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Blizzard demands real names on its forums

New rule removes anonymity in the name of harmony, but revelation of dev's personal details fuels privacy concerns

World of WarCraft developer Blizzard has announced plans to extend the use of its Real ID feature, stipulating that anyone posting on their official forums must use their real name - thus prohibiting anonymity.

Real IDs were introduced as an optional social networking feature during the StarCraft II beta, allowing players to see both in-game and real names in their friends list. Although players will remain anonymous within Blizzard games, Real IDs will now become mandatory for all posts on the official Blizzard forums.

Revealed in a post by Blizzard employee using only the nickname "Nethaera", the changes are intended to address the forums' "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," said Nethaera.

The forums have been predictably unhappy about the change, with the main thread running to 912 pages and 18239 comments at the time of writing.

The primary concern is privacy. Following Blizzard staffer "Bashiok" revealing his real name on the forums, a move intended to demonstrate confidence in Real ID, a fansite quickly unearthed personal details including his address, phone number, photographs and the names and locations of close family members.

This has fuelled fears that Real ID may make it too easy to for forum users to identify each other in the event of a dispute. While extremely rare and not constituting any kind of trend, incidents of internet conflict or infatuation have very occasionally spilled into real life. Last year, a German man was convicted of tracking down and murdering a man from Nottingham as a result of a obsession with the victim's girlfriend, who he had not met but knew via an Advance Wars forum.

Blizzard remains adamant that Real ID is for the greater good. "With the launch of the new Battle.net, it's important to us to create a new and different kind of online gaming environment - one that’s highly social, and which provides an ideal place for gamers to form long-lasting, meaningful relationships," a still-anonymous mod added. "All of our design decisions surrounding Real ID - including these forum changes - have been made with this goal in mind.

"As the way gamers interact with one another continues to evolve, our goal is to ensure Battle.net is equipped to handle the ever-changing social-gaming experience for years to come." Given the current social gaming goldrush, it is possible the move to Real ID is also intended to pursue Facebook's success.

Requiring users to give their full name is extremely rare in any online situation, with one of the most high profile being a plan by the Chinese government to combat massively multiplayer online game addiction by requiring players to register with their real names and government ID card numbers.

Earlier in the year the state of South Australia passed a law requiring anyone posting a political comment online to give their real name and address. The law was quickly repealed after numerous complaints from South Australian citizens.

The enforced use of real names on official gaming forums is not unprecedented, however. Specialist car MMO iRacing already requires that all players use their real names, without significant negative consequence to date.

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Latest comments (32)

Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator 11 years ago
Why?...making a gaming environment that's highly social doesn't depend on peoples real names...
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.11 years ago
Requiring a real name will only cause the members to further distrust forum administration. It will not have any drastic change in the members perceived accountability for their words and actions and therefore no reduction in the trolling and flame wars they wish to prevent.

You deal with that problem by rewarding high quality posters who set an example for others to follow (like reduced/free games or subscriptions fees) and employ quality moderators who have the authority to take action against trolls and flame baiters.

Forcing real names won't do anything but make your members look at you sideways.
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Claire Blackshaw Senior Online Consultant, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe11 years ago
It's a balance between social stability and creative freedom. I find the comments on this site so useful, mainly because of the meta info.

The real names only apply to the main Blizzard forums, which are a bit of a swamp at the moment. The fan forums, guild sites and smaller communities still will revolve around the creative free form which rises from aliases, but they are small enough that they don't explode from critical mass.

I look forward to seeing how this changes the dynamics.
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Show all comments (32)
Kevin Clark-Patterson Lecturer in Games Development, Lancaster and Morecambe College11 years ago
Internet = anonymity

If anyone can break that, I guess Blizzard will seeing as they 'own' the MMO population
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Terence Gage Freelance writer 11 years ago
I agree with Jimmy; better policing and management of the forum is what's needed really. Posting under real names isn't necessarily going to straighten things out, and might even discourage otherwise decent users from taking part (it's no secret that the internet is full of wierdos and someone with a name as distinct as mine, for instance, can be found quite easily if you have a little information).
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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 11 years ago
I personally dont see any harm in this. Downside is ofcourse your real name becoming visible but what harm is in a name? Upside: less trolling, hate-posts, spam and what not.
We are posting here with our real names are we not? We are on facebook with our real names and those names are accessible to all aswell are they not? I dont see a privacy issue with this one.

