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In-Depth: Why Was Blizzard's 'Real ID' Such An Issue?
In-Depth: Why Was Blizzard's 'Real ID' Such An Issue? Exclusive
July 12, 2010 | By Kris Graft

July 12, 2010 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

[Now that Blizzard has retracted its controversial Real ID forum policy, Gamasutra speaks with experts to examine why gamers were so willing to vociferously defend anonymity -- and it wasn't just trolls doing the shouting.]

Anonymity can be a great form of protection. It's the reason why things like voice modulators, ski-masks and internet aliases exist (okay, maybe not the sole reason). All of these things can let you act with less inhibition. They allow you to do things that maybe you wouldn't do if people knew your real identity.

World of Warcraft and StarCraft 2 creator Blizzard Entertainment caused a bit of a gamer meltdown last Tuesday when it said it would be taking away some of that anonymity from its forum users with the implementation of Real ID, which would require posters to use their real-life names on Blizzard message boards -- no aliases allowed.

Responses from Blizzard forum posters ranged from "this is a HORRIBLE IDEA BLIZZARD!" and "We shouldn't have to fear that we will attract stalkers," to "I love it. I have no problem with people knowing who I am based on my posts."

And after tens of thousands of replies to the measure -- the vast majority of which were opposed to the decision -- Blizzard three days later jettisoned the policy almost as abruptly as it announced it, snuffing out the experiment before it even started.

Now we'll never know if "removing the veil of anonymity" -- as Blizzard put it -- would create a "more positive forum environment" on the company’s extensive forum network. But instead we can examine why there was such furor over the proposal in the first place. In many ways, even though Blizzard's experiment never got off the ground, it revealed certain core online gamer values.

"I think the U-turn is a fascinating development. It is a political event, really, the equivalent of a government policy being overturned because of public outcry," said Edward Castronova, associate professor in the department of telecommunications at Indiana University.

Castronova, who also authored the book Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games, said he was "surprised" by Blizzard’s retraction. "It is also surprising that anonymity has been so vociferously defended. Perhaps there is some strength to the view that fantasy lives are important for many people, even those who don't consider themselves roleplayers and fantasists."

Blizzard’s real name requirement was only going to apply to forum names -- in-game, players wouldn’t have to identify themselves if they didn’t want to. But to Castronova, who considers himself a "deeply immersed roleplayer," even being required to use his real name on an MMO's forums could shatter the overall role-playing experience.

"What I think [happened] here is when people go on forums, it's kind of a sub-game of World of Warcraft," he explained. "It's like a community that's somewhat tied to your in-game play; it's a place that's been part of the gameplay."

He added, "Any time you redefine boundaries after people are already invested in a certain way of doing things, that's going to be problematic."

"People Weird Out When They Find Out Who I Am"

A Real ID policy could put dedicated players MMORPG players on the outside of the role-playing community by their own choice. "I'm actually playing Lord of the Rings Online now, and if [real forum names were required] with LOTRO, I just wouldn't post on the forums. I'm a person who really likes to be in the game without people knowing who I am," he said.

In other words, such a policy might root out trolls and spammers, but also legitimate users, some of whom expressed that Blizzard was punishing good users along with the bad. The fact is, many of the complaints weren't rooted in some sense of entitlement, but valid concerns.

"People [online] weird out when they find out who I am, because there's this chance that they might know me from my writings and everything. Then I don't feel as free to goof around and to enjoy the game like a little kid," Castronova said.

Richard Harris, professor of psychology at Kansas State University added, "I suspect this reaction [to Real ID] … reflects that the anonymity can make some timid people 'braver,' willing to act in their fantasy life in ways they never would choose to -- or have nerve to -- in real life, hiding behind their avatar, so to speak. They experience this as empowering and feel threatened if someone tries to take that power away.”

At the root of many of the complaints about Real ID’s forum implementation was the issue of privacy, in terms of personal preference and even from a legal standpoint.

I Came From Azeroth To Punch You In The Face

Real ID wasn't going to expose social security numbers, credit card information or even email addresses to the internet or other Real ID users, and Blizzard has a privacy policy that says "access to all personal information is strictly controlled."

But what some users expressed concern about was that unsavory and exploitative webgoers could use Real ID names as a starting point to find out more information about Blizzard forum posters, such as their places of business or home addresses. This group wasn’t worried about losing the sense of role-playing and immersion, but about issues that could carry over from Azeroth to the real world.

