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RealID: Worst Case Scenario

I fully expect this blog to disappear today. In fact I hope it does. I am tempted to file an abuse report on it myself.

Robert “Bobby” Kotick The big man at Activision. CEO. The source of all Blizzard’s community problems of the last few years. Here’s his facebook: http://www.facebook.com/people/Bobby-Kotick/637011873 He’s not very open, but his friends and family are.

Big donations to the GOP ($28,000 in 2007, and raised over $200k for Bush!) but makes $1.5 million a year and just dumped a huge amount of his company’s stock at the beginning of this year. You know, I’d be selling my Blizzard stock right now too.

But hey, he’s a busy man. He’s got a wife and three young daughters, ages 6, 9, and 11. The oldest is Gracie, she likes skiing. There are pictures of her that can be found, but I’m not posting them because I think I’ve made my point there.

Here’s some information on his wife.

RealID: Scare-Mongering From A Lot Of People With Funny Names

Wryxian, Blizzard Europe:

We have been planning this change for a very long time. During this time, we have thought ahead about the scope and impact of this change and predicted that many people would no longer wish to post in the forums after this change goes live. We are fine with that, because we want to change these forums dramatically in a positive and more constructive direction.

 

It’s been very obvious over the last few years that the forums are an exceptionally valuable source of information both for players and for us to gather feedback. There are many threads on this forum now, and over the last few years, that people have been constructively discussing many aspects of the game. They’ve received new wisdom and have then been able to go back to the game and enjoy it further with the new knowledge acquired through the forums.

These threads, however, can often be lost amongst a great deal of other threads that are basically filled with trolling, name calling, flaming, off-topic conversations and that’s just a small amount of some of the content that has been found in these forums over the years. We don’t want that anymore, and we believe the Real ID change will bring about a lot of the improvement that we are hoping for.

There’s a lot of scare-mongering going on about the change, but there seems a need to make something very clear. The forums have always been an optional extra — something you can choose to participate in if you wish to. With our Real ID changes for the forums, this is still the case. The only difference will be, if you do choose to participate in the forums, then you will do so by using your real name. But only after you’ve been warned and accepted this in advance.

Wryxian, Blizzard Europe (again):

A lot of legitimate and understandable concerns are being raised. It would be hard for myself or any caring individual to not empathise with the fears and concerns people have. But amidst these concerns there is also a bit of something going on that I can’t easily describe with other words, but I’ll try.

 

Posting on the forums with your real name will be optional — yes, in the sense that the options are simply post and show your real name, or do not post and you keep it confidential. If people are happy to post and do not feel intimidated by this, then great — hopefully they will also post constructively (though it’s fair to say, this isn’t a given). It might be scary to consider posting with your real name, in which case it might be advisable simply not to post in these forums. There’s a whole load of other forums across the internet where you’ll be able to post in a more anonymous way, and maybe you will make a useful and constructive contribution there instead.

If you really do read all posts in this thread and others, like we are doing, then you will see some examples of what I was meaning by “scare-mongering”. There are posts from some people who are either confused by the changes or generally uncertain, and they are getting understandably scared and then posting in a way that scares other people in the process. With such a change as we have outlined, it is completely understandable that people can and do feel this way. Describing the process of scaring others and raising the level of general fear as “scare-mongering” does not in any way diminish people’s validity in doing so, nor does it dismiss the usefulness of anyone expressing themselves in any way, including in a way I might describe as “scare-mongering”; the term simply describes it for what it appears to be.

Randy Farmer, virtual world architect/pioneer:

It is completely unreasonable to expect that people will understand the risks of using their real names on a message board – and if they DO understand, I contend that most people won’t bother posting anything at all.

 

In short:

  • The trolls now get more information to harass
  • The best players will leave
  • The casual players will panic when they realize that their private-time activity is now public.

This is lose-lose. The worst kind of change. The only upside I see is the ability to lay off board moderation staff as traffic (good andbad) plummets.

Sanya Weathers, community management expert:

We won’t know the legal truth until Blizzard gets sued for wrongful death.

 

Yes, I said death, and no, I’m not overreacting. Someone is going to get stalked through 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. “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. Unfortunately, the person to whom the disaster occurs will be one of the people who is sitting here today scoffing at the “scare-mongerers” and “alarmists.” Because the scare-mongerers and the alarmists won’t be posting.

Spinks, blogger:

There was a time when Blizzard was viewed as a company run by and for gamers. That time is now over. Even aside from the wrongs or rights of the proposal, no company that fails so badly in understanding gamer culture can really claim to be one of us any more.

