Blizzard Announces Changes to Forums: Real Names to be Displayed

Blizzard announced some sweeping changes in conjunction with its Real ID system today, most notably that they’re changing the official forums for World of Warcraft and all of their other games so that a player’s real name is displayed next to their forum comments when they post to the general forums, class forums, customer and technical support forums, and elsewhere. That’s right – when you post to the forums, your first and last name will appear.

This has already caused some more than significant uproar in the World of Warcraft community, but before we dive into that, here’s the announcement, thanks to Wow.com:

The first and most significant change is that in the near future, 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 — with the option to also display the name of their primary in-game character alongside it. These changes will go into effect on all StarCraft II forums with the launch of the new community site prior to the July 27 release of the game, with the World of Warcraft site and forums following suit near the launch of Cataclysm. Certain classic forums, including the classic Battle.net forums, will remain unchanged.

The official forums have always been a great place to discuss the latest info on our games, offer ideas and suggestions, and share experiences with other players — however, 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. With this change, you’ll see blue posters (i.e. Blizzard employees) posting by their real first and last names on our forums as well.

Now, if you’ll remember the open letter and passionate piece written by our new author (say hello to her!) Lee Olesky called Real ID and Real Concerns, you’ll see that some of the things she mentioned not only apply here too, but are very relevant.

I’m of two minds of the changes: first of all, and as much as I’ve seen some folks decrying it, this is not a legal matter and this absolutely will decrease the forum trolling that’s rampant on the official forums and has for several years now made people unwilling to use them for anything. The fact that so many forum users would hide behind their level 1 alts to bolster their own points or troll others without having to reveal their level 80 mains is proof that they needed that anonymity to say the things they wanted to say. When they’re stripped of it, as they will be, they won’t troll. That’s just fact.

I know, there are Facebook trolls who use their real names too – I’m not saying it’s the end of trolling on the official forums, but we have to remember that most rational people avoided the forums entirely because it was a cesspool of trolling and nonsense largely, and entire cottage blogs and tools that tracked blue posts only without the fluff of all of the other posts on the forums grew out of the fact that the official forums were all but unusable otherwise.

Forcing a player to have their real name associated with the things they say will definitely force them to watch what they say, or not say anything at all.

At the same time, this does have a chilling effect on people who have legimitate privacy concerns. I’m not talking about privacy concerns of the legal nature – playing World of Warcraft, you are subject to their terms of service. Your full name is not considered “private” information, and if someone requires you use your real name in order to use the service, you have to provide it. Your options in this case, legally, are to either provide your real name, give the service a compelling reason not to (that they will accept or decline,) or not use the service. I know that we’re really hung up on privacy in our Web-connected society (which we should be – there are many very real privacy threats out there) but there’s little legal basis for an opt-in service like World of Warcraft.

This is where the chilling effect comes in. Because Blizzard is well within their rights to do this (even if we don’t all think it’s a good idea – and trust me, I don’t think it’s a good idea…I would have gone for first name last initial or something a little more personal but a little more private as well) I really empathize with people who have stalkers, bullies, or other people on the Web who follow them everywhere they go, keep track of everything they write or say, or people who need anonymity to protect themselves somehow.

People with stalkers, or players with obsessive bosses who’ll search the WoW forums for any evidence that the person posted during work hours, or people who play the game to escape reality, roleplay, or otherwise not be themselves for a moment, will all find this change chilling enough that they’ll likely never use the official forums again. They’ll all be an unfortunate casualty of what are likely good intentions but have gone overboard.

The other likely side effect is that it will drive valid and valuable conversation about the game away from the official forums and to unofficial forums on fansites, like MMO Champion. That can be a boon for those sites, but it’s unfortunate for Blizzard, as they’ll lose some of the capability to shape their message and interact with people who are sharing their opinions and thoughts first-hand.

Like I said, I’m of two minds obviously – I more than empathize with the people who need their anonymity to play the game the way they want to play or keep themselves safe and private, but I also acknowledge that something like this can go a long way to making the official forums much more usable and worth visiting. Regardless of either point, I doubt that Blizzard will retract this move unless the community is really really roiled against them – and I mean people who already use the forums, not just the offended masses who play but don’t use the forums for anything.

What do you think? Do you think the decrease in trolling (if any) is enough reason for Blizz to do this, and if people don’t like it they should just not use the forums? Alternatively, is this the worst idea in the history of World of Warcraft and will likely drive people away from the game entirely? Sound off in the comments!

7 Comments so far

  1. Lee Olesky (leeolesky) on July 7th, 2010 @ 2:48 am

    Ironically, I have a different opinion when it comes to the forums. I think people having to be accountable for the nasty and often terrible things that they say will curb it somewhat. The reality is that there is almost no chance in hell that half of those trolls would start the flame wars they start if it were a face to face conversation. You would never talk to a stranger like that on the street in passing. You’d never talk to your coworker the way some of those people talk to each other. Being forced to be accountable for the things that you say will force people to use caution before posting. Think before speaking. It’s a rule we all had to learn as children and with the advent of the internet we’ve all since forgotten. Hide behind a persona. Hide behind the anonymity of the internet. Hide behind whatever they want so they can be as rude and nasty as they possibly can… sit back and laugh as people take those things personally.

    My biggest concern with Real ID is the Friend of Friends aspect. Because it takes away the ability to keep private information being shared. I don’t care who knows my name. I don’t mind it. I don’t troll the forums. I have nothing to hide. I have a problem with friending someone and sharing my boyfriend’s information… without him knowing or without his permission. This is an aspect of Real ID that terrifies me. I trust you, but why should my boyfriend? He doesn’t know who the hell you are?! You shouldn’t have access to personal information about him unless he willingly and freely accepts responsibility for you knowing.

    Show my name on the Forums Blizzard. Feel free. But please, remove the friend of friend’s stuff. It’s simply not cool.


  2. Alan Henry (phoenix) on July 7th, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

    I think the other concern people have about their real names is less about the desire to be anonymous on the internet and more about protecting their identity from people who would exploit it.

    For example, we already know that a number of celebrities play World of Warcraft – they’re essentially banned from using Real ID or posting on the forums if they already do because they wouldn’t want their actual names exposed. People who have stalkers or exes who follow them from server to server, guild to guild, just to troll them or just to see what they’re doing and harass them, will be equally chilled from using both of these services.

    Unfortunately, the other problem is the complete loss of control over that element of your personal information. If you’re worried about friend-of-friend, this is the same principle taken to another level and made largely entirely public.

    I completely agree with you about the need for people to be accountable for what they say on the internet, it’s the entire reason I’m of two minds on the issue. However, I wonder if the credibility and the reputation of the forums and Blizzard’s attempt to force that accountability in its own sandbox is worth the price they – or more likely, the people who will lose just that bit of extra control over their identities and potentially risk their safety and livlihoods – will pay for it.


  3. Lee Olesky (leeolesky) on July 7th, 2010 @ 3:23 pm

    Well yes. I tend to forget the stalking/weird ex situation because not a single one of my ex’s would play a video game… let alone WoW. I shouldn’t forget that there are people who have crazy ex’s and abuse google to the extreme. Without a way to limit the quantity of personal information that Blizzard is forcing users to share, they’re going to find their forums are relatively ghost towns. Like you said, people will simply stop playing completely.

    I have 3 people on Real ID. They all, for the most part, know each other (well now they do, don’t they??). I would love to friend others but geez, this is turning into a nightmare. I’m unsure what Blizzard was thinking and why they didn’t think of other options, say, like you suggested first name and last initial. Or first initial and last name. Or middle name and last initial. But let the user pick which portion of their name is fully disclosed and what isn’t. The celebrity aspect is one that I wouldn’t have thought about either. *shakes head*


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