RealID Backpedal: What Did We Learn?

Posted by on July 9, 2010 - 31 Comments »

If you read my other posts on this topic, you probably know that I was pretty ambivalent about the announced and recently retracted requirement of real name usage on the official Blizzard forums. I was very disappointed in how the community reacted. There was a lot of confusion about RealID in-game versus using your RealID name in the forums, as well as a strange entitlement to the forums. Between the alarmist WoW.com article suggesting that addons have the ability to reveal your name, dozens of articles and webcomics implying that your characters would be associated with your real name, and dozens of outraged comments, it has been pretty hard to have a factual discussion about this topic. I’m not surprised that Blizzard backpedaled on this issue, but I do think that this issue was way overblown and misinterpreted.

As Mike Morhaime said in his statement:

“I want to make sure it’s clear that our plans for the forums are completely separate from our plans for the optional in-game Real ID system now live with World of Warcraft and launching soon with StarCraft II.”

There was absolutely no connection between posting on the forums and revealing your name in-game. The timing of releasing the new RealID features was ill-timed with the forum change announcement, and players got some of the features confused. Just as the Facebook features of Facebook connect, instant personalization, and global “like” confused some users, players assumed that the forum change and RealID in-game had more in common than they actually did.

Additionally, both the use of RealID and the use of the forums is optional. Blizzard is not forcefully revealing your information or anything along those lines. They have a very well outlined privacy policy and will delete all of your data on request. Blizzard has a great track record for consumer privacy and I consider much of the hysteria about the change to be akin to a smear on a very well-run company.

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While many people pointed out very good reasons not to reveal your name online, and I agree that there are many good reasons – that decision is the player’s – not Blizzard’s or yours. If you don’t want to because of the way its run, then you don’t. Blizzard gave you the option of posting in the forums. It is non-essential to the gameplay. If you think it is a bad idea for women, transgender people, or celebrity players to post their name online, that is an absolutely valid position. But to say that the service should not happen because these groups should not post their names is another thing entirely. Feel free to do what you want, but I found the argument that these individuals should not post their identity online as “big brother” as many people painted Blizzard, as its an an individual decision to use the forums. Additionally, the argument that the forums are an essential service is equally weak. There are many alternatives to the forums for support purposes, including contacting a GM or using email or phone support.

Regardless, I think that if I were to work at Blizzard or similar company as a public relations agent, here is what I would do differently after observing this incident:

  1. Make it clear that participating in the service is optional through in-game and out-of-game messages and dialogues.
  2. Have a comprehensive privacy “center” were players can configure which parts of the service they wish to use. Using something titled “Parental Controls” turned a lot of people off.
  3. Give players time to absorb changes. It hasn’t even been a month since patch 3.3.5 went live and many players have not extensively used RealID.
  4. Better community communication. A video demonstrating RealID in the game, as well as a video showing what the new forums would be like, would likely assuage a lot of player concern. Talking about things abstractly versus showing a concrete product leaves a lot open for interpretation.

I am still ambivalent on the issue itself, but I think removing the change was necessary to appease the extremely heavy overreaction. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the privacy complaints as Battle.net progresses to a more social platform, but they’ve learned that they are walking on eggshells, whether the player responses are rational or not.