More thoughts about Real ID

2010-09-06 14:29

A while back, I quit World of Warcraft over Real ID. A few days after this, Blizzard announced that they were not, at least for the moment, going to go ahead with the announced plan to move all their forums over to posting exclusively under peoples’ “real names” (by which they mean “the name registered to the account, whether or not it is your legal name”).

A number of my friends have asked why I have not returned to WoW, given this announcement. There’s a few reasons.

The first is that Blizzard has since backed down from backing down, saying they are not going to “move in that direction for the time being". Which is to say, they probably will go ahead with it later.

The second is a bit more complicated, and harder to provide links for, as Blizzard reps have gone around deleting the threads discussing this as things have changed.

Let’s wind the clock back to that fateful Tuesday, when they first announced this. Pretty much every person they’ve identified as a Most Valued Poster (MVP) has come out saying this is horrible. FAQ maintainers, addon authors, basically everyone who contributes to the forum and helps other people out, all seem to be unanimously against this. The first response to it was from someone in the Witness Protection Program. In short, the response from [b]helpful contributors[/b] is 100% negative.

There are, of course, many people defending the proposed changes. Nearly all of these people are derisive, rude, and hostile. When someone opposed to the change talked about being abused as a child, someone defending the change said he was too busy loling at the whiners to write a longer post.

Now, what is Blizzard’s official response to that? It’s for a Blizzard employee, posting in his capacity as a company representative, to say “we’re aware that some people may leave over these changes, and we think that’s okay, because it’ll make a better community.” Now, maybe they were thinking about the fictional mirror universe in which trolls are afraid to post under their real names, but people with teenage daughters aren’t. But they posted it in our universe, where the people leaving were, with virtually no exceptions, the contributing, helpful, people — the ones who were providing what little good there was to be had in the community. And the people who trolled the forums, who picked fights, who responded to other people with derision? They were staying. And Blizzard said, officially, that this was what they wanted.

Fast-forward a little bit to their original announcement that they’ve changed their minds. They’re not implementing that. Why? Because so many people disliked it. There is, at no point, from any Blizzard employee, any acknowledgement that the reasons were relevant — because, to Blizzard, they weren’t. The question, to them, was never “does this expose some people to unacceptable risks”, but “how many people will quit over this”. They found that the number of people who would quit was too high. Had a smaller number of people quit, they would have been happy with it. Even if every one of the quitters was a mature, healthy, adult who wanted to make the game fun for other players, and the griefers and trolls and harassers were all staying.

The fact is, this idea was genuinely stupid. Not just a bad idea once a bunch of smart people have time to think about it. Stupid, as in, I have never seen it presented as a proposal to an adult who was not a sociopath without them realizing immediately (as in, less than ten seconds, no discussion needed) that it was a fatally flawed, deeply stupid idea, which would hurt a lot of legitimate users and have no effect at all on the trolls.

Finally, there is one more thing. Throughout the whole process, Blizzard representatives were lying. When the announcement came through, Blizzard reps said they’d been planning it for a long time. And yet, the day before the announcement, they had been telling people that the purpose of Real ID was to use it only with people you already knew and trusted. But if they’re talking about making it mandatory for the forums, that’s not true. And that means that, for the weeks prior to the announcement, they knew that they had already decided to force people to post under their real names, and yet, they also kept telling people to stop worrying about it because it was only for use with people you already know. Straight up lies. Not shading the truth, not hedging around something. They lied, straight up.

And that, ultimately, is where we end up. I no longer have any reason to trust them. They have lied to me, brazenly. They have callously dismissed concerns from people whose lives would be endangered by a proposed change, and backed down only when it turned out that a large enough number of people were quitting. They have strongly hinted that they plan to go forward with this scheme anyway.

World of Warcraft, at a purely game mechanical level, is a delightful game. However, the game community is dominated by people who not only don’t care when other people are unhappy, but who actively prefer that other people should be unhappy. These people dominate the Blizzard forums, they dominate the in-game chat, and they are the ones that Blizzard has said they want to keep around. The people who try to help other people out are simply not valuable unless there’s a lot of them. Ultimately, Blizzard’s miscalculation was that they underestimated the number of friendly and helpful players they had. And I do mean “had”, past tense — a lot of them quit, and not all of them are coming back.

I think I could see myself picking up WoW again, but it would be in a strange future where Activision has fired Bobby Kotick (read that link, it’s… interesting), and the people at Blizzard who used to try to make their customers happy have gotten back in control. Otherwise, there’s no point; the company has told people like me straight up that we’re unwelcome, and that they would be happier if we left because they think it would improve their community.

Peter Seebach

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