Blizzard announced yesterday an extension of its RealID. Now instead of being able to post on the official forums as Stabs or some other game nickname you'll be required to use your RealID, as verified by the name on the account, to post there.
CM Bashiok was so confident that he gave the forums his real name, Micah Whipple. Within 5 minutes WoW fans were laughing at him for living with his Mum and ringing his house. Within a few hours it was reported the family was no longer answering their phone. Oh and to start with they got the wrong Micah Whipple who must have been rather baffled by the sudden attention from thousands of random geeks.
Arguments have since raged back and forth whether it's acceptable for Blizzard to reveal customers' names.
The main defence has been that with real names people will behave better on the forums. This is almost certainly true. It won't hurt the civility level that half the players will never post again either.
But it’s not really about the forums at all. This is part of a long term plan to monetise their player base’s privacy. Games like Farmville make most of their money through lead generation, targeted advertising that allows advertisers to identify, say, thrash metal fans then send adverts to them.
Google already does it, adverts you see on Google are influenced by your previous search behaviour. Someone who had searched a lot of Christian themes would see a different set of adverts if they typed the word “Eve” than a gamer would.
It will be a fundamental part of Blizzard’s future business model now that they’ve agreed a deal with Facebook. In addition to selling you games, collecting subs, having one-off cash items like the sparkle pony and server transfers they will now also collect money from marketing people wanting to target their players.
The current advocacy of being open about your name by Blizzard staff is corporate think. The top management are enthused about it and trying to justify it on broader grounds than “we want extra money” and so it’s become a moral issue, an anti-troll issue. It really isn’t, it’s just a cash grab.
OK, so what's the big deal if they make some money? Targeted adverts? So I see an ad for something I want instead of singles or Evony? Sounds great!
There's a few problems:
The internet never forgets
Richard Bartle recently said:
I print off physical copies of every academic paper I read, on the grounds that the only things of any permanence on the Internet are those embarrassing private details you want to disappear forever. Things you want to keep have a habit of just vanishing.
Many many people do embarrassing or dumb things at some stage in our lives. As Richard says, if it's something you want to disappear forever it won't. As a 17 year old student you might be comfortable saying and doing things that as a 45 year old bank manager you wouldn't. But guess what? When you apply for that bank job in 28 years time the personnel officer will be watching your machinima WoW gay pride video to help her decide whether you have the gravitas and respectability to run their bank.
I actually went for an open day with London recruitment firm Badenoch and Clark a couple of weeks ago. I was told it's normal for people who are headhunted to be googled. At a professional level you are normally interviewed by a panel of people, usually a couple of people from the specific profession you're in plus a personnel manager. It's the personnel manager's job to assess how you would fit in.
And it's not only recruiters. Break up with someone and guess what, everyone may be admiring your intimate photos on facebook just like this lady.
So that's one of the key things about internet privacy. Once breached you can't change your mind. Ever. If it's bad enough - like this poor lad who needed therapy after this video was uploaded - it will never go away. He actually sued and won his case and his video is still fricking everywhere.
In Eve Online, Goons CEO Remedial stole the corp's titan fund and is believed to have e-bayed it for around $10 000. Guess what happened next:
>the other Goon directors are pretty pissed. FirstName LastName, infamous EVE goon, starts working on his revenge. Eventually he tracks Remedial to a swinger site, AdultFriendFinder, and either cons Remedial into thinking he is a woman interested in a threesome or just pulls pictures Remedial posted off the site. Either way, FNLN now had pictures of Remedial and his wife naked.
Which ends up posted fucking EVERYWHERE.
Remdick.jpg is faxed to his law office with the cryptic message "FirstName LastName always gets his."
Anyone care to lay odds that that highly embarassing jpeg file is still on hard drives (or whatever replaces them) in a hundred years time?
