Wednesday, July 7, 2010

RealID and the WoW Forums

In case you missed it Blizzard announced today that they will be making several changes to the official forums when they upgrade the forums for the release of Cataclysm. Some of the changes are fairly standard for modern forums like being able to rate posts and grouping replies to particular posts together, but that is not what makes this news worth. There is one bomb dropped by Blizzard that has everyone all in a panic. To quote Blizzard, "anyone posting or replying to a post on official Blizzard forums will be doing so using their Real ID -- that is, their real-life first and last name."

Myth #1 - This will significantly limit Trolling:
The forums have also earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness run wild. Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before.
Lets face it. There is so much trash on the official forums that it is difficult to find the the good posts. I do appreciate the effort to clean up the forums, but I have no clue as to why Blizzard thinks it will work.

Ask yourself a quick question. What is the difference between posting under your avatar or under your real name? Are you really giving up any anything by giving up the anonymity of posting under your avatar?

I don't think you are. Anonymity isn't the reason why people can post almost anything they want on the internet. What gives us the freedom to post what ever we want is the lack of consequences. From that perspective, for most people it won't matter if they post under the name TyphoonTurkey or Tim Johnson, because it is highly unlikely that anything extra would happen to Tim Johnson that wouldn't happen to TyphoonTurkey if he got in to a flame war. His mom is still unlikely to find the post and ground him. His wife is still unlikely to get mad it him. It's not like he is more likely to get fired from his job as a result of posting. Heck, they are still unlikely to get in trouble with their guilds because you don't have to attach your toon name to your RealID.

The fact of the matter is that this will have little impact on trolling, because real consequences still will not exist for the trolls.

Myth #2 - The WoW forums are bad because of Trolls:

The official forums aren't cluttered because of trolls. There cluttered because of the shear quantity of the people who post and because some people can't do a little research before posting a stupid question like "What's the Moonkin Hit Cap?"

Think about it. RealID is not going to make anyone read a sticky. RealID is not going to give anyone spec or gear tips. RealID is not going to prevent people from starting a new topic when there are already 3 active.

There are so many people who play this game and want to express their opinion that the forums are bound to have a high quantity posts even if you eliminated all of the trolls. In which case it will still be very difficult to identify the quality posts without the post rating system. However, you don't need RealID for a post rating system to function.

The Real Impact:

None of this to say that this change will have no impact. It will have an impact. Just not the intended one.

It's important to remember that we live in an age where information is fairly easy to obtain if you have a little to start with. Knowing two pieces of a puzzle will help you find the third. Having the third will help you find the fourth and fifth pieces, and so on.

Now think about what you know about your guildies. These are people who we play with and talk to for potentially hours every week. In this type of environment we are going to let small bits of information about ourselves out. What city or state do we live in. What type of job we have. What our general age is. Do we have a family.

These are all very general bits of information, and by themselves are fairly harmless, but what if you know someone's name? Then they become ways to filter the abundance of information available on the internet. All of a sudden, observant guildies or other acquaintances are able to locate us if we want to participate in the forums.

This isn't to say there is going to be an outbreak of Stalkers when this goes live. I have heard several stories of resourceful players using the available information to locate other players, and showing up on their door steps uninvited, but I am sure these are the extreme exceptions rather then the norm. I also believe that most of the people who go to this extreme are fairly harmless Zaboos, and you can't blame Blizzard for the actions of it's players. However, it would be irresponsible to ignore the possibility of tragic results (1,2). The risk must be evaluated against the reward, and as I said above I highly doubt Blizzard will achieve the results they desire. Therefore the reward is not worth the risk in my opinion.

Blizzards Reply:

I know that Blizzard is not stupid. I'm sure that they have thought of most of these issues ahead of time, and that is why I am not surprised by their canned response.
The forums have always been an optional extra -- something you can choose to participate in if you wish to. (src)
Second Class Citizens: Of course, participating in the forums is optional, but should that mean our opinions are less important if we choose not to compromise our privacy? That is one of the (likely) unintended meanings of their statement above.

I think most of us would agree that the WoW forum is probably the best place to express an opinion if you want it to be read, and it is the only place to discuss the game if you want to have any chance at a discussion with a Blizzard employee. Yes, there are other ways to provide feedback to Blizzard. I'm lucky in that I have a well read blog that I know at the very least has been on Blizzard's radar in the past. I am also sure that Blizzard does fall other sites like the Elitist Jerks and MMO Champion. However, I think it is also safe to assume that they do not follow these other sources of information as well as they follow their own site. It's also safe to assume that they don't post or comment on any of these sites as Blizzard employees. Therefore, the players who choose to maintain their privacy will be locked out of part of the discussion and are less likely to have their voices heard.

