Holy crap, but Blizzard are good at getting attention. In this case, the bad kind. If anyone has not heard yet, Blizzard have posted details that they are going to relaunch the Starcraft forums when Starcraft II comes out and the World of Warcraft forums shortly before Cataclysm releases with a rather scary new feature … everytime you make a post your RealID first name and last name will be displayed alongside your post. And here are the facts as we know them now:

  • There will be no way to not allow your name to be displayed.
  • This change will not be retro-active, so if you have posted in the WoW forums before, your posts wont have your real details with it, only new posts created in the new forums once they go live will have this feature.
  • Parents can only stop a child’s name from being displayed in the forums by using Parental Controls to not allow the child to post at all.

Blizzard have stated that it is opt-in. By that, they actually mean that its opt-in to make a post. Not opt-in whether they display your details or not. In other words, you can choose whether you want to post, but once you do, everyone knows your real name.

What difference this makes to me is negligible. My WoW persona is linked already to my real life details and personally I am not scared of the change. What does bug me however is that Blizzard is starting to slowly erode our ability to control our own privacy.

RealID for me is a big sticking point. While I am not afraid to share my real life details to people through RealID, what does bug me is that people I add as friends can see my online status no matter which character/realm/faction I may be on. There is a lot to be said for hopping onto an alt to get some “away time” from everyone that knows you in WoW, and its that away time that I treasure, not necessarily my anonymity.

And now, Blizzard have decided to remove even more privacy controls. Now, not just those you authorise to see your real name are allowed to, but if you post on the forums EVERYONE can! Sure, I might choose not to post there. In fact I rarely do. Its not just this one act taken as a single event that bothers me so much, its thoughts of the future.

Right now we have RealID in game, where adding people to it is opt-in. On its own sounds reasonable. We also now have the forums, whereby your real name will be displayed with each post. On its own its a bit more inflammatory, but at least you have the option to post or not. But what comes next? Will other aspects of WoW that we can’t avoid start becoming mandatory?

Again, its not just that I am paranoid about disseminating my personal info, its that I CHOOSE to. Choice is what people are losing with these “features” that Blizzard’s touts as a way to “bring the community closer”. Its the lack of choice about how personal information is being propagated into the sometimes-not-so-lovely world of the Internet.

In closing, while having my personal info out there is not that big a deal for me, it is for so many other people. The fact that these people’s rights to choose what private information is being exposed is being limited and impinged upon is what is causing the ruckus. Somehow this smacks of Facebooks attempts at trying to force people to start being more open with everyone else by resetting Facebook profiles to open with every privacy change (the reason my Facebook profile is disabled).