What Would Matt Do

I reckon I aim to play some games.

[Updated] Blizzard makes plans to conduct largest internet social experiment ever

with 3 comments

Update: Man, that was fast. As a friend suggested, maybe this was a PR move. “Now that we aren’t going to do obviously outrageous thing, here’s what we’ll do instead…” We shall see.

Blizzard’s Plan

If you are any sort of MMO player or you know one, you probably have already heard about Blizzard’s plans to use what they call RealID. The basics are this:

  • If you use the system and friend anyone else, they can see your real name. It’s not based on character or server, it’s your unique ID with your real name tied to it. No more anonymity in Blizzard games, basically.
  • It will also allow you to do as Steam does now, track people across games. It’s an external friending service, rather than a friend system in a specific game.
  • Some other stuff Blizzard totes as really helpful.

The reality and the why

Here’s the part they don’t mention on that link above…yes, it’s completely optional, but if you want to post on any Blizzard forum, you will have to use your RealID, and hence, your real name. Not to mention once the system gets started and guilds start to require it, as we all know they will, you’ll be giving it up to people you often only known in an online capacity. Why play with someone anonymously, when you can play with them where they have some accountability. It’ll sweep the entire game like wildfire. There will be holdouts of course, but for any serious (read catass) WoW players, they are basically seeing the writing on the wall of having to now be out, so to speak.

Why is Blizzard doing this? Well, if you don’t know, public forums are really hard to control (great, long article). And Blizzard has one of the largest, if not the largest, gaming forum online because of how popular WoW is (most popular MMO of all time still). As you can see from this very scientific documentation, people online aren’t always 1) aware they aren’t anonymous and 2) able to control themselves when anonymous. It’s hilarious and sadly true.

Internet Assholery (or IA) been a big problem for online forums of all types pretty much since the beginning of the internet. There is some disconnect with many people when they think there are no repercussions for their actions. This guy can probably explain it better, and even offers up how he’d like to track the changes.


The reasons no one has done this before

Well, let’s start with some simple examples. Since Blizzard announced this, a few people defending it have offered up their real names. This guy and this guy have both probably thought better of it now. You see, you aren’t actually anonymous anywhere. You aren’t in real life obviously, but you aren’t on the internet either (well, 99.9% of us aren’t). Everything you do online can be tied back to you in one way or another. Even without your real name being given out; that just makes it easier. Look at both of the examples above. The people tracking down these guys used their real names to get started tracking them down, but if they had any other piece of information, or postings where you shared pretty much anything, or posted anything, you can be tracked. Just because you use a fake name on a forum, don’t think that means that people can’t find you. There are a thousand stories of people online being tracked down, well before Blizzard ever even thought of this idea or even running an MMO. It’s a fact of internet life most people don’t realize.

Ok, so we aren’t really anonymous. Well, we aren’t really anonymous once we start engaging. If we post on any forum, any page comments, facebook, etc, not only is that all trying to be tracked by your ISP, it starts to link information to your fake online identity. Which has an IP address, which has a real name attached, etc, etc, etc. So what’s the problem then? Well, because people feel they are anonymous, they act as stated above AND because they aren’t particularly well informed, they believe other people are anonymous. So things like this don’t happen as often as they could.

For others, the big concerns are what are going to happen to the groups of people that really needed the anonymity. For instance, women and/or minorities. No longer can they go online in WoW and join up to a guild or post in forums without people knowing their ethnicity (many names alone suggest this, sometimes as wrong as not) or their sex. Why is this a problem? Well, as you might guess, many gamers are socially retarded. I don’t say that without some self reflection, as a gamer, but I also say it as someone who thinks that invading people’s personal lives is well beyond something I’d condone or do. For many others, it’s just a matter of access to the information. Without the it-takes-more-work-than-its-often-worth-to-figure-out-someones-real name barrier, this sort of thing may happen more. If you’ve ever gone on XBox Live, you’re probably aware of how idiotic people can be online.

To boot, who would be responsible for all of this in a court of law? Some might argue that it’s the company that requires people to give up their anonymity to post on their forum or to be in any of the more serious guilds (I state this as fact, but it could turn out otherwise). Blizzard may very well see lawsuits based on their plan.

Why it’s a potential good thing in the long run

Didn’t expect that title, did you? Well, just think about it for a second. If people have to start thinking when they post online, this could be tied back to me, maybe, just maybe, they will stop acting like assholes. Maybe it will sink in that they aren’t anonymous and that they should have the social grace to handle themselves like they were talking with actual people. Hey, it could happen. As a matter of fact, I think it will happen in the long term. And if this social experiment works for Blizzard, expect more and more companies to do it. The internet isn’t going to directly expose you in the future, you are. You will have to sign up for and validate your identity at every site you want to post on. And you will be banned based on your real identity. No more just signing up another account. And once multiple sites start requiring real names, they will all start using the same service and to post, you’ll have to give up a link that shows your entire internet posting history. For some, this going to be a HUGE change. For others like myself, that have been posting under their real names for a long time, it won’t be such a huge thing. But notice I don’t directly state my full name anywhere on this site, though any enterprising person could easily track me down. I like that layer of separation for my personal site. Heck, many people that read here do so because they know me in RL, so it’s not that big of a deal, but that layer of obfuscation, that bit of work required to track me down, gives me at least a bit more of a wall between the world and my personal life. That I’m sharing for anyone in the world to read… Ya, dumb, I know. But that’s the whole point. Many people aren’t even aware that the anonymity is a lie.

What Would Matt Do: I’d wish Blizzard all of the best. I like the concept and I eagerly await details of how it goes. I’d love to see the things that Jamie mentions on his site above (povg) so we can get real metrics on how this social experiment on a grand scale goes down. Here’s hoping Blizzard not only shares that information at some future date, but that they realize they may be setting a trend for the much of the future of the internet and go…wisely into that great beyond.

Update: Jay and Silent Bob thought about this a long time ago.

Update II: Lots of people are angry. I’m not sure I disagree with them even. It’s a very tough issue.

[edited for grammer. probably more than once.]

Written by Matt

July 8th, 2010 at 11:57 am