Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My Suggestions For RealID

I know, you're probably sick of reading about it by now.  This proposed change to the forums has everyone up in arms.  It really is quite a zoo right now, and I figure what's one more ball-balancing elephant in the room.  Or something like that.   Still, I wanted to write on the topic today not because it is so hot-button (I usually try to shy away from those things), but because I believe that one should never complain without being willing to offer constructive suggestions.  Complaining just for complaining sake does no one any good.

Well, that's not true.  If all the complaints on the forum thread light this idea, burn it up, and snuff it out, it would be a good thing.  But, really, I just want to try to give a more constructive slant to a lot of the justified ranting you're probably reading.

Before I enumerate my suggestions, I want to go on record as saying that I think the proposed change to the forums is a Bad Idea.  Forcing people to reveal personal information in order to use an optional service is a Bad Idea.  I've read plenty of reasons why this is bad, but let's be honest.  What it really does is kill the forums.  Let's not go overboard here.  People are not going to get raped or fired right away, unless they opt to use the forums.  Then, the world may very well explode, but not unless we all opt in.  Perhaps I'm misunderstanding things here, but as I see it, you still have a choice.  Don't use their forums.  You don't need the forums to play WoW.  I have never and probably will never post on there (now).  The only times I've ever actually read something from there has been at the behest of a friend or guildy.  That probably colors my opinions.  For ill or worse, it is what it is.

My point, though, is that the forums are an optional service, and as long as they don't force you to use them, then your self-revelation is still optional, right?  The way I see, they're just ruining a good and helpful thing for people, not perpetrating some gross-injustice on personal rights.  Is it dumb?  Sure.  Is it the anti-Christ?  Not IMO.  Could it lead to the mark of the beast?  Maybe, but not yet.  Like many have pointed out: it is a slippery slope.  I don't want anyone reading this to think I'm discouraging folks from going and voting with their voice.  That is our right as consumers (our only right, besides voting with our dollar as well), and it should be exercised.  Beside, as a Warlock, who am I to stem the flow of hate and vitriol?  I should be cackling with glee, right?  Go forth and QQ, say I!

With all that being said, I believe I have a few suggestions that solve the stated problem while still protecting the innocent.  I'd like to discuss my reasoning, because it may be flawed by misunderstanding.  If there's something key I'm missing to all this, please don't hesitate to comment and set my record straight.  However, here is what I believe the problem to be, as stated by Blizzard:

The forums are too infested with "trolls" and this needs to be remedied.

That is the problem, their solution?

Remove the anonymity component of the forums in order to shine the Light in the dark corners and expose the trolls.  

The problem with the solution:

It is a blanket judgment that will punish the "good" as well as the "bad".  It removes the choice of remaining anonymous from those that have legitimate reason to wish to remain unknown.  It is not a very elegant solution.

 My suggestions:
  1. Perhaps my favorite suggestion is that we instead force everyone to declare a "main" on their account.  This main would be their permanent RealID handle.  You could opt for it to display your real name, or your character name, but there are no "alt" names.  You have one account, and it must be a paying account to post anywhere or do anything.  This account has one name.  If you develop a bad reputation on your one name through your actions, tough luck.  It may not affect the trolling immediately, but it should have the same effect as using your real name in the long run.  After all, for many of us, our main is our identity online as much as our real name is our identity IRL.  I believe this to be the most elegant and fair solution to the stated problem.
  2. A second solution is to provide more heavy handed moderation of the current forum setup.  Do not change how people are able to post as alts, etc, but simply perma-ban them (and their entire account) from the forum for any perceived trolling.  Take a no-nonsense approach to it and be harsh.  Blizzard can already associate alts with the main account, so that's not an issue here.  It is less elegant in that "good" people may be mistakenly perma-banned from the forums, but I still think it's a better solution that revealing names.  It should also clear away a lot of the chaff pretty quickly.  Sick the interns on it for several months, do not offer an appeal process, and get on with life.  It solves the stated problem, and minimizes the impact on the "good" folks.
  3. The first two are aimed at Blizzard correcting their own pitfall.  This last suggestion is for us, the consumers.  No one says we need to use their official forums.  It would be easy enough for some folks to set up an official, un-official forum.  If we all just took our collective balls and went to a different court, you'd better believe Blizz would follow.  Sure we probably wouldn't get Dev buy-in right away, but if everyone is on a different forum, it would be read.  Aion proved this by failing to provide an official forum right away.  Third party sites did the deed and a small few became the de-facto place to post.  Devs even showed up.  If it's third party, it doesn't need to use RealID at all.  It wouldn't necessarily solve the problem of trolling, but it puts the power in the consumer's hands when the provider is fumbling.
Notice that none of these solutions are gloom and doom.  We're smart folks, if we put our minds to it, we can come up with really clever solutions.  We've proven numerous times throughout the history of this game that we can be smarter than Blizzard.  I mean, how many times have we figured out ways to do things they'd never anticipated?  It's a simple fact of numbers.

