The moment I reconnected with a friend who I hadn’t talked to in about a year, I was sold on Real ID. Sure, she has an AOL Instant Messenger account, and she posts on Facebook once in a while, but neither service has given me the opportunity to hold a real, honest conversation with her. Why did it take World of Warcraft for me to really speak up? Well, I think of it a bit like walking into a party where you don’t really know anybody. Sure, there are plenty of options to be social, but where do you start? Who do you talk to and what do you talk to them about? How can you be sure they’ll even understand words like “epic loot” and “Lord Marrowgar” (by the way, guys, getting drunk and accosting the womenfolk while yelling “BOOOOOOONNNEEESTTTOOOORRRMMMM!” and wielding a floor lamp is a good way to kill your chances)?
People often come together, and become really good friends, when they find out they have something in common. When you and your old pal are both playing WoW, you know there’s already some common ground for you to stand on.
Of course, this wouldn’t have been possible before the recent patch, because she’s playing an Alliance toon on a completely different server! As long as you have someone’s Real ID, though, it doesn’t matter what realm or faction they might be playing (though the game they are is, of course, limited to Blizzard titles at this time). To me, this is a bona-fide paradigmn shift, and not only does it help me maintain social bonds with real-life friends, but those that I may have abandoned on other servers, too.
Due to a dying guild (and an increasingly backwater server), some of my compatriots and I decided it was finally time to transfer. After months, maybe years, of putting it off, we were leaving Anvilmar and heading towards a fresh, new experience on the Horde-dominated PvP realm, Bloodscalp. We made that move two days ago, when the patch landed. While most of the people who I got along with have made the jump, a few decided they were going to stay behind for their own, personal reasons.
In the past, that kind of schism meant cutting off all your ties and hoping that one day (to paraphrase Desmond Hume from Lost) you’d get to “see them in another life.” Real ID changes that, and though we may no longer be playing together, we can still share our in-game experiences and chat about all the random junk we always used to.
Of 3.3.5’s two major features, I was anticipating the Ruby Sanctum a lot more, but the breadth of the social options and future Battle.net 2.0 integration have come as a real pleasant surprise, at least once you get over seeing and potentially coming to call people by their real name instead of their avatars. That’s something I’d only previously reserved for those I had come to trust and enjoyed playing World of Warcraft with the most.
But on top of all this, the interface is about as slick as the surface of the Gulf of Mexico right now and it really makes the rest of the default UI look like amateur hour (though appropriate upgrades are being made to various aspects of all that stuff for Cataclysm). It feels like it has motion and importance, with options for opening private conversations and sorting tabs for different channels browser-style. You even get a little “toast” animation and ding sound when a friend logs on.
Simple stuff to get excited about, perhaps, but somehow infinitely pleasing. I know some people are going to see these changes as representative of the “Facebooking” of World of Warcraft, but at the end of the day, MMOs are about connecting with people, and making it more convenient to do so is Blizzard taking a step forward.
At this point, I can take or leave the Ruby Sanctum, but I’m not sure the game would be the same if they suddenly took away the social options they have so graciously bestowed upon us.