Blizzard's Real Name Forum Policy Has Fans In An UproarS

Blizzard's decision to use players' real first and last names in the StarCraft II and World of Warcraft forums draws strong negative reactions from fans. Why are they so upset? Let's take a look.

Blizzard posted the news yesterday in its official forums that, come the launch of StarCraft II's new community site prior to the game's release, all posts on the new forums would be accompanied by the real first and last name on the Battle.net account of the player. The new World of Warcraft forums launching with the upcoming Cataclysm expansion would share this new functionality.

According to Blizzard, using real names will help foster a more meaningful gaming community where long-lasting friendships can be formed. It sounds like a pleasant enough idea.

One Blizzard player who contacted me via email said the new policy had him and his friends feeling akin to "a Jew in Poland circa 1939-1940."

After a bit of email back and forth he did admit that the statement was alarmist, but his concerns echoed those of many a Blizzard player contributing to the original forum thread, as well as the companion thread on the World of Warcraft forums, now more than 1,000 pages long.

He's worried about stalking; that the fringe elements that play World of Warcraft will get a hold of his name or those of his friends and use the information to track them down and do them harm.

Some of the responses are silly.

I'm in witness protection for testifying in a trial that sent a man to death, and his family swore to send me to my death too, so I will be deleting every single post I've ever made in FEAR for MY VERY LIFE.

Right. The first rule of Witness Protection Club is you do not talk about Witness Protection Club.

Still many play on the fear that giving out your real name will make you a target.

Forcing people to reveal their real names just opens you guys up to a gigantic liability when people start getting stalked, harassed, pedofiled, etc etc etc because YOU forced this change on us. What about all the under 13 players? They're not going to be able to post at all or are you guys now giving out the names of kids? I cannot believe this got a pass from your legal department.

It bears noting that a child under 13 cannot create a Battle.net account without a parent or guardian, and that account will be in the parent's name. Parental controls will be in place to allow adults to keep their children from posting on the forums. If I had a child, I wouldn't let him within 500 feet of an internet forum in the first place.

But this isn't just about the children. It's also about being female.

Another thing that bothers me about this is that I don't always want people to know I'm female when I post on threads. I don't want to be judged because I'm female and I bet I could guarantee Facebook requests if I posted and people saw my real name. My name is unique and it wouldn't be hard to find me.

Many female players voice similar concerns. They talk of the dangers of being a woman on the internet, the chance of becoming the target of a crazed stalker, and the fact that from a young age, women are conditioned to guard their personal information in regards to the internet.

Some even voice concerns that their employer or customers will find out they are gamers and shun them. Kotaku reader Blarg Me emailed me to tell me about one such case.

I've already heard MASSIVE retaliation, including a friend of mine who is a longtime player who's close to becoming a doctor, who is now going to quit because of this. Why? Well, all it takes is someone in a hospital looking his info up on the internet to find out he's a WoW player, and with a lot of people still viewing gaming as immature, etc.. well, yeah. And I mean, he's played since day 1 and has dozens of characters at max level.

Many forum posters echo this sentiment, often giving out far too much information in the process.

I'm 29, a former Marine, currently finishing college and self-employed as a gem and jewelry seller. In the adult world playing WoW or any other online game carries a certain negative stigma, so my family and most of my friends don't know that I play.

The complaints go on and on. Some people simply prefer to keep their information private. Others enjoy maintaining an online persona separate from real life.

For all the negative reactions, there are many who stand behind Blizzard's decision, excited about the possibility of a forum experience free from anonymity.

Why are people so paranoid? Just because you will know my name doesn't mean you will be able to know where I live, work etc. Unless you work for the government, I doubt anyone will know any more than your name. Yes people could look you up on Facebook/MySpace, but you shouldn't have your address or phone number on there anyways. Set those social networking sites to private and you have nothing to worry about. I think a lot of people are worried because people will be able to see every post you have written (Oh no! I can't hide anymore.) Post constructively or don't post at all.

The word "paranoid" is getting a lot of use from both sides of the argument.

Hopefully my post history is obliterated with the forum changeover, too. I'm kind of paranoid.

Worried fans should rest easy. Blizzard has stated that the new forums will be just that — brand new. The changes will not (and cannot, due to previous versions of the forum rules) be retroactive.

Despite the varied reactions and differing arguments, the fan reaction can be boiled down to this: Those against the move won't be posting any more once the changes go into effect, and those for it won't be sad to see them go.

So how do I feel about the change? I'm probably not the right person to ask.

My name is all over the internet as it is, and once you separate me from the former Mayor of Omaha, Nebraska and that one photographer, tracking me down isn't that hard. Typing my main character name (Rande) and server (Ysera) into a search engine will bring you to Kotaku within three or so entries, so my internet anonymity is already shot.

Does your first and last name really hold so much power?