If you're going to quit WoW based on the principle of this proposed change, well that's fine and your vote as a consumer.  I think it might be a bit overkill at this time, but you'll have that.  To each his own.  I would suggest a more tame solution: boycott of the forums.  There are plenty of other sources of information and intelligent discourse.  If they're going to screw up their own site, then forget 'em.  As long as they keep these forced revelations in the arena of optional services, then we can continue with the important part: playing the game in peace.  If they don't see the road signs and continue to spread this without giving us an option for privacy, then eventually we'll all leave.  For now, all they've done is threatened to kill the usefulness of their own forums.

A lot of people point to things like Facebook as an evil example of what WoW could become.  I've been a member of Facebook since long before it was offered to non-collegiate folks.  With each iteration, I got less and less involved.  My privacy settings ratcheted up.  I removed content.  I don't partake in any of the silly games, groups, causes, etc.  What I do do is use it for what it was originally good at: social networking.  I didn't throw the baby out with the bathwater.  There are a lot of friends and family that I can keep in touch with, and I do it all relatively safely.  There's some value there if you dig beneath all the trash.

If someone wants to find my name, they're going to do it.  That's just a fact of life in this day and age.  At the same time, I don't flaunt it around.  The problem with the whole RealID thing isn't that people might find out your real name online.  That's not hard to do no matter who you are.  It's that they'll be able to associate it with a specific activity.  This is not analogous to Facebook, because Facebook only says that you exist unless you add the other information yourself.  Facebook doesn't imply you're a gamer, a fighter, a lover, or a sinner.  It just says "someone exists with this name".  The RealID system goes a step further and says "someone exists with this name AND plays a game".  Let us be clear in that it's the "AND plays a game" part that is the real problem.  Blizzard can never be a pure "social networking" site.  Their name is intertwined with gaming.  You can be on Facebook and not play games.  It's apples to oranges. 

I guess I just felt I needed to make that last point.  In order to effect change, it's important to present a unified, coherent front.  We don't just want to become irrelevant white noise.  We want to vote with our voice and dollar!  It's sort of what capitalism is all about.  I certainly hope they listen. 

15 comments:

  1. But the forums are NOT always optional. I had a login problem for a while, and the phone lines were swamped. When I finally got through, the tech couldn't help me, and he told me to post my problem on the WoW forums, along with my system specs and a tracert. Yeah, the prospect of having my real name (unique in this hemisphere) associated with that information makes me feel reeeeeeally safe.

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  2. Fulguralis said...

    Hmm. I wasn't aware that was a common practice. If that is the case, then they need to be aware that that may not be a valid option for some. I would still imagine that set of circumstance to be rare, and the tech on the phone could be told simply that that is not an option for you. No one is forcing you to put your specs up, and if you waited for a few days the phone line swamping should be solved and you can try again. Does make a bit more of a hassle, but the forums are still optional. I would certainly understand quitting in frustration from such a hassle, but then again it's really no less of a hassle than I've experienced with my local cable company, and I've stuck with them mostly because it's still worth it. I would guess for a lot of players that WoW is worth some hassle, we've all invested a lot into it. That doesn't mean we should take it sitting down though, either. That same cable company has credited my bill several times for the hassle when I've complained.

    ~Ful

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  4. Fulguralis said...

    Apparently Kleps and I were thinking along the same lines:

    http://trollshaman.blogspot.com/2010/07/anonymity-intelligent-posting-and.html

    I swear I didn't read yours until after I wrote mine Mr. Sdub, sir. Well played. :-)

    ~ Ful

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  5. "You can be on Facebook and not play games."

    Conversely, you can play games and NOT be on Facebook. I have no desire to be forced to have a Facebook account simply to access the forums or Battle.net (which is my paranoid fear about what comes next).

    And it isn't a rare occurance. GM tickets and calls/e-mails are quick to jump to the "Go ask the forums" route rather than working with the customer right then and there. That's just poor service.

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  6. Fulguralis said...

    If it comes to that, then agreed. As long as they leave me an "out" so that I can play the game and flaunt my name, I'm okay. If they keep going this route, then it will keep forcing people's hands I'm afraid.

