Real ID and the Official WoW Forums

Today, it was announced by Blizzard that forum posts to the official World of Warcraft forums would be tagged with your Real ID. It was later clarified that this is not something that will be retroactive, so if this creeps you out, you do not need to go purge the current forum system of all your posts.

When I read this post, my first thought was “Well, there go the forums.”

For those of you who don’t know (which is likely a great many of you), I have worked for quite a few years in the Internet industry. Specifically, I was a content producer for a top-ten website as well as maintaining the most active chatting community on that web property for a period of approximately three out of the four years I worked there, at the height of the boom in the “dot com” industry. (For the record, it took me a year to build up the community and then my community was the most active chat for the next three years until I got laid off with hundreds of other people because they were too stupid to monetize us.)

I haven’t worked too much in that area of the industry recently for a variety of reasons, including the “dot com” crash and a return to university to get my degree. Still, I maintain a variety of different forum and chat-based communities across the web and have successfully grown self-sustaining communities in both mediums from scratch. I love online communities and I love creating them. I daresay I’ve created a nice little community here on my blog as well and I really enjoy the back and forth I have with my commenters.

So as a seasoned professional in the area of online communities, my first thought wasn’t to myself and Blizzard’s privacy creep as it infringes on me. It was “Oh Lord, Blizzard has just completely ruined their own forum community and the forums will now be a desolate wasteland.”

Let us go through my thought process on the matter:

– Blizzard has provided us with access to their many, many forums for many years. They existed when I started playing over four years ago, but I’m unsure if they were available at launch or not. Regardless, a minimum of 4+ years is a long time to have a community tool such as the forums easily accessible to every customer. Changing how the forums work after so long is bound to anger some customers, regardless of what the change is.

– People get acclimated to the forums, particularly when they become a very official method of communicating with Blizzard (Blue), once Ghostwalker (Greg Street) starts posting in his official capacity on a regular basis and solicits your feedback and opinions with regards to class development and design. People also flock to the forums for a variety of other reasons: looking for a guild, recruiting for a guild, advertising guild progression, advertising crafting services on your realm forum, looking for technical support, looking for customer support, even posting to ask on which characters you’ve done the 00x quests. The forums become a valuable method of communication as soon as both sides start using the forums as a tool to communicate what they feel is important information, regardless of what that information is. As soon as people feel it’s important, the medium in which that information is available becomes valuable.

– As with all online communities, trolls and other unwelcome entities have had their fun. In fact, a lot of people disregard the official forums as completely useless, disgusting, troll-filled message boards rather than the potentially useful tool that they are. How about the Guild Relations forum? The Customer and Technical Support forums? The Guild Recruitment forum? Your realm forum? Sure, there are trolls and otherwise unhelpful individuals in each of those places, but, by and large, the good information in each of those forums is enough to outweigh the undesirables.

“So,” I concluded, “Blizzard wants to get rid of the trolls.” I feel that this upcoming system will certainly help to combat the troll problem. Without low-level alts to hide behind, without the veil of anonymity, people are bound to be less moronic. In fact, I believe that it will stop around 75% of trollish behaviour on the forums since people will be accountable for their actions as they will no longer be able to jump from alt to alt to alt as a persona. (Note that I have no data on how much crap Blizzard actually locks and deletes versus how much gets posted, etc. This is a ballpark figure based on my previous experience in online communities and the more than four years I’ve spent in the World of Warcraft community.)

So the next question I asked myself was “What will forcing people to post using their ‘real ID’ actually do?” Well, first of all, I strongly believe that a portion of the people upset over this would be upset over any change, as I mentioned before. Already, there’s a portion of the community that won’t take this “slap in the face” lying down.

Then you have the people who have reason (regardless of what the reason is) to be reluctant to share their real name with eleven million other players and anyone who happens to surf along. (“Anyone” being someone who ran some kind of search on you, like a prospective employer, a potential significant other, your cousin in Nebraska, the kid you used to babysit, anyone.) Given the uproar on this already, I would have to wager that approximately 20-25% of Blizzard’s overall customer base is actively unhappy with this upcoming change. Again, this is a ballpark figure, based on my never having seen such a strong, negative reaction to anything Blizzard has done before. The original thread, posted by Nethaera at about noon, eastern time, has grown to 607 pages of 20 responses on each page in ten hours.