It's not illegal to Google someone's name, or to look them up in an online phone directory or address book. What can be illegal is what people do with that information. If an angry player who got his ass handed to him in StarCraft II took revenge by showing up at an online rival's front door and punched him in the face, that's assault -- but that seems well out of Blizzard's jurisdiction.

"Blizzard does of course have a privacy policy in place and has emphasized the need to protect customers' personal information," said Jas Purewal, a London-based lawyer and writer of games law blog Gamer/Law. "Ultimately, the legal position will depend on the laws of each country, some of which have stricter legal regimes than others. It's also worth bearing in mind in that regard that online privacy matters have come increasingly under the spotlight recently, particularly in Europe."

Griefing 12-Year-Olds

Just prior to Blizzard’s retraction of the policy, the studio's public relations manager Bob Colayco said, "Real ID is a new and different concept for Blizzard gamers -- and for us as well -- and our goal is to create a social-gaming service that players want to use.”

The intentions were good -- to foster a more friendly forum environment. Maybe Blizzard looked at the millions of connected FarmVille players who don't seem to mind that the game is connected directly to their real-life names on Facebook -- transparency seems to work there, so why not try something similar with the world’s top MMORPG?

While he wasn't completely in support of the Real ID forum policy, Castronova thought that it could have made World of Warcraft "a bit more like Facebook and a bit less like LambdaMOO." He added, "People who are not anonymous behave better. I have known grownups who would joyfully grief a 12-year-old online but would never pick on a 12-year-old at the mall. Anonymity explains a lot of it."

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Simon Ludgate
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The biggest problem with RealID is that it DOESN'T require to use your real name; it uses the name you put in the "real name" field. You can create your account with a pseudonym "real name," however it cannot be changed once the account is created. Thus, anyone who created their account prior to this system and who assumed the "real name" field was simply for bookkeeping purposes and put their real name in there would be screwed, whilst anyone who creates a new account could continue to post anonymously.

Kez Keenan
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This summed it up better than I ever would be able to.

Michael Stuermer
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Considering how rabid some of these people can be on the boards, the last thing I would want is to easily hand them enough information to track me down after I disagree with their point of view about some topic or another. These people seem quite capable of stalking and harrassing over such small issues or even worse.

Matthew Woodward
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Facebook (and therefore Farmville) is not arbitrarily expanding your pool of "friends". It's not about "am I comfortable with interacting with my offline friends in games", it's about "am I comfortable with everyone I play with online having access to my offline doings." If Blizzard did indeed think "well, it's OK on Farmville" (as several sources have postulated), they're completely missing the point.

Aaron Truehitt
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I didn't think having real name was bad. People just like to live in their fantasy world because they are insecure about their real selves or fall into the "Someone gonna come murder me" scenario. You have a higher chance getting into a car wreck and dieing than that happening.

However, I think it would be best to have something that simply identifies a person permenantly. It could be any user name, but you tied to than name for life.

Jason Withrow
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@Simon: As far as I understand it, doesn't the Real Name field of your WoW account have to match your credit card information? I thought I saw people saying something to that effect in a previous thread.

Denis Nickoleff
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The problem I saw with it was that it wasn't what anyone signed up for. I think it would be a good change, but the article pretty much covered every thought I had on the matter. I think what they want to do is do-able. However it needs to be, or at least start off as an opt in, and they need to get it rolling by offering an incentive that is of benefit to those who opt, but does not detract from those who don't. Bribe them with pets, like Chilly the penguin was a bribe for account integration.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Raymond Arnold
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I was on the fence until I read the following post. It was already linked above, but I doubt many people actually read it:

Again, original can be found here:


>>>>I don't play WoW at the moment. I played off and on (mostly on) for the first five years of the game, and I'll play again for a while once the expansion comes out, then probably quit again, etc. Anyway, especially a few years ago when I had the time and inclination to play more, I was fairly active on the forums. My husband still plays, and so do a ton of my friends. So I'm really familiar with how the forums work and what people are like there.

This is a terrible, terrible idea. Especially if the intent is to discourage trolling, there are much more effective solutions available. Some of the reasons why it's terrible have already been brought up, but a bunch of people who are obviously not familiar with the WoW forums have muddied things by making arguments based on incorrect assumptions, so for the sake of having an omnibus "this is why it's bad" post, here we go.

Incorrect Assumption #1: It's already easy to link WoW characters to their real life players.

