them to directly track individual people. But for the rest of the world, what information do you actually gain by knowing that Recolada is played by some dude named Nick Page?

  13. Bah, they locked the thread just minutes before it hit 50,000 posts and 2500 pages. I was pulling for 100,000 posts in the one thread, but it is not to be.

    Goodbye RealID. Hello forums continuing to be useless.

  14. Hmm, if they're not going through with it, what does that mean for South Korea? Are they not getting official forums? Is Blizzard going to hope they get the same exception YouTube did?

  15. Presumably they will have to make a separate forum for South Korea and require RealIDs on it. It will be annoying, but I expect they will just have to suck it up and do it.

  16. They need to find some sort of good solution for SC2 at least. Apparently something like 42% of all SC1 sales were in South Korea; Blizzard really won't want to lose any chunk of that market if they can possibly help it.

  17. Yeah, I imagine that the South Korean forums will use real names because it is law there. Of course that law is deeply disturbing, but that's not Blizzard's fault.

    But I think the fact that that law is disturbing (and it sure is) is part of what got people's hackles up over this. Obviously if you don't want to put your name on the internet you aren't going to make a Facebook account with your real name. And there are probably at most a handful of crazies saying, "I'm made that Facebook won't let me use all of its features without giving any information about myself," because the purpose of facebook is to share things about yourself.

    But whenever someone is collecting personal information, people who are giving that information want to know why it is being collected and what will be done with it. If you use a service that can be offered without needing to use any personal information, then being asked for personal information gives you a reason to be suspicious.

    Imagine a coffee shop wouldn't sell coffee to those who weren't will to provide their full legal name. People would stop going to the coffee shop. It's not that we can put our finger on what the coffee shop could do to us with our name, it's just that it triggers suspicion.

  18. I guess I'm just weird, but while that would sound a little odd I wouldn't mind it. I went out and got an Air Miles card not because I expect to ever actually redeem the points for anything but to allow them to track my purchases and use that data as they wanted. The grocery store and the pharmacy now get my name every time I shop there. Though I guess it isn't my full name since I go by a shortened form of my middle name and all...