If you’re not familiar with the concept, Real ID is Blizzard’s new cross-game, cross-server chat program. It allows you to add your friends (using their Battle.net email address) and then talk to them while you’re on another server, or not logged into WoW, or whenever. If you’ve not looked into it, both the main page and the FAQ are worth a read before you finish reading this post.
Real ID opens up a lot of out-of-game/non-game interactions for people you regularly enjoy your WoW time with. Unfortunately it also has some glaring privacy concerns that throw up some pretty big red flags, both from an RP standpoint and from a real life standpoint.
First – you and your Real ID friends will be identified by your real names. While this isn’t strikingly problematic, as many people who you play with on a regular basis may already know your real name, it does pose an issue for someone who chooses to use a pseudonym on the internet. (See: Me. My real name isn’t Anna, but I’ve got a pretty good reason not to randomly start going by another name – people know me as Anna already, and I have a lot of personal investment in the name (and this website)!)
Where this really gets sticky, though, is that you can see all of your friends’ Real ID friends (and vice versa).
f you want to be friends with someone in your guild, you have to be sure not only that you trust THEM with your real name and Battle.net email address, you have to be able to trust all of their friends with your information as well. In this way, it’s a lot like Facebook for Blizzard (a comparison that doesn’t actually win it any points in my book), and the lack of an opt-out (or opt-in) option on this feature is extremely off-putting.
EDIT: I wasn’t sure I wanted to tackle this, but I think it deserves mention (read more in the comments) – the addition of real names to Real ID opens up some really unpleasant opportunities for stalking and harassment. Yes, ideally you’ll be very careful about who gets your Real ID info, but not every stalking situation starts out that way, and internet threats become /very/ scary when someone can get access to your real name. Also, I’m not sure if blocking one person on your Real ID list will block YOUR name off of all your mutual friends lists to them (meaning it might be possible for you to block someone, only to have them track you down through a friend of a friend’s list).
The fact that this is done through your Battle.net email address is also worrisome in and of itself.
Blizzard (wisely) instructs people not to give out their account information (login/password). Well, we’re now in the era of Battle.net where your account login is your Battle.net email address. Yes, everyone should have an authenticator, but not everyone does, and passing around your Battle.net email address makes it one step easier for someone to compromise your account. Many people, including me, have email addresses specifically for Battle.net that they ONLY use for Blizzard logins. This way, when I get Blizzard phishing emails to my toomanyannas at gmail account, there is NO question whether they’re scams. I’m pretty wary of giving out that address to anyone, especially not people that I’ve only met in WoW, no matter how much I like them and enjoy gaming with them.
From a an account security standpoint, your Battle.net email is a MUCH bigger deal than even your real name.
EDIT: As I’ve been made aware (thanks to several folks here and at Twitter) – while you have to give people your Battle.net email address to add them as a friend/vice versa, they don’t continue to see that from the RealID friends list. Whether or not it’s available at all, I don’t know (I’ll leave that to people with more experience – perhaps someone who’s using it can tell us?), but you still must give that Battle.net email address (your account login) to anyone who wants to add you as a friend. It’s just not then visible to everyone else – only your real name and character name are visible.
All that aside, what does Real ID have to do with RP?
From Blizzard’s Info Page:
When you agree to become Real ID friends with another player, both of you will automatically see all the other’s characters on your friends list. You’ll even see any characters your friend creates in future Blizzard games, carrying your social network forward and helping you stay connected with the people you enjoy playing with most.
My lack of desire to have everyone I’m friends with know all of my character names aside, there are some interesting RP interactions that can take place from this – namely cross-faction RP. (Thanks to Warcraft Sues for the idea, I’d not thought of it, and they posted a question about it this morning.)
I’m pretty good friends with the Panzercow – and most of his characters are hordies. On the staff of WTT:RP, Falconesse plays characters on both Alliance and Horde, and RPs extensively with both. In fact, many of the Noxilite crew have interactions with the Wildfire Riders (and associates) – both in and out of game. Some RP has even included communication between those groups, done in IRC or other media. Real ID may allow this kind of thing to happen more often, and I think (in some situations) it’s a good thing.
On the other hand, cross-faction/cross-server communication is not something Blizzard supports at all, but I’m not sure how they’d prevent it – I have both Alliance and Horde characters, and forcing me to choose only to talk to my Alliance or Horde friends would be complicated, as most of them have many alts as well.
Blizzard’s Real ID feature also will tell you “what your friends are up to” – whether they’re in a raid or sitting around in Dalaran, ostensibly “bored”. While I think that’s an interesting tidbit of information, roleplayers often “sit around” without being bored, so it won’t bypass the “Are you busy?” whispers/messages.
Unfortunately, this is the downfall of allowing all of your friends to see all of your characters as well. Everyone likes to escape sometimes, to log in and not be bothered by guild stuff or chatter. Ideally, you wouldn’t share your Real ID info with all of those people, but it’s still hard to get away from, even without announcing that you made a new level 1 alt. Spinksville had a good post on this aspect that’s worth a read as well.
Being a roleplayer adds another level of awkwardness to this kind of broadcast. Sometimes I really like to have “small group” RP – I want to snag one or two people, go somewhere that we won’t be bothered, and enjoy RP that’s personal or private or sensitive to the characters. Real ID broadcasting where that is increases the chance of someone showing up to join in the RP because they saw you were all out in Winterspring together. Right now, through channels/guilds/friends lists it’s still possible to see that information, certainly, and most people know to send a whisper first, but the possibility of “party crashing” is still there, and Real ID will make it even more obvious (since people will, at least in theory, be looking at their Real ID friends to see what’s up and what they might join in doing).
Is Real ID all bad then?
No, I don’t think so. It’s an interesting concept, and seeks to attach a social media type concept to WoW and other Blizzard games. It opens up the possibility of cross-faction and cross-server RP, which is decidedly cool (though possibly not something Blizzard will think is so awesome, so we’ll see on that count).
Due to the privacy concerns though, I won’t be using it (at this time). There are excellent non-Blizzard chat programs available (AIM, Google Chat, IRC, various messenger clients, etc.) that can be used to essentially the same effect, without automatically displaying a ton of information that you can’t choose not to display. It’s easy to use a pseudonym, control who does and doesn’t have access to your information, and you don’t have to worry about whether your friends might have some unsavory types lingering in their friends lists as well.
Since Real ID will not be tied to any one Blizzard game, it’ll be something you’ll have to run separately on your computer anyway, so choosing to use something like a guild IRC channel wouldn’t change the memory concerns either!
Anyhow, that’s my two cents (two dollars?) on the subject.
What do you guys think? Are there roleplay opportunities with RealID that I’ve missed? How do you plan to use Real ID (if you plan to use it at all)? Do you have a screening process for potential friends (for example: only people you know in real life)?