Blizzard Wants The World To Know Your Name

Battle net logo with a bright blue shiny "2.0" superimposed

Recently, we introduced our new Real ID feature - http://www.battle.net/realid/ , 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. Certain classic forums, including the classic Battle.net forums, will remain unchanged.

-Nethaera, Blizzard Poster

In an attempt to cut down on trolling and harassment in the forums Blizzard has proposed moving to use real names on forum posts.  Unfortunately, this has been shown elsewhere to cause problems for the same people who are most likely to be dissuaded from posting by trolling.  Serious posters who do not wish to have their online activity found by non-players or their real-life identity found by anyone wandering through the forums make significant contributions to the forums, whereas many trolls either use sock puppet accounts or simply don’t care about any real-life repercussions.  If Blizzard wants to make Battle.net something more than that-thing-I-had-to-sign-up-for-to-play-WoW, they are going about it in a very odd way.

Until now World of Warcraft forum posts were made under a character’s name, so if you wanted to make an anonymous post you could create a new level 1 character and post using that character.  It was a mark of authenticity to post under a max-level character, and there are many posters with long-running identities. The devs talked at one point about specific posters they listened to, all referenced by character name. Some character names became Community MVPs, demonstrating that there was already value attached to pseudonyms. One of these has commented that zie had been stalked in real life:

I love the game and will of course respect the coc/tos, but if the new forums require realid, which afaict they will (even though posts here won’t be retroactively outed)… then I’m forced to make a choice between posting there and giving out information that puts me at risk.

That is not a real choice.
-Snowfox, Vek’nilash

This is an important issue, because names carry markers of gender, ethnicity and real-world relationships that may be irrelevant to someone’s game play, but open up the possibility of harassment. It also makes it easier for harassers to follow people beyond the internet, making it a matter of personal safety. I find Blizzard’s decision unfortunate in every possible way. Forcing people to reveal personal details is no substitute for firm and consistent moderation, and will raise the barrier to entry of community participation.  I know I will not be posting under the new policy.

When Battle.net first came out concerns were raised about cross-game data mining, the inability to share or sell accounts (already forbidden by World of Warcraft’s ToS), the use of “community” as a cover for introducing DRM and the desire for it to mesh with Steam.  As far as I can tell, no one anticipated the possibility that Blizzard would “out” your real-life identity.

Amusingly enough, this change violates Blizzard’s terms of service, which promise to ban anyone revealing real-world information about a player.  Clearly at one point they recognized the importance of pseudonymity; hopefully someone will stop this change before it goes through.  There is currently a strong fan response pouring in and we’ll have to wait to see how Blizzard responds.

This also isn’t a new issue. Blizzard could have found the problems with their approach with even a cursory search on the topic. As such, I’ll recommend a couple of older posts I’d kept around on the issue. If you have favorites, please add them in the comments!
On real names online:
http://geekfeminism.org/2010/06/10/hacker-news-and-pseudonymity/ ,
Includes discussion of the intersection of harassment and real names:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/apr/06/gender.blogging

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24 Responses to Blizzard Wants The World To Know Your Name

  1. Twyst says:

    this will keep me from posting, possibly playing blizzard games in the future. The casual way that facebook and now Blizzard are giving out information is very disconcerting.

  2. Ruth says:

    I understand the idea and it’s a nice idea but it’s completely unviable. Yes it’s a way to remind people that there are people behind characters and yes it might make some people think twice before saying stuff. But the negative impact this could have on people greatly outweighs those potential positives.

  3. chooseareality says:

    So it seems that Blizzard just like Valve doesn’t allow changes to account names. (Unverified)

    I was lucky and created my Blizzard account after I picked out my new name, but this is yet another example of a real name being tied forever to an account which is a huge pain for those of us with Gender Issues that haven’t yet been resolved at the time of account creation.

    I know that every time I log into Steam I am super annoyed to see the old initials that haven’t applied to me for over 6 years now. Steam wouldn’t change the name, I even offered to send a copy of the court order. I can make up some sorta excuse for the old initials, but really why should I have to.

    Wake up game companies, sometimes people have very valid reason to want to change an account name and it has nothing to do with trolling.

  4. Joel McCoy says:

    I can’t help but think that the real reason they aim to do this is so they can make their massive subscriber base as valuable in the metrics/advertising field as Facebook and other ‘real life’ social networks are.

    This information is more valuable when tied to a real name for a number of reasons, and all the window dressing about it leading to a more civil atmosphere, or allowing ‘real’ connections is transparently ex post facto rationalization as it is dead wrong for the reasons summarized here and in the linked articles.

