RealID Backpedal: What Did We Learn?

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.

Clickthrough for more…

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.

31 Comments on RealID Backpedal: What Did We Learn?

  1. “Don’t use the forum if you don’t want your real name shown” isn’t a very valid marketing strategy to those not willing to use the service. Also, despite there being an e-mail and a telephone number to use for support issues, more often than not, the in-game GMs (who may takes hours or days to respond to your issue) direct you to the forums anyway where not only staff, but a helpful member of the community might see your post and provide assistance.
    Seriously. If you went to your doctor because of an injury or illness and you told the doctor, “Hey doc, it hurts when I do this.” and he told you, “Well, don’t do that.” as his final answer, I doubt you’d keep going to that doctor.

  2. The change is recalled, and yet people still complain, seriously? Your analogies have no impact when comparing a video game company to real life.

  3. I hope many people see what happened with this event and realize that the minorities are really not minorities anymore; they seem to have the loudest voice and the least logic.

  4. ““Don’t use the forum if you don’t want your real name shown” isn’t a very valid marketing strategy to those not willing to use the service. Also, despite there being an e-mail and a telephone number to use for support issues, more often than not, the in-game GMs (who may takes hours or days to respond to your issue) direct you to the forums anyway where not only staff, but a helpful member of the community might see your post and provide assistance.”

    ^^ This. Using the forums cannot be optional until the relevant technical subforums are replaced (or mirrored) by another entirely separate chain of Blizzard support. The forums are NOT optional to playing a paid for game when efforts to track down latency issues result in a GM telling you to post with logs in a specific thread for the issue in the technical forums, as happened with me earlier this year

    If the forums that this change would have applied to were only the “in game” discussion ones – the class, profession, server and general ones – then fair enough. I’d still disagree with the wisdom of mandatory real names there but at least in that case those forums would be truely optional – you don’t need to post anything on those ones to play the game or in the process of resolving support issues. But as long as parts of the forums *do* play a major role in support, use of them cannot sensibly be claimed to be entirely optional and no amount of high-handed dismissal attempts will change that.

    That said it should definitely be recognised that the backpeddle was prompt – for a large corporation like Blizzard I’m pleasantly surprised they were this quick at reconsidering and coming to a decision!

  5. “Blizzard gave you the option of posting in the forums. It is non-essential to the gameplay.”

    It is essential if I have an issue with the game. While the first thing I do is search for the problem but if that yields nothing, I’m boned.

    “There are many alternatives to the forums for support purposes, including contacting a GM or using email or phone support.”

    Yeah, that’ll be fun dictating a trace report to a CSR.

    Also, my money is required to post on the forums. If you don’t have an active WoW account, you can’t post. Kinda seems like I’m paying for them, aye?

  6. I’ll just say what I’ve said on other blogs. The forums may be “optional” but they are a service that requires a working subscription to use. If the forums were free then it’s a different story. It would be the same thing if Blizzard said you had to give up your real name to learna crafting skill. Crafting is optional, you can play the entire game and never craft something. But you are still paying for it.

  7. In the future, don’t be surprised if blizzard makes it free and then does the change. If I was blizzard after this little woo, I would start to charge a $1-$3 extra for the use of the forums and call it a support fee. You pay $15 a month for the game and your character slots, not support blizzard was kind enough to put support for free. If I were blizzard I would do this, not only would it get rid of trolls but if people really wanted to use the forums they can pay for it.

  8. “It is non-essential to the gameplay.”

    Except its not.

    How hard can it be for people spouting this non-sense to get into their heads that from the moment blizzard chose to handle technical support AND customer service trough their forums, said forums stopped being “optional”.

  9. Flex, I’m not entirely against them adding a fee for forum use, that could be a pretty sweet way to iron out the trolls without revealing sensitive info. However, if you want to ask someone about offering a service, device, or any good, really, without support, ask Google about their Nexus phone. Bombed like crazy, and why? Not enough support- no structure to handle the inevitable issues that arise with any hardware or software.

    It is insulting to insinuate that Blizzard is being ‘kind’ enough to add in customer support forums for free. Blizzard has always been good to gamers, but it isn’t some sort of gamer charity. They’ve followed an excellent business model that is about their brand, trust, and quality, rather than just crapping out whatever comes to their fingertips. There aresupport forums because forums are good business, cheaper than phones and often more effective (solve a problem once and a thousand others find it)- even forums that, to quote another blogger, “are the electronic equivalent of a truck stop restroom.”

