Jul 082010

So, I’m a little late to the RealID condemnation party, but I’d like to add my thoughts on the new real name commentary policy.

Why this is a bad thing

  • The death of escapism: I interact with my professional contacts as me. I interact with my gaming contacts as my handle (Alaron). When I’m playing WoW, I don’t want to be Joe Schmoe, I want to be Alaron, the druid. I get heals from my guildy Elassar, not John Smith from Los Angeles. My guildy Valerian tanks bosses, not Sarah Jane from New York. ¬†One of the major draws of the Internet is the ability to create new identities, for good or ill, and this policy eliminates that.
  • The end of privacy: While I believe that this will change eventually, gaming currently suffers from a negative stigma. While I believe that my line of work (the Army) is reasonably tolerant of gaming in general, all it takes is one intolerant boss writing one negative comment on my evaluation reports to damage my career. (For that matter, they’re not too happy about bloggers, either.) This is the primary reason why I’ve taken steps to separate Alaron from my real identity. I applaud those who are in the position to communicate under their real name, but many are not.

Why this is a good thing

  • The restoration of a community: It’s a generally accepted rule for Internet discussion that as the size of the audience increases, the usefulness of the discussion decreases. Blizzard is taking a bold step towards being the exception to the rule with this change. I expect official forum activity will decline DRAMATICALLY, which will make it possible for the existing moderators to do their jobs. I’m not sure that this will lead to the result Blizzard expects (all the good posters stay, all the bad posters go) because I expect that many of the best posters are also the ones with the most to lose, and will chose not to participate. Either way, though, forums will become legitimately useful again for new players, which is the primary target for Cataclysm.
  • Compliance with Korean law: In 2009, Korea passed a law requiring realname identification for sites with more than 100,000 visitors/day. Starcraft is a huge part of Korean culture. (There are two cable channels devoted to showing matches, frequently showing the same match from the perspective of each player. A pro-league for SC2 players exists, complete with wagering and match-fixing. ¬†Blizzard announced SC2 in Korea. Etc.) While Blizzard could probably have pressed for an exemption to the law, they may have not wanted to risk it.

Why this is irrelevant

  • Forum posters <<< WoW players: I don’t know the actual numbers, but I suspect that the amount of people who actually use the official forums is incredibly low compared to the number of players. As of this writing, the number of posts in the official announcement/comment thread stands at 41k…the amount of players worldwide is over 11 million.
  • Existing forums: Many, many forums already exist outside of the official forum for WoW discussion, and those forums aren’t going away.

The end of the day

If Blizzard wants to gut its forum traffic…go ahead! It’s their choice, after all. At the end of the day, this doesn’t stifle any discussion; it just moves it to another location. I was initially opposed to the decision, but if this means that Blizz can spend less resources on forum moderation and more on game development/responses to player concerns, I’m all for it.