That's just completely wrong. It's pretty difficult. It's impossible, in fact, unless someone outright tells you their real life name or e-mail address, none of which are available to fellow players. You have to ask someone for those things, and they have to willingly tell you. There are people I played with for years, even had their phone numbers, and I had no idea what their first names were, let alone their last names. For a while we had a guild leader who would delight in not telling us what his real first name was. I've also met nearly a dozen people from WoW in real life. People have different comfort levels about that sort of thing, but the point is it should be their choice.

When you see a character, either in-game or on the forums, you literally do not know anything related to real-life about that character, not even an IP address, unless they willingly supply that information. You don't even know what other characters are on the same account, much less what character belongs to what player. You'd have to work for Blizzard on the forums to see any of that information, and they're not allowed to disclose it. While it's true that an employee could just do it anyway, I think it's reasonable that people have some expectation of privacy in that regard. I'm not sure that I've ever heard of someone having their real life identity discovered without their willingly giving away obvious information, either their name or they're linked to their website and someone did a whois.

Keep in mind that few forums exist that display your full real-life name with your posts. You usually have some kind of username. Metafilter is like this. Maybe you can link that to an e-mail address and someone knows it's you that way -- and lots of forums will even keep that private if you want. But plenty of people -- for good reason -- keep their work and private e-mails separate. A lot of us cringe to think what others could dig up about us just using our e-mail address -- but let's be honest, it's because we either don't care that much or we've been sloppy. Both of those things are under our control.

The change Blizzard is making on the WoW forums isn't like that; it doesn't give you a choice except to stop using the WoW forums, or else lie about your name which isn't a great idea if you ever have a billing conflict or need to verify that you own the account. The latter happens whenever someone gets hacked, and people get hacked a lot, even smart computer-savvy people I'd think would never get hacked; once a few people I knew got hacked because someone inserted malicious code into a banner ad on a popular WoW website. The website fixed the problem, but still, everyone thought it was safe and it even took a while for anyone to figure out what had caused it. Point is: hacking is common and getting more sophisticated, you need your account info to be accurate.

So, right, the privacy-conscious people will stop using the forums. I just think it's ridiculous to force people's hand that way when it's not necessary.

Incorrect Assumption #2: People won't actually harass other people outside the game, come on.

This is just wrong. I don't know how else to put it. It's a lovely thought, but people go to great lengths simply to harass others in-game, and just handing the real name to them without their even having to do any work for it makes it easier to harass them outside the game. If you really, truly think it won't lead to harassment, you are underestimating both teenagers and angry, socially ill-adjusted people -- a ton of whom play WoW, alongside all the normal people. People already go to crazy lengths to e-stalk people and some of it already culminates in real life confrontations. I have trouble believing that anyone who says this has actually ever played an MMO, so if you haven't, please consider that you might not know what you're talking about and people aren't just paranoid and complaining about nothing.

And, more on this in a moment, but one really needs experience in the gaming community to comment on it. Particularly those in doubt of women being SEVERELY harassed in-game and, yes, on the forums. The gaming world is way more hostile to women than you think. I wish it weren't, I really, really do, and I know you mean well, but please do not say you doubt those things when I and other women have been through a lot in that regard. The WoW forums is not Metafilter by ANY stretch of the imagination. I would not mind my real name being on Metafilter and I've posted things here I wouldn't tell my mother, but I would probably cry if my real name was next to my WoW posts. It's not because I make a fool of myself on the WoW forums, either, but-- well, you'll see in a moment.

Incorrect Assumption #3: There's no good reason to keep your identity separate from the gaming community. If you're worried about someone from WoW finding you on Facebook, then why are you even on Facebook?

The answer to this is so long you'll just have to read my list of reasons why this is bad. The short version is: because the gaming community has a different culture than society in general, and it actually does make a big difference whether they know things that you don't try to keep hidden in real life. It's absolutely rational and sane to have 500 Facebook friends and not want anyone from WoW to know anything about you.

Reasons Why This Is Bad, Even If You're Not a Troll:

1. Girls are going to get harassed more than they already do. Just like in real life, while plenty of gamer guys are decent people -- gamer guys are the majority of my closest friends -- there are a ton of asshole gamer guys who make life hell for players who are openly female. Really, the gamer community is a much more hostile place for women than society in general. I never tried to hide my gender, so I have a ton of anecdotes I could tell you.

