Blizzard Cancels Plan To Force Full Identity Disclosure

Earlier this week, Blizzard dropped a bombshell. Almost two weeks ago, Bliz introduced a feature it calls "RealID", which allows friends on two different WoW servers or playing two different Blizzard games to communicate. Then, last Tuesday, the company made an announcement.
[I]n 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. The classic forums, including those for Diablo II and Warcraft III, will be moving to a new legacy forum section with the release of the StarCraft II community site and at that time will also transition to using Real ID for posting. (emphasis added)

The company gave two reasons for the change. First, it wanted to combat the perception that its game forums were full of stupid, nasty, derogatory people with family trees that never forked. Second, it wanted to encourage players to connect, Facebook-style. Blizzard has previously expressed interest in the concept of a targeted social networking site, and it's one of the only game developers with enough fans to actually make the idea work.

Imagine how you'd feel if you found out this guy was stalking you. We guarantee it's not a vegetarian.

One thing we want to make clear up front is that we couldn't be more sympathetic to Blizzard's forum problem. Online boards are rarely havens of joy and maturity, but scientists estimate that Blizzard's WoW forums single-handedly contain 52 percent of the world's supply of Stupid. That's just on average—the percentage is known to surge dramatically during periods of "Extended Maintenance." They have, as Community Manager Nethaera noted, "earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness run wild."

As much as we genuinely sympathize with the problem, however, the company's proposed solution would have created far more problems than it solved. As soon as the company announced the upcoming change, the forums exploded like a hive of wasps. Unfortunately, exploding like a hive of wasps is something that happens every single time Blizzard announces anything. You might think that's hyperbole—but it isn't. If Blizzard releases a major bug-fixing patch, the forums want new content. Release new content, players want old instances repurposed for higher levels. Rebuild old instances, and the community whines that they've already run these before.

It goes on, ad nauseum. New zone full of quests?  Quests are boring. New instances to run? Everyone hates instances. New graphics, free pets, new zones, new instances, new raids, free epics in the mail, night elf strip-teases, and six free months of play?  "OMG THIS UPDATE IS TOO BIG."

Given the receptive, friendly atmosphere, we can see why it took Blizzard a few days to gauge whether the backlash against the proposed update was real. The good news is, the company listened. Yesterday, the President of Blizzard, Mike Morhaime, wrote a general post to the community saying:
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...The upgraded World of Warcraft forums ...will launch close to the release of Cataclysm, and also will not require your real name.

Kudos To Blizzard, And A Word of Warning

We're glad Blizzard took the massive response against their RealID plans seriously enough to cancel this particular "feature," but we hope the concept isn't resting on a back burner somewhere. In a world where HR departments routinely use Google and Facebook to screen applicants, discovering that a job seeker spends a significant amount of time gaming could be used again them. The effect could be more significant where World of Warcraft is concerned; the game has become a cultural touchstone and is regularly referenced whenever gaming addiction is discussed.

The employment issue is the one we've touched on because it seems most relevant in day-to-day life, but there are other concerns—specifically those involving personal safety/security—that might almost never occur, but risk devastating impact if and when they do. Blizzard made the right call here, and our hat is off to the company.