July 7, 2010
RealID and WoW Forums: Classic Identity Design Mistake
Update #3, July 14th 4pm PST: GamePro interviewed Howard Rheingold and myself for a good analysis piece in which I add some new thoughts, including a likely-to-be-controversial comparison to a certain Arizona state law…
Update #2, July 9th 1pm PST: KillTenRats.com just posted an email interview on this topic that I did for them yesterday. There some potentially useful business analysis in there, and more specific suggestions, even if it now feels a bit like residual heat from a flamethrower fest…
Hey Blizzard! I’m a freelance consultant! Just sayin’ :-)
Update #1, July 9th 10am PST: Blizzard has had a change of heart and will not require RealID for forum postings. This is a big win both for the community, and I believe, for Blizzard! The post below remains only as a historical footnote and perhaps a cautionary tale…
Talk about a crapstorm…
Here’s my latest tweet:
@frandallfarmer Quit World of Warcraft. New policy of RealID for forums - stupid beyond belief. #wow #fail #realid #reputation #identity #quit #copa #coppa
That’s too terse, given the magnitude of the error that Blizzard is making, so here’s a longer post…
Identity as Defense?
Blizzard has announced that the upcoming Starcraft II forums will require posts to be attributed to the user’s read-life name, taken from their billing information. As if this wasn’t bad enough, they’ve also said that the World of Warcraft boards will start this requirement soon as well.
They also announced a posting rating system, which sounds like they haven’t read anything from Building Web Reputation Systems, or at least about the massive disasters from combining real names and social ratings at places like Consumating.com, but that’s a post for a different blog. :-)
The idea Blizzard has is a common initial misconception – that people will “play nice” if they have to show their real names to each other. I’m sure they are using Facebook as an example – I often do this in my consulting practice. There is no doubt that Facebook users are better behaved in general than their YouTube counterparts, but the error Blizzard made is to assume that their player relationships are like those of Facebook.
This is critical misconception, and the community is responding with the longest threads in WoW history, and blog posts everywhere.
There are a lot of valid (and invalid) complaints and fears about this change – I’m not going to list them all here. What I want to do is point out the fundamental flaws in this model, for WoW in particular.
My 35+ years in building online communities (with and without RealID-like systems) screams out that Blizzard is going to be very, very disappointed with the results of this change. Specifically:
1: Names != Quality
Though this is nominally meant to improve the quality of the community, by civilizing conversation through revealing true names, it won’t because the interesting conversation will simply stop or move elsewhere. Many women (including a Blizzard employee) have already clearly stated that they won’t post anymore. This kind of thing has happened many times before as communities move from Yahoo Groups to Ning or wherever. As John Gilmore said:
“The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”
2: Brain Drain or “NetNews died for our sins”
Some say that getting rid of (bad) people is what Blizzard wants, so point #1 is a plus. But hold on there! Just owning the problem of driving customers into silence or away doesn’t help either.
Consider the case of Usenet/Netnews, where all the great internet community was until 1994 – when the environment became inhospitable to types of discussions the natives wanted to have, and they left en masse to form private mailing lists, and eventually webblogs. The assertion that a community of those who will reveal their names is somehow better does NOT hold up to any reasonable scrutiny (see next point…)
A shocking number of people who leave will be amonst the best users Blizzard has – and that could kill the quality of content on the forums, just as happened with NetNews. Sure, less trollish posts, but less great posters too. I’m betting there are less trolls to remove than there are good users who’ll leave/not post.
3: Facebook Status != Message Board Participation
I approve my Facebook Friends. None of them are trolls/spammy – or if they are, I block their events and no harm done. All of them can see my real name, status postings, comments, and other personal information. If it turns out I’m sharing too much, I can turn down the disclosure. It’s all optional.
Message boards are public. Readable by God, Google and Everyone. This model requires me to disclose sensitive information to everyone. Completely different.
Here’s the deal. We’re talking gaming here. People will get pissed at each other for stolen kills, breaking alliances, and the price of components – and they want to – no, they need to – have a safe place to express this, to play.
This is my spare time. It’s no other player’s business where I work, where I live, who my family is. Just as it’s no business of my boss, who knows how to Google my name, what I dedicate my off-hours energy to. The Facebook-analogy of Real Identity = Quality Contributions falls apart when applied Gaming. Google + Friends + Foes + Bosses + My Real Name + The fact I have 6 80th Level Characters = Too Much Information.
Facebook does NOT leak this much information, and the US Senate is looking into their privacy practices.
This has also happened many times before. Every time someone new to the net starts a LiveJournal, they don’t know about friends locking until they get asked into the boss’s office to discuss something they read on the journal while ego-surfing. This is how many LiveJournals get owner-deleted!
It is completely unreasonable to expect that people will understand the risks of using their real names on a message board – and if they DO understand, I contend that most people won’t bother posting anything at all.
- The trolls now get more information to harass
- The best players will leave
- The casual players will panic when they realize that their private-time activity is now public.
This is lose-lose. The worst kind of change. The only upside I see is the ability to lay off board moderation staff as traffic (good and bad) plummets.
An Alternative Everyone Can Live With
There was/is an alternative – described in the Tripartite Identity Model post from two years ago: Implement Nicknames!
Sure, have a top-level social identity, but present it as user-controlled Nickname and allow users to share a variant of their real name – but don’t require it! Sure, if the Nickname is the same as their RealID, feel free to show an indicator, like Amazon.com does with their Real Nametm markers. Allow users to reveal what they wish – even provide incentives for them to do so, but don’t bind full disclosure on them. Even Facebook doesn’t do this!
It’s never too late.
P.S.: I can’t stop being amazed – Asking for help on a forum requires disclosing your real name to God, Google, and Everyone? Come on! You’ve got to be kidding!