Here's the shit a female gamer has to deal with:

* People assume that you're not actually a girl, and you're just playing a girl character so you get "free stuff" from guys. This is actually the least bothersome thing. (For the record, I never got "free stuff." I think to get free stuff you actually have to cyber someone, or at least make them think you might, and I had no interest in any of those things.)

* constant requests -- some anonymous and some not, some crass and some just creepy -- asking for pictures, and these will not let up, EVER. In my case, the requests did not let up after five years.

* If you do post a picture (I never did) people either go nuts over how hot you are and won't leave you alone -- and the guys that perv on you treat you in a condescending way because hot=stupid; having to hear that shit addressed to other girls on Vent was really infuriating and uncomfortable -- OR they make a point of constantly telling you how ugly you are and won't leave you alone. There is no middle ground. They either want to fuck you or deride you. And it actually doesn't matter how hot or how ugly you are, either; the hottest girls will get called ugly (and FAT, ALWAYS FAT), and the ugliest girls still have to deal with lonely guys who aren't superficial. Any time the girl posts something thereafter, people will comment on her appearance, even though it has nothing to do with whatever is being discussed.

* if you don't post a picture they all sit around and speculate, and some people inevitably decide that you're not posting a picture because you're ugly, and therefore they don't like you. It does not occur to a great many people that a girl might not want guys bothering them for any reason. If you try to defend yourself, you're an attention whore.

Similar to pseudonymph, whenever someone asked me what I looked like I'd say something like, "I'm 350 pounds, all woman." Which always irritated me a bit: I said it because it was effective -- it made them less interested in asking, plus they usually thought it was funny and I didn't come across as prissy so it defused two concerns they'd have about female gamers -- but I didn't like perpetrating the idea that fat people are disgusting or something to be laughed at. I just never came up with another response that worked as well. :-/

* I got daily messages from people I didn't know because they liked my forum posts. This was bothersome for a few reasons. Some of whom were just normal people being nice and it was only bothersome as a distraction, but a fraction of them were lonely guys excited to be talking to a girl. The latter would bother me constantly. Other women I played with also dealt with these kinds of guys.

* If you ask someone to leave you alone, you're a stuck up bitch. That means you always have to be nice to everyone. This was both unfair and character-building, because now I'm really good at talking to and disengaging from socially ill-adjusted people without hurting their feelings.

* You are automatically a therapist and guys come to you for advice. This isn't so bad when friends do it, but you also have to patiently listen to a lot of emotionally-fragile guys you don't know very well. If this were infrequent it wouldn't be so bad. When it's constant and it's using up leisure time that you wanted to spend actually playing the game, it's really draining.

* People assume that you're bad at the game; they assume that any gear you got was given to you because you're a girl, and that your entire guild just started carrying you through raid instances because they were driven senseless by your siren song. It doesn't matter if you're in one of the top guilds in the US and doing content where you really can't carry bad players through. They can believe you're a good healer, sometimes. If you're a damage-dealing class they can't believe you could possibly be as good as a guy until they see raid reports. They will never believe you can tank.

* Some people think anything you do or say is attention-whoring, even if you never wanted the attention. If a guy makes a joke in a forum post, he's a funny guy. If a girl makes a joke in a forum post, she's an attention whore. If a guy makes a good argument in a forum post, he's a smart guy. If a girl makes a good argument in a forum post, she's doing it for attention. She's ESPECIALLY an attention whore if people like her or agree with her.

* Similarly, people assume that the only reason anyone likes you is because they're one of your fanboys. So people don't genuinely think women or funny or make good arguments, they're just fanboys. If other girls like you, then it's because women form cliques -- even if in the previous breath they were saying that women are all catty and hate each other.

* Even if people tend to assume you're male from your writing style, once they know your gender, some people tend to read everything in the shrillest way possible. You could literally copy and paste a guy's post and get an entirely different reaction.

* All of this applies to underage girls. I've played alongside 14, 15, 16 year old girls who would deal with all this horrible stuff every day. Often worse stuff really, since they didn't yet have the best handle on how to deal with it.

Want to hear some scary shit? One 14 year old girl whose father also played had to change her character's name and transfer her to another server because some guy was e-stalking her. If her real life name (or her father's name) were next to her character's name in forum posts she wouldn't be very safe right now, would she?

* For all of the above, it doesn't really matter much if you're married or in a long-term relationship. It doesn't stop anyone. The only real difference is that if you're married, people assume you're old and unattractive and probably controlling. (I stopped playing WoW when I was 24, and I'm about to turn 26.) Within my guild there was pretty much no fear that I was going to try to woo my way to anything at least, but outside the guild people keep thinking whatever they want.

