07 July 2010

The only WoW Killer is RealID

Yes, the headline is overdramatic (what WoW-related post couldn't be), but it's also the biggest thing to hit gaming in a many a year.

For those not following gaming news or who doesn't play World of Warcraft, Activision Blizzard announced over the weekend that they would not only expand RealID to their forums for Starcraft and World of Warcraft, but that it would be mandatory that posters to the forums to use their real-life first and last name. Old posts would not be retcon'd, but any new reply or new post would have the person's real name attached to it.

This move is, rightly so, garnering some attention. A laundry list of reasons to oppose this have crept up, from examples of real-life stalking from game activity, to the potential to out closeted gay gamers, to identity theft, to potential employers searching on your name and finding your forum posts.

Posting on the forums is, as Blizzard points out, completely optional. Your real name doesn't show up in-game unless you opt in and allow someone to see your name. But, as a commenter on Reddit points out, this is a step in a new direction. Games like WoW are inherently social; you have to group for quests sometimes, you are in a guild to raid, you talk with people to trade goods. With RealID, you have a real-life social network tied to a virtual one. The possibilities for adverstising dollars and monetizing a userbase of millions is probably still making some executive horny.

Make no mistake; this is an experiment. One they're committed to, but an experiment nonetheless. I play, but I don't use post on the forums (cesspool that they are). I think this will diminish the quality and quantity of posts, but it doesn't affect me. Not yet, anyway.

What I do see this as is a step towards mandatory RealID in-game as well. Experimenting with the forums is a litmus test for the reaction versus the effectiveness. It's the allergy test before you actually consume a suspect food. People will quit the forums, people will quit the game, bad things will happen. These are known consequences that factored into the decision.

The question isn't will they, the question is whether they can tolerate the consequences. If they extrapolate the numbers to the main subscription base, will a move like implementing RealID in-game allow them to continue making millions of dollars every month?

If they can, Blizzard will be the leader in a brand new field of social marketing. If not, they may have set their own house on fire.

It's an interesting risk; we're watching Blizzard, but you're walking a very, very thin line with many people.