    I have said from the beginning, I don’t understand the paradigm of those WoW players who are not absolutely flabbergasted at the mere possibility of this change, but from my efforts so far, only horrible naivete of psychology, human nature, and predator/prey relationships can explain it to me.

    I have one final comment to make here- The point Lorehound makes about ‘the possibility of malicious WoW addons giving out your info,”- Lorehound, that IS REALITY at this point- if you download an otherwise innocuous update to any of your addons, or when someone figures out how to get your current version of DBM, Bigwigs, Grid, or whatever, to yield that information to it without you updating at all, your real name can be ascertained. For most of us, like poor Drysc, we are exactly one internet search from real name to address. This flaw persists at this point- and Curse is famously permeable, or so I hear. Keep your cards close to your chests, ladies and gentlemen, we’ve won the battle, but the war over our info rages on.

  10. @Ford

    It is without question that they can see your name. However, assuming a “perfect storm” situation, how would they go from seeing your name on your client to obtaining your name? An attack of this sort would require names of toons hardcoded into the addon for every server and faction, online all of the time. And then what? With an *obscene* amount of effort they obtain a list of names of people who play WoW.

    It isn’t a flaw that addons can see your name. It is a feature. Read more at http://lorehound.com/wow/realid-security-issues-are-overblown/

  11. I don’t think it was ever really an issue of people thinking that they were going to be forced to show their names in game, or at least there wasn’t that confusion in the EU forums. The issue was that people didn’t want to be forced into revealing their real names just be part of the forum community.

    Amongst the posters on the EU forums there was genuine concern that all the guides and helpful advice posted by players would just dry up – all the most active forum posters and MVPs said they would no longer post if this change came into effect. There was no scaremongering over the supposed security flaw from add ons – in fact there hasn’t really been a peep of it on EU forums.

    The outrage expressed was from the fear that Activision in their drive to make WoW a social networking platform were forcing Blizzard to destroy a vibrant and helpful community that strengthened the fan base of the game by introducing a very poorly conceived and non-optional name reveal (and I mean non-optional in that if you actually wanted to make a post for tech support or just to help other players out, you had no option but to reveal your real name).

    I honestly don’t see it as an over reaction, I see it as paying customers expressing their genuine concerns over the service provided by Blizzard. Don’t label people as being stupid and confusing the forum issues with any of the conspiracy types theories that this was going to affect in game stuff. From what I saw there was not that confusion, people knew it was only affecting the forums but that was enough – they didn’t want to lose the forums just because they wanted to maintain their privacy and frankly who can blame them.

  12. @Barugaara – So, according to you, video game companies do not operate in real life, have no bearing on events in real life and the reality of life does not apply to video game companies?
    Perhaps you should reconsider your words when attempting to dismiss a statement made you do not agree with.

  13. First of all it is not insulting to say that they are being kind to give you a forum. They have other kinds of support; they could make you wait on hold for hours to get support. This is what a lot of companies do. (Buy an action tech product; try trouble shooting why your nic card won’t work on the support forums) It is blizzard’s good nature to gamers is why they are being kind enough to let you have free forums (by free I mean not charging you anything but a subscription fee to use). I know a lot about blizzard I have played blizzard games all the way back to humans vs. orc. I know what blizzard is about, and also how they work; I have followed them for many years. I am simply saying that if Blizzard wanted to they could change a lot of things, and people would still play because of the friendships they have made in the game. Oh they will quit out of spite, but within a month or so when they are board to hell and back they will come running back; and blizzard would get to keep what they wanted to do in the first place. The big rumor was that paragon was going to quit because of this, now how long do you actually think those hardcore players would actually quit wow?
    Not very damn long that is for sure, they would feel lost without it.

    As far as the negative feed back, it is mostly due to community leaders that had a shit fit, Causing panic very similar to yelling bomb on a crowded bus. Tank spot, MMO champions, all the big hitters I believe started this. They had to have some kind of news seeing how Cata is in beta and those sites are devoted to wow only. Most of the people complaining are the same people you can find easily on face book, they complain about employers being able to look you up and see you play wow; as if that is any better than an employer looking you up and seeing you on face book. That is going to lose you the job a lot faster then playing a video game in this day and age. The only thing I can say to those helpless people that are worried about someone finding you is, be careful what you put on the internet; because once you put it out there it will always be out there. If people can’t handle that get off the internet; with information at your finger tips this comes with the bargain.

  14. Just to say that the whole “you chose to reveal your name or not cause posting on the forums is optional”is a very, very slippery slope type of arguement. You say it’s non essential to gameplay but who are you, I or we in general to decide what counts as gameplay?