I was really lucky to be in a guild with guys that AREN'T assholes, so I had a reason to keep playing even if random forum people would be assholes sometimes. For whatever reason, our guild was full of mostly rational, unprejudiced people; we would reject applicants that weren't those things. We were in a position where we could be that picky, but most guilds don't do well enough to get enough apps that they can afford to reject people for character flaws. Once our GM actually got on an app's case for creeping out the girls in the guild -- just basically warning him that he was not making us feel flattered -- and then he kicked him out of the guild a few days later when nothing changed; that GM had a pretty good understanding of what was skeezy and why we shouldn't have to put up with it. We were lucky for that, because the guy in question wasn't being crass or lewd, he was just kind of a stereotypical dorky guy who thought women liked to be treated like Renaissance maidens instead of people; he couldn't seem to understand we didn't want him to flirt with us even in a "harmless" complimentary way, that we just wanted to be left the fuck alone. One of the women in question wasn't even afraid to be really mean and condescending to him about it, and he STILL kept it up because he was too awkward to know how to do anything else. This is the sort of stuff we had to deal with.

Ours was an extraordinary guild, though; we've gone to great lengths to see each other IRL even since most of us quit WoW, and most guilds don't have that kind of protection and camaraderie. In most guilds no one would think there was anything wrong with that guy's behavior and we'd be too "sensitive" if we complained about it. For many girls, the solution is either to grit their teeth through it and say very little -- which isn't feasible if you want to raid, because any decent raiding guild requires you use a voice client. But if you don't want to raid, you can have male characters and just never disclose your gender. My primary character was female, but after seeing how that went, I made all my alts male just to get a goddamn break when I needed it. Several times when I quit the game it was because it had become too draining to deal with anymore; guys can just log in and have fun and log off, but girls have to log in and deal with everyone who wants to talk to them. After a while logging in meant I would spend all night typing while flying aimlessly around Shattrath instead of actually doing anything fun. I'm an introvert so I was especially worn down. You can't just not respond to people because they keep trying, or they think you're stuck-up, or they're seriously emotionally fragile and you really don't want to hurt their feelings, and they can always ask someone else in your guild to make sure you're not AFK. It sucks. I mean, you can do all that anyway, if you want to get harassed.

The only way to play it if you're not going to lay low is to have a pristine rep, and it's constant work. I accepted that as a sacrifice for not hiding my gender and wanting to actually be able to talk to my friends on the forums like guys get to do. I never thought it was fair but I was able to weigh the consequences and make a choice. But if you attach real life names to characters, a woman pretty much can't post on the forums anymore unless they're willing to deal with all of the above -- plus more, since everyone can look up her name on Facebook and pick apart her appearance! All the women that lie low for their own sanity aren't going to have that choice anymore, even if all they want to do is help someone out on the forums, or make a post looking for or selling something, or what-have-you.

2. Minorities will get harassed.

A sizable portion of gamers are racist. (Sexism, racism, and homophobia are what make me most uncomfortable about the gaming community; in a serious way I feel more connection to gamers than any other group, so this pains me. Plenty of gamers are none of these things and I love them to death, but I think those same gamers realize what a huge problem it is in the community in general.) An even bigger portion of gamers are just not very racially sensitive -- they'll use "nigger" or "Jew" a lot, for example, even if they don't think they actively feel anything against those groups, because they think it's funny. In the same way that saying stuff is "gay" is especially pronounced in the gamer community, even the people that say slurs ironically or by force of habit inadvertently make actual bigots in the gaming community feel empowered because they don't realize other people don't mean those things like they do. It is much more common and acceptable to express racist opinions in the gaming community than society at large.

Plus -- I hate to say this -- I've found that a lot of people in that latter category who don't feel like they're actively prejudiced against minorities actually do think black and Mexican people in particular are stupid. I've realized that about some gamers I'm friends with and it's not a great feeling; you have to hang around them a while before something comes up that makes you notice it, like how they interpret a comment they overheard from a black person, that sort of thing. It's usually people that grew up around only other white people; gamers that grew up around minorities tend to use the slurs because they're using to trading friendly jabs with minority friends, and they aren't actually racist and know when not to use the slurs. Unfortunately, the obliviously racist gamers especially tend not to understand why you wouldn't want to say those things even jokingly to a minority you don't know; they don't think they're racist, so their reasoning is that people shouldn't take offense. But it can get really uncomfortable when it's clear to everyone else that they actually are a little racist and don't realize it, and it's just as hurtful as a real racist remark when they're trying to be funny and the assumption shines through anyway.

