On July 6, Blizzard, the makers of the popular World of Warcaft MORPG, dropped a bombshell.
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 ... 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 ...
What followed was a huge debate on the forums eighty pages long on that thread alone, almost 2500 in another, and who-knows how many others in the official and other WoW forums combined. A commentator on “Brokentoys.com” thought were were a total of 5000 closed threads. Some accepted Blizzard’s move, saying too many were hiding behind anonymity to create mischief in the form of spam and trolling (not the trolls that go “Hey mon”). But a larger number found this chilling.
Many Warcrafters valued their privacy and strongly preferred anonymity. Others wanted to separate their online fantasy selves from their real-life identity, and thought this would spoil the experience,”People play video games to get away from everyday life. I don't want them to mix.” A sizable number felt this could easily lead to real-life trouble from harassment to identity theft. “I've been the victim of identify theft once before and so I am VERY private online now, I use NOTHING but aliases, I will not pay for anything that can't be done through PayPal, etc. Now you're wanting to put my REAL NAME on PUBLIC FORUMS?! I” One guild officer felt this would change the way the game was played as he relied on the forums for recruitment and organizing raids and dungeon runs.
Comments soon spread to outside World of Warcraft, some calling this Blizzard adopting “the Facebook model of social networking.” And the gamers, notably the core gamers who spend more time in them, were not taking this lying down.
James Wagner, writing for socialtimes.com, thought there was more than just simple privacy at stake.
MMOs like WoW are special because they enable people to transcend their real life limitations. Venture capitalist Joi Ito, an avid World of Warcraft player, once told me that when his own guild goes on epic raids, they’re usually led not by the fellow bigwig Silicon Valley execs in his guild, but by working class members, such as bartenders or EMT specialists. But will the millionaires keep following orders, when they discover their high level guild leader is actually the woman who pours their coffee?
The anonymity of virtual worlds and MMOs currently offers is “the great equalizer.” Unless it’s known what you are in real life in them, it doesn’t matter if you’re a corporate bigwig, or if you shovel “horse apples” for a living. What does matter are what skills you can use there, such as the ability to organize people for raids in WoW, or building and scripting, DJing, or a multitude of other marketable skills in Second Life.
Blizzard’s move was seen as a threat to such an equalizer, not just by guild leaders and officers in World of Warcraft, but those outside whom wondered if successful other companies behind MMOs and virtual worlds would follow. Including here in Second Life. Considering Linden Labs’ new viewer more closely links one’s 1st Life page with their main, if they thought they could get away with it, how much further would they go?
Seraphina Brennan of “Massively” thought there might be a much better solution: a master account name. One per account would cut down on trolling as they could be easily removed without them popping back up. And the anonymity people desired would still be there.
A few days later on July 9th, Blizzard finally backed down.
We've been constantly monitoring the feedback you've given us, as well as internally discussing your concerns about the use of real names on our forums. As a result of those discussions, we've decided at this time that real names will not be required for posting on official Blizzard forums.
While some of the posters following were a bit cautious, the majority of orcs, nightelves, and others felt they had won a big victory. Much like Second Life after Philip’s announcement, there was much rejoicing on the Blizzard forums.
Sources: Massively, Brokentoys.com, Socialtimes.com
16 hours ago