Technical Issues: What about technical issues? I had a problem about 2 years ago where my computer kept locking up every 15minutes to an hour while I was playing WoW. I looked for answers in several different places on the internet, but the WoW forums was easily the most helpful and where I ultimately found the answer. This change means I can't do that kind of research if I want to protect my privacy. Sure I can call Blizzard for technical support, but that isn't really a good use of resources and it's not like I can post error reports over the phone.

The Strange Part: That isn't the strange part about this response though. If you go back to the original block quote I posted above you will see that the main reason for the change is so that Blizzard can "promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before." They are basically saying "we want to create a community, but if you don't like how we are doing it then don't be a part of it." To me this seems very contradictory. I can understand wanting to exclude the trolls, flamers, and the generally unhelpful, but with this they will also be excluding very helpful posters as well.

TL-DR:

I completely agree that the WoW forums are cluttered with junk. It is very difficult to fine the good posts while sorting through all of the useless junk. Therefore I applaud the intent to clean up the forums. However, what they've proposed will do little to change the current situation of the forums.

Most people think the anonymity of the internet is what allows people to act like idiots, when in reality it is the lack of consequences. Forcing us to post under our real names isn't going to add consequences all of a sudden, especially when we are not forced to tie our real names to a specific toon. Therefore our real names aren't all that different from the level one alts that currently exist. You still don't know what guild I'm in, and you still can't do anything to me unless you want to find out where I live and come stab me.

I also disagree with the premise that Trolls are what is making the WoW forum suck. The fact of the matter is that this game has over 11 million players. Even if only 10% of those people post that is a lot of posts. A majority of the people who post are not trolls, but uninformed people who do not read the stickies or other threads and clutter the forums with new threads and useless posts. When you have 11million people playing the game that is inevitable.

Ultimately Blizzard needs to evaluate the risk of posting our real names versus the reward of doing so. While stalkings and violence as a result of this change will probably be extremely rare, there is plenty of evidence to show that it is a very real risk. Since I don't see how the change will result the intended reward of better forums, it is clear to me that the risk in this case is clearly not worth the reward since the reward does not exist.

17 comments:

lissanna said...

I have already decided NOT to post on the new forums for at least 1 year after this change happens. Right now, until I get married next summer, I'm the only one in the world with my combination of first and last name. I refuse to basically give away access to my address and phone number every time I post on the forums. Instead, I'll only maintain my guides on my blog and unofficial forums where I have privacy and control. They lose their most loyal and constructive posters with this change, and if enough people like me stop supporting their forums, it's going to be a worse place to be.

Anonymous said...

I think bliz could achieve the same results of reducing trolling simply by making you select a main character to post with and not allowing you to change. For those who post on level 1 toons to troll without angering their guild or bring their own characters experience into question will either not post or deal with the consequences.

This will in no way eliminate trolling but it will reduce it. Even I have a low level alt I've used a few times to post snarky comments to dumb questions. This change would stop me from doing so.

If bliz goes through with Real ID on the forums I believe a large number of people will stop posting completely. There is already talk on my server forums of creating our own forum, as I know a number of other servers already have.

Graylo said...

@Lissanna

You've probably already thought about this, but you're also an Alpha tester. If this change was currently in affect, you would not be able to give Cata feed back on the forum with out exposing your idenity. Does Blizzard really want to identify the friends and family of it's employees? Or is it optional for the testers to participate in the forums and provide feedback?

lissanna said...

We'll have to wait and see. A year from now, I get married and my name changes from being totally unique to being MUCH more common, so I may come back to the forums in a year when I don't feel 100% exposed anymore.

lissanna said...

Also, I've never taken more than a week break from the official WOW forums since I started playing the game (and that was only on camping trips where there is no internet in the middle of a camp ground). SO, I could actually use a break from the madness, honestly.

GamingLifer said...

There's no way in FUCK I'd post (much less troll) with my real name, unless my name was "John Smith" or "Mike Jones."

I wouldn't even want my guildies to know my name (even Syni had to find out from someone else), much less your average forum troll.

But what's to stop people from using a fake name on their accounts in the first place?

Duskstorm said...

It seems like they could have fixed a lot of the problem by simply only allowing people to post as either a level 80 character OR with their real ID.

Anonymous said...

Meh. I dont really see the issue. Forums are an optional cesspit. I much prefer to read from Graylo or Lissanna.

Avaryse said...

There's irony that "Anonymous" doesn't see an issue here.

Yeah, the forums are "optional", but what about the useful forums:

Customer Support, Technical Support, Bug Reports, Suggestions, and Guild Recruitment or Realm forums?