Conservatively estimating things, that’s about 900 responses from unique individuals an hour, the vast majority of them disagreeing with this upcoming change. And that’s just on the North American forums. I’ve never seen such an outcry in my four-plus years in this game. No nerf has ever generated this much response.

Therefore, my conclusion is that if the change goes forward, about 25% or so of people (conservatively estimating) who did use the official forums in some capacity, including trolling, will stop doing so. There’s even an MVP poster, Snowfox, who will no longer post if this goes through.

25% less traffic means 25% less posts to make sure aren’t obscene, profane or threatening. 25% less traffic means less bandwidth/server costs. 25% less traffic means less manpower hours to supervise the posts. 25% less traffic turns into money saved for Blizzard.

Forums and other community-based tools are notoriously hard to monetize. Go on, click on the link above to the WoW forum thread about this to see how Blizzard is currently trying to monetize their forums. I’m currently looking at two banner ads. One is for swagdog, offering your guild tabard on a t-shirt. The other is for Warcraft figures.

Because the forums are so heavily trafficked, I imagine that Blizzard does make a bit of money from the display of advertisements on each forum page, just by virtue of the law of averages. But it’s my professional opinion and experience that lead me to believe that this kind of advertising is NOT enough to sustain the infrastructure and manpower the forums require and so the cost of the forums is likely subsidized by other avenues of income, including our monthly fee.

Because I do not believe the forums to be entirely self-sustaining, I believe that Blizzard is attempting to do two things here that are designed to cut costs:

a) Lower traffic on the forums to lower infrastructure-related costs

b) Lower the amount of trolling on the official forums by making people accountable for their posts by virtue of using a single identifying tag (the real ID) which lowers the amount of human supervision the forums need.

I further believe that they are doing this under the guise of hopping on the social networking bandwagon. They may be thinking that since Facebook is mostly real-life names and identities and it’s so popular, why not tap into that willingness to share and connect? Targeted advertising could be next, based on the assumed gender your real ID indicates. Advertising that can be directed to specific segments of the population can bring in a lot of money versus ads that are directed at a general population. The bottom line is, Activision Blizzard is a business and they want money. They are clearly looking at new avenues to procure money or, at the very least, save it.

So to recap, it is my professional opinion that the change forcing us to use Real ID when posting on the official forums will cut official forum use substantially, meaning less money spent on the forum infrastructure and supervision, with the bonus that trolling will drop even more than legitimate traffic.

Now for my personal opinion.

Blizzard, you’ve lost your mind. Personally, as someone who doesn’t use the Real ID in-game friend system except for three people (one of whom I’m related to, one of whom I’ve known IRL for 27 years and one of whom I’ve spent hours with IRL and many years playing with), this is ridiculous.

From the Real ID FAQ:

“Who should I add to my Real ID friends list?
Real ID is a system designed to be used with people you know and trust in real life — friends, co-workers and family”

Versus the announcement today:

“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”

So, hold up. You want me to share my real name with people who already know it, who are people I know in real life… okay. That’s my choice, I got it.

But then you want me to use the same information on a public forum which is accessible to anyone on the Internet?

Uh, no.

I’ve used the official forums a moderate amount over the years. I used to post guild progression updates, I’d post in people’s “looking for a new guild” posts with information about my guild, I’d post recruitment threads, I’d post on the forums to say hey, I’m a Leatherworker and can make this stuff…

No one needs to know that [my real name] is a holy paladin looking for a new guild.

No one needs to know that [my real name] is a Leatherworker on some realm with a couple of interesting patterns.

