Battle Net Changes to Hit Forums
The news broke a short time ago that the official World of Warcraft forums will soon be taking on a new format. Prior to the release of Cataclysm, an entirely new forum system will be launching. This system will see players posting on the official forums from their real ID. That is to say, real names will be displayed by any and all forum posts you make.
You can read the full statement on this change here.
I’ve had mixed feelings about the real ID system. I really like the functionality that allows for cross server and cross faction chat. I do believe it was long overdue, however, considering another MMO had this chat system in place a number of years ago (it also allowed for cross game chat). I’m not a huge fan of the need to implement this via the use of real names. Furthermore, I severely dislike the feature that allows you to view the other real ID contacts of each of your friends.
Some players prefer to preserve the anonymity of some of their characters; bank characters are an excellent example of this. For some players, the economic side of the game is a huge part of their play experience. In many respects, I consider myself a member of this category. For the most part, I prefer to keep my bank characters anonymous. I go to quite long extremes to ensure there is no link between them and my shaman. The real ID system reveals these characters to all my contacts and due to the fact I have multiple WoW accounts umbrella’d by one battle net account, these characters are highly visible as they’re online for a large portion of the day.
The system does save me a reasonable amount of tabbing out. I no longer need to minimise to windows to chat to one of my friends on MSN. Once Starcraft II launches, I foresee the system being of greater use to me since I can always stay in touch with the guild or indeed, the friends I play intend on playing SC II with. It’s also allowed me to talk more to some of the bloggers and considering a new shaman centric web resource may now evolve from this new circle of friends, I’d consider that an advantage.
You can, however, decline any real ID requests and purely use the in game friends list that displays only the character names of your contacts. In this sense, it is an opt in or opt out system. Admittedly, there can be a moment of awkwardness when you need to explain to an in game friend that you don’t wish to share your real ID details but it certainly isn’t compulsory.
The announced forum changes appear to be an attempt on Blizzard’s behalf to clean up the cesspit state that the official forums have degenerated into. Many players exploit the anonymity of an unknown level one character in order to flame and troll other players or guilds. A quick glance over the majority of realm forums are a testimony to this fact. It’s not uncommon for guild’s (particularly the more well known ones) to have rules preventing their members from engaging in flame wars, particularly focussed on other guilds. This makes sense, it helps to protect their own reputation. They can’t, however, prevent their member’s from creating level one characters and partaking in such flaming behind their new found veil of anonymity. The intention behind Blizzard’s proposed changes are undoubtedly sound. The implementation, on the other hand, is a little debatable.
In addition to addressing the flaming issues on the forums, Blizzard are hoping these forum changes will continue to strengthen the community and encourage players to forge stronger friendships originally formed in game. Starcraft II will be integrated with Facebook, allowing your social network site contacts to be added as a real ID contacts in game. (Incidentally, this feature received a very mixed welcome from the SC II beta testing community, many of whom didn’t enjoy it’s appearance.) The real ID system itself displays all the characters of your friends to prevent you from needing to remember which alt belongs to which friend. Again, the theory is there but the implementation, for me, is slightly off. I can happily say that some of the friendships I made in the first MMO I played, Everquest, have remained real life friends to this day. This has to be the choice of the player, however. You can’t force more intimate friendships upon your players. Some people prefer to maintain a distance between their in game lives and their real lives.
For those players that prefer to keep their personal details personal, this is an extreme change. I have a friend in game that transferred servers and factions in order to gain virtual distance from an ex partner. That is the beauty of such a game. It facilitates our desires to escape our real lives. We can hide our names, genders, ages and a number of other details should we so choose. Thanks to these forum changes, two of these details will potentially be public knowledge. A simple google search of a friend, acquaintance or colleague’s real name could reveal them to be an avid World of Warcraft player. For some perhaps, this is not a big deal. For other people, however, it’s crossing a certain privacy line.
We can argue, again, that the system isn’t compulsory. You can merely refrain from posting on the official forums. The issue isn’t quite so black and white or clear cut. For players like myself who are responsible for guild recruitment or publicity, posting on the forums can be a daily ritual. It isn’t one that I essentially enjoy but I do have plenty of free time and I like to contribute to my guild. When the new forum launches however, I don’t think I’ll be comfortable undertaking this officer role any further.
There is some good news for nervous or concerned players. The real ID system will only be activated on the new forums. The current official forums (which will become frozen) will not have this change retroactively added. That is to say, any posts that you have made on the forums will continue to display the character name from which you posted. As I saw comments from some posters over at wow.com stating that they were already removing all forum posts they have ever made, this detail is worth reinforcing.
I do appreciate Blizzard’s attempts to clean up their forums and generally make them a more pleasant place to be. Seeing guild recruitment threads get hijacked by obviously bitter former members is saddening. Hopefully, preventing people from hiding behind their level one alts should go a distance in addressing this issue. I do wish they had a different method for implementing this aim. Other games or forums have used one handle or user name per account. This prevents players or users from making multiple accounts in which to engage in more derogatory posting without forcing them into revealing their real life identity.
On a related note, it’s been revealed that a design flaw in the real ID system allows any addon to read and expose your real life name (via the real ID system). You can read the full thread about this revelation here. This flaw being revealed shortly after the announcement regarding the new forum systems is a little like rubbing salt in the wound of some players. The only advice regarding this problem at present is to use as few addons as you can cope with.