Thursday, July 8, 2010

Blizzard Real ID to expose personal information of users on forums

Recently, we introduced our new Real ID feature - , a new way to stay connected with your friends on the new Today, we wanted to give you a heads up about our plans for Real ID on our official forums, discuss the design philosophy behind the changes we’re making, and give you a first look at some of the new features we’re adding to the forums to help improve the quality of conversations and make the forums an even more enjoyable place for players to visit.

The first and most significant change is that in the near future, anyone posting or replying to a post on official Blizzard forums will be doing so using their Real ID -- that is, their real-life first and last name -- with the option to also display the name of their primary in-game character alongside it. These changes will go into effect on all StarCraft II forums with the launch of the new community site prior to the July 27 release of the game, with the World of Warcraft site and forums following suit near the launch of Cataclysm. The classic forums, including those for Diablo II and Warcraft III, will be moving to a new legacy forum section with the release of the StarCraft II community site and at that time will also transition to using Real ID for posting.

The official forums have always been a great place to discuss the latest info on our games, offer ideas and suggestions, and share experiences with other players -- however, the forums have also earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness run wild. Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before. With this change, you’ll see blue posters (i.e. Blizzard employees) posting by their real first and last names on our forums as well.

We also plan to add a number of other features designed to make reading the forums more enjoyable and to empower players with tools to improve the quality of forum discussions. Players will have the ability to rate up or rate down posts so that great topics and replies stand out from the not-so-great; low-rated posts will appear dimmer to show that the community feels that they don’t contribute effectively to the conversation, and Blizzard’s community team will be able to quickly and easily locate highly rated posts to participate in or to highlight discussions that players find worthwhile.

In addition, individual topics will be threaded by context, meaning replies to specific posts will be grouped together, making it easier for players to keep track of multiple conversations within a thread. We’re also adding a way for Blizzard posters to “broadcast” important messages forums-wide , to help communicate breaking news to the community in a clear and timely fashion. Beyond that, we’re improving our forum search function to make locating interesting topics easier and help lower the number of redundant threads, and we have more planned as well.

With the launch of the new, it’s important to us to create a new and different kind of online gaming environment -- one that’s highly social, and which provides an ideal place for gamers to form long-lasting, meaningful relationships. All of our design decisions surrounding Real ID -- including these forum changes -- have been made with this goal in mind.

We’ve given a great deal of consideration to the design of Real ID as a company, as gamers, and as enthusiastic users of the various online-gaming, communication, and social-networking services that have become available in recent years. As these services have become more and more popular, gamers have become part of an increasingly connected and intimate global community – friendships are much more easily forged across long distances, and at conventions like PAX or our own BlizzCon, we’ve seen first-hand how gamers who may have never actually met in person have formed meaningful real-life relationships across borders and oceans. As the way gamers interact with one another continues to evolve, our goal is to ensure is equipped to handle the ever-changing social-gaming experience for years to come.

For more info on Real ID, check out our Real ID page and FAQ located at . We look forward to answering your questions about these upcoming forum changes in the thread below.

Update - Text updated to include more current and correct information regarding legacy forums and their use of Real ID. "The classic forums, including those for Diablo II and Warcraft III, will be moving to a new legacy forum section with the release of the StarCraft II community site and at that time will also transition to using Real ID for posting."

I've recently stumbled upon Blizzard's Real ID system that would expose every one of Blizzard's WoW and Starcraft 2 customer first and last names on the official forums. This is a completely erroneous strategic decision from a business perspective and a gamer perspective. I will detail a few examples of how this system can be abused.

1) Real ID exposes womens' first and last names essentially giving stalkers a "goldmine"

Everyone knows that is infested with single men that have never had sex before. Real ID will essentially open a "goldmine" for stalkers to harass these women that don't want to be known as a females in the gaming universe. Believe it or not, a lot of females play male characters because they don't want to get any attention from weirdos/creeps/stalkers/role-players.

Here is a chain of things that a potential stalker can do:
- Google the female's first and last name
- Find results that contain personal information on popular social networks, such as, Facebook, MySpace, Online Forums, Friendster, Twitter, or their own personal blog.
- Scan for anything related to their "first pet name, mother's maiden name, name of high school" are very common in "security questions" for password retrievals.

Notice that this can easily be achieved by any scan bot that will invoke Google search web services.

2) Real ID threatens the careers of those who care about their career

A really prime example is if you ever are questing and you get ganked by someone for a few hours--you end up getting mad and you post on the forums about the asshole who keeps ruining your ability to quest. This happens all the time. If you're a university student and you're looking for a job to get into the industry--you'll most likely be googled by your employer. They'll read your forum post and see how you've insulted someone for being ganked and won't even think about interviewing you. It happens.

3) Real ID threatens your children's safety

There are thousands of pedophiles scouring the WoW forums. If your child is playing World of Warcraft and they are actively participating in the forum, pedophiles will be able to get their personal information. Blizzard claims that parents will need to agree and allow their child to post their personal information with a checkbox. This is easily by-passed because most parents don't even understand the effects of having your personal information globally accessible.

Aftermath of Real ID

Since the general public are aware of the problems involved with Real ID exposing their personal information on the forums, people will most likely not participate anymore and will search out alternatives. This gives 3rd party community developers to possibly open up a forum to discuss WoW/Starcraft2 topics. This will be a huge surge in web traffic. If you're a community developer and you're dedicated to Blizzard games, you should definitely think about starting up and selling adspace.

Misunderstanding of Goals: is not Facebook, nor should be a "personal online experience"

As a software developer that has worked with several companies, I've seen this time and time again where the direction of strategic business decisions are completely divorced from what the business needs to be successful. Every company lives through this process but Blizzard's Real ID system being integrated into a hate-filled, sexist-filled, racist-filled, homophobe-filled, stalker-filled WoW forum is possibly the worst strategic decision they have ever made since Starcraft: Ghost. Subsequently, gamers have always been recognized by their "gamertag" cloaked by anonymity. An online gaming experience should never try to be a "personal gaming experience." Facebook is a personal online is not. Blizzard needs to disengage Real ID and re-align their business strategy. Hopefully, after this massive ****-up, they'll start building great products again.

Good luck and have fun,
Jaime Bueza

Jaime Bueza is a software developer in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He has developed web applications for Nintendo, Electronic Arts, Ritchie Brothers, Kiwi Collections, and Cox Communications. When he's not developing useful software that constantly evolves with business requirements, he's creating tutorial videos for aspiring front-end developers.