Further, I am, in case you didn’t know, a woman. I have had enough bad experiences in online communities over the years just because I am female that when I first made a toon in WoW, I made my hunter male. While the numbers between men and women in WoW are getting more balanced, this is still an environment that is inherently extremely hostile to women. Just about every insult used frequently in-game by others is hostile to women because it equates women with being weak and apparently some of the ultimate insults in the game have to do with men being equated to women or just being less of a “man”.

Seriously, think about that for a minute. I apologize if this is a trigger for anyone, but think about this: why do people use “rape” as casually as they do in this game? “Aw yeah, I’m gonna rape that guy!” It’s because, to them, “rape” is synonymous with exerting power and control over another person. It is encouraged in this game to exert power and control over others and I don’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is that people use the term “rape” so casually, to indicate they are powerful beings in this world, when the fact of the matter is that one in six women (and one in thirty-three men) will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. I have been fortunate enough to not be that one-in-six, but I certainly know my fair share of people who haven’t been that lucky.

Due to the fact that is is disturbingly common for women to be assaulted in such a way, how can using the word “rape” in-game not be hostile to women? Even if the intent is clear that someone doesn’t want to actually sexually assault another person’s character, it trivializes what is a horrifying event for anyone who is subject to it. It also emasculates the intended target, since most victims of rape and sexual assault are women.

On a related note, how can calling someone “gay” or a “fag” not be hostile to members of the GLBT community? For that matter, how is that not hostile to women as well? If someone is calling someone else “gay” as a derogatory insult, it can only be because they are not as “manly” or “strong” as a heterosexual man is perceived. And, in our binary society, if you are not a man, you must then be… a woman! So to call someone “gay” or a “fag” is not only equating homosexuality with weakness, but the implication is also that weakness is equated to being a woman.

So given the prevailing attitudes in this overall World of Warcraft community, is it any wonder that many women don’t want to be known as women to the general public? Don’t want to give people even the slightest opening into being able to look them up and stalk them?

I have an EXTREMELY common name. It’s so common that I was stopped in Germany a few years ago because suspected terrorists are using passports and other identification papers using that same name and they wanted to make sure that I was really me and not actually a suspected terrorist. And I STILL don’t want people in-game to know my real name, in general. I certainly can’t blame anyone, regardless of the popularity of their names, for not wanting to give out that information.

Giving out my real name should always be my choice. There’s a reason I post as Kurn and not my real name. Kurn is my public WoW identity. Kurn is not now, nor has ever been, linked to my real name in any capacity except where I have chosen to share my name. Kurn is SO FAR AWAY from my professional online presence that I’m sure no one even suspects that I play WoW. (Well, I hope, anyways.)

And I LIKE it that way.

That’s why, if this change goes through, I will no longer be posting on the official World of Warcraft forums. There are too many people out there who are REALLY good at e-stalking to even risk it. Doubt me? Poor Bashiok, a blue poster, made the mistake of posting his real name on the official forums and now a ton of people have looked him up, determined he’s 28 and lives at home with his mother and older brother, possibly a sister as well, and found his Facebook (now 100% closed if you’re not friends with him) and found a contact number for him. Even if that’s not Bashiok, what about the poor guy who shares his name? Do you really think there aren’t people who are going to call that number at 4am just to be dicks? If you don’t believe that’s a distinct possibility, then please, tell me what game environment have YOU been playing in? Check out Trade, sometime.

Then, there’s the whole “gainful employment” thing. On some versions of my curriculum vitae that I send out, I mention the whole officer/GM thing. On some, I don’t. I fully expect some potential employers to think it’s a good thing and some to think I’m a nutcase if they come across that information. I’m careful about which prospective employers I share that information with.

And now, some links:

Miss Medicina has a cautionary tale for you all, as well.

Ciderhelm at TankSpot is against this, too.

So is Lume.


Larisa’s thoughts at Pink Pigtail Inn: 1 and 2

Nattie’s comment at MetaFilter is long and detailed and TOTALLY worth every moment of the read. (Thanks for the link, Mattias.)

Lissanna of Restokin is also against this and will not post her extremely popular and useful druid guides to the new forums. (Thanks for posting, Lissanna!)