Anyone can say anything about you. Gank and corpse camp someone? Next thing you know there may be claims on your Facebook page that you roger under-age hamsters and help old ladies under the wheels of oncoming trucks. If it goes viral you will never get that completely taken down - your only recourse is to track down each site individually and ask them to take down your personal details (and they can say no). If they do say no you have the ability to take them to court - but good luck getting judgements against a million sites all over the world.
Sometimes of course it's possible to win - this businessman successfully sued an old school friend for defamation - but even after winning the lies might still be out there in google caches and mirror sites. Also the liar was pretty dumb to do it from his own PC.
Given your real name and the fact that you play WoW people can start to crack your internet security. You may reveal details in your posts that help them. Now of course there are thousands of other sources of people's real names but RealId will combine the dangerous elements of identifiability with outrage. How you behave towards other players in game and on forums will sometimes provoke outrage. Pvping someone, undercutting their auctions, kicking them from your guild or raid will get people really furious. Here is a very not safe for work Youtube recording of an encounter between Eve pirates and one of their victims. Listen to this, to the real life threats, then tell me it's a good idea for players to be able to track each other down?
In addition to regular players getting cross with each other sexual predators can use the internet as a means of finding victims. From the Guardian article on Peter Chapman:
He created the fake profile on Facebook and used pictures of a boy in his late teens, the court heard.
"The photograph is not of him. It is of a bare-chested and good-looking boy who is apparently in his late teens," Reeds said. "The defendant is a somewhat plainer looking man who could pass for being rather older than his 33 years.
"The prosecution case is that the defendant used this handsome alter ego to entice 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall into meeting him. When she met him, on 25 October last year, he kidnapped, raped and murdered her."
Here's a not safe for work video of a WoW player who got rather cross with her former guildies. Think it's a good idea to let her find out where they live?
WoW will see a substantial proportion of its players opt out of running guilds. There is some correlation between effective guild managers and people who have real life responsibility. Think those doctors, teachers and lawyers want everyone to think that sometimes they sound like this?
In a game that's short of raid leaders and officers causing half the people playing to be ineligible for those roles because they won't use Friends lists or the official forums is not helpful.
So even if you're ok with revealing your personal information you better also be willing to step up to recruit for your guild and run their raids when the guys doing it now stop doing it.
The slippery slope
I think what concerns me most is not that we will be required to use RealID to use full Friends list functionality, I can play WoW without a friends list. Not that we will be required to use RealID to use the forums, I can live without posting.
What concerns me is that there is clearly an attitude that is inspired by corporate greed that has become a moral theme. It's wrong to oppose RealId, some people say, you should be more honest. Got something to hide?
By making it a moral issue it become inevitable that this will be extended, perhaps eventually becoming impossible to play Blizzard video games without putting your details out there. And who knows, maybe other companies will follow suit.
Personally I'm quite torn. I know that I should hold to my principles and refuse to play another Blizzard game until they climb down. And I'm comfortable with refraining from buying Starcraft 2. I'm less comfortable with not buying WoW. And I very much want to buy Diablo 3, I loved the previous versions.
I suppose for me the opt-out solution is to create a new account with a false name. You don't need a credit card to buy these games, you can buy a WoW box in shops and buy game cards for cash. Diablo 3 will certainly be in the shops and probably won't even have a monthly sub.
Or you can play games with your names. For example James Hugh Callum Laurie, the actor, uses the name Hugh Laurie professionally and no one calls him a lying liar. He could certainly, if he played WoW, post as James Laurie without people realising who he was but without lying about his name. Actor Roger Caesar Marius Bernard de Delgado Torres Castillo Roberto, known as Roger Delgado, could like most Portuguese use a number of combinations from his name quite legitimately. Married women have the option of using their maiden name or their husband's surname. Authors like George Eliot and J. K. Rowling have used gender-neutral versions of their names to get published without actually lying or implying they're female.
So we may be moving into a time when without any normal people really wanting it we lose the right to anonymity because of corporate greed. And rather than fight it it's easier to simply sacrifice one's principles and use a fake "real name".