Activision Blizzard (stock: ATVI) has stepped chest deep into controversy after announcing plans to begin publishing players' real names in Battle.net forums. The announcement adds to the security and privacy concerns already raised over the introduction of the WoW Real ID program in-game. Affected games include World of Warcraft, StarCraft 2, Warcraft III, and Diablo II.
Activision Blizzard claims the changes will enhance the gaming experience. But judging by the tens of thousands of irate posters, the end impact may be just the opposite. As one poster succinctly put it, "I fully expected to see WoW die one day; I just didn't expect Blizzard to commit suicide".
Sobering objections to the planned outting of Battle.net players include:
- Players with ethnically distinct names risk racial profiling;
- Current and prospective employers may discriminate based on game choices;
- Public personalities and those in the military or sensitive occupations risk targeting;
- Female and underage players face heightened risk of stalking and harassment.
In addition, all players will face increased risk of disagreements carrying over into real world hostilities. Does the name Julien Barreaux ring any bells? After losing a duel in Counter Strike, he spent the next 6 months tracking down his online opponent and then stabbed him in his real life chest. And this occurred in a game where anonymity was preserved. How many more hot headed Julien's will attack if if takes only 20 minutes to find someone's address thanks to Blizzard's Real ID policy?
It's worth noting that forum use is not entirely optional. Those requiring Technical Support or Customer Service are often left with no choice but to use those forums, either as a result of direction from an in-game GM or because of poor phone coverage at Blizzard facilities.
Blizzard's stance on privacy and security concerns is especially ironic given that at each game login they display the following warning:
"Scammers are trying harder than ever to phish for your account information! We care about player security..."
If Activision Blizzard is really that concerned about player security, why incorporate changes that put players directly in harm's way? Perhaps the real motive behind their Real ID program and real name forum posts is to further their marketing plans, which includes the roll out of in-game advertising to Battle.net players, including:
"...the display of other similar in-game objects, which are downloaded temporarily to your personal computer and replaced during online game play. As part of this process, Massive may collect some information about the game and the advertisements delivered to you."
Or maybe it's so Activision Blizzard can further their Facebook integration plans. Also from their July 3rd battle.net ToS:
"...if you have a Facebook account, your Facebook friends will be able to associate your screen name with your real name on the Service when they use the Facebook Friends feature.
"Facebook disclaims all liability it may otherwise incur as a result of this Agreement and/or your use of the Service."
Not surprisingly, Activision Blizzard disclaims all liability as well. So what's next, Blizzard? Real Names on the Armory as well?