Putting people's real life name on their posts just encourages people to drag their race into the discussion, whether they're being hateful or just think they're being funny. I've seen Black and Hispanic gamers in particular get a whole lot of crap already and they're often not forthcoming about their ethnicity. It doesn't even necessarily come through on voice clients so it's easier than hiding gender. Just like I don't blame women who chose to lay low so they can have fun playing the game instead of being drained by dealing with people, I don't blame minorities who do the same thing. They shouldn't have to deal with people's bullshit because their last name is Rodriguez or Goldstein.

And if anyone wants to say, "Well real life is like that," fantastic. WoW is a game. It's not supposed to be serious business. People play games as long as they're fun, and being harassed isn't fun. It's no one's moral obligation to be the banner-carrier for justice 24/7. If someone wants to make their gender or race (or sexual orientation) known in WoW so they can chip away at the problems in the gaming community, that's certainly praiseworthy. My guild was great so I and the other women and minorities and gays in the guild could feel a little more comfortable being open about that stuff. But it shouldn't be thrust on anyone.

3. You don't have to be a troll to not want your name attached to your posts. There is still a bit of a gaming stigma, and there is an especially strong WoW stigma.

I have friends that keep their WoW-playing secret. A lot of friends, actually. I think it's kind of silly but I understand the impetus because just like the gaming community has a different culture, they spend their real lives in cultures that stigmatize gaming. Some people deal with constant bullshit in MMOs because they're female or a minority or gay; some people deal with constant bullshit IRL because everyone they know thinks only losers or people with mental problems play MMOs. Several people in our guild were in the armed services and kept WoW a secret because the attitude toward MMOs was so negative there. Other people have relatives who literally think things like WoW are demonic.

Hell, even within WoW there is a stigma against playing it too much. I was in the top raiding guild on our server and we were constantly having to deal with people saying, "You're only doing so well because you play so much!" We were constantly struggling to finish everything for the week in two evenings just so we could say, "NUH UH, we play less than you do, you're just bad!" And then guildies would gossip about the few people in the guild that really did play constantly -- there were always a couple. If someone had some awesome item on their alt that you wanted for your main, well: at least you weren't a loser that played everyday like they did -- I mean you get laid at least, goddamn, you're too busy being cool IRL to have a good alt. Playing WoW is considered waaaay less cool than playing anything else.

Outside of WoW it's worse: for non-gamers, WoW may as well be the only MMO anyone has ever heard of, and they haven't heard good things; finding out someone plays WoW isn't like finding out they played Uncharted. Employers who don't know any better might feel apprehensive about hiring someone who plays WoW since the stereotype is that WoW players are irresponsible and end up losing their jobs. Sure, every now and then it might work in someone's favor -- I've had bosses who play WoW, and some of my husband's NASA colleagues do too -- but it should be someone's choice whether they reveal that sort of thing.

Again, I'm all for being open about things in order to change attitudes, but it shouldn't be forced on anyone. You don't have to actually feel shame for playing WoW to want to avoid dealing with bullshit from judgmental people; I'd argue that anyone who doesn't feel shame would be making a rational decision to avoid engaging with small-minded people on the topic. I mean, how many of us avoid talking about politics or religion? Most of us aren't ashamed, we just know it would be a contentious waste of time if our granny knew we we didn't hate gay people. And for the smaller subset that actually do feel shame -- and yes, I know some of those too -- "you shouldn't be such a wuss" doesn't outweigh privacy anyway. People should be able to be wusses if they want.

4. A lot of parents are going to have their teenager's posts linked to their name because their name is on the account.

Best case scenario is that the teenager is a perfect angel on the WoW forums, and everyone still sees a ton of WoW posts attached to the parent's name in Google searches. Bad for all the reasons above.

Less-than-best case scenario is the teenager engages in some colorful gamer humor, which, even if it isn't racist, is probably mildly sexual and insulting. Not really something you want appearing in an employer's Google search, or that you want your friends and family finding.

Worst case scenario is the child says some crazy shit and the parent looks crazy.

5. People who don't play WoW will get harassed or have WoW associated with them if someone else with the same name posts on the WoW forums.

6. If you're able to easily lie about your name in the forums to get out of privacy concerns, that just opens another can of worms.

