Note: There has since been an update on this, please see bottom of post.
In a move that I find completely baffling, Blizzard announced today that they are moving all of their forums to the Real ID system. A lot of people are already expressing their concerns over the news, especially with regards to the following taken from their statement:
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.
Interesting. I very rarely post on official MMO forums, and to be honest I wouldn’t touch World of Warcraft’s with a ten-foot-pole, so ultimately this change wouldn’t affect me much at all. But for once, I actually find myself empathizing with the outspoken dissenters. This announcement…simply doesn’t feel right. And I can’t understand the reasoning behind such a move. Like Hunter has already pointed out, are real names really going to magically somehow make people accountable for the things they say?
WoW players: "RealID? This is madness!" Blizzard: "Madness? This is Sparta!" *punt*
This has the potential to drive away the people who are wary about revealing their identities, folks who otherwise would have contributed with constructive comments, and meanwhile, trolls are still going to troll. I can also understand if this decision was precipitated by the desire to stop those forum trolls from hopping from alt to alt, but is the use of real names really necessary? Why not take a page from Cryptic (yes, I said Cryptic), who has a very similar system to Real ID in place right now, where a player’s handle can be used to post on forums as well as communicate with friends across both the company’s MMOs? It works even if you happen to be on an alt, on another faction, or even on a test server. Clearly, it’s a system that can be implemented without the involvement of real-life first and last names, so like I said, I am baffled as to why Blizzard is moving forward with making them a requirement.
The other thing that unnerves me about Real ID is how acutely some people’s concerns are resonating with me. I mean, just last week I wrote a post about my reluctance at sharing the fact I play MMOs with friends and acquaintances, especially with the people I work with. Mind you, it’s not that I’m ashamed of my love for MMOs, but I have a right to keep some pastimes private. And with the googling of names being such a common practice these days, maybe people don’t want certain aspects of their lives made public, like the fact they post on a World of Warcraft forum. I can understand that, all too well.
It might seem finicky of people to fret about their real names being revealed on a game forum, but it’s actually quite possible for small things like that to affect lives. You might notice that I emphasized the workplace in this post and the other one, and it’s because this is where I’ve personally been most affected. I used to work at a corporate staffing agency and have seen how employers can and most certainly will google candidates’ names before hiring, or even before granting an interview. Needless to say, after a week on the job of witnessing the things that happen, the first thing I did was wipe my Facebook information page.
I’ve always advised new graduates and anyone looking for a job to do the same (or at least clean up their profiles), as well as take a look at what’s out there when you google your own name. It’s heartbreaking the number of perfectly decent people I’ve seen lose their job opportunities because a potential employer disliked something they found out about them on the internet. “Oh, there was a picture of him smoking in a bar, I don’t think he’ll be the right fit” or “They like heavy metal music, that’s just way too hardcore for us” or “They’re part of this particular special interest group, that’s just too scary!” Think you’re safe because you set privacy protections on your page? Think again. One girl lost an interview simply because the employer noticed a tongue ring in her tiny profile picture, which was probably several years old. Yes, some of it was completely ridiculous and in a few cases even bordered on unlawful, which is probably why the employers only told us and never the candidates. You’d be surprised at how rarely people are given the benefit of the doubt.
The point is, this is just one way this system can be abused, but others have already pointed out a myriad of other concerns ranging from harassment to identity theft. You never know what anyone will do with the information they find on you, even if it’s something as innocuous as seeing your name on a post arguing Mage DPS in an online game forum. I’m usually pretty laid back about a lot of things and I really don’t like getting on the soapbox, but if there’s one issue I get all alarmist on, it’s privacy and identity. My own full name is kind of unique, and I take great care whenever I use it or give it to someone online. It can be a cruel, judgmental and scary world out there, so I don’t blame the anti-Real ID people for wanting to err on the side of caution. I’m kinda with them.
July 9, 2010 – Update: Well, what d’ya know, as I had speculated that it might happen, Blizzard eventually came to its senses. And it’s a good thing too, because for a few days there, things were getting pretty scary. But the damage has already been done for a lot of people, unfortunately. Now to see if Blizz can recover from this PR nightmare.