Last night, Blizzard announced that, if you post on the versions of the forum that launch with the new StarCraft, your real name, rather than your username, will be shown. This is going to be baaaaaaad.
First, the good. Blizzard have repeatedly shown how to manage communication with a vast community. The World of Warcraft design team are highly active on their official forums, discussing every facet of the game. That includes long theory-crafting discussions on marginal differences in numbers, lore, and just joking around.
I think Blizzard's engagement with the World of Warcraft community is the best example anywhere of game developers and publishers understanding and responding to their players' needs. Good work.
Yet it seems like Blizzard are trying to turn Battle.net into more of a social network than a competitive matchmaking service – fighting against the history and legacy of what they've already created.
They say that themselves. “It's important to us to create a new and different kind of online gaming environment – one that's highly social, and which provides an ideal place for gamers to form long-lasting, meaningful relationships. All of our design decisions surrounding Real ID – including these forum changes – have been made with this goal in mind."
That's a foolhardy goal. The gamers that live and breathe their service, at every level, from the bottom, to the super-hardcore pro-gamers, simply don't identify themselves by their real name when they play. They live by their identity or handle. Battle.net isn't a social network. It's a fight club.
The forums are an offshoot of this. According to Blizzard's announcement, all StarCraft II and Cataclysm forums will display your real name. That means even the tech support forums. And the roleplaying forums. I'm not sure why I need to identify myself when I'm trying to figure out why Warcraft crashes. Or when I'm pretending to be a druid.
Every forum is a place to carve a private identity – and having that private identity is gratifying in itself. When I ask questions of the developers on the official WoW forums, I go there because it's anonymous.
There are going to be consequences, and they're not going to be pleasant. World of Warcraft is a computer game. A vastly successful one, but a computer game nonetheless. It's an audience prone to drama – and handing over a gamers' real names is just asking for trouble. I wish that weren't the case, but it's going to happen. I'm baffled as to why Blizzard are going down this road. Most importantly, though, I won't be posting on their forums.