Blizzard Entertainment is about to undergo a pretty interesting social experiment with its rabid users. The acclaimed developer is going to force message board users to list their real names alongside their pseudonyms, starting with StarCraft II and eventually rolling into World of Warcraft and Blizzard's classic games. On the forums, at least, anonymity is no longer going to be an option.
It's worth reading Blizzard's lengthy explanation behind their decision, which is tied to their Real ID system. Real ID is an optional feature in the newly updated Battle.net that introduces additional social features, such as cross-game chat. It's also going to become a requirement for forum posting.
Here's the crux of Blizzard's argument:
"The official forums have always been a great place to discuss the latest info on our games, offer ideas and suggestions, and share experiences with other players -- however, the forums have also earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness run wild. Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before. With this change, you’ll see blue posters (i.e. Blizzard employees) posting by their real first and last names on our forums as well."
As someone who's worked towards dismantling their Internet nicknames in favor of, um, my real one over the past few years and as a reporter that deals with commentators often (sometimes frustratingly) hiding behind an Internet veil, I'm quickly tempted to applaud this decision, hoping it will cause people to think a little bit before spitting venomous rhetoric. At the same time, I understand the privacy implications, especially as it relates to identity theft and the unfair targeting of female users.
Thanks to Facebook, Twitter and other socials services, we live in a world that's going increasingly public. There's public pressure to make your ideas and activities public. This is simply an extension of that. Are forums the first step towards a similar approach in Blizzard's own game worlds?