If I Won't Tell You People My Real Name, I'm Sure As Hell Not Sharing It With Azzblastah, The Level 85 Orc Warlock And Registered Sex Offender

What's the worst business idea, coming from a solid company, that you can think of?  Recently, the decision by Fannie Mae to promote mortgage lending to unemployed bankrupts comes to mind.  So does the decision by BP to use a blowout preventer known to be faulty in dozens of respects.  But then, this just-announced decision by Blizzard Entertainment to force players using its forums to disclose their real names comes pretty close.

Recently, we introduced our new Real ID feature, 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, discuss the design philosophy behind the changes we’re making, and give you a first look at some of the new features we’re adding to the forums to help improve the quality of conversations and make the forums an even more enjoyable place for players to visit.

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.

Um, no.  A thousand times no.

I have played and enjoyed World of Warcraft for years.  While I do not play it now, I am looking forward to the expansion coming later this year.  Or I was.

I'm content with my real name sitting in a credit card database, disconnected from the game itself, trusting fool that I am, the same way I'm content with certain other companies having my name.  E-commerce is risky, but life is risk, and it's convenient.  I am not, however, content with linking my name to my in-game account, where other players might access it, even though I won't access Blizzard's forums ever again.

Because I've been to the Blizzard forums.  I've read them.  I've written there.  And while I've been all over this wide internet, I'm confident in saying that you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than the official World of Warcraft / Battle.net forums.

What could go wrong?  Someone will die, that's what.

Someone is going to get stalked through this tool because some whackadoodle fell in love with an avatar. Maybe the victim did a little roleplay and the stalker took it too seriously. Maybe the victim hurt the stalker’s widdle feewings during a message board discussion.  Who knows. Marriages break up (and reform) every day thanks to MMO drama leaking out into the real world. Blizzard should know this better than anyone. Good lord, you can’t go a week without an international advice column posting some complaint about a spouse or a kid that is too involved in WoW. That’s not Blizzard’s fault.

But “Here’s the real name of the person who sexxored you and then changed her mind/called you an idiot in front of all your friends/won’t talk to you because you’re creepy” will lead to something disastrous.

Of course the Blizzard forums will feature a prominent warning to users that by posting they are revealing their real names, just as Blizzard informs its customers of all important legal details about the game.  Prominently. And Blizzard will disclaim all legal liability arising from misuse of this information by third parties.

I'm not concerned about Blizzard's liability.  That's between the company and some very high-powered plaintiffs' attorneys who know that Blizzard's real business is printing money.  Blizzard will argue that it isn't responsible for all of the creepy psychopaths out there, and it isn't, legally or morally.  But the company is responsible not to jeopardize its customers in a fashion that, to a reasonable person, creates a foreseeable risk of harm with no compelling business reason to do so.

Someone is going to get killed as a result of this decision.  And it will be someone who didn't have to die.  Stalkers may be creepy.  They may be relentless.  Fortunately, in general they're not very smart.  But they won't need to be very smart to locate Jane Doe when her real name is posted right on the Blizzard forums, right above her in-game identity as Sexxina the Blood Elf huntress.

Though it will surely be weeks or months before someone is actually killed by a nemesis who takes the game into the real world, we can expect the usual internet mayhem of mockery, scorn, and digging up and publishing of private details to begin immediately.  World of Warcraft is a big game, played by children, people with all manner of psychological states, and people with, for instance, autism.  I personally know two people with autism who play the game.

Perfect prey.

Some gaming bloggers, more naive than most, are delirious with joy at this announcement.  "No more trolling on the Warcraft forums!"  And I suppose that's Blizzard's rationale too.  They can fire their forum moderation staff, secure in the knowledge that their forums are now clean, wholesome, and decent.

Of course if Blizzard is mistaken, its savings on staff will be passed on not to the shareholders, not to the customers, but to the lawyers.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. says

    I think the key mistake was in typing their cross-game RealID(?) to actual names. I'm assuming the forums being tied to real names is an implication of them being tied to this new cross-platform ID, and then they convinced themselves that it was a feature, not a bug.

  2. Patrick says

    Real names tied to invitation-only networking is one thing, and that's the way I understand it to work now. That's Facebook. It's the public display on a forum widely known for being just a step above /b/ that seems bizarre.

    Perhaps they just want to kill their forums. But if that's the case it would seem easier and cheaper simply to pull the plug than to go through this dangerous Rube Goldberg roundabout method.

  3. says

    Yeah, that's my point. I don't think they carried through the analysis through from their original RealID implementation. So they build a system where people who know each other outside their games can set up an integrated friend system. Real names there make sense.

    And then someone thought "hey, we have this cross platform authentication system, let's use it for the new forums".

    I would bet you money that they didn't think through the forum consequences (realid = real name = forum display name) until after they were far enough along the development for the new forums to make yanking out RealID a pain. I'd give reasonable odds that the forum team may not have even known that these IDs would be real names until they started registration for RealID. I can almost write you the minutes from the tech meeting where they talked themselves into thinking this was a good idea.

    I work in software – this is not a new plot.

  4. Fret says

    I can't imagine a scenario in which the rumored publication of Blizzard employees' names on the forums actually goes through. As Patrick has noted, these people are policing a cess pit. Their job is to discipline people that have already proven themselves to be malicious . . . and Blizzard may tell those evil people the names of those that have wronged them? That's wildly reckless.

    If I were a CS Rep, I'd be frothing at the mouth right now.

  5. says

    Geez, that's dumb. I've never played WoW, but I play EVE Online (it's a massive multiplayer roll-playing game with spaceships). It would be insane to make players disclose their real names.

    In Eve, it's not just the smack talking and social conflict in the forums — heck, I don't even read the forums — but the game itself. There's a substantial player v.s. player component, and it gets pretty nasty. I'm a nube, but players who've been in the game for several years will accumulate substantial assets, and they can even join alliances and conquer territory.

    There have been wars between alliances with over 1000 members each. If these people knew how to find each other in the real world, there would be blood. Or at least severed internet connections and power lines.

  6. says

    Hmmm, when I first heard of this I wasn't familiar with the RealID thing. In light of that, I vote for Chris' answer.

    If Blizzard was just concerned about cleaning up the forums (it's obvious that's one issue), they should have just contacted me (except, they can't afford me, so don't).

  7. Patrick says

    I've played Eve Windy, and agree on how weird the rivalries get.

    Those who enjoy stories of touching innocence should read the Keen & Graev link above. I already have enough information about him that I'd stand a fair chance of getting a credit card in his name if I cared to try, and I'm hardly a great internet detective.

  8. Rich Rostrom says

    I remember reading a few years ago about some MMORG where one could generate game-$ by on-line drudgery, and there was an actual cash-$ market for the game-$.

    This led to people in South Korea forming crews of game-peasants who camped out in Internet cafés, accumulating game-$. This activity was largely under the control of gangs – who fought over the take, and occasionally shot up the cafés used by rival gangs.

  9. says

    @CTrees – that's everyone who sent email to the ESRB complaining about Blizzard. I have no idea why you would complain to the ESRB over this.