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.

The Misconceptions

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.

In short:

  • 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!

23 Comments

I didn’t even mention the COPA/COPPA issues. I guess kids under 13 will be locked out of WoW now. Were they already?

One note on the Amazon nicknames. For about a week I had my nickname associated to my Amazon account because I wanted to post a review. I happened to google my real name, and lo and behold — my review popped up with *both* my real name and my nickname! So that solution only works if it is not buried somewhere that is still visible to search engines.

RealID can be disabled ingame via Parental Controls, but I’m not sure how that would apply to forum access.

As if RealID wasn’t bad enough already, they want to ACTUALLY integrate it with Facebook! This was recently published in USA Today: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/gamehunters/post/2010/05/blizzard-and-facebooks-friendly-social-networking-deal-launches-with-starcraft-ii-/1

Out of curiosity I went to my Battlenet account to change my billing information (I don’t have a currently active subscription to any of their games.) I found out I can change my credit card information, my address/phone number but not my name. Great. I officially hate Blizzard now. Thankfully it looks like it only shows your real name to the whole world if you post on the forums, which I will never do (and I don’t think I ever have.) As for kids, their FAQ says parents can disable forum access for their kids but how many parents will even know to do that?

Looks like Blizzard changed their minds about real names on the forums. http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.html?topicId=25968987278&sid=1

So in the end, as you can’t change first/last name in your account….

We would end up with new troll that will activate new account with false names from the beginning…. and keep trolling.

Any old user would leave forums if not leave completely the game.

Okey, now they changed their mind because “they listen to us”. I wonder how they needed 60 thousand messages just in one thread (not including deleted messages, and other threads in european forums and networks and blogs and so on…)

So much time before thinking a revert of their decisions is… is too much.

I wonder what they where thinking.

Also currently I don’t want RealID and only option to me is to use parental control on myself?

For myself…

1) Starcraft preorder cancelled and I don’t intend to buy it until after I see how all this ends up and before seeing how really this RealID stuff works. They reverted a decision but not the master plan.

2) WoW subscription will be kept closed until there is a better method to disable RealID. I know there is a workaround but why I do need to go thru circus hops like a monkey to disable something is in my right?

You need a lot of time to gain trust.

You need only tiny fraction of that time to loose it all

Wonderful post Randy, thank you.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Raph Koster. Raph Koster said: Good post by @frandallfarmer on the WoW/RealID issue: http://bit.ly/aWbFpH [...]

  2. [...] from that will do long-term damage to their retention.” As an alternative, he pointed me to an equally irked post by Randy Farmer, who co-created the very first virtual world, and who strongly suggests user-designated nicknames. [...]

  3. [...] Randall Farmer thinks that this is a classic identity design mistake. 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. [...]

  4. [...] from that will do long-term damage to their retention.” As an alternative, he pointed me to an equally irked post by Randy Farmer, who co-created the very first virtual world, and who strongly suggests user-designated nicknames. [...]

  5. [...] Randall Farmer, who has major chops in the field of online communities, weighs in here [...]

  6. [...] and large, I concur with the RealID discussion at Habitat Chronicles. I don’t have a lot of value to add, really. Here are my [...]

  7. [...] RealID and WoW Forums: Classic Identity Design Mistake 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. [...]

  8. [...] via Habitat Chronicles: RealID and WoW Forums: Classic Identity Design Mistake. [...]

  9. [...] article about the experience of Usenet/Netnews back in the day points out that such pressure didn’t work then and it very likely won’t work now [...]

  10. [...] RealID and WoW Forums: Classic Identity Design Mistake [Habitat Chronicles] – As Blizzard shift to a 'real names' model for their forums, including all official World of Warcraft forums, many folks are unhappy. Blizzard are trying to get some users to be more responsible for their posts, but as Randy Farmer argues Blizzard haven't learnt from many, many identity-related mistakes in online fora of the past! [...]

  11. [...] can go read a good list of the RealID posts. If you want to know my take on things, you can read Randy Farmer’s insight based upon his numerous years of experience with identity and community. For a in-the-trenches view [...]

  12. [...] can go read a good list of the RealID posts. If you want to know my take on things, you can read Randy Farmer’s insight based upon his numerous years of experience with identity and community. For a in-the-trenches view [...]

  13. [...] via Habitat Chronicles: RealID and WoW Forums: Classic Identity Design Mistake. [...]

  14. [...] away from pseudonyms that I posted about earlier. But there is a fundamental difference, that Randy Farmer is quick to point out: World of Warcraft is a game! A game which very much extends to these forums. As Randy puts it: [...]

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