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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.11 years ago
Aleksi, real names won't change their posting habits except for perhaps a paranoid few.

I run a forum of 33,000 myself. I, and most others, have learned the names of many of them (good and bad posters) and it's not changed their posting habits at all.

You change their habits by encouraging better habits, rewarding better habits and punishing bad habits.

People on forums add their facebook and myspace profiles to their profile pages and user spaces so much so that the anonymity factor is a dying facet of forum posting. 10 years ago? Sure, you'd freak out most of the members demanding a real name. Today, they'll just look at you like you're crazy. And in a sense, they'd be right. Real names no longer come with real consequences since everyone already knows who you are.
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Gregg Baker Head of Community Strategy, Jagex Games Studio11 years ago
On one hand I see that they are trying to remove keyboard warriors from their forums, but in reality I dont see it stopping. Will your typical forum troll stop being a troll because he has used his real name? Also, I think for an RPG game its a risk stripping away such a big RPG element, interacting within the community as your in game persona. I would imagine some people were proud to represent their in game toon as they interacted with others.

I used to play WoW, dont anymore, but I know I wouldnt if I felt my real name was ever associated with it. WoW tends to be a guilty pleasure for a lot, something you would be mocked for playing in certain circles.

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I am curious how this will play out. ^^

Using real names has some sort of hurdle: There are thousands of names that are similar...hundreds of "Peter Müller" here in Germany f.ex. How will they be seperated from each other to keep up transparency? I am sure, Blizzard thought about this...but if you start using additional Tags "Peter.Mülller_123" ... maybe you could have kept the alias system :D

Overall, i don't think this will cause less flames...but it may reduce intensity of flamewars. If you are around with an alias-nickname, you may feel free to put a lot of garbage on the desk. This learning is as old as the internet. If there is more personality at hand, this may tone down a bit... (what may be the hope of Blizzard)

Real names could inflict some other implications: If someone gets flamed by an anonymous poster, the hurdle to start some "legal stuff" may be quite high. The chances for a CM is even higher to calm down the conflict more easy.

But when real names are displayed...and if the escalation is really bad, the threshold of puting the case on the desk of a lawayer may feel reduced. This will make the CM work even more difficult, because a unlucky CM might get involved in this really fast...

Nevertheless...*sign* @ Gregg & Jimmy
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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 11 years ago
@Jimmy. You might be right, but as things stand now, on Blizzard forums, no one knows your real name. Admins/moderators maybe see some info regarding that, but for the forum population as a whole everyone is anonymous. I only consider this a positive change. Ok, maybe not the best step but a step in the right direction. Why is it that we even expect to be always given anonymity when it comes to posting on the internet? Its not like its written down somewhere. We just assume its the way it was meant to be. Maybe its time to give that view a reality check?
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Robert Shepherd Studying Games Designer, Train2Game11 years ago
Im sure that most people will just use fake Alias'
The name i sign up to on every site that isnt to do with banking or other real world issues is never going to be my real name. Whilst blizzard may demand people use thier real names, theres nothing stopping Mr John stone AKA: Torzbain using a fake name like Micheal wallice. Still holding all his anonimity.
This is just once again Blizard and activision calling on the Whaaaambulance
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I have been playing WoW since the release in EU up till now and Im (a bit) active on the official forums.

I agree for the most part with what Jimmy says but also don't forget, if your character name is for example: "Tankadin" (your forum nickname is your character's name, you can't change it to your liking) and you play on the realm Alonsus then these two (nickname + realm) will be shown to every forum user, if you post very negative things or have a very bad attitude towards other forum users I would not be inclined to go do a dungeon or something similar with "Tankadin" if he was on my realm thanks to his general attitude on the forums.

