The Storm at Blizzard

Sometimes, it’s funny how things work out.  I was figuring this week on putting down thoughts on the Season 2 stuff that was to hit the test server for STO, but two things have knocked that one out of the running.  First, the test build hasn’t been able to get onto the server; it happens.  This is why there’s a test server in the first place.  The second reason is that a bigger juggernaut came along to steamroll it.

I’m talking about the announcement yesterday by Blizzard concerning their forums.

Some backstory here.  I haven’t played WoW in a long time.  I was never a big poster on their forums; I think I posted maybe twice back in ’06.  Those posts no longer exist, probably because of whatever forum maintenance they do over there.  So I have no stake in the announcement.

Not long ago, as I understand it, Blizzard began hyping their “Real-ID” tech, which basically was a friends list kind of thing-except with your real name.  So for example, instead of seeing “Coreth” on your list, you might see “John Doe”.  This was a concern (and remained so up to the present day…well, until yesterday, anyway), but as it was an opt-in thing, it was a little easier to swallow; if you never gave out your “Real-ID”, then it’d be a bit more difficult to pry it loose.

But yesterday, Blizzard announced that in the near future, using the forums for their games would automatically use the player’s Real-ID-and there’s no opt-in for this…or an opt-out.  Unsurprisingly, this has caused a bit of a reaction.  As of this writing, 22,000 posts worth of reaction-and most say the same sort of thing.  To summarize:  “Do Not Want”.

I haven’t seen a forum storm of this magnitude since the NGE in Star Wars Galaxies.  We know how that turned out.

It seems to me to be a colossally dumb idea.  I’ve heard various reasoning behind it, from shaming forum trolls to an attempt to integrate completely with Facebook.  All well and good.  But a truism on the Internet is that you don’t casually give out your customers’ names out in the public eye.  It’s like asking a library to give up the names of everyone who’s checked out a certain book.  There’s a certain expectation of personal privacy that’s been ingrained in the MMO player, and Blizzard’s basically thrown them out.  There are stories going around on the posts on how this move will assist stalkers, or increase abuse on players (God help anyone who’s rolled an opposite-gendered character), and maybe that is true.  A lot depends on how motivated someone is to do these things.

There are already a bunch of posts there shouting that they have cancelled their WoW subscriptions.  Maybe some of them actually have done so (it’s easy to say it in a forum, and be back next month).  Perhaps there will be a large number of them; maybe it will be on an NGE scale.  Some articles have already hit the blogosphere wondering if the ultimate WoW-Killer turned out to be Blizzard.  I think that’s probably exaggerating.  I have a strong feeling that even if this goes through (no sure thing, but it’s looking likely), there will still be more than enough subscribers sticking around-especially with a new expansion slated to hit at the same time as this change.

What it will do, however, is stifle the forums.  Sure, it’ll put the light of shame on the forum trolls-although one would suspect that a troll is still a troll and wouldn’t necessarily give a damn if his name is attached.  But it will also prevent the security minded from posting ever again-and this doesn’t just include trolls.  It includes the people who put time and effort into writing guides, offering advice, recruiting for their guilds, asking for technical support-anything that involves the official forums for legitimate reasons.  Sure, their forums will be a quieter place-but then, it’s imposed by fear.  Grand Moff Tarkin would be proud.

Maybe Blizzard will understand what is going on here.  Maybe it will pull itself back from the brink.  But with a company that’s pulling in so much cash, with the biggest MMORPG on the market (at least here in the States)…I have no doubt that they’ll be happy to test their brinkmanship.  And that’ll end in a bunch of players feeling the sting of betrayal from a company they once respected.  Is this the NGE for WoW?  It’s pretty damned early to tell-it’s been only a day.

But then, everyone knew which way the wind was blowing one day after the NGE announcement.

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