    I haven't had much experience with tickets (obviously), so I can agree that in that case it's definitely poor service if it's not rare. However, if the forums become dead due to a collective boycott... "go ask the forums" should be an invalid option then I would think. If they keep doing it, well then I'd probably have some choice words for Mr. Phone and if they don't resolve my issue using another option... welp, there goes my subscription.

    Regardless, it really does seem like either 1. they have not thought this through or 2. there is some other really good reason that we haven't heard of yet. I find either option hard to believe.

    ~ Ful

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  7. I'm not sure that your premise is correct. Reducing the level of trolling may be a fringe benefit. I think they're trying to crack open the basement door of MMOGaming and let some light in.

    Be Blizzard for a second: you sell WoW subscriptions by making it as good a game as you can, but your subscriber numbers plateau. Look at the culture surrounding WoW specifically (and MMOs in general). It's filled with nerd shame masquerading as avatar pride. How do you change the marketplace so that your next big MMO adventure doesn't have that barrier to spreading as wildly as Farmville? Take the anonymity out of playing the game, and blur the distinction between "friends IRL" with "friends online," because "online" is IRL.

    This Real ID on the forums change is a step in that direction that follows in the footsteps of features like the RSS feed of in-game activity. They can increase their subscriber base by making it easy for subscribers to acknowledge that they play.

    If some of the trolls go back under their bridges as a consequence, bonus!

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  9. What Blizzard announces and their long-term goals are not always identical. My sense is that the "connect the Blizzard community" clause is the strategic goal, while forum sanity is a tactical move in an endless game. People will still be assholes. (I make sure not to post anything, ever before my first cup of coffee has been digested, otherwise I'm a much nastier online presence.

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  10. "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."

    This Blue Statement clearly shows that this is something that they really wanted to aim for. Trolling has been a major problem on the forums and I believe that this is the angle at which they feel they can attack it from. I don't think that attacking the trolling community is just a bonus of this change, I think is the major focus of it if not the sole reason.

    You do bring up an interesting theory on the blurring of the RL & in-game line.

    I guess we'll see how it plays out.

    <3 Your Friendly Neighborhood Fuubaar

    PS: sorry there was a typo

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  11. Fulguralis said...

    @Rali - Sure, they may have a hidden agenda. At this time, it remains hidden so we can only realistically discuss what they've announced as their goal. Offering suggestions for what we guess as a hidden goal is too convoluted to make a proper blog post. It is, however, still interesting. :-)

    I agree that assholes will be assholes. As Chaz on Righteous Orbs pointed out a while back, anonymity is just the tool of the troll, not the source.

    ~Ful

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  12. I don't get it. Why do people think a name is that original? Why is it a violation of their privacy to have a real name posted? I thought my name was original until I tried googling it. There are Eric's in 4 different states that have a web presence. In fact, checking howmanyofme.com, there are 15 Eric Woodford's.

    oops! I can be the Eric who one the chess tourney, or the Eric who teaches anthropology at that university, or even the Eric who blogs about scripting and warcraft.

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  13. Right, my name combination is actually far less common apparently, though you wouldn't think it. For me, personally, it's not about what they call me, it's the lack of choice. I can understand wanting to keep my business life and my gaming life separate, even if I'm not in danger of any repercussions. I would just like a choice of what name to associate with all my online shit.

    The bottom line is that the onus shouldn't be on us to find creative ways to say "oh that's not me, just someone with the same name". We should be able to choose whether to display it or not. After all, it's our name. With concepts such as "Intellectual Property" being thrown about haphazardly nowadays, shouldn't we all at least have the final say on our own name? At least the iteration of it that's connected to our credit card and our account?

    I also think for some there have been real problems. It's usually a combination of circumstances, but it has happened. In addition, you can tell a lot from a simple name about a person. Male/female, maybe race, etc. Maybe you're wrong, but maybe you're right. IDK, I don't think all the extremes will necessarily happen or be prevented by this one option, but I also think there are better ways to go about doing this. Even if only some people have an issue with it, what benefit does everyone else gain that they wouldn't with a single false pseudonym, for instance?

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  14. Maybe Blizz will be smart and make it like Amazon on the forums. They'll prefix your product comments with your "real name", but let you pick what is displayed.

    For posting to the forums, I personally like option 4, Voting buttons, wowhead style. As people say stupid things, we the readers can moderate out the stupid people, by down ranking them. Eventually their comments just disappear off the chain, or collapse to a line.

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  15. Yeah, there are definitely more good ideas out that as you mention. It almost seems as if they didn't really think it through before they announced it, but we know Blizz better than that...

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