A friend who hasn’t been playing World of Warcraft lately sent me a link to this article on Broken Toys, asking about the new Real ID feature and how it compared to the description the article gave of it. After reading through the article, I was rather surprised to see a lot of the views expressed and how they’re not quite in line with how the product actually works. I’m not sure if Scott Jennings, the author, has used the Real ID feature or not. If he’s as concerned about the feature as the article suggests it would make sense that he wouldn’t want to give it a try. In that case, perhaps the misconceptions arise from the frequently-asked-questions section of the Blizzard Website. Either way, I wanted to take a few moments to reply to some aspects of his article and then expand upon some of my experiences with Real ID.
First, a few facts about what it is and how it works. I realize not everyone is going to want to read the article I linked first. RealID is a completely optional supplement to the “Friends List” feature of both Battle.Net and World of Warcraft. If your parental controls are set up on a child’s account, they won’t even see this option at all, so there’s no danger that your child is secretly using this. Currently, you create a moniker such as “Brighteyes” when you play a game on Battle.Net or as a character name in World of Warcraft. It’s probably easier just to work off of World of Warcraft for the moment, because you can have up to ten characters on each realm, with a maximum of 50 characters per account. Each of your characters has their own friends list, which allows you to see when those other characters are online. So your friends list on “Brighteyes” is different from “Embereyes” or “Angeleyes,” and the characters you can add to a friends list are restricted to only characters on the same realm and faction as you. Simple and limited in functionality, but it’s what we’ve had for years.
What the RealID feature does is offers another way to add someone to your friends list. By default it’s off for everyone, and it only turns on if you try to add someone after giving you a short tutorial. The basic idea is that instead of adding the character “Brighteyes” to your friends list, you can send a request to add Kvn instead, pretending for a moment that Kvn isn’t technically a moniker and act as though it is my real first and last name. To do this you need the e-mail address that I used to register to WorldofWarcraft. Instead of typing “Brighteyes” into the friends list you would type my e-mail, and it would give you the option to send a short message with it. After that, nothing happens on your end. Maybe there was someone with that e-mail address, maybe not. If no one has an e-mail with that address or your request is denied you will never find out. However, if I know you and like you, I can approve you and now we’re RealID friends. Now you will see Kvn on your friends list, and to the right of my name is what game I’m playing. If it’s WoW, it will also show you “Brighteyes – Stormrage” underneath it so you can see what server and character I’m on. You can now send me messages or invite me to a chatroom that works across any faction, server, and Blizzard game with Battle.net’s RealID enabled (Starcraft 2). Now you’re in business.
In addition to seeing “Kvn” on your friends list, I now see your real name. There’s some added functionality, such as the ability to set a status that persists even when you’re out of game. You can choose to be notified when a friend changes their status or not (I quickly turned mine off), but so far I see people using it for short informative messages. “I have some time off work this weekend and plan to play, let me know if you want to run some instances.” “Does anyone know how to open the Crusader Quartermaster at the Argent Tournament?” (Obviously my friends don’t read my blog!) If it were just this simple it would be fine, but there’s another level of social networking that concerns some people. One is the ability to invite friends to a conversation chat room, and they can invite their friends. As the conversation uses your real name, I was pretty concerned. At least, it was showing my real name. After about 10 minutes of the conversation everyone was asking who “Brighteyes” is if they were invited by my other friends, so it seems that your character name is used in these chat rooms instead of your real name for people you aren’t RealID friends with. That makes me feel a little bit better. However, these cross-games-and-server chat rooms can be left at any time but right now there’s no prompt and the Interface Options don’t include an option to add a prompt. If you’re invited, you join the channel. I’m hoping this is an oversight as all other chatting in WoW requires a prompt before throwing you into a chat channel. The other concern is a big one, seeing your friend’s friends.
If you click a RealID friend and select “View Friends,” you get a list of who they are friends with. It shows their full names, but nothing about their characters. Also, while one of you needs to know an e-mail to invite initially, no e-mail addresses are ever displayed again and they do not show up on this list. You get the option without an e-mail address to invite the people your friends are friends with. As an example, a few days into the new system I received a request from Red Bunny. Red Bunny was also friends with KHAOS KITTEN, who was my friend. They couldn’t tell anything about me except that I do play a game called World of Warcraft. No information about my e-mail, server name, or characters showed up to them. They couldn’t tell if I was online or not. As before, they could request, but for all they know I don’t play anymore. Feeling a bit snobbish I opted to decline their request. Still, it bothers people that others may know they play World of Warcraft. I can understand that, I certainly wouldn’t admit to my real life friends that I play World of Warcraft, either.
Now that we have that description out of the way, allow me to discuss my replies to the articles. The article works off of the assumption that this feature will be popular. I imagine it is quite popular among groups of real life friends who play World of Warcraft. I’m certainly enjoying it, for the most part. Her first point is that being able to chat with your real life friends cross-realm is a big problem, that it is sending a mixed message. I’ll have to double check and see if I can find it, but I feel like this was addressed when the new Battle.Net was announced months ago. To put things into perspective, originally you could use special characters to send messages between Horde and Alliance with an awful mix of leet-speak and numbers. There are still cases where people abuse the language filter to yell at their enemies in battlegrounds. Blizzard has squashed things like this in the past to try to keep up the barrier between Horde and Alliance. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to claim that RealID is in violation of this. RealID is intended for your friends, and these are people you can call and chat with on the telephone, voice over IP, or an instant messenger program. Scott Jones asks “Why bother scrambling cross-team chat if you’re going to enable it in a different interface?” I would say that this isn’t the case. The faceless Horde you come across are people you’ve never met. A server has thousands of people on it. Preventing you from speaking to Horde on your own server using RealID would be silly, as these are people you already know. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that most people have characters on both factions, as there is no rule about that. I think we have always been heading in this direction, and this is just a continuation of the ability to make Alliance and Horde characters on the same PvP server. To be honest, I was fairly surprised when that happened, because I didn’t realize that rule was still around.
The next argument is that this “essentially disengages the player from the avatar. Now, World of Warcraft is only very, very peripherally a role-playing game…” The arguments works off of the issue that your RealID name is your account’s owner name. I’m not sure I’m qualified to respond to this simply because I never felt particularly attached to my avatar. With 50 avatars to chose from and the ability to make a character and then delete it later, my attachment is more of a fondness. I don’t feel like “Brighteyes” is a real person with a real story. World of Warcraft just isn’t that sort of game. In fact, my MMORPG experience is so limited I’m not sure this is the case with any game. Maybe I would feel differently if I felt as though I were sending a message to Lord Kittenwraith, Destroyer of Worlds. Or if I felt that when I typed something, Brighteyes was “speaking” it to the world. But most of the time the messages I send are in guild chat to people strewn across the game world or whispers to people in similar situations. I can’t say I’ve ever really attached the thought that an avatar is real or that World of Warcraft is a role playing experience to my play time. Do I stop feeling immersed in the experience when my healer tells me that his lawn is on fire and he needs to go away for awhile? I play primarily on an “RP” server, too, so it isn’t that I’m sheltered from the idea of role play. I’ve heard rumors of people playing the game who supposedly become their character from the moment they log on to the moment they log off. I’ve never met them, but I imagine this potentially small minority is probably okay not turning on their RealID.
The continued argument talks about how important it is to go by a moniker and not be associated with your real name to the crazy freaks out there in the internet world. He doesn’t want to be bothered in game about the articles she writes. But bothered by whom? If he gives his RealID to friends, they already know his real name. The only danger is if he shares his real name with strangers. Even if someone sees his name by viewing “friends of my friend,” all they’re finding out is that someone named Scott Jennings plays World of Warcraft. They don’t have his character information or his e-mail or any information about him. I suspect that someone writing about MMORPGs probably has played World of Warcraft and probably has friends. How has this changed anything? If he plays in some sort of hardcore role-playing setting with his hardcore role-playing friends, they can still send him messages at “Lum the Mad” even if they are RealID friends with him. That hasn’t changed. What I do agree with is that being able to set an alias would be quite nice. Most people have nicknames, and having your real name show up there is a big deterrent to allowing people I’m online friends with online to be RealID friends with me. I actually think this is deliberate and well thought out, however. I’m only willing to give my e-mail address to real friends I’ve met in person and trust. If it were just an alias, I would be willing to give it out to more people, who would then potentially know the e-mail address I use for World of Warcraft. It’s a sort of built-in safety feature. Of course, in a perfect world I would get my alias and I would also not require an e-mail address to be RealID friends.
His final gripe is that there is no way to not use the system. I’m not sure why he takes issue with Blizzard’s comment that you can simply not use the feature and it isn’t a problem. Parental controls allow you to opt out of it completely, for one. Also, someone has to have your e-mail address you use for World of Warcraft and know that’s the e-mail you’re using for that purpose and send a request and have you go into your pending requests and accept it and go through a tutorial to open it up. While that’s not a time-consuming process if you want to start it up, it’s not as though it’s on by default or you’re stuck with it. Mr. Jennings compares it to being flooded with marketing ads and being told you can opt out by not looking at them, but that’s not quite accurate. When you log in, nothing has changed. You have to go in and change things, and there’s no obligation to do so. The game hasn’t changed if you decide not to do this. It’s a fun little thing for people who have real life friends playing, but it isn’t affecting anyone who doesn’t want to use it.
Now, he does touch upon the friend-of-friend issue. I’ve covered it before, but I would like to say that it would be wonderful to be able to disable this feature. Add in this, an alias option, prompts for conversations, and it would go a long way towards making me feel better about this feature.