    I can completely see how long posts explaining the backstory of their character on the realmforum might be a part of the gameplay for an avid RP’er.

    In fact if you reason that way everything around wow, except for being able to log in is optional. Why not make instances pay-to-play. It’s not like you are forced to do them, it’s entirely optional. Or arena, or having a mount, or… you catch my drift.

  15. I love how Heartbourne conveniently forgets to mention that one of blizzards employees had ALL of his personal info tracked down after using his real name on the forums, and that soon after Blizzard decided that their staff will still be using nicknames.

    Because Blizzard cant have their staffs privacy being compromised, the regular Joe Schmoe, however, can.

  16. There was absolutely no connection between posting on the forums and revealing your name in-game.

    That is something that bugged me as well. They even said that displaying a character name on the forums was optional, so if you just made a post as “Jane Doe”, that would create no connection whatsoever to your in-game characters unless you made a point of making one yourself. So no, this change wouldn’t have meant that everyone would suddenly know that “Tankyorc” is also Jane Doe.

    I’m somewhat relieved to see Blizzard change their mind on this myself, but I really don’t think the massive panic people caused was necessary or even something to be proud of.

  17. Here again, and no offense, but I think both Heartbourne and Baru are missing the bigger picture. Originally, yes, the outrage was over the cavalier way that Activision-Blizzard basically told those who DO care to ‘put up or shut up’. That, having been in business for a LONG time, is a definite way to lose customers.

    As time passed, it became more of the fear that Real ID would be used for more than disclosed purposes in-game. For instance, the original intent of implementing Real ID into the forums would be to negate the flaming and trolling. Sure. Ok. Let’s take that at face value then.

    Now, in an effort to clean up the trolling and flaming that goes on in the various chat channels IN-GAME, Blizzard decides that since it worked so well for the forums, it’ll work marvellously in game as well.

    This is a process commonly used in businesses during partnerships/mergers called ‘resource consolidation’. You can use ONE resource to solve/address many similar issues and save money versus using two or more resources to do the same which would then cost MORE money. It happens in EVERY merger/partnership. Every last one. It’s how they save money they would lose otherwise.

    Sure, if you don’t care that your real name would then show up in-game without your otherwise stated permission, that’s cool. It’s your choice. Using chat channels in game is entirely optional. Until they decide programs like Steam and Ventrillo circumvent their ‘policies’ and ban them. And since things like raids/acheivements and the like are tied to armory and..well hell, it’s a simple skip, hop and jump to putting your real life first and last name all over the internet. Where, I might add, not only can anyone specifically using said features see it, but anyone who might just be perusing the internet can see it.

    And honestly, 11.5 million people are just a drop in the bucket to the billions and BILLIONS of people, crazy or not, that use the internet.

    TL, DR version: it would not only have allowed WoW forum users to see your name but EVERYONE who’s connected to the web. World wide.

  18. I’m not sure anybody posting here really gets the issue.

    It’s not about add-on hack scares. It’s not about necessarily fearing a psycho will look you up, knock on your door, and punch you in the face.

    It’s a principle that is broader and deeper than that – and all the ruckus the thought of real names on the forums caused? The idea of breaking that principle deserved that amount of ruckus.

    The principle is trust. Privacy. Having your right to decide what part of you is shown to whom respected. I’m very sorry, but ‘Consent or be silenced’ – that is, consent to having your wow gaming habit connected visibly all across the internet to your real name, or don’t post at all – is not a legitimate option. It’s a scare option. It’s the type of option that has been offered all throughout history that only the people offering it ever thought was legitimate – and never the people who had to make the choice.

    Blizzard very nearly threw away all their very best, most helpful posters – and would only have driven away a fraction of their trolls. I predict the forums would have absolutely DIED. They would have fallen to between 1-5% of their previous posting levels, and the guides, newbie-helpers, intelligentsia, theorycrafters, etc, would have flown.

    The people who said that this issue didn’t deserve the response it got were wrong. The people who said ‘There, why did you worry? Why make all that ruckus, you wasted your time; they changed it back despite you’ – are horribly mistaken. It’s mere human nature that somebody will think like this.. but history just don’t work that way. No truly significant change ever gets made without people raising a fuss – and aside of the sheer idiocy and bald-faced aggression of the people who harrassed Bashiok, I’m proud of the forums!

