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.
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.
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:
Includes discussion of the intersection of harassment and real names: