Making the World of Warcraft more trivial, one post at a time…

Larisa quoted this from a fellow mage (I couldn't track down the original source):

Game heads don't care about Facebook, or social networking. Sure, they might use the services, but when in 'gamer mindset', they care far more about melting faces, and beating the crap out of their fellow players then engaging with them via swapping pictures of their cats.

He's wrong. Or, rather, he's making a sweeping statement that isn't true for everyone. You see, I want to melt faces (or heal the one melting faces) WITH MY FRIENDS. That's why I play WoW rather than a solo game – because it's doing these things with people I care about that adds another layer of meaning to it for me. And, because this is an opt-in system, you can choose to add that layer of meaning without detracting from the experience of what's already there for those who don't care who they're melting faces with. 

RealID in Forums

However, the big issue hasn't been that. It's been the decision to apply RealID to the forums; a decision that's since been reversed. I don't use the forums (apart from checking the Mac support forum from time to time). I think, for time invested, the return is poor. Finding good quality content amongst the trolling, juvenile behaviour and out and out drama just isn't worth spending my precious free time on. 

And my initial reaction was "Oh, good, I might actually check out the forums again". 

Now, before you flame me, bear in mind that I'm a late-30s male. You can find my real name really easily. It's on the about page, the "by" field of every post on my professional blog, and in the URL of my personal blog. Dammit, I'm even on Wikipedia. I've been like this for the best part of a decade – possibly longer – and it's yet to come and bite me in the ass. For me, to date, having my real name out there on the internet has been a positive thing. It landed me my current job, and has lead to many positive friendships and working relationships. 

That said, I do understand many of the safety arguments. I am, self-admittedly an extrovert, married to an introvert who has me police her web presence very carefully, and I know that my wife would probably be horrified to have her name attached to discussions in this way. Psychochild nails pretty exactly why, for introverts, this is a bad move

I don't agree with all the anti-RealID arguments, mind. I'm somewhat suspicious of "thin end of the wedge" or "creep" arguments. I tend to think you should debate ideas on their merits as described rather than adding a bunch of assumptions into the discussion about what the implementer could do. That said, I've already posted to the effect that I think this is the first step towards Blizzard protecting the core of its business from the growing encroachment of social gaming – but I can't agree with Dechion's assessment that this is only about this. I think the desire to clean up the forums is just as big a part of this. The two are not mutually exclusive, and killing two birds with one stone is a pretty damn attractive option in a corporate environment. 

And I don't, for a second, buy the idea that this is about selling us to advertisers. When Blizz can sell us Sparkle Ponies and monthly subs, and magazines et al, the idea that they'd attempt to gather activity and intention data via a game when there are so many more useful, revealing methods to do it beggars belief. The amount of useful activity data they'll gather is so negligible, the investment/return does not stack up. 

Some Community Theory

I'm on several discussion groups/lists/fora etc for community professionals, and I'm seeing a distinct split in them. Some people are really disappointed that Blizzard haven't gone forward with this. Many people within the community space see the enforcement of social consequence to misbehaviour as critical to managing the growth of large communities, which are problematic to manage. The consequences of anonymity for internet debate are well-known, and were satirised a long time ago. Facebook has, in part, succeeded because it provides an environment of consequence, but the factor that Blizzard has missed is that the consequence is not just in the enforcement of real names, but in the fact that, since of the introduction of the activity stream News Feeds, if you're being a dick on Facebook, your friends see it. Consequence.

(Note to self: there's a post about how Blizzard is deeply embedded in the online community business, but doesn't actually seem to understand the pre=existing knowledge and expertise in the field here. Write it at some future point.) 

Just applying something that works in activity-sharing social networks to forums isn't going to work. 

Forums are a really old form of online community (in internet terms) and have two well-established problems: 

  1. Bandwidth costs – Blizz can handle this
  2. Exponential (rather than linear) moderation needs – this has killed many a forum run by corporate entities and individuals in the past – although the costs tend to kill those first. The moderation costs start to exceed the perceived benefits to the company, and so the forum is killed. 

