We don’t usually bat an eyelash when a game’s official forum undergoes a policy change, but we’re making a special exception and batting harder than a mafia hitman against someone’s kneecaps at Blizzard’s decision to switch its forum over to a real ID system. In a nutshell, this means that in order to post on, say, the official World of Warcraft or StarCraft II forums, you’ll soon have to display your real name for all 11.5-million some-odd players to see.
“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,” said Blizzard’s announcement of the change.
“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.”
Makes enough sense at first glance, right? Look closer, though, and you’ll realize that Blizzard’s missing so many points that anyone not hiding behind a giant, red bull’s-eye probably oughta duck. Foremost, there’s the issue of potential identity theft or other forms of harassment. In this day and age, odds are, if you've got someone's name, you'll find a treasure trove of personal information waiting for you on Google. Also, in these games, you are your handle. You are your character. Why play an MMO if not to become part of another reality – live another life? Worst case scenario, having your real name attached to your character could even change how you act in-game.
On top of that, has Blizzard taken a look at its own game lately? Of course there’s conflict on your forums. It’s called World of Warcraft for Pete’s sake! The trolling, flaming, smack-talking, etc is symptomatic of WoW’s intrinsic, PvP-based design, and forcing players to display their real names isn’t going to change that.
Is general hostility and confrontation an issue in many gaming communities? Certainly. “Issue” is probably understating it, in fact. But this definitely won’t fix it. It will, however, in all likelihood turn Blizzard’s forum into a ghost town. Please, other developers, learn from Blizzard’s potentially community-destroying attempt to unify its community. Think about the consequences of such a huge change before you make it. Look before you leap.