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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, 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 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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Alec Meer avatar
Alec Meer: A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.
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