Ysharros, blogger:

It’s a game. Or, it’s this blog. It’s something I do in my spare time that has NO relation to my professional or a large part of my personal life and I see no freaking reason why everything should be made public when it’s not my explicit there-and-then decision to share said info. (So my decision in this case is going to be: keep your fucking games thank you very much.)

 

It’s not that I object to people knowing who I am if *I* choose to share it with them. After all, I don’t get on the bus and tell every bloody passenger on it what my name is. They have no particular right to know it and I have zero obligation to tell them. So why the hell should every asshat — and god knows there are a lot of them — in a given game be able to find out exactly who I am, where I live, what my gender is and how much I enjoy being stalked?

Tobold, blogger:

Social networks using real names can work, but the history of Facebook shows that one fundamental rule for these networks is that you can’t have people signing up with some level of presumption of privacy, and then withdraw that privacy protection later. Thus it would be okay for Blizzard to lets say release their next MMO game with a RealID system and inform everybody that their real name will be used in that game. It is *not* okay to let people play for nearly 6 years under anonymity, and then strip that anonymity away. Even if the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory predicts that stripping people of their anonymity will make them behave better.

Larisa, blogger:

If we can’t communicate with Ghostcrawler through the forums anymore, since they put adults with concerns about their personal integrity in the same group as trolls, we can always go back to old-fashioned hand written letter writing. It’s a forgotten art, but it’s not as hard as it may seem. All you need is a pencil, a paper, an envelope and a stamp. Quite handy when you think about it. You don’t even need electricity!

Syncaine, blogger:

Can this thing launch already? This is like watching a car accident, only instead of seeing the flaming wreck after it happens, you’re like Nicolas Cage in that movie no one saw where he can predict the future, and you actually get to wait for the car wreck to happen right in front of you.

Carebare, moderator, Elitist Jerks:

The idea of merging RealID into the Blizzard forums is dumb. The more places that say it’s dumb the better (which includes here). If your post violates our forum rules we will infract you for it, but the do not whine rule is waived for this thread only. Carry on.

Nattie, commenter, Metafilter:

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.

Anonymous RL friend, IM conversation:

1:56:58 PM Friend: ok go ahead and realid me 1:57:04 PM Friend: cause you and i will be the only two left playing 1:57:10 PM Me: heh! 1:58:07 PM Friend: i’m serious 1:58:08 PM Friend: everyone is leaving 🙁

 

RealID For Your FakeOrc

World of Warcraft forums blow up, y0. 479 pages last time I checked, and about 5000 closed threads with the note “dear god please keep it to one thread oh god my head it burns”.

Some official comment by the completely calm and not at all stressed Blizzard community team:

We put a lot of thought into this change and have a long-term vision for the Real ID service and wanted to make sure that we communicated ahead of time and very clearly as to what will be changing and how. Keep in mind that posting is optional, and we recognize that some players will choose not to utilize the Real ID feature in game or post on the forums and support everyone’s individual choice on using or not using it.

This is obviously new ground for us and for you as well, but we want to make sure we’re creating a great social-gaming service that people will want to use.

And that’s really the heart of the matter, isn’t it.

So as my snarky comment initially probably made clear, I’m not happy about this. Why?

Blizzard is embracing the Facebook model of social networking. Specifically, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s view that you should be you, and that the idea that you should ever choose to present something other than you is fundamentally flawed.

[Zuckerberg] disagrees with the notion that people have different identities. To him, the idea that someone is different at work than at home, than at a rock concert, is dishonest. Says Kirkpatrick, “He believes that he will live a better life personally, and all of us will be more honest, and ultimately it will be better for the world if we dispense with that belief.”

Well, that’s great for Facebook. Actually it isn’t. Facebook actively purges its rolls of people they consider dishonest, such as Second Life avatars who prefer to remain anonymous. In fact, just having an odd name can put your Facebook account at risk. But obviously that’s a very small subset of the millions of people on Facebook, all of whom are quite happy to poke around their virtual farms and post the same 12 funny videos and inform everyone what they had for lunch. Oh wait, that’s Twitter, which is fine with having a pseudoym for an account name. Hrm.

But anyway, when you have as a core belief that people who want to be anonymous, for whatever reason, are lying liars, then providing opt-out features seems kind of beside the point, doesn’t it? And Blizzard really, really, really, for whatever reason, dislikes opt-out features of any sort. The only way you can opt-out of the RealID in-game system, for example, is through a “Parental Control” system that is intended for children. And, not coincidentally, required by law. The features of RealID chat in-game that arouse the most ire – the inability to set an alias for one’s real name, the inability to flag alt characters out of visibility, and above all, the inability to block people from browsing your friends list – are all easily fixed via code. Yet Blizzard won’t do it.