Atm you have a reputation to keep as your character's name is being portrayed and if you are negative so will your character be viewed on your realm.

I think it will have quite the opposite effect and perhaps have even more spam and flame war's since a person's character stays unknown for the rest of the community from what I understand.

I am ofc only speaking about the World of Warcraft forums, I am not up to date with their other forums.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Joffrie Diependaele on 7th July 2010 3:33pm

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Sam Maxted Journalist / Community / Support 11 years ago
We've all heard horror stories about how some of the... less balanced... members of the MMO community have, in the past, tracked down and attacked people who they had some sort of falling out with, either in-game or on the forums. In my opinion, Blizzard's walking a dangerous path by allowing people's real names to be displayed - it could leave them open to legal action from those located through their RealIDs. And that's before we even get into cases of mistaken identity...

If someone really wants to troll the WoW forums, they're going to do it regardless of this change. They'll simply do it with a temporary account, possibly accessed from a public PC such as one in a school or office, or through an anonymous proxy server. All Blizzard appears to be doing in this case is swapping a relatively minor problem for a potentially major one.

As a side note, Blizzard's current forums specifically prohibit "posts containing personal information about other players". Go figure.
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Jason Stewart Associate Producer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe11 years ago
Maybe this is another clever marketing campaign by Blizzard who will eventually allow forums users to change their "real name" for $25.

:D
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.11 years ago
Shhh, Jason. Don't give them ideas.
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Thaadd Powell Sales Rep, ACD Game Distribution11 years ago
As a female MMO player, I would never, EVER post with my real name in game forums. In part, because it cross references to my work identity which is by way of my job having to have an always positive reputation - and in part because I know how well some of my friends can stalk. Out doing eachother stalking out friends, as well as enemies... we sort of see it as a game.

Stalking, angry people who dislike that you kill them repeatedly, fall out from online drama, and crazed lonely gamers. No thanks. (Thankfully I don't play that game)
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James Prendergast Process Specialist 11 years ago
Yeah, i agree with the comments about better moderation being the key rather than enforcing less anonymity. As far as i can see, anything that essentially allows people one more way of griefing someone via race or sex is a bad move. The problem isn't that these things will happen to people on the forums - they will be moderated by Blizzard staff - the problem is that when you know someone's real identity you can grief them effectively outside of the boundaries of Blizzard's realm. Just as Bashiok found out.... and even if they didn't get all his details right, that just means that someone else took the brunt of the attack.

The other side of this i do not like is that it effectively forces you to be vulnerable to any kind of employment bias. In a world were you are increasingly not allowed a private life or views, political comments, gaming habits, sexual preferences etc. all can be searched via the internet without your knowledge any time you apply for a job. How many people here would like to openly make comments that encapsulate anti-industry standard ideals if it could cost them a job down the line? Are you more likely to do that under your own name or under an alias..... Then there's whistleblowing etc.

These don't all apply to this situation but it's the principle. You can even substitute some of the above for things like voicing an unpopular opinion to moderators or the game company for which you are unceremoniously banned... it's not like that never happened, right?
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Nuno Silva11 years ago
I can understand that currently Blizzards puts a lot of effort (human resources and money) in maintaining their forums "free" of trolling.
With this change they will drastically reduce the trolling, but also the more constructive posters will be reticent into sharing their ideas.

If Blizzard's intent is to create a platform that essentially contains useful information, easy to read and maintain, then this is a good option.
I would say 80% of the posts could just be made on some fan forums, and have "relaxing" conversations.

Imagine, for example, the difference between talking in a café and talking inside some companies building.
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Philipp Nassau Student - Business Administration (M. Sc.) 11 years ago
I only see one (read: a tiny bit more than zero) gain for Blizzard from this: outsourcing the dealing with bad manners.

Let me explain. right now, trolling happens on the forums. With realID this will very likely happen outside of them. Someone gets into an argument, it gets a bit heated up. Now, as of today, someone will flame him with the "anonymity" of a lvl 1 toon created for that purpose. The posts will be moderated, no harm done in the long term. Now, someone can google your name and order pizza to your home or give your phone number to 4chan. "for the lulz". It's not much of an effort and even if they don't hit the right one: what do they care? That way one would even have an innocent third party involved.

