The RealID system has been a lightning rod for controversy since its inception, earlier this year. Word first came out about this new feature at last year’s BlizzCon and then more information was released along with some additional updates on the “Starcraft 2” website. The way it works is that you would send an invite to someone you know and that you would want to add to your friends list and communicate with. If that person accepts, you would be able to find out what character they were on, on what realm and even if they were playing a game other than “World of Warcraft.” You would also be able to see the real names of the people on your list and could create public messages for everyone on your list to see.
The idea seemed to meet with a positive response from the masses and people were eagerly awaiting more information about it and were anxious to try it out for themselves. Right around this time, social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter began receiving negative attention from the media for their lack of consideration for their user’s privacy and people were beginning to boycott these services and wondering just how safe their information really was. It was only natural for the RealID service, which some have compared to an extension of Facebook and Twitter, to start receiving some of that potential fallout.
The first concern that seemed to come up revolved around how much information you would need to share with someone, to either send out or receive an invite. It was explained that you would just need to have someone’s e-mail address to invite them. I’m sure many of you have experienced the recent influx of spam e-mails that we are receiving from farmers and hackers already trying to get our account information. I’m sure you can also relate to receiving a number of friend requests from people you don’t know, but who seem to know you (based solely on having your e-mail) on the above mentioned social networking sites. Now, you could potentially have to deal with that same kind of spam inviting in game.
Players still felt like they had some control over the situation. They thought that they could choose who got added to their lists and they could choose who got to see them, too. There was still some say in the matter. All of that changed last week, when word leaked of a security flaw that allowed certain popular add ons to reveal your real name to people who may not be your RealID friends. I became aware of this when I noticed that my real name began to show up in my chat pane, as I was typing out messages to people I knew or in our class/role channels. It would go back to my toon’s name once the message was displayed, but it still freaked me out a bit.
Things continued to get worse when we learned that not only your RealID friends that you approved could see your information… but their friends could see your personal information, as well. So if I’m friends with Lilitharien and Lilitharien is friends with Matticus, but I’m not – Matt can see my information, regardless. I’m sure Lilith has a number of friends I don’t know and they could all see who I am and what I am doing at any given point in time. So by letting in one person, you could be also allowing droves of other people to find out who you are and to learn more about you, without your consent. It kind of reminds me of that commercial for safe sex, where the couple is trying to get busy and suddenly all of their old partners start climbing into bed with them. You’re not just interacting with your chosen friend anymore, you’re leaving yourself open to all of their friends, too – and vice versa.
The last straw came when it was announced that near the launch of Cataclysm people’s real names would be used on forum posts, similiar to changes being made in “Starcraft 2.” Posts that were made prior to the change would not be changed and your toon’s name would still be given. One blue poster from Blizzard decided to take the initiative and reveal his real name (presumably to show it didn’t hurt) and shortly after, found pages of his public information released to the community and beyond. Information like his addresses, the addresses of his immediate family, his favorite music and movies, etc. Soon after, there was some debate as to just who from Blizzard would be willing to allow their names to be seen, along with the rest of us and who adamantly would not.
Bottom line – the main and consistent issue I have with this system is choice, or the lack thereof. If I choose to give someone my real name and let them into my world, that is my choice. I don’t get to choose letting all of their friends into my existence. I have no say in that. If I choose to put my real name on a forum post, to show that I am posting on my main and that I stand behind an opinion that I have on those boards, that would be my choice to do that. It shouldn’t be something that is expected of me. If I choose to make a toon somewhere where people can’t find me and I want to be left alone, where I don’t have to enchant someone or be asked to do a run and I want peace and quiet, that’s my choice. I have that right.
There are enough ways to keep in touch with someone that we really don’t need anymore. Look at all the “instant” ways we have to stay in touch with each other and most of us still flat out suck at communication. Technology has made it easier for us to talk to each other, but it hasn’t necessarily made us any better at it. You have Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Yahoo! IM, AOL Instant Messenger, Trillian, text messaging, video phones. Do we really need one more? In a game, no less – where most of us come online to escape those things? To me, it’s excessive and unnecessary.
As it stands right now, I politely turn down any and all requests for RealID invites and I don’t see my opinion changing on that, anytime soon. I sincerely hope that Blizzard does take a good look at the feedback from the concerned community and that they do consider the implications, both good and bad, of allowing this feature to continue as is. I feel the RealID system has the potential to be something useful and beneficial, without any of the hidden costs or negative tradeoffs that may or may not exist right now. Right now, though, that remains to be seen.