Why not? Well, look at this response from another privacy hullaballoo – Blizzard’s refusal to allow people to opt out of having their character data displayed online – for a clue.

(checks)

Oh. There’s no any mention of opting out at all. OK. Well, there’s that time they made fun of people who wanted to. I suppose that’s a response. Wait, here’s a post from 2007!

Can I “opt-out” of the Armory?

No; this particular option is currently unavailable. While we do not possess any present intention to allow our players to opt-out of basic Armory features (character display, talent build, arena teams, and reputation), we do plan to introduce more complex functionalities; these upcoming functionalities will be “opt-in”/”opt-out,” thus granting our players the opportunity to display or omit correlated information as desired.

Clearly, they got right on that.

The irony, of course, is that Facebook has had their own well-documented struggles with privacy and opt-out features.

The site’s privacy travails have rattled Facebook employees and put pressure on Mr. Zuckerberg, who has argued for years that its users should be more open with their information. He has at times over-ruled employees who argue Facebook should make more information private, by default, according to people familiar with the matter. He has instead pushed to offer tools so users can control their information, these people said.

Yet Blizzard doesn’t offer those tools. Their answer for controlling the flow of information from your account is simple: don’t use it. After all, if you want to create a social network, you know, it doesn’t work if people are listed as Zhar’lynn the Blood Elf instead of Jennifer Smith. It really doesn’t. Look, we don’t know why it doesn’t, but Facebook does it and Zynga is making a ton of money and this is how games are now, OK? Deal with it.

And quite a few people are willing to excuse Blizzard for it, because… well, it’s Blizzard and World of Warcraft is fun and they should be allowed to do what they want. To quote one person whom I argued the point in IRC:

Blizzard is just making the decision that your name isn’t private info any longer.

Well, you know, maybe I think that shouldn’t be their call.

But hey, it’s just a video game and not… whatever the hell Facebook even is any more. And not only that, there’s nothing stopping you from not accepting RealID friend requests. Or not posting on forums. Or not playing Starcraft 2. Or not buying Diablo 3. Or not playing World of Warcraft.

Especially if you’re female. Because in the New Facebook Order, levelling while female is the new driving while black. Of course, if you don’t want people to treat you differently for being a woman, you could just not post in the forums. Or play Starcraft 2. Or not buy…

A completely un-related programming note: you may note that I have removed a good deal of Facebook integration from the blog, save automated login which is used by some users as a convenience. This is, as I said, completely unrelated and a complete coincidence.

Social Anonymity

Thanks to the miracle of RSS aggregators, I occasionally read Prokofy Neva’s blog. Part of it is because I still log into Second Life on occasion (if nothing else, it’s an online world entirely unlike my day job) and he is one of the few commentators on that. Part of it is because it’s just randomly fulfilling to see exactly how ad-hominem someone can go in one’s undying hatred for the net.intelligentsia that Prokofy roundly loathes. And occasionally, part of it is because he gets something right.

Like today, in the midst of yet another flamewar with another well-known SL blogger, Prokofy writes:

Of course, despite the always-on, always-share, Exposed Me quality of social media, we’re not supposed to ask what is behind what already seems like a deep exposure. We don’t Need to Know whether someone is 20 pounds less or ate burritos or clumps of spinach for lunch, but we’re told this Too Much Information and then…we’re supposed to shut up.

This is what I mean by social media as being such a burning lie — such a subterfuge even as it discloses and exposes.

In real life, your very close friends who would tell just you — and not the entire world — that they were losing weight because their doctor warned them of a heart attack or because they needed a new girlfriend. That is, their valiant acts would come bundled with other relavant just-for-you news.

In social media fake life. somebody broadcasts their diets all day and their health eating and you feel like you’re getting bulletins from Susan Powter and Richard, the sweating to the oldies guy, but you aren’t hearing what’s *really* up. And you don’t dare comment or ask, except in a superficial way, because then you’re rude, etc.

Social media like Second Life (which I clump together with this phenomenon, although they’re different) also creates such fake and false friends. You think someone you’ve talked to nearly every day pleasantly, with understanding, with solidarity, with shared insights, with cameraderie is your “friend,” but they aren’t really. Of course you don’t know them and can’t see their *real* setting.

