Blizzard's Real ID Snafu: 4 Lessons
Blizzard became the target of its own flame war after deeming that its forums would soon require the use of real life names. The Battle.net community backlash forced Blizzard to backpedal, removing the Real ID requirement in forums for World of Warcraft and Starcraft II. However, Blizzard head Mike Morhaime's language ("we've decided at this time") leaves the idea on the table. Here are some things Blizzard should keep in mind if it wants to try Real ID in its forums ever again:
Anonymous Doesn't Always Mean "Troll"
Maybe Blizzard didn't consider the legitimate reasons a person might choose to remain anonymous: Teachers may want to escape from their students during leisure time, government officials might not want to be stigmatized as avid World of Warcraft players and some people just aren't comfortable being identified online. I likened Blizzard's Real ID push to Facebook because both services have a desire for their users to embrace a single identity, whether it's online or in real life. But right now, that's not the way things are.
The Forums are Important, Warts and All
In announcing the Battle.net forums' switch to Real ID, Blizzard's attitude seemed to be "don't use it if you don't like it." The problem is that Battle.net forums serve as a kind of instant customer service, where people can reach out to the community and to Blizzard itself. Changing the conditions on which that service is offered made people feel cheated. Which brings me to the next point:
Incentive Works Better Than Force
If Blizzard wants to shift people towards Real ID, it should take a page from Amazon, whose "Real Name Attribution" system for user reviews is not mandatory, but allows writers to collect badges for their work. Wouldn't a reward system like that translate nicely to game built entirely on collecting loot?
Don't Test an Angry Mob
To prove a point, Blizzard forum moderator Bashiok revealed himself to be Micah Whipple, and outraged gamers immediately got to digging up as much embarrassing or otherwise personal information on him that they could. Whether the information is accurate or not is beside the point; this incident showed an ugly side to the Battle.net community that Blizzard was wise to pacify.