Thursday, July 8, 2010

What Blizzard Should Have Done

Regardless of whatever Facebook integration plans or independent social networking plans Blizzard may have, and however optional posting may be, they should not unveil a player's real name on the forums. It is absolutely unnecessary, and just plain asinine. I was on the fence about purchasing StarCraft II, but now I will be giving that one a pass. I could just watch matches on Youtube, since I always end up spectating RTSs more than playing them anyway.

This is how RealID should have gone down. Upon account integration or creation, the account holder should create a Player Handle. This handle would be a singular player identity across and Blizzard's games. If a player posts on the forums, the handle is used as a pseudonym. Reputation is maintained, and players are held responsible.

So players have 3 levels of identity:
  • a real name which is as global as it gets;
  • a player handle which unifies a player identity across characters and Blizzard games;
  • and a character name (or player alias in the case of non-RPGs).
This is exactly how most gamers structure their identity already; the worst part would be working with the interface in making it official.

When someone is RealID befriended, a player only shares the handle. There would be no code to share someone's real name; it isn't needed. Sharing of someone's real life identity should be done on a individual basis, thus simply stating your name in a private message would be enough to "share" it. Of course if a player chooses to integrate with their Facebook friends, their Facebook name must be displayed. Just add the name in a comment in BNet's friend list.

Notice above that I said Facebook name. I have a close friend who does not display her real name on Facebook because she is a middle school teacher. It would be disastrous if her students found her Facebook profile. She obviously already has everything hidden from public view, but that includes Wall Posts, an entirely optional feature of Facebook. Posting on a Blizzard forum would not only share that comment with everyone, but it would use her real name, an identity not even presented on Facebook itself!

I can only imagine two cases for Blizzard. Either they thought about this immensely, did the research, watched the Facebook privacy debacles, and then decided to go through with it anyway; or they have absolutely no idea what they are doing, haven't consulted a single privacy expert or sociologist, and think that people don't care about privacy.

If you are interested in privacy in social networks, I would recommend you check out Danah Boyd's blog. A few really great articles:

Fundamentally, privacy is about having control over how information flows. It's about being able to understand the social setting in order to behave appropriately. To do so, people must trust their interpretation of the context, including the people in the room and the architecture that defines the setting. When they feel as though control has been taken away from them or when they lack the control they need to do the right thing, they scream privacy foul.

Zuckerberg and gang may think that they know what’s best for society, for individuals, but I violently disagree. I think that they know what's best for the privileged class. And I'm terrified of the consequences that these moves are having for those who don't live in a lap of luxury. I say this as someone who is privileged, someone who has profited at every turn by being visible. But also as someone who has seen the costs and pushed through the consequences with a lot of help and support. Being publicly visible isn't always easy, it's not always fun. And I don’t think that anyone should go through what I've gone through without making a choice to do it. So I'm angry. Very angry. Angry that some people aren't being given that choice, angry that they don't know what's going on, angry that it's become OK in my industry to expose people. I think that it's high time that we take into consideration those whose lives aren't nearly as privileged as ours, those who aren't choosing to take the risks that we take, those who can't afford to. This isn't about liberals vs. libertarians; it's about monkeys vs. robots.
And I definitely think that Spink's has the quote of the year:
There was a time when Blizzard was viewed as a company run by and for gamers. That time is now over. Even aside from the wrongs or rights of the proposal, no company that fails so badly in understanding gamer culture can really claim to be one of us any more.


Tavataar said...

I think there may be some validity to this. I can't think of any other sane reason that Blizzard would force people to use their real names on the forums.

It seems that the better policy would be to just have a very low threshold for trolling, and ban people when they cross it.

motstandet said...

The cultural differences alone should be enough of a reason to have two different systems for Asian and America.

All I can think about is how Google pulled out of China because they were tired of jumping through all the red tape. Blizzard is making significant withdrawals from their banked reputation, and they better be careful that they don't crash and burn.

motstandet said...

Looks like a victory for Privacy:

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.