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RealID and proportionate reaction

July 7, 2010

DISCLAIMER: I’m going to be playing the Devil’s Advocate here. Read my suggestions and opinions near the end before replying. The post comes after the break.

*****

Once Cataclysm drops and Blizzard implements RealID on the official World of Warcraft forums, I will be known there as Orlando Medeiros. Or rather, I would, if I used the official forums at all. Either way, that’s how I’m billed. It’s not a fantastically common name, you can even Google it. You might even find me on Facebook! Or stumble across my personal online gallery! How much useful information are you going to get from searching all those places? Not much.

I have no beefs with RealID. I don’t use it because I don’t think it’s useful, but I don’t abominate the idea on pure ideological grounds like so many people out there do. Blizzard is obviously implementing a more robust social network into Battle.net and associated games. It’s almost literally like Facebook. I know that I sometimes log into WoW simply to chat with some guildies. Considering the size of the playerbase, I can’t be alone in this.

What I think is a problem is that many players got spoiled by this notion of always being anonymous on the Internet. For them, revealing their first and last name means such a large change of paradigm most people are scared of it. Now, if you have a legit Facebook account and you play WoW… you don’t have a point here. Your name, like mine, is already out there. And if you use aliases in every single online service out there, congratulations: you are safer than most.

An IP search will still find out where you live, thought. It’s often a lot easier than Googling for your name.

Either way, I fully expect Blizzard to kick their moderation standards on the forums up a couple notches once this change is implemented. If curbing trolls is one of their objectives, they need to do it right to warrant all the noise going on here. If the quality of the official forums doesn’t go up, it’s going to be very disappointing.

Proportionate reaction

What I am taking issue with in this whole discussion is how damaging some people are being to the community. Every discussion has its extremists, but the WoW community has such a knack for making things look out of proportion, it’s not even funny anymore. Yes, people have their preferences and they can try to make their points. I understand perfectly why someone wouldn’t want their name on a forum, even though a full name isn’t enough to be classified as “personal information” in most places. Mostly because it’s not unique, more on that later. I personally would prefer a different system, but that’s also coming on later.

The people who are making reasonable, well thought-out and researched arguments… I like them. But they’re the minority here. We’re all the minority: even if 25% of the playerbase went to the forums (and this number is actually closer to 5%), claiming that there are 20 thousand posts against it, or that 99.99% of the forums are against it, says nothing. It’s not a majority of the playerbase. The playerbase as a whole doesn’t care, they’re indifferent about any change they get. We, the forum posters, the bloggers, or just the people who care for RealID in any way, are the vocal minority.

Still, the idiocy has snowballed to huge levels right now, and it seems to be growing. Besides the usual knee-jerk reactions to any subject even remotely related to privacy on the internet, which is to be expected, things are going way out of proportion.

Someone started posting personal information (name and phone, address, etc…) they Googled from the name Blizzard Poster Bashiok has revealed on the forums. The phone number people started spreading around got so crammed with calls that no one is picking it up anymore. The catch? That address was nine hours of travel away from the Blizzard offices.

They got the wrong guy! It wasn’t Bashiok at all! Some poor guy had at least dozens of calls from angry internet vigilantes who did not do the research!

Can you see the problem with internet anonymity? Without any accountability for what they do, people can just troll and bother random people at-will, whether they’re right about it or not. And they get off scot-free. As long as people still do this sort of thing, RealID will have some weight behind it.

What am I saying?

People have blown this way, way out of proportion. Once they get into scaremongering (“RealID can get you killed!”, everything can get you killed) and anecdotes like “I Googled my own name and found XYZ! OMG!”, they lose their point.

Some people say they don’t want their coworkers, present or future to know they play World of Warcraft. Apparently, that makes them look bad. If it’s that bad, they might want to reconsider playing the game at all. Or just, you know… posting on the forums after this change goes through. If nearly as many people leave the forums as they’re saying they’ll leave the game, places like MMO-Champion and Wowhead will become a lot more popular. You still have a place to go there.

Apparently, some people don’t want to be “outed” as gamers.

Me, I’d rather have it showing first name and last initial on the forums, plus your character name underneath it. Like, Orlando M., <Rikkard> (that’s my ‘Lock, by the way). Or simply a system where you have one nickname for every credit card assigned to your account. I think that would work better. Either way, I’m not concerned. Even if I posted on the forums, I’m not one to flame or troll. And really, if I wanted to bother with it, I would cancel my subscription.

That’s still an option. If you disagree so much with this change, stop playing the game, don’t pay for it. If enough people do it, Blizzard will notice it. And, being a company and needing to make good profits to support their huge operations, they will do something about it if it puts a dent on their finances.

There is a contract between you and Blizzard that you have to accept when you use their service. World of Warcraft and its forums aren’t a product, they’re a service. That’s why we keep paying for it. We’re renting memory and processor power from their servers, not buying the game from them. So, if there’s something in their service that you don’t like, refuse to sign the next version of the Terms of Service that pops up and cancel your subscription. That’s enough. If they still use your information after you’ve refused to share it by not accepting their terms, sue them.

I’m actually happy Blizzard has given us such advance warning. That way the Internet Hive Mind will go over it, lose interest, and then we’ll be able to have meaningful arguments once the thing really drops. Smart move, you have to admit.

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