The last thing I’ll say in this post is: please think about how this affects other people before you pronounce this to be “okay” or “fine”. Please think about the various uses people have for the official forums, including technical and customer support before you call people with valid concerns “paranoid”.

And finally, please note that I’ll be monitoring my comments on this post carefully. If you disagree with me, I don’t have a problem with that. But disagree with me respectfully, intelligently and back up your arguments with proof. Troll comments will be deleted.

31 Replies to “Real ID and the Official WoW Forums”

  1. I had this really long rambly comment typed out, and then I realised that it would be better served as a blog post.

    However, I do want to say that as a homosexual female who is one of the 1-in-6, I am NOT DOWN with forcing people to reveal (if they want to post on the forums) that they are, in fact, girls if they’re not comfortable doing so.

    Blizzard needs a clue-by-four to the head, methinks.

  2. valkyrierisen – glad you enjoyed it and thanks for the RTs!

    Apple – Looking forward to your post, and my sincere apologies if my post was at all difficult for you to read. <hugs>

    Mattias – thanks very much for your comment and especially the link to MeFi! That’s a spectacular comment and really nails what it’s like to be a woman playing WoW. I should have known the Blue would have had something about this posted! :)

  3. No, it wasn’t hard – it was years ago, and most of the time I’m pretty okay. Thank you for being a sweetie about it, though.

    (My post, incidentally, will probably be up in a couple days – I already posted tonight, but I’ve got two days off starting tomorrow, and that’s an unusual treat for me. Perfect for srs blogging.)

  4. Apple – No problem for “being a sweetie about it”. I just try to be sensitive about sensitive issues. I wouldn’t really know how else to be. As to your post, I’m going to make sure your blog’s in my google reader feed so I can be sure to read it ASAP! Enjoy your days off!

  5. When I heard about this today, my jaw dropped. What the hell? Blizzard has completely lost their minds!! Okay, I use Real ID and I have 6 people on my list, one of which includes my husband and the other people are real life friends or friends I have known in game for a while. Those are the only people I want to be able to contact me and know all my toons. I will not be using the forums if this goes through, that is for sure. I had a stalker once in real life and let me tell you, that was extremely frightening and not something I wish to have happen again, especially online! Seeing how sometimes I do mouth off to rude people in game, I don’t want them looking me up to find my name then to harass me online. No way. This is ridiculous. I agree with you 100%.

  6. Osephala – Or harass you IRL, too? It’s pretty crazy, the possibilities for harassment and mischief this opens up.

    Definitely read the Metafilter link Mattias linked to, as well. Amazing post.

  7. I agree with you completely. It’s funny; I didn’t have a chance to get on the ‘Net and check the news of the day until relatively later in the day today, and I was bombarded with Tweets and blog posts about this. I was, to say the least, dumbfounded.

    As you noted, it renders the original intent of RealID irrelevant. Just because I’ve never had the need to post on the forums yet doesn’t mean that I never will, and it’s bull for those that do regularly. It’s hard to understand their motivation; the system’s worked for the past however many years, hasn’t it?

    I’m like you. I tend to keep my real name, e-mail, etc. private when I play this game. Yes, I’ve met some awesome people in the game, and I’ve exchanged names, e-mail addresses, and the like, but it’s always been on MY terms and those of the individuals that I’m exchanging that info with. Period.

    Not to mention the problems that people will undoubtedly have with employment issues. It boggles my mind, and I shudder to think what’ll come next.

    I’m your standard-issue generic straight white guy, and I can say with full force that this is NOT okay. Yes, they’re well within their rights to change the way they deliver their product and make their services work, but it’s simultaneously unethical and, in my opinion, a poor business model.

    Sorry if this seemed a bit muddled; it’s what I get for posting a comment at two thirty in the morning. But I wanted to get it in while it was still fresh on my mind; even if I could probably be more lucid tomorrow.

