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My take on Blizzard’s RealID campaign: World of Warcraft gamers, please just grow up

By on July 9, 2010
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The announcement that Blizzard was about to force its gamers not to be anonymous kicked up a (can I say shitstorm? Yes? Yes.) well, a shitstorm.

The BBC calls it a “row”; CNET calls it a “controversy”, TechCrunch ran a post entitled “When privacy meets hypocrisy: Blizzard Real ID edition”.

Isn’t it time we all grew up?

This move is long overdue. The days when it made sense for the Internet to be anonymous are over.

A lot of mileage has been made of the battle (and I’m hugely disappointed about that Blizzard has now backed down from implementing RealID).

Here’s what went wrong. Blizzard announced the policy and a whole bunch of childish, Internet trolls hid behind anonymity and pretended it was terrible. A forum moderator who rejoices in the unusual (and highly Googleable) name of Micah Whipple said he was happy to use his real name, and within minutes people had Googled his name and discovered all sorts of personal details on the web.

And who were these people who released personal details on the web: cowards hiding behind anonymous names.

Don’t they get it? This is what Blizzard were trying to stop. The only reason these overgrown children could behave petulantly is because Micah Whipple outed himself before everyone else was outed. So they could bully him with privacy issues while hiding behind anonymity. Take away the anonymity and the stalker can be stalked, the bully bullied, the troll… – well actualy, if you have sense, the troll will just be ignored.

But to do this, you have to take away *everyone’s* anonymity, not just some people’s. And that’s where this got out of hand.

To be fair, I don’t blame Blizzard for backing down given the shitstorm. It’s important to listen to your customers, and lots of customers hated RealID.

But for me the Micah Whipple example doesn’t say “anonymity is good”. It says quite the reverse. Anonymity is bad, and partial anonymity is the worst of all.

Rob Fahey, over at GamesIndustry.biz (registration required) argues the opposite: that anonymity helps those who need to explore their identities in a safe environment (or just not get hit on all the time) by being anonymous. I sort of get that, but think that the downsides outweigh the benefits.

So I was hugely excited by Blizzard’s huge steps to end the anonymity of the Internet, and am deeply disappointed by their retraction.

But what do you think? Is anonymity a good thing for the Internet, or do you believe, as I do, that the faster our real identities are the same online and in the real world, the better the Web will be?

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com