Blizzard rolled out a social network yesterday. Really! Here’s the overview:
– Ability to make initial friend connections through exchanging email addresses. This exists entirely independently of WoW; your friend displays online as their real name, and shows what server and character they are on. – Ability to make subsequent friend connections through browsing the friend lists of users on your own friend list and sending requests. – Ability to set your “What am I doing?” status.
Notice anything missing? You should.
The below assumes that this feature will become popular. Which, in fact, I suspect it will. There has been some thought put into the interface and chat features of this system – in fact, far more thought than has been put into World of Warcraft’s own friends list and chat system. And friends and chat are why people play MMOs. So, assuming everyone gloms onto this as the new default standard for friends listings within the community and it doesn’t, say, wither and die like “meeting stones” – consider these points.
– A minor point to most – Blizzard has abdicated from enforcing any sort of cross-team chat protection. There’s nothing protecting you from hopping on an alternate-side alt and doing your bit as a realm spy. Of course realistically, nothing prevented you from doing the same with an IM program. But this is different in that it goes counter to systems that are already in place. Why bother scrambling cross-team chat if you’re going to enable it in a different interface? It sends a mixed message, or more accurately the message that Blizzard forgot they were doing this in the first place.
– With this feature, Blizzard essentially disengages the player from the avatar. Now, World of Warcraft is only very, very peripherally a role-playing game in the sense that your character may or may not be human and may or may not cast spells at mobile bags of improvement called “monsters”. However, to this point, players have had the ability to be anonymous. That is gone. You see, the “RealID” system is keyed automatically – and unchangeably – to the name listed in Blizzard’s billing system as the owner of your account. If I wanted to be known as “Lum the Mad” – which, in every MMO to date, I have had that option to do – to protect myself from people who, just as a random casual aside, may have an unkind word or two to say to the real person behind the author of many of these blog postings – I would either have to change my name in Blizzard’s accounting system (which I’m not even sure is *possible*) or simply shrug and say, oh what the hell, it’s not like there are unstable people out there on the Internet! I mean, it’s not like I’m female or anything.
– There are no opt-outs in this system. There is no privacy protection within this system. There is no option for me to turn off the ability of my friends to browse my friends list. This system, in other words, is even more draconian about its enforced disdain for privacy issues than Facebook’s. When you make Facebook look like a paragon of privacy defense, there may be an issue or two. You can’t even opt out from the system itself. To quote Blizzard’s FAQ on the subject:
To stop using Real ID, simply remove all of your Real ID friends from your friends list, and do not accept any more Real ID friend requests.
That’s right, the opt out is to simply, you know, ignore any request you get! Also, if you’d like to opt out of our marketing list, just don’t read all the marketing we send you.
Why would Blizzard launch a social network with no privacy protection and no opt-out features whatsoever? Because they think people who are concerned about privacy are stupid and worth laughing at. And because in Activision’s august halls, someone looked at World of Warcraft’s millions of subscribers and Facebook’s billions of advertising revenue and said “Hmmm.” And no one thought any of this through.