    But regardless, thank you for reading it. :)

  8. I’m a bit confused to be completely honest.

    I don’t use RealID. I don’t think I ever will, unless I have to in order to play. But what does this mean for me? I can’t post on the forums anymore? Granted, I’m not very active on there anyway. But I should at least have a choice whether I want to use my real name or not. If Blizzard needs to know my real name, so be it, I don’t care. There are plenty of laws protecting my privacy, if they’re not careful with my personal data, they’re screwed. But if I *have to* give out my real name in order to use services I pay for? I don’t even know what so say to that…

    Bottom line is: *I* choose whether or not to give out my real name and *I* choose whom to share my real name with, if at all.

    I think I’ll have to put up a blog post about this, too. Privacy is a very sensitive issue here in The Netherlands (and the European Union in general) and there have already been multiple occasions where companies were required to make exceptions for European or Dutch customers. I’m curious how Blizzard’s decision will affect Dutch privacy protection laws.

  9. Will – Part of the issue is that the system hasn’t been pleasant for all these years. Trolls always show up and I can’t imagine the number of locked/deleted posts due to obscenity, profanity, racism, homophobia, sexism and the like. The WoW forums are, in many cases, a cesspool of hate and stupidity. I totally applaud them wanting to clean it up. I just think this move will clean it up because no one will post anymore. ;)

    Completely agree with you that it’s unethical and a poor business model. Gotta wonder how drunk someone was when this “brilliant” idea got approved.

    Kaboomski – Technically, we all have a Real ID. It is the name associated with our BattleNet accounts. Whether you disable it in-game or not (in the parental controls) is one thing, but after they redo the forums, if you post on them (the official World of Warcraft forums), it will display your real first and last name, from your BattleNet account. It’s “optional” in that you have the OPTION to post or not to post to the official forums.

    I’ll be interested to read about any exceptions for those in The Netherlands, although I’m fairly sure it’s going to be how Dutch privacy protection laws will affect Blizzard’s decision and not the other way around. ;D

  10. I have a pair of nutjobs harassing my new guild because they don’t like that I left my old one. Do you really, REALLY think I want them knowing my real identity?

    This new system can die in a damned fire.

  11. Rilgon – seriously? Sour grapes much? I think part of the problem is that Real ID might work *okay* if, and only if, everyone who plays this game is properly socially adjusted. Fact of the matter is, this game is a magnet to those who AREN’T.

  12. I made an announcement today on my blog and on my forum guides that I will not be re-posting my almost 3 million pageview, 4 year old, druid leveling guide on the new forums. Either I’ll find someone to post it on the forums for me, or it will not be available on the forums come Cataclysm.

    Instead, my guides will be moved to places like… my blog, and private forums where I don’t have to give my identity to trolls. After multiple years of being Blizzard’s biggest supporter and defending all the changes they are making to druids, I am refusing to post on the forums using my very unique & uncommon last name where it will be trivial for someone to figure out everything about me (even if I don’t have a facebook page). I refuse to give trolls access to my phone # and address just because Blizzard thinks it would be a good idea to let them troll me IRL.

  13. Kurn – of course, how silly of me. Remind me not to write anything again when I’ve only had 1 hour of sleep ;-)

    Another thing I’m curious about is how they’re going to distinguish people from each other. I mean, I know I don’t have a unique name and there’s no way I’m the only one with my name on the EU forums. Right now, choosing a character to post with is pretty much unique. Or at least the combination of character name and realm. How will they go about this with real names? Use even more private data?

  14. *sigh* Okay, so yes, I totally wrote a post about it. And yup, it’s totally linked just above this comment. And yup, I’m pissed the hell off about this.

    I don’t use the forums much, but dammit if I’m going to even consider it if the GM tells me to post on the forums. Screw. That.

    Also, I don’t think this is even remotely a good thing. Not even a tiny itty bitty bit. I did, at first, when I realized it would force people to be more accountable to the things they said. But the permanence of the internet means that if someone called me a “whore” or a “slut” or any other derogatory term, and it’s now attached to my real name, and someone googles that. I’ll forever be a whore and a slut. The repercussions for something like this is unfathomable. I’m stunned.

