The Real World of Warcraft

If you ever want to be really, really insulted, a great place to go is the World of Warcraft forums. They've grown to be one of the largest online gaming communities on the Web, and they've had a huge problem with trolling, aimed both at moderators and at users. Trolling is so common on these forums, forum trolls have debates among themselves about which of them is the funniest.

But that might be about to change. With the launch of its new online platform, Blizzard and parent company Activision are mandating that forum posts must be accompanied by a user's real first name and last name. That might take some of the fun out of calling someone "human garbage," or publicly wishing they'd get cancer and die.

Many WoW forum users have raised a great hue and cry at this turn of events -- and some of their complaints are indeed legitimate. Female players are complaining that they will no longer be able to hide from potential online stalkers, or will have the content of their posts prejudged by their gender, for example. Others don't want to have the stigma of MMO gaming attached to their real names.



Despite the fact that some concerns are real, I hope Blizzard has the conviction to ignore them and follow through with this move. It is critical for online gaming culture to move out of the shadows of anonymity, and force people to be at least a little responsible for the things they say online. It's not just on World of Warcraft -- online gamers are some of the most egregious abusers of anonymity on the Web. If you're interested in an example, and you have a high threshold for abuse language, take a look at the YouTube video a gay Xbox Live player created to illustrate this precise phenomenon.

Communities with members like these are not places where we can expect most people to become involved. As gaming becomes more mainstream, the community as a whole needs to learn a certain level of decorum, and the only way this is going to happen is if people can be held accountable for the things they do and say online.

4 comments about "The Real World of Warcraft".
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  1. Jeffrey Burke from Marketing, July 9, 2010 at 2:52 p.m.

    They Back tracked on this, this afternoon. No more public names. The ends were great but the means weren't so hot.

  2. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., July 9, 2010 at 3:16 p.m.

    LOL ... And what server/faction are _you_ from, Jeffrey? (grin). Misha/Horde here.

    Though Blizzard has apparently backpedaled on the realnames initiative, I'm grateful to Shankar for opening the discussion here. The question of how to maintain civility in online forums, in social playspaces and in virtual worlds is critical to service providers wishing to reach large markets with largely non-moderated offerings. The troll problem ultimately touches all forms of online interaction that aren't terminally niche-y. And because the simplest solution proposed to limit trolling involves revelation of identity, it touches privacy, metrics and related issues as well.

    Sadly, when revelation of identity is used to confront the problem of trolling (and worse forms of online bad behavior), the result cuts across another dynamic critical to the appeal of many online ventures: the ability to maintain anonymity, to allow the assumption of roles, to permit the short- and long-term cultivation of alternative personas, and indeed, in some cases, to prevent commercial exploitation of a single real identity whose value as a potential customer is further illuminated by every online association revealed.

    I suspect that the best solution may be architectural. Social networks like Facebook aren't much troubled by obvious trolling, because people have control over who they admit to conversations. It's possible to conceive of linking a bulletin-board-type messaging system to social networks in such a way that would exploit the social networks' ability to pre-screen 'friends.' The net result would be to create powerful disincentives to troll, coupled with points of leverage to maximize the economic efficiency of forum management (for example, the idea that 'if you troll, your whole sponsoring friend-group might be banned, or alternatively, they might ban you themselves in order to maintain good relations with the larger community').

  3. Elizabeth Danforth from Danforth Design & Development, July 9, 2010 at 9:52 p.m.

    The ends were never "great" in my opinion, they were disingenuous and the issue of the forum trolls was obfuscation of other issues. For Blizzard/Activision to fail to police their own forums -- as other open forums do and can -- and throw it upon the players to do for them was never going to work. Trolls would find a workaround easily, and honest creative sharing commenters interested in real discourse would depart for other venues (and other games, frankly).

    Blizzard/Activision managed to delete critical comments (about 10% of the content of The Massive Thread of Complaints, including many which evidently said little more than "we're taking this up with the ESRB") -- yet they can't control the trolls? It's a bit hard to believe.

    An ID linked to player accounts would have accomplished their declared goals without resorting to real names unless the Facebook tie-ins and other not-yet-disclosed invasions were the hidden motive.

    I will be curious if Blizzard can regain credibility with their audience after this. I have some doubts about that.

  4. Ryan Loechner from Mediapost, July 10, 2010 at 11:52 a.m.

    The WoW community has spoken and Activision/Blizzard had to listen.

    For anyone interested here is the official blue post:

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