  19. Addendum: They do not need to pull some stupid stunt like merely showing a bit of your real name on a forum to integrate with Facebook. It’s a dumb, dumb, dumb idea that doing that would help them at all. They already have your name. It’s not like showing it on one webpage gives them magical internet-mating powers to merge with Fb.

  20. I think Runz summed up basically what I was going to say.

    I wasn’t worried about a lot of the really scary stuff people were saying, but I also was not happy that Blizzard made this decision for us. And while I don’t post in the forums all the time, saying “well, you don’t have to post in the forums if you don’t want your name out there” is a rather shitty thing for a company to do. I don’t have facebook, I don’t have myspace and I don’t splash my real name around the internet because doing so leaves you open to the possibility of someone taking advantage of it. So, if it had become mandatory on the WoW forums, I would no longer be able to talk in my realm forum, or post that I’m looking for a new guild in the recruitment forums, or ask for help when something in game is not working correctly. I’ve used the technical support forums before and the response time is much quicker than putting in a ticket or trying to call.

    Personally, I believe I understood the situation and wasn’t getting worked up over misunderstandings. That being said, I didn’t like what they proposed and wasn’t afraid to tell them so. Personally, I think the people who were getting really crazy about it was probably the vocal minority. There were a lot of non-inflamatory posts in that thread (from what of it I read, anyway) and I’m glad Blizzard listened.

    That being said, if Blizzard wanted to make me really happy, they’d allow us to choose a handle for everything related to realID and use THAT instead of our names. The real name thing is why I only use the in-game realID with people I actually know in real life, because I don’t like the fact that it uses it. If I could, say, use Music-chan as my handle for in-game and the forums, I’d be a lot happier and use the feature much more frequently than I do now.

  21. Try to get any further with a technical issue without resorting to using the forums. GMs will tell you to post on the “optional” forums. Please don’t say call customer support, I don’t like being placed on hold due to a high volume of traffic.

    The older this game gets, the more programming issues will arise simply because the original programmers no longer work for Blizzard. There have been many instances of them adding something to the game in a content patch and something completely unrelated getting broke. Having the Real ID in game coding go awry during a patch is not something that I’d be happy with since you are a friend of yourself whether you like yourself or not.

    But first and foremost, I don’t want my RL clashing with my game life in anyway. I don’t troll, I usually help people if I can(even in trade chat which is sometimes fun). I am not trying to hide behind multiple aliases because I am doing something wrong or anti-social. I am hiding behind said aliases because I want to get away from the real world and play my fantasy game.

    The final comment I’ll leave here is that this is not the end of their plans for Real ID. Originally it was supposed to allow me to keep in contact with my friends. Then it was changed to friends of friends getting this information. I might like my friends, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I like their friends. There is still no way to go into hide mode when I don’t want to be bothered by anyone. There is still no way to choose which characters my friends know about. Real ID keeps changing. A lot of people are concerned, and rightly so, where it will end up.

  22. I was not that bothered either way to be honest but I really do think something has to be done about the amount of trolling that takes place, I am not sure what can be done to cut it out apart from having a much larger community team that they have already.

    I was talking to somebody the other day who mentioned the punishments for forum trolling and flame baiting were not harsh enough. How about instead of giving out forum bans for trolling that they dish out a few 2 week in game bans instead.

    I would be interested to see what people think Blizzard should do to cut through the current clutter on the forums?

  23. You know, Raven, I totally agree and I think the vast majority of people who spoke out against the Real ID would agree that something must be done to curb trolling and flaming. With that being said, the CM’s only work a day shift (so far as I know anyway), and only being (again, as far as I know) able to ‘protect’ one thread at a time, it falls upon the community itself to do the majority of policing. At that point, it would then fall upon Blizzard to implement punishments/bans/whatever.

    I play the game, and yes, I’m a forum goer. Personally, I don’t care about morons and jackhats flaming/trolling but I can understand the frustration. What truly amazes me is with the massive response Blizzard recieved due to their announcement, is the ‘anti-personal responsiblity’ attitude from the forum community in the few posts that mention something like that. It’s disgusting, lazy and very hypocritical IMO.

  24. ” Blizzard gave you the option of posting in the forums. It is non-essential to the gameplay.”

    See, that is the thing, blizzard is making it essential for gameplay. If you have a Tech Problem and tell the GM about it, they will tell you to go use the Tech-support or Report Bug forums. Basicly, they will tell you to go to the tech-support forums for just about anything that is not dealing with Loot. If it is a problem with loot, the GMs will help. If not, we are sent to the Tech-support forums (happened to me a few times as well as a few friends). So it leaves the realm of being Optional when Blizzard is forcing you to post there to get help with a bug or problems.