In a sense, the people who do use the Blizzard forums should at least take some comfort from the fact that Blizzard are making active steps to make the forums a better place. Lissanna has a useful post compiling the other things they're doing. 

The problem, of course, is the one solution fallacy, as discussed above, coupled with a retro-fitting problem. If this had been the situation from the start, then there would be much less of an outcry. When you fundamentally change a social environment around people, they are almost certain to complain. And when you change one element of a social environment in such a dramatic way, you really need to rethink the whole way it operates at the same time. For example – is a real name enforced forum really the best way to handle technical support?

I don't think that real name enforced social environments are bad inherently – and I find it telling that there are compelling arguments out there for both the fact that there are consequences for posting under your real name – and there aren't - but I think that the model that Blizz came up with is an uncomfortable hybrid.

And that's what cost them. 

The Future

This isn't going away. As I mentioned above, people who work in the online community field are actively discussion ways of enforcing consequence to improve the quality of online debate. This is highlighted in a Guardian article on the situation:

So: the end of a non-era? Yet there was an interesting discussion at the Guardian's Activate conference, where Steven Clift, of the e-democracy project, insisted that using your real name should be the norm in online discussion, not – as it presently is – the exception. "Why do we accept norms of flaming in online commenting? It doesn't happen in our private networks of communication," he remarked. 

I suspect this is more a retreat by Blizzard, rather than a defeat. And if that's the case, they need to learn two lessons:

  1. It's reasonably well-known that people, especially teenagers, tend to have more than one online identity (or persona). You can enforce a persona on an account, without having to enforce a real name. Even just forcing one character on your account to be marked as the "main" character would go a long way to doing what they wanted to do here.
  2. Forums are not social networks. Don't try and apply the methodologies of one to the other. 

What Blizzard Should Have Done (according to one opinionated tree)

Attaching RealID to the existing forums was clearly a mistake. Even as someone who would have welcomed that move, I can see the problems it creates for the community as a whole. 

It would have been far better to build a Facebook-style social infrastructure based on RealID and an activity stream model in parallel to the forums, and even start to migrate announcements over there. Frankly, I wouldn't need to rely on external bloggers to aggregate Blue posts for me, if I could subscribe to relevant Blizzard staff's posting in a RealID activity stream. My RealID friends could see my name and my activity. No-one else could. My posting activity on the forums would be visible to my RealID friends in their aggregate activity stream, creating a degree of consequence, and, coupled with the existing rating additions and an enforced single persona (which does not use a real name) would do much to improve the forums.

Forums? Not for me. An activity stream of what my friends are up to and what Blizzard is saying? Sign me up. 

  • Unfortunately, for me it would decrease my forum use entirely if my real name was on it. Unfortunately, I have had someone go through facebook and try to track me down, and force me to change my privacy settings because they took a picture of me and started passing it around the server. Why? Because they were a jerk to me so I put them on ignore.

    I don’t want my online persona connected with my real life persona. I never gave them my facebook information, they just knew I was friends with one of their friends. They found my boyfriend, connected it to me, and took the picture. Blizzard did absolutely nothing about it, did not ban him, even though he sits in trade spamming facebook urls and picture urls. He hasn’t even been suspended for it.

    No, for me, RealID on the forums, where everyone can see my name? Not happy for me at all.

  • I missed the point ’cause I’m dumb.

  • Now, before you flame me, bear in mind that I’m a late-30s male. You can find my real name really easily.

    That’s fantastic. Sure, I’ve got a LinkedIn, a professional domain under my real name, etc., but it’s not attributed to me. Rilgon the WoW player and Rilgon the IT professional are very definitely separate, and I’ve done so intentionally. Fair or not, there’s a stigma in IT about WoW players, and I’d prefer to avoid that if at all possible.

    So yes, while I’m fairly findable for my professional side, I A) don’t need to make that even more findable by giving my enemies the ability to do so and B) do not want to make the link between my private life (WoW player, fairly angry blogger) and my professional life (very level-headed IT support engineer, if you’ll believe that).