7. It probably won't do that much to stop trolling.

If you're able to change what name is displayed, it won't stop trolling at all. But even if you can't change what name shows up, plenty of people already get a second account to post from and will keep doing that; this, of course, is also an option for privacy-conscious people, but they shouldn't have to pay more money when they're not doing anything wrong.

Plus there are people who don't care if you know their real name as long as you don't know what character they play; they're worried about in-game ramifications if people don't like them -- i.e. people won't let them into their group, or their guild, or they won't be able to sell anything. So while real life privacy is important to a lot of people, in-game privacy is just as important to others. (I think someone already noted upthread that some people prefer to keep all their forum activity separate from their main character, even when they're not trolling.)

Some people happily troll from their main already and just don't care that other people don't like them. When people troll on their main they're usually pretty polarizing and end up with as many friends as enemies, and some people are comfortable with that. My server had a guy that would be a troll on his main and I actually thought he was pretty funny, in a guilty pleasure sort of way; he would mostly bait people that were already raging about something stupid so it was hard to feel bad for them.

Will it stop some trolling, though? Probably. So would better moderation. So would a lot of things. Speaking of which...

8. There is a better solution.

Just let people see what characters are on the same account as the character that's posting. It doesn't violate their privacy nearly as much as the current solution and it would be enough to deter most people from trolling because they don't want their trolling associated with their main. All that'd be left is people trolling from dummy accounts, which it sounds like they can do under the new system anyway, so Blizzard would just make some extra money off crazy cowards.

Why in this world they thought this would be more appropriate is beyond me. I can't think of a single forum that I use that requires you to display you first and last name with your posts, and WoW sure as hell isn't important enough to warrant that.

Sean Parton
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@Jason Withrow: I couldn't say for certain, but a "It's my generous uncle's card" excuse might work.

@Evan Moore: You overestimate the capabilities that Facebook employs to obscure your information. If so much as a single connection has allowed an app access to their information, not only do they have pretty much everything that connection has on Facebook, they have a wealth of info about each of that person's connections, including you. In addition, basic info about anyone on Facebook is given easy access (such as name, gender, hometown, etc).

M. Smith
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Wow. Good job rounding up obvious points, I guess?

Aaron Truehitt
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I personally didn't have a problem having my real name exposed. Now there are certain people who would not like to share their personal information at all in a game because of obvious reasons that make sense (harassment, etc.). Theres no reason to have to disclose any personal information to anyone outside of the game and a company shouldn't force you to.

Like I said though, the better idea is to do like Cryptic did for Champions and Star Trek. You have an account name that you are known by through every game and it is posted by your character name.

Meredith Katz
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@Raymond Arnold

Thank you for your well-rounded and well-stated post. I definitely appreciated reading it.

To add to your point 2 - other gender concerns. I might be cisgendered and you (general you) might be cisgendered, but that doesn't mean everyone you know and/or raid with in WoW is. WoW is a big damn community and has a lot of transfolks who play it. And a lot of transfolks' legal names aren't the ones they're using after they transition (or after they start presenting their gender identity, regardless of whether they've transitioned). There's lots of reasons -- changing names is a legal hassle, among other things. But "Christine" isn't going to want everyone to see her name is "Christopher", and "Paul" isn't going to want everyone to see his name is "Paula". They'll have to see an identity there all the time which they're trying to leave behind; they'll then have to deal with the wrong gender assumptions; they'll have to deal with prejudice and harassment. Not a fun time.

All in all, it always seems to me like there's just more risk to it than can ever be excused. If they say they're doing this to cut down on trolling -- sure, maybe less people will. But the people who WILL still troll? Suddenly have a wealth of more information to do a whole lot more damage.

Daniel Balmert
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Here's the truth: your account/character names were not going to be displayed with your real life name. Everyone overlooked the fact that while your real name will show up on forum posts, your CHARACTER names were going to be optional.

"Handing someone their ass" in Starcraft means nothing if they can't link your real life name to Mr.PwnsAlot98.

If I post on Blizzard's forum with my real name, all it means is I play WoW. It doesn't mean I'm in a top raiding guild, or what server I'm on or anything. If someone wants to stalk you based ONLY on the fact that they read your name and it sounds female, you're sorely overestimating the "gumption" of lonely teenagers. How many names would they have to facebook stalk before they even found one that lived near them? Nuh uh... wouldn't happen.

