If you’ve been online in the past week, then you know about the WoW forum RealID business. The idea that Blizzard will mandate the use of real names on the forums seems like an invasion of privacy to most of the crowd amassing on the current forums. At last count, almost fifty thousand people have posted to the official US thread. 12,500 EU. Let that sink in for a minute, more than seventy-thousand people are pissed off. That’s got to set some kind of record.
They couldn’t have handled this any worse, either. Right now, they’re more cold-hearted than Facebook, which went through its own little privacy disaster. But, Facebook responded and fixed it. Blizzard have pretty much said ‘tough.’ It’s ironic, isn’t it? Though partnered with Facebook, they made the same exact mistakes. Yet, seventy-thousand posts later, they’re still collecting feedback.
But, I’ll be the first person to tell you that I’m a fan of WoW. I love it and I’ve devoted hundreds of hours to it. So, in the interest of not rehashing the same articles you’ve already read, let’s look at the wider issue.
A Paradigm Shift in Gaming
By integrating RealID and joining with Facebook, Blizzard are essentially joining the player and the avatar. As far as the rest of the web is concerned, you’re G. I. Joe: a WoW player and not PwnKnight Defender of Azeroth. In Starcraft II, you’ll be able to log in to Facebook through the game client and search your friends list. And, if it’s profitable for both, it will grow from there. Almost certainly you’ll have the ability to display when you’re playing a Blizzard game to your friends. Maybe you’ll even be able to broadcast the status you set in-game.
We move toward an open internet, where gaming will no longer be in the dark, and our social networks connect us through other mediums. Though, in all fairness, Blizzard didn’t start us down this “social” path. No, those first steps were taken by Turbine and their My Lotro service, which is in itself a form of social network for players. If Blizzard are the king of taking ideas and refining them, I’d say My LotRO just got refined.
If this winds up working well, WoW players will start coming out of the woodwork on Facebook. We’ll enter into an era where keeping your name private will become a bullet point on the features list of a new MMO.
This Could Be Good
But, there’s the core of a greater idea there. Taken by itself, integrating with Facebook would be a fabulous optional feature! I would query my friends list just to see who else played – even if I didn’t want to play with certain people. Just to find out whose been a closeted gamer all these years. There’s a certain thrill in that, don’t you think?
Greater than that, though, would be to find new ways to connect with friends you might not see very often. I know this is speculating, but come with me for just a minute. If Facebook is so popular because it connects people, then allowing them to do so in WoW just expounds upon an already good idea. There might be friends you haven’t seen in years – or never will again, if they moved – that you’ll be able to sit in a virtual pub with.
It could only grow from there. A WoW Facebook client might not be so April Foolish.
You Might Feel a Little Pinch…
The problem is, not everyone is comfortable letting the world know their name. I wrote on my personal blog about the added risks of identity theft. That doesn’t even consider the potential power trolls can wield over users that get in their way. Blizzard CM Bashiok (Drysc) wanted to prove that it was safe and, within hours, trolls were posting pictures of his house and phone number on the internet. It got so bad that his mother had to stop answering the phone.
Then there are others who simply aren’t ready to announce that they’re gamers. Once the RealID changes go through, you won’t be able to post on the forums unless you’re ready for that. From there on out, your forum posts will come up when someone Google’s your name. Forever. In five years, you might apply for a job and be rejected by a gamer-bigoted potential boss.
That’s why these features need to be optional.
Time to Settle
At the end of the day, Blizzard has said that they don’t care if you stop using the forums. What they care about is going down in history as the MMO record-setter. Joining with Facebook and propelling RealID are their next way to do that.
So myself, I’ll be holding back from the forums but enjoying the game nonetheless. I feel a little bit bitter that, even if I didn’t use them much, the forums are being leveraged for my anonymity. It’s times like these that I remind myself, and I hope we all do occasionally, that it’s just a game and there are lots of them out there. The forums are just that: forums, and there are lots of those, too.
And, who knows, maybe you’ll be playing with some friend you never knew enjoyed WoW down the line. There’s that, and the meaning it could have to you then might make it all worthwhile.