The new Internet shitstorm is Blizzard's launching of Real ID, linking your real life identity (as determined by your credit card and email) to your gaming identity, particularly your Warcraft characters. They're trying to walk a fine line: you don't have to share your Real ID in the game of Warcraft, so in theory you can keep your identity private. But Blizzard's making a few missteps in launching it.
- There's a terrible bug (or design choice?) where Real ID data is available to WoW addons. In general WoW addons are safe for a user to install, they can't do much harm. Users install lots of them without fear of danger. But right now, any addon can share your real name and the names of your friends in the game: spam trade chat, etc. In fact DBM had a bug that it was dumping that data in to your own chat window. Harmless, but a startling demonstration of what could go wrong.
- The current Real ID policy is that if someone's a Real ID friend, then they automatically share your Real ID name with their friends, too. Ie, your friends get to share your personal data with anyone they want. It's a mistake to put that control in other people's hands.
- Blizzard is making Real ID mandatory for forum posts. The WoW forums are mostly a sideshow and I understand why they're trying to clean up the cesspool. But their ham-handed announcement and messaging has really pissed a lot of people off. And I've already heard from two women who say they will no longer be posting to the forums because they don't want to be harassed. That makes me sad.
Of course what's really going on is Blizzard / Activision is trying to figure out how to leverage the 12 million World of Warcraft subscribers into a valuable social network for their other games, particularly Starcraft 2, Diablo 3, and the upcoming unnamed Blizzard MMO. Every game company right now has Facebook envy, and Blizzard is making a go at social networking. Despite the nerd rage about Real ID right now I don't think they'll lose customers over abusing their expectations of privacy. But it sure is a lousy launch.
BTW, personally I have no trouble with anyone knowing my Real ID, in fact I appreciate the basic feature of making my in-game friendships transcend whatever alt and server I'm currently playing. My Real ID is firstname.lastname@example.org, and any friends reading this are encouraged to add me. But I'm unusual; Blizzard needs to be very careful about denying its customers the choice to remain pseudonymous.