  15. Mailynn – (man, I keep wanting to call you That Other Name I know you as!) since when do you do wow blogging?! Why don’t you TELL me these things? We definitely need to catch up one of these days.

    I like the point of permanence and the irrevocable links between your RL identity and the things people may choose to call you. That’s something I hadn’t even considered. And thanks for the link, btw. :)

  16. I’d like to add, do you guys remember when converting your account to a account was optional and then they pretty much forced it on us. I don’t think that I’ll be surprised in the future if they make it so that you have to use RealID to play. It’s totally lame, I know, but somehow, I don’t think Blizzard cares.

  17. I’m sorry, but I keep seeing the “they are going to make us use RealID in game” and it is ALWAYS backed up by the bnet 2.0 stuff. Sorry, but that’s dumb.

    Testing out BNet 2.0 as an opt in beta then releasing it as the new system makes sense.

    Creating RealID friends and then forcing everyone to play under their real name is NOT a logical move.

    Nor is forcing people to post on the forum under their real name, and then forcing us to link all of our characters to our real name a logical step.

    I will not say that I know it will never happen, after all, even good companies make actual boneheaded moves, however I REALLY don’t think it will ever happen, much like I don’t expect blizz to ever break the line on RMT (cash for gold/epix/whatever). They know just how far they can push, and they WILL do it. However they also know that if they push that little bit to far it will cost them.

  18. Well, to be honest, I think this announcement alone has cost them already. Maybe not a significant amount, but I know of quite a few people who actually canceled their subscription because of this. Compared to the amount of people I know in real life that play WoW, that’s a lot. I do realize that a lot of people will just say that they’ll quit but they won’t. But come on…

  19. See, the problem is that we, the people that are involved in blogging/reading blogs/reading forums/etc etc etc are a small subsection of WoW players. Because of this I think we have a disproportionate view of the ‘wow community’.

    The majority of my WoW friends didn’t know anything about the RealID stuff until I told them about it. I am generally the source of info about WoW for my friends, b/c I am the dork that sits around reading blogs and forums, they aren’t.

    Personally, I’m seeing no more “blizz sux I quit” then I normally do over big changes. That doesn’t mean anything though. What matters is that Blizz is a company, and they are a GOOD and successful one. They will do what makes them money, and a key part of that is keeping the majority of their customer base happy. This means that they really don’t expect that many people to quit over the RealID thing, and honestly, I’m with them. Yes, I believe that the forums will die down a good bit, but I don’t think they will die as much as the naysayers thinks. I also think blizz is wrong in thinking it will significantly fix the troll problem.

    The difference between hooking RealID to the forums and hooking it to the game is that if you hook it to the game you have now done 2 things:
    1) Minors can no longer play in a number of jurisdictions.
    2) You have forced something that a good percentage of people will not like on your ENTIRE player base.

    As it stands I will be enabling my parental controls when I get home and turning off RealID. That simply means that I can’t use the in game friend system, and I will not be able to post on the new forums. If they were to link it to the game, that would then mean that I can’t play the game. There is a big difference there.


    Kurn, get us an edit function!


    The one thing that I would LOVE to know is this:
    The previous ‘omg blizz brok wow’ moments have been over things like:
    1) raid sizes
    2) class mechanics
    3) Balance

    These things spark rage in a specific type of person, it causes them to cancel their account, but not before they rant about it on the forums.

    This time they are doing something that will break a line for a type of person. Those people that take privacy seriously. They are NOT going to go on the forums and rant and rave, they are simply going to quietly step out and close their subs.

    I would love to be a virus in Blizz’s database currently.

  21. I only recently started blogging about WoW. Ha! I read my friend’s blog and let him know if he ever wanted help, I’d totally help him write. He asked, I write.

    There are many other subjects I’d like to write about at some point, if Real ID ever gets fixed/dealt with. But right now it seems the world of WoW is teetering on the edge of combustion. I want to enjoy Cataclysm. I want to keep playing. I want to give Blizzard my money. I want to keep playing the game. But this… this is too much for me.

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