Yes, there are more obstacles along the way than just clicking the reply button. Yet, this will definitely happen, though not on large scale. This will drive people off the forums and Blizzard will lose valuable information (they might still get enough, regarding the number of players).
And let's not forget, people play and discuss games for fun. They enjoy being "Stuardinho" and the like.

So what does that mean for Blizzard? Less posts means spending less money on moderating. The perceived rise in accountability will do it's part for the reduction of bad manners on the forums. What really upsets me though, is the fact, that they already have all the tools to deal with this. Every alias one can use on the official forums is bound to one single BNet Account, therefore it's all trackable for moderators. There is no real rise in accountability, so moderation would do the exact same thing. Giving out more "valuable poster" titles and such would mean spending a bit more money on the forum moderation but also a lot less money spent on those huge changes. I suppose that's all part of a bigger plan to become the "gaming-facebook-hybrid-of-the-future" but for today, in my opinion, it's just pointless.

You want people talking on your own forums. Going through all the fansites does not seem very economic, nor does excluding every non-CRM related bit discussion. In a group of people, you don't stand up from the table while playing risk, just because you want to announce something non-gaming-related. Having to do this means a frustrating experience.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Philipp Nassau on 8th July 2010 2:31am

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Richard Gardner Artist, Crytek11 years ago
I have used the Blizzard forums before and its a mess of spam and non-constructive ranting. I hope real ID will thin numbers for one and also reduce the amount of people willing to insult and rant at people behind fake alias. All you need to do is look at comment pages like this, what you say represents you and you can't hide behind anything.
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@Sam Maxted:

Again only speaking about the WoW forums, but you can't make a temporary account, you have to log in with a valid WoW account that is active, so even your second account thats been inactive for 1month doesn't count.

You can however choose any char you have from any realm on that active account, so they could make a temporary character and post in his name and later delete it. Well this is how it used to be, all real name's now :)

I don't have much problem with it, the ingame realfriendID system is very good in my opinion, will have to wait to see how it works out on forums.
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James Prendergast Process Specialist 11 years ago
@ Richard:

I think you're seeing a lot of self-selection here, since this site is mainly for professionals and has fewer 'flame-feeding' posts and articles than those meant for the general population. Then there's also the fact that it only recently changed to being "log-in to view" which i know many people do not tolerate - hence the reduction in site traffic.

I don't post with my real name anywhere else on the internet but i behave just as i do here (you'll have to take my word for that). If you extrapolate the existence of my views and behaviour to everyone else then the world would be a more harmonious place. However, it doesn't work like that and nor does comparing a site like gameindustry.biz to a social kaleidoscope like the Blizzard forums.
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Peter Law11 years ago
As a side note, Blizzard's current forums specifically prohibit "posts containing personal information about other players". Go figure.

You're not allowed to post SOMEONE else's information, but there's nothing to say you can't post your own. So this rule doesn't even need changing with the RealID's, although it forces people to not post if they don't want to post their real name.
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John Bye Lead Designer, Freejam11 years ago
James - "it only recently changed to being "log-in to view" which i know many people do not tolerate - hence the reduction in site traffic"

Not sure about site traffic, but the number of comments being posted on GamesIndustry.biz has gone through the roof since they brought in forced logins. It's a much more active community now.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany11 years ago
I think it's a excellent idea; that provably will keep away all the racist, sexist and discriminatory behaviour of hundreds of cowards hiding under the veil of a nickname.

Maybe now i can go back to check those forums without the feeling that some human being deserve to be banned from the internet (or something worst).
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James Prendergast Process Specialist 11 years ago
@ John. I have to admit that i can't comment on the numbers aspect since even though i've visited the site for a long time i never registered so i could never view the comments, only the articles before the change.

I suppose, from an emotional investment perspective, that once people are forced to join to be a part of the site then there's a higher chance of them being involved in the commentary on the site and once they've commented once they're more likely to comment again - especially on issues that matter to them.