  5. Thefremen says:

    Welp. I won’t use the blizzard forums at all ever for any reason again.

  6. Treehouse says:

    I thought about using Blizzard, but this makes me completely change my mind. I can’t have my real name floating around online.

    I have people in my past that I don’t want to find me- with good reason- and my username is something I take seriously. I try to build a name for myself and a reputation. I know I’m not the ‘target’ for this because I’m not a troll- yet would this really stop anything?

    I’m disabled, home alone all day and have been stalked in the past- I can’t take that risk again. Mr.Treehouse would worry too and I don’t want to add that to his pile.

    Is there a reason that banning wouldn’t work? Perhaps it would be wiser to have a better banning/vote down system instead of putting people needlessly at risk.

    I think those who need a pseudonym are a bigger segment of their user base than they realize. People who want some privacy, separation from their names/jobs (if you’re a CEO or high-ranking employee you cannot have people finding you in this manner and you deserve privacy the same as anyone else), people who have abusive people looking for them… the list is enormous to me.

    I cant help but wonder if there is a better way to control trolls without putting other people in an uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous, situation.

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  8. Russ says:

    Although this might lead to even more troubling situations, I like the idea of moderators unveiling trolls or racist posts. IE You are allowed anonymous posting unless you violate forum conduct. In this way, those who need a screen for their protection will have it, and those who use the screen for harassing others will lose it. Hopefully this will ease the difficulty of moderation because there will be real world consequences to verbally assaulting others.

  9. Jayle Enn says:

    Starcraft II was supposed to have some kind of built-in Facebook connection as well, which struck me as being several kinds of bad idea. Requiring this ‘realid’ is nothing more than poor security theater, given that WoW time cards are wholly anonymous, and anyone intent upon trolling will either use those, or simply won’t care.

    I’ve heard people suggest that this is for some kind of data mining, but that doesn’t make much sense either. There’s only so much real-world-useful data to trawl out of WoW, and it certainly isn’t worth the expense to throw a semantic engine at the forums.

  10. rho says:

    Oddly, I read a blog post earlier today on a chemistry blog, making a very similar point about comments on academic papers and stressing the need for anonymity or pseudonymity there.

    The blogger advocated, in that situation, a setup where real life information must be provided to the owners or moderators of the forum for debate, but then need not be shown or revealed unless the person commenting wished to do so. He also likened this to the existing criteria behind academic peer review.

    So my thought is: if academia can’t manage entirely harmonious discourse without some level of anonymity, how on earth can we expect video games communities — with a much lower boundary for entry, much less sever repercussions for being kicked out, and a much larger populace — to possibly do better?

  11. YelloBird says:

    I had similar experiences to chooseareality’s

    Companies seems to be really unable/unwilling to change people’s names. Even if you got all your paperwork.

    Forcing people to show their real and sometimes outdated names is absolutely not cool.

    Also it open the gates for all kind of gender based online harassment.

  12. Twyst says:

    Funny, i remember rumours that Matt Damon played on our server when i was playing WoW. You can bet he wouldnt post on the forums.

  13. Stephanie says:

    I canceled my account today been playing wow since vanilla beta, played in all betas of wow, played diablo, wc3, starcraft etc and I have finally closed the door. When they decide lining their pockets is worth more than my comfort level for privacy and safety concerns that’s where I draw the line in the sand.

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  15. TomG says:

    I play WoW but am most likely going to quit due to this decision – and I rarely posted.
    I think this decision was influenced by the fact that selling old accounts outside of game, although prohibited by the TOS, is pretty common. I’m betting that this practice will become much less common once the new system is in place.

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  17. Gunthera1 says:

    My only thought here is that real name + phone book = address. Real ID makes stalking easy. This is a dangerous change for many players.

  18. kjdawson80 says:

    I quit because I was bored with the game, but was planning on coming back when Cataclysm hit. I’ve been stalked before, and I didn’t really enjoy it much. This will ensure that I won’t buy any more WoW expacs (or Blizzard games, really), and spend my money with Guild Wars/FFXIV/ST: TOR.

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  21. Laurentius says:

    I don’t like it at all, so Blizzard seems to try on boots of these powerhungry companies like M$, with eyes only on profit, with no value for their customers…sad.

    On the side, i was half-suprised how quickly internet discussions about this were assalied by “grow-a-pair birgade”:
    “Privacy isn’t a real man’s concern, grow a pair!” – argh…

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