    Plus, I take it you’ve never been harassed or followed by someone you made mad in-game. I have. I do not need to give people the link they need to go from sending me harassing emails because I quit their guild to calling me at all hours of the night screaming because I left their guild, thanks.

    And the next person that claims the forums are “optional” is getting a boot to the head.

  • No, you missed the point because I failed to explain myself clearly, Bell. 🙂

    I’ve rewritten and expanded the whole end section to try and make my point rather better than I did. Thanks for the pointers.

  • Yes, I see it now. Yeah, perhaps a new social site for following just your actual RealID friends I could see. It could even be fun. But never ever the forums. :3

  • “You see, I want to melt faces (or heal the one melting faces) WITH MY FRIENDS.”

    Me too!

    But … most of my friends don’t play games. And the few who might play WoW aren’t as interested in raiding as I am.

    So it’s really important to me that I can meet people and make friends in game, where I can easily mix with people who like to play the same way that I do. Just my RL friends may not want to mix with those people (my sisters would freak at some of the more elitist things my raiding friends might say for example.)

  • @Rilgon:

    And the next person that claims the forums are “optional” is getting a boot to the head.

    Just as well I didn’t then, hmm?

    And no, I’ve never been harassed online. But then, I’ve never had a persona which courts controversy online, as yours does. The internet’s ability to anonymize us can be a huge benefit, particularly to whistleblowers and the like, but I do question if being able to antagonise people in ways we wouldn’t do under our real name is inherently a good thing.

  • I don’t have any real life friends that play wow so we’re definitely living in different worlds you and I. When they keep talking about how you “come together with your friends”, form a guild and to stuff together, I always feel like the lonely geek I am. The one who hasn’t got friends, but who might hope to get a few one day in Azeroth. Maybe. But that’s quite a different approach you see. I suspect that the social network gaming we’re moving towards will make it more and more difficult for the non-friended players, who admittedly can hang around in the LFD tool, but as we all know – that’s not a place where you build friendships.

    Another thing: I can understand and respect that the Real ID thing is useful for you and your friends. But it’s not as yous say an “opt in” thing. Last night I opted OUT of it – and in order to do so I had to activate parental controls and pretending to be the parent of myself. Yeah, they were talking about ME in the terms of a child.

    I wish that they had made it the other way. The one who wanted Real ID could take measures to sign up for that. Becoming parents of themselves or whatever.

    Why is it the people who don’t want it that have to go through all the hassle?

  • @Larisa – Technically, I suppose, you’re correct. You have to manually intervene to switch off RealID. The thing is, though, unless you choose to add a friend or accept a friendship request, it does nothing. Nothing happens. It doesn’t affect your play experience at all, and it isn’t broadcasting any information to anyone. So, in that sense, it is opt in.

    And yes, we do play in very different worlds, a discussion we’ve had before. Interestingly, I think the fact that Blizzard has failed to notice that there are so many different styles of play and interaction has contributed to this fiasco.

  • I’m not antagonistic, I simply tell people the truth without sugar-coating or mollification. I do it in all but the most critical real-life situations too (basically, any time except at work).

    And it must be nice to not have a malicious, angry, jealous guild leader trying to stalk you and ruin your trials with new guilds. *eyeroll*

  • Yep the last week certainly has been exciting. I mean…. *Real* sexy Russian spies! 😀

    Joking aside, I liked your post. Even though I am a much harsher critic of all things Real ID, I appreciate your viewpoint and I think you are the first person I’ve read highlighting the positives of Real ID in a sensible way, although I remain unconvinced it’s a good idea for the masses.

    You’re certainly right that Blizzard has merely retreated (regrouped?) and this is going to continue to be a discussion, we’ll have to see where it goes. In the meantime, at least folks like you are getting some benefit out of the system, I just really really wish it didn’t *require* you to have that real-name component, something like the ID you use on the Steam network would be much more appropriate.