However, since people are already commenting on the WoW forums en masse i'm not sure what effect a policy like this will have. They don't really miss anything by not going (as we would do on this site) because anyone who is unregistered can view the forums and comment elsewhere. Not to mention that the likelihood of offence that could result in retribution is probably smaller on this site due to our common interests and ideals in comparison with, say, PvP, loot drop sharing or wanting buffs or nerfs on classes/spells/whatever.
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Sam Maxted Journalist / Community / Support 11 years ago
@Joffrie

I was referring to people creating free trial accounts in order to post on / troll the forums. Or is that not possible when on a WoW trial now?
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Jeff Wayne Technical Architect 11 years ago
I think it's easily the worst idea they've had to date. The sweeping assumption that "everyone" uses muppetbook and/or some other notworking garbage is really arrogant. I'm amused that people who support this actually believe such a move will quell the behaviour of trolls and other such internet nasties! Quite the case of eyes wide shut to the greater issue.

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@Sam

No idea about that really, I think you can post with any type of active account trial or not, again not 100% sure about that tho.
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Sam Maxted Journalist / Community / Support 11 years ago
I just checked - apparently trial accounts CAN post on the message boards.
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Vitalii Moskalets Game Designer, GameLoft11 years ago
This is only first step or maybe test step for future MANDATORY use of real names EVERYWHERE in Blizzard products and services. Real names in games, BNet accounts and so on. Of course it could then give all Blizzard customers better services, and so on, but, the main thing is that you can really lose your privacy just playing the game online.

And this really could affect even career, private life of player. Why players choose certain characters in games and behave certain way? Because they want to try and to be something that they are not in their real lifes. And if you know real name and know real man/woman behind the character, you will start to judge their in-game actions as actions made by real human in real world. That could possibly change the relations even between friends.

So again, this is not about only current situations with forums, taking into account that this is Blizzard, this could easily be spread into BattleNet accounts, WoW, Starcraft, Diablo, even their new next-gen MMO. So...the time will show, is it good
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Sam Maxted Journalist / Community / Support 11 years ago
A U-Turn from Blizzard, on the use of real names on their forums:

[link url=http://forums.wow-europe.com/thread.html?topicId=13816839821
]http://forums.wow-europe.com/thread.html...[/link]

Hello everyone,

I'd like to take some time to speak with all of you regarding our desire to make the Blizzard forums a better place for players to discuss our games. We've been constantly monitoring the feedback you've given us, as well as internally discussing your concerns about the use of real names on our forums. As a result of those discussions, we've decided at this time that real names will not be required for posting on official Blizzard forums.

It's important to note that we still remain committed to improving our forums. Our efforts are driven 100% by the desire to find ways to make our community areas more welcoming for players and encourage more constructive conversations about our games. We will still move forward with new forum features such as conversation threading, the ability to rate posts up or down, improved search functionality, and more. However, when we launch the new StarCraft II forums that include these new features, you will be posting by your StarCraft II Battle.net character name + character code, not your real name. The upgraded World of Warcraft forums with these new features will launch close to the release of Cataclysm, and also will not require your real name.

I want to make sure it's clear that our plans for the forums are completely separate from our plans for the optional in-game Real ID system now live with World of Warcraft and launching soon with StarCraft II. We believe that the powerful communications functionality enabled by Real ID, such as cross-game and cross-realm chat, make Battle.net a great place for players to stay connected to real-life friends and family while playing Blizzard games. And of course, you'll still be able to keep your relationships at the anonymous, character level if you so choose when you communicate with other players in game. Over time, we will continue to evolve Real ID on Battle.net to add new and exciting functionality within our games for players who decide to use the feature.

In closing, I want to point out that our connection with our community has always been and will always be extremely important to us. We strongly believe that Every Voice Matters (http://eu.blizzard.com/en-gb/company/abo... and we feel fortunate to have a community that cares so passionately about our games. We will always appreciate the feedback and support of our players, which has been a key to Blizzard's success from the beginning.

Mike Morhaime
CEO & Cofounder
Blizzard Entertainment
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