When Blizzard first announced the Real ID concept at last year's BlizzCon, it seemed like a promising idea. The ability to keep in touch with real-life friends across realms and even across different Blizzard games seemed like something World of Warcraft needed, what with some real friends being separated by faction or realm. With new games on the horizon, it also seemed cool to be able to call someone playing Starcraft 2 and pull them into Azeroth if you lacked one more member for that heroic dungeon.
Sure enough, when Patch 3.3.5 was implemented, I had a lot of fun hooking up with my real friends on other servers, and it was truly awesome to be able to chat with them even if we weren't on the same faction or even realm. Of course, after a while, it became clear that there was just no way to turn it off -- I always knew what my real friends were up to, from running dungeons to putting up auctions on an alt or griefing lowbies on a character previously unknown to me. This also meant it was impossible for me to jump onto a low-level alt on some low-population server for some mucking around without their knowing. Not that my friends were ever going to intrude or anything, but there just wasn't any real personal time with my Real ID status always being broadcast.
Yesterday, it got even stranger. Blizzard suddenly announced that the new forums would display everyone's real first and last names if they chose to post on them. For some reason, Mark Zuckerberg's idea of opt-in privacy is becoming the norm. The Facebook founder has said that when people share more, the world becomes more open and connected. It's a maverick notion, and people always have the option to keep mum on things, after all. In many ways, it works for social media. And there's the rub.
It has become apparent to me that Blizzard's big plan for Real ID is for it to become some form of social media, and Real ID statuses work in the same way as tweets or Facebook status messages. Blizzard defends its stance on yesterday's announcement by stating that removing anonymity from the forums will eliminate trolling. That argument definitely has merit, and Blizzard stresses that it's always the player's option to post, hearkening to Zuckerberg's argument that it's the user's option to "share," anyway. You don't have to if you don't want to.
It's definitely a bold direction on Blizzard's part, and it will shape their gaming environment for years to come. Whether it's a step in the right direction or not, only time will tell. What do you think? Real names aren't such a big deal, right? I mean, don't most folks have Facebook or (once upon a time) MySpace? This is just kind of like that, right? Or is it? Why don't we get an official tally and settle this like civilized people ...