Whis is true. We post things daily, hourly, minute-by-minute about our lives, not to reveal things about ourselves, but to throw out chaff so that the radar of other people can’t lock on to us. I dare say that most of you know very little about *me*, the person, because I don’t care to reveal much beyond the public persona. If you’ve friended me on Facebook you may know a bit more. If you know me in RL you may know a bit more still.

I’m pretty sure the count of people who know I’m trying to lose weight right now, and why, number at about 3.

And I don’t think the Internet, or social media, or any other buzzword, harbors responsibility for this essential alienation. I think our culture in general teaches us that we keep our enemies far and our friends farther. We don’t know our neighbors. (I’ve spoken to mine only a few times; when the police came by to inform us that one was a fugitive and asked if we had any information on him we could only shrug eloquently) We fear revealing too much online, entirely correctly, and then reveal entirely inappropriately too much at random moments (such as myself, one paragraph above this one) that, because of the shock of the reveal, is ignored and perhaps filed away to solve later, like some sort of mystery.

And tales of the sordid everyday lives of others are some of the most popular entertainment that we have. It’s not that we don’t want that connection, it’s just that we don’t particularly know what to do with it when we have it. And this is also why we flock to online worlds, for at least some of us – because it gives us very low-impact and low-danger social connections; communication outside of ourselves and our little packets of worlds.

And which is why ‘guild drama’ are some of the most compelling stories from online worlds – because we want the soap opera. We want that participation in the lives of others, even when – especially when – it all goes sour. Because it’s something outside of ourselves.

Or we could just go outside and meet other people and talk to them about things. But that’s overrated. I mean, it’s HOT out there this time of year.

You Got Your Facebook In My Orc Game

Blizzard rolled out a social network yesterday. Really! Here’s the overview:

– Ability to make initial friend connections through exchanging email addresses. This exists entirely independently of WoW; your friend displays online as their real name, and shows what server and character they are on. – Ability to make subsequent friend connections through browsing the friend lists of users on your own friend list and sending requests. – Ability to set your “What am I doing?” status.

That’s it.

Notice anything missing? You should.

The below assumes that this feature will become popular. Which, in fact, I suspect it will. There has been some thought put into the interface and chat features of this system – in fact, far more thought than has been put into World of Warcraft’s own friends list and chat system. And friends and chat are why people play MMOs. So, assuming everyone gloms onto this as the new default standard for friends listings within the community and it doesn’t, say, wither and die like “meeting stones” – consider these points.

– A minor point to most – Blizzard has abdicated from enforcing any sort of cross-team chat protection. There’s nothing protecting you from hopping on an alternate-side alt and doing your bit as a realm spy. Of course realistically, nothing prevented you from doing the same with an IM program. But this is different in that it goes counter to systems that are already in place. Why bother scrambling cross-team chat if you’re going to enable it in a different interface? It sends a mixed message, or more accurately the message that Blizzard forgot they were doing this in the first place.

– With this feature, Blizzard essentially disengages the player from the avatar. Now, World of Warcraft is only very, very peripherally a role-playing game in the sense that your character may or may not be human and may or may not cast spells at mobile bags of improvement called “monsters”. However, to this point, players have had the ability to be anonymous. That is gone. You see, the “RealID” system is keyed automatically – and unchangeably – to the name listed in Blizzard’s billing system as the owner of your account. If I wanted to be known as “Lum the Mad” – which, in every MMO to date, I have had that option to do – to protect myself from people who, just as a random casual aside, may have an unkind word or two to say to the real person behind the author of many of these blog postings – I would either have to change my name in Blizzard’s accounting system (which I’m not even sure is *possible*) or simply shrug and say, oh what the hell, it’s not like there are unstable people out there on the Internet! I mean, it’s not like I’m female or anything.

– There are no opt-outs in this system. There is no privacy protection within this system. There is no option for me to turn off the ability of my friends to browse my friends list. This system, in other words, is even more draconian about its enforced disdain for privacy issues than Facebook’s. When you make Facebook look like a paragon of privacy defense, there may be an issue or two. You can’t even opt out from the system itself. To quote Blizzard’s FAQ on the subject:

To stop using Real ID, simply remove all of your Real ID friends from your friends list, and do not accept any more Real ID friend requests.

That’s right, the opt out is to simply, you know, ignore any request you get! Also, if you’d like to opt out of our marketing list, just don’t read all the marketing we send you.

Why would Blizzard launch a social network with no privacy protection and no opt-out features whatsoever? Because they think people who are concerned about privacy are stupid and worth laughing at. And because in Activision’s august halls, someone looked at World of Warcraft’s millions of subscribers and Facebook’s billions of advertising revenue and said “Hmmm.” And no one thought any of this through.

Whee!