When Blizzard announced its Real ID system months ago - it didn't seem like that big of a deal. You'd be able to friend people in one Blizzard game and then all future games in which they own you'd see the same person under the same name - that name being their real name. The goal of the system was to create more meaningful online relationships for all kinds of gaming while giving Battle.net a social networking flair. Most agreed it sounded like a decent decision, but the latest decision involving Real ID has people in a bit of an uproar.
Now Blizzard is taking that Real ID system out of the confines of their video game worlds and bringing it to the web world - specifically - their forums. In an official post on their forums Blizzard outlines the changes to Real ID.
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. The classic Battle.net forums, including those for Diablo II and Warcraft III, will be moving to a new legacy forum section with the release of the StarCraft II community site and at that time will also transition to using Real ID for posting.
Immediately posts began citing privacy concerns for a move like this. Theories of people being able to track down and find someone they have a forum argument and cause physical harm were of course, the most popular. Other gamers enjoyed that wall of anonymity between their gaming and professional life - a lot of folks don't want their colleagues knowing they have a level 80 Shaman in World of Warcraft because of various social fears.
So why did Blizzard do this?
Sally Smith, Franklin R. Millberry, and Timothy Jenkings (previously HairyTHorn, OrcandMindy, and SamwiseFlangee)
The official post goes on to say they hope to add some accountability to posts, create an overall better atmosphere on the forum, and of course try to cut down on troll posts and flame wars. But there may be other reasons, most notably accordance with South Korean law. You see, Starcraft is one of the biggest games of South Korea, it's played there much like the NFL is played here in the United States. According to the law any internet site with more than 100,000 members must use their real name.
Is there a legitimate privacy concern here? Possibly. Having the real name of a person does break down one wall that is probably the first piece of the puzzle when trying to track down somebody. But is it all that different than a consistent tag you use everywhere? Even Microsoft's Xbox Live allows someone to have their real name associated with their Gamertag for people to see. And in the age of Facebook, Twitter and other social networking and branding - tracking down someone by tag, alias or real name is becoming increasingly blurred.
Perhaps the bigger issue here is that Blizzard is making this a mandatory feature to use their forums. There's no opt-in/opt-out ability, and if you'd like to discuss last night's raid with some friends this is how you'll have to do it. And can having your real name displayed actually stop someone from acting like an asshat on the forum? For the truest of trolls, probably not.
Of course, there is also a benefit of this, and like social networking sites you'll slowly be able to build up a list of people you actually know and recognize across games. You can carry on a meaningful discussion both in game, out of game, and perhaps eventually into other avenues. Who knows, perhaps you'll find your next great co-op partner, significant other, or adversary.
Whatever ends up happening with this we'll know by the end of the month when Starcraft 2 launches. Will we suddenly have a rise in internet violence over "first" posts? Will people play and discuss together in tranquil harmony.
Perhaps people just won't use their forums and actually play the games instead? Maybe that's what Blizzard wanted all along.
What's your take on the Real ID issue?
UPDATE: Because of the intense negative backlash concerning this, Blizzard has decided to delay this implementation in forums. The system will still go live with Wow and Starcraft II in game. More here.