How come everyone assumed that we could read your Real Name, character, and realm all in the same line? Seriously, people overreacted. If you had wanted to stay private, simply remove the link to your character name in your settings and POOF - no one knows who you play in game.

I'm not saying I support RealID in any capacity, but the reasons for fighting it were completely wrong. It should have had nothing to do with the game, stalkers or or whatever, and everything to do with dispensing information originally guaranteed as private. "We will never release personal info" includes my goddam name. I'm okay giving out my name on my terms.

Thomas Lo
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The main reason it was an issue is that it wasn't even a choice or framed as one. Just like most people don't care about giving up their privacy on the net even when its an opt-out instead of an opt-in, blizzard could have saved themselves a lot of trouble by at least giving people the option of not participating.

Bart Stewart
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A number of the many responses here and elsewhere can, I think, be summed fairly up as: "Less anonymity on a game forum might lead to more real-life harassment, so we have to retain forum anonymity even if it encourages some people to act like jerks online."

I disagree. I believe that's just giving in to the thugs and intimidators. It's not a "win"; it's surrender.

If someone acts like a jerk, whether online or in real life, the correct response is not to tolerate that behavior. Actually solving the problem requires action. It means documenting bad behavior, identifying who's doing it, and publicly taking culturally and/or legally appropriate sanctions against the perpetrator to discourage other would-be jerks.

A culture that decides it's done tolerating jerks, bullies, and tyrants doesn't need anonymity. The real win would be for gamers to say "enough," and to hold the various flamers and other verbally abusive jerks responsible for their bad behavior so that there's no need to hide behind pseudonyms.

Part of that solution is, yes, more active forum moderation to supply teeth to this policy. But each of us plays a part in defining the norms of our culture that forum moderators enforce. Until we let the jerks know that abusive behavior won't get them anything but banned from places where responsible gamers are trying to talk, we'll continue to see the kinds of hostile behaviors documented by "Deathblood Blackaxe."

Blizzard may have jumped the gun, thinking that most gamers were ready to put aside the need for pseudonyms. I guess we're just not there yet... but I hope someday soon we will be, and Real Names will be the standard for identifying places where socially mature conversation can happen.

Meredith Katz
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But who has to suffer for this to happen first? That's like saying, "Crime prevention shouldn't matter so long as we have a good system to deal with criminals." The priority should be on the people who'd be hurt, not on the people who might do the hurting.

Additionally, so long as Blizzard can keep track of a person's identity, characters, etc, then they can, if they choose, moderate appropriately regardless of if everyone's names are publicly broadcast. So they can still prioritize anonymity and punish trolls and abusers just fine if they choose to.

Eddie Carrington
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I know that my experience may be considered anecdotal, but I have had to deal with this on a few different fronts. All of which came to a head last year when I decided to start writing about World of Warcraft for a "Professional" blog.

I'll admit, shifting from writing and expressing my opinions under a pseudonym to now doing so using my real identity was a difficult shift. However, in lots of ways it was an important one.

Once I made the shift I began to realize signing a "Pseudonym" in many ways gave me a license to claim responsibility for my actions. If I gave an unpopular opinion or incorrect information, it was okay because "Eddie" didn't do it but "Brigwyn" did. In other words it forces the individual to become responsible for not only their words but the actions that occur because of them. A weight I personally believe many who cried out are not ready to deal with at the moment.

Yes, there are other privacy concerns related to this decision. However, we all need to remember it was completely, 100% optional to all but Blizzard Employees. No one was forced to sign-up and join the forum discussions. If you did, then you would have volunteered to give up your anomity.

Would this had cut down on trolls, spammers, and the like? Would it have lead to more harrasment of gamers due to gender, sexual preference, or age? This will remain undetermined for now.

But I do think it opened up an interesting debate and lead me to these papers:

Can Pseudonymity Really Guarantee Privacy? by Josyula R. Rao and Pankaj Rohatgi.In the Proceedings of the 9th USENIX Security Symposium, August 2000, pages 85-96. (


The social cost of cheap pseudonyms by by Eric Friedman and Paul Resnick n Journal of Economics and Management Strategy 10(2), 2001, pages 173-199 (

I guess the point of this long ramble is this. Even using pseudonyms don't guarantee privacy. Yes it helps, but it isn't a guarantee. Since it cannot be guaranteed, then maybe we need to rethink the real reason for using pseudonyms and the cost associated with it. (Then again, that's my 2cents and won't buy you a cup of coffee nowadays.)