They are basically saying "You can spread your personal info around on the internet, or not use any of our tools, and frankly - we don't care." Which wouldn't be as big of an issue if their in-game support was worth two bits. It's not.

The bigger problem here is that they don't seem to care about privacy on any level nor the long-reaching consequences of this set up. This step is just ONE step in their Real ID crusade, and it's a very large leap toward forcing the Real ID "feature" onto the playerbase.

If I wanted to play Farmville, I'd be playing Farmville.

Loth said...

This change seens to me pretty much like all the changes done to privacy in facebook. If people still use facebook, they should see no problem on RealID. It would be hipocrisy.
For me, no Facebook, neither wow forum. But I almost never used it, anyway. Alla forums, for me, do the trick.

Elesarana said...

I find this to be one of the smartest business options, but one of the dumbest ideas for their community. Mainly because a member of my guild pointed this out.

"SAVES A SHIT TON OF MONEY AND CUTS THE MILLIONS OF POST A MONTH TO SOMETHING MORE MANAGABLE.

CUTS BANDWITH USE BY AT LEAST 75%

$$$$$


ITS NO SECRET THE CORE DESIGN TEAM HATES THE FORUMS..."

Anonymous said...

I've been following your blog for quite awhile and always found it informative. However I think you may be missing the mark somewhat in assuming this is only to stop trolling.

As has been said, if the goal were truly to eliminate trolling there are simpler and less dangerous ways to do so. Whether that be having 1 posting handle for each account or having the forums default to whatever character has the most achievement points (and therefore is presumably the main).

A lot about this, and Blizzard's response, says that stopping trolling is actually only one reason, and one of quite low importance, for doing this. The facebook deal, the continued pushing for 'social networking' all indicate its more about increased money via advertising/sucking in more subscribers from such sites that is the goal here.

Frankly, I have been a loyal fan of Blizzard for many years, I was really looking forward to Cataclysm. Now I do not trust anything they say, I worry that this system will be expanded further still to the armoury and other sites, in which case I will cancel my subscription and delete all my characters if I have not already done so. I do not even trust blizzard's statement that old posts will not be changed and have purged all my forum posts and know many others who are doing so.

Whether I will quit over the implementation of this on the forums alone remains to be seen, but with the supposed hole in RealID in-game allowing people to see your name regardless, and Blizzards continued disregard for the privacy and safety of our personal information, I may not stick around to see what comes next.

Anonymous said...

Problems with trolling, racism, sexism and all the other bad'isms that turn up on the forum(in my experience realm forums are the worst)can be handled far more efficiently by merely policing the issue properly. Creating in game consequnces for abhorrent behaviour on the games forum is what I'd have in mind.

I'm certain this isn't just about trolls though - blizzard wants a true gamers edge over the farmville market.

And lol, all this talk of forums being 'optional'. Yeah, sure they are, technically - but everyone reading this blog knows the wealth of info and contributions that've been made over the years by PLAYERS to help thousands of other PLAYERS better their play experience. What a slap in the face.

Lastly, and importantly - ALOT of people are making blog posts, and their own individual posts on the forum with a few interesting perspectives only to have them locked etc - while I'm glad Graylo and Lissanna are blogging about this, I just want to encourage with such strong points to make to go and post in that 1000+ page thread - everyone needs to hear it.

-Odem, dreadmaul.

Dave Cushley said...

The same as Lissanna, I have an extremely unique name and the last thing I want is peopel looking me up on Facebook and sending me a pile of shit because they disagree with something I posted. I find the official forums too much of a hassle to use the majority of the time anyway, but I ahve posted a few times, twice to help people who were havign issues with the game itself (after a patch) that I ahd myself and had fixed.

People that want to complain or have an issue will still go for it,because they ned help. The people that would reply with help might not, because there's no benefit to them, and the risks are potential harrasment, or just a shit ton of spam.

Jen said...

@GamingLifer: You can't change the name on your battle.net. You can just make a new account (with the same last name) and transfer your characters. If you are a new player and you start an account with a fake name, you're screwed if you have an actual problem and have to prove your identity to Blizzard.

@Loth: I use Facebook and, lo and behold, it has privacy settings! No one who's not in my friend list can see what I say, and the only people in my friends list are... you know, people I actually know in real life.

Jormundgard said...

I don't think it has anything to do with trolling. I think executives who wanted a "social network" used the trolling excuse to persuade those people in Blizzard that have to manage the forums.

Troll Druid FTW said...

Ey Mon!
Watchoo got against Trolls?
We be joinin you droods in Cata and dont want no bad jujus between us, or you gonna get a big pair of tusks in ya face mon!
But aye agree, I don't want no stinkin ninjas findin out ma reel name and harrassin or sassin me.
Aye wont be postin on no forums no moar!
For Zul'Jin