What's the worst business idea, coming from a solid company, that you can think of? Recently, the decision by Fannie Mae to promote mortgage lending to unemployed bankrupts comes to mind. So does the decision by BP to use a blowout preventer known to be faulty in dozens of respects. But then, this just-announced decision by Blizzard Entertainment to force players using its forums to disclose their real names comes pretty close.
Recently, we introduced our new Real ID feature, a new way to stay connected with your friends on the new Battle.net. Today, we wanted to give you a heads up about our plans for Real ID on our official forums, discuss the design philosophy behind the changes we’re making, and give you a first look at some of the new features we’re adding to the forums to help improve the quality of conversations and make the forums an even more enjoyable place for players to visit.
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.
Um, no. A thousand times no.
I have played and enjoyed World of Warcraft for years. While I do not play it now, I am looking forward to the expansion coming later this year. Or I was.
I'm content with my real name sitting in a credit card database, disconnected from the game itself, trusting fool that I am, the same way I'm content with certain other companies having my name. E-commerce is risky, but life is risk, and it's convenient. I am not, however, content with linking my name to my in-game account, where other players might access it, even though I won't access Blizzard's forums ever again.
Because I've been to the Blizzard forums. I've read them. I've written there. And while I've been all over this wide internet, I'm confident in saying that you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than the official World of Warcraft / Battle.net forums.
What could go wrong? Someone will die, that's what.
Someone is going to get stalked through this tool because some whackadoodle fell in love with an avatar. Maybe the victim did a little roleplay and the stalker took it too seriously. Maybe the victim hurt the stalker’s widdle feewings during a message board discussion. Who knows. Marriages break up (and reform) every day thanks to MMO drama leaking out into the real world. Blizzard should know this better than anyone. Good lord, you can’t go a week without an international advice column posting some complaint about a spouse or a kid that is too involved in WoW. That’s not Blizzard’s fault.
But “Here’s the real name of the person who sexxored you and then changed her mind/called you an idiot in front of all your friends/won’t talk to you because you’re creepy” will lead to something disastrous.
Of course the Blizzard forums will feature a prominent warning to users that by posting they are revealing their real names, just as Blizzard informs its customers of all important legal details about the game. Prominently. And Blizzard will disclaim all legal liability arising from misuse of this information by third parties.
I'm not concerned about Blizzard's liability. That's between the company and some very high-powered plaintiffs' attorneys who know that Blizzard's real business is printing money. Blizzard will argue that it isn't responsible for all of the creepy psychopaths out there, and it isn't, legally or morally. But the company is responsible not to jeopardize its customers in a fashion that, to a reasonable person, creates a foreseeable risk of harm with no compelling business reason to do so.
Someone is going to get killed as a result of this decision. And it will be someone who didn't have to die. Stalkers may be creepy. They may be relentless. Fortunately, in general they're not very smart. But they won't need to be very smart to locate Jane Doe when her real name is posted right on the Blizzard forums, right above her in-game identity as Sexxina the Blood Elf huntress.
Though it will surely be weeks or months before someone is actually killed by a nemesis who takes the game into the real world, we can expect the usual internet mayhem of mockery, scorn, and digging up and publishing of private details to begin immediately. World of Warcraft is a big game, played by children, people with all manner of psychological states, and people with, for instance, autism. I personally know two people with autism who play the game.
Some gaming bloggers, more naive than most, are delirious with joy at this announcement. "No more trolling on the Warcraft forums!" And I suppose that's Blizzard's rationale too. They can fire their forum moderation staff, secure in the knowledge that their forums are now clean, wholesome, and decent.
Of course if Blizzard is mistaken, its savings on staff will be passed on not to the shareholders, not to the customers, but to the lawyers.