  25. I have never personally been sent or even considered using the forums for technical support, but that could just be me.

  26. @Highwayman
    I, and a number of other people commented in forums and websites with other ideas to reduce the trolling. I’m totally against RealId*, but I’d still agree with seeing the forums cleaned.
    My problem isn’t with Blizz-making-someone-take-personal-responsibility, it’s that the means chosen to the end are potentially dangerous.
    One of several safer options would be to apply forum infringement penalties to every toon on the infringing account – and make the penalties heavy enough, such as losing exp levels and gear. (This could be linked to a requirement to have a L50+ account to access most forums, to add teeth.)
    Same goal (reduced trolls), same principle (personal responsibility), but with reduced risk for those who have legitimate reason to stay private. Simple.

    For many, the uproar is about the means, not the principles. Too many people mocking those against the move seemed to miss that.

    Jay.
    * until it’s fixed with ‘invisible’ settings and a game-name handle. Then I’ll love it.

  27. there are a lot of good ideas for curbing trolling/flaming on the forums. A LOT. That being said, I still say at least partial responsibility lies with the players. We must remain vigilant and pro-active against flamers/trollers and their ilk. However, without concrete actions against said trolls/flamers nothing will really end.

    I like the idea of account linked bans, and perhaps in severe enough cases, IP traces to IP bans. I can’t agree with the loss of in-game gold/gear or even the ‘must have a L50 to post solution. The problem I have esp with the level requirement to post is this: say you started the game BRAND new. Your toon is L10. You’re directed to go to the forums to find a solution in the tech forums. However, you can’t because your level limits you.

    It’s something that will take time to address and find reasonable solutions to, but it ultimately lies with the players themselves.

  28. In what way does having your real name on a forums or in game make the game any better? No one has told me a good reason for this.

    I use in game real ID to chat with my real life friends on different servers. What the thing was made for to the best of my knowledge. Drives me nuts when guildies want my real ID because I don’t want them having that personal information (e-mail address and full real name)

    How does having my real name tied to the forums make the forums any better? It doesn’t. People argue that it will get rid of the trolls and bring the WoW community together. Outside the small group of people that post constructive posts in the class/role/newbie sections, the WoW forums are full of trolls an ignorant jerks. I don’t want my full name disclosed to these people just because they have access to the forums.(and it’s actually anyone since the forums are open to view to anyone, you just need to be a paying member to use them).

    All they would have had to do to prevent, or lessen, the amount of trolls, if force everyone to use a single handle when posting on the forums. Be it a lvl 1 alt that you troll on or your level 80 main, have that post avatar and name stay the same no matter what. Then have the punishments on the forum follow up with punishments in game. If you are a repeat offender on the forums for trolling someone, you get a 24 hour ban. If it keeps up, 3 day ban. They can keep this up until they just perma ban the account from both forums and servers.

    The problem with this scenario is it requires Blizzard to hire competent CM’s to manage the forums and keep the flame wars quelled. From what I can tell, when I am browsing(and posting) on the forums, the issue is 90% of the time Blizzards fault for not being on top of things. They need to either get the forums under control, or shut them down. This half way there situation they are in now just doesn’t cut it.(And neither does their releasing of personal information they just tried to push through)

    I could bring to point the Activision-Blizzard deal that was made with Facebook to make this a “Social Gaming Experience” that I couldn’t care less about, but that’s a discussion for another day.

  29. ” I can’t agree with … the ‘must have a L50 to post solution. The problem I have esp with the level requirement to post is this: say you started the game BRAND new. Your toon is L10. You’re directed to go to the forums to find a solution in the tech forums. However, you can’t because your level limits you.”

    That’s valid. It’s why I said the level limit would apply to -most- forums. Forums like tech support need to be accessible to all. Fair enough. There will be some new-player forums that this sort of limit is inappropriate for. (I’m making the -possibly stupid- assumption that trolling is less of a problem in tech support or newbie forums.)

    As for losing exp, gold or gear, I have no problem with this being one of the possible punishments for transgression, provided it’s managed well. Maybe it’s a 1st offence response, or maybe there are 3 warnings (or 10 warnings). There’d probably need to be some kind of appeal for cases where someone was hacked, too.
    These are simply details to tweak to get a balance point where the punishment is appropriate.

    In principle, though, I think that this sort of punishment will hurt a troll more than almost anything else. People laugh off forum-bans, but I doubt they’d laugh off the loss of their highest GS item.

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