Majik and I discussed RealID in this week’s episode of Blessing of Frost. We discussed how RealID and BattleTags are inelegant and always on and I rehashed some of the stuff I talked about in my RealID post from last week.

In the episode, Majik, playing devil’s advocate, challenged why on earth I used it at all. “If you don’t like it,” he said, “why use it?”

In truth, I’ve been thinking about disabling RealID for, well, ever. Since it was introduced, actually. I hadn’t actually done it, though. It was, for lack of a better word, handy, though those occasions were rare.

So I started thinking about how I would get in touch with the people on my RealID list if I turned it off and if my gaming experience would be richer or poorer without RealID.

My brother – My brother obviously has my phone number, can text me, could even drive over and buzz the crap out of my building’s buzzer if he needs me.

Majik – Majik’s favourite way to bother the crap out of me is to harass me in Gmail’s chat. Occasionally, when I raid on the baby pally, he’ll whisper me and mock me for raiding with a second guild. If he needs to reach me, he can text me, G chat me, email me, etc.

My RL Friend the Resto Druid – Similar to my brother’s methods, my RL Friend the Resto Druid has my phone numbers and she can also email me and text me and such.

My ex-boyfriend from high school – While my ex-BF and I didn’t end things happily back in high school, we’ve been in touch for several years (off and on) and in an email exchange a couple of months ago, we swapped RealID info. We haven’t actually used RealID at all to communicate with each other in that time. At all.

My GM in Choice – Fugara, the GM of Choice of Skywall, seemed like a no-brainer to give my RealID to when it came out, as I was raiding with Choice already but I was ALWAYS ready to drop raiding with Choice and head over to Eldre’Thalas in case of an emergency. I thought that should any emergencies arrive, it was a really good idea to be able to communicate with Fugara about my status and estimated time of return and such. Of course, no emergencies like that every cropped up. To boot, Fugara recently gave birth, like three months ago, and hasn’t even been on WoW in two months. (She gave GM powers to the tank lead, Beezlebubba, for the period during which she’s being a newborn’s mother, though she does plan to come back at some point.) So there was absolutely no issue there.

The last person on my RealID is someone from the WoW blogging community whom I really respect and admire, but we don’t chat much and, ultimately, although I still respect and admire this person, there are other ways for us to communicate, too.

So on Thursday night, after a ridiculously short raid due to achievement stuff, I turned it off.

It feels weird, to be honest, but it’s also a bit of a relief.

Why did I do it?

I did it because of the following:

a) I didn’t use RealID enough, even among the limited number of friends I had with it.

b) The ability to use BattleTags in lieu of RealID highlighted that while one of my major issues with RealID is the use of one’s real name (or the real name on the account, even if that’s not the name you go by), I also really resent the possibility of people ALWAYS knowing what toon or server I’m on, regardless of whether or not I’m identified by “Kurn” or my real name.

c) Majik had a point — you don’t like it? Don’t use it.

Try as I might, I could not think of a compelling reason to keep using it after I highlighted the various issues in my last post and it just sort of came to a head during the recording of Blessing of Frost.

Ultimately, it stems from my convictions about how online chatting works. I have worked, like as a profession, in online communities, building them, moderating them, directing them, since 1997. Prior to that, I was an active participant in various online communities since 1986. No joke. Before the Internet was really commercially available, I was building communities on local Bulletin Board Systems. I may not know a lot in life, but I know how online communities work.

Video games used to be solo-player things. Or you’d play a game (like Jones in the Fast Lane or You Don’t Know Jack) while sitting at the same computer  as other people. BattleNet started up and you could chat in multiplayer games or in the lobbies and such. That was new and cool.

Back in the late 90s, messenger-type programs started cropping up. Things like MSN Messenger, ICQ, AOL’s own Instant Messenger, Yahoo’s Pager (now Messenger) burst onto the Internet scene. These (and others) were all proprietary clients that connected to proprietary networks owned by MSN, ICQ, AOL and Yahoo (and the others were owned by their respective developers too). Each introduced different aspects of “messaging”, but all featured ways to instantly send messages to others. AIM didn’t have invisible mode for quite some time, but since it included being able to message those on the AOL network, it was quite popular. MSN came bundled with all computers with Windows, so it was hugely popular despite its bugginess and lack of features. Yahoo’s Pager/Messenger was never really popular at the time, although I think (I could be wrong) it was the first to try to include voice chat. ICQ was the darling of the Internet, though. And it had so many tools! You could live-time chat, seeing people type (typos and all!) or you could send instant messages. You could have more than one person in a conversation. You could send files to various contacts or receive files from them. It was great! ICQ was also one of the first, if not THE first, to have statuses like Available, Busy and the like, including invisible mode. And even with invisible mode, you could right-click on a user on your contact list and select and option to make yourself visible to them.

Blizzard’s main focus has always been its games, but now that “social media” is popular and everyone and their brother is jumping on the bandwagon, they’re trying to build a chat-based community, complete with requisite friends list. The problem is that the revamped BattleNet and RealID and BattleTags are just sort of tacked on to WoW and are better integrated in StarCraft II and Diablo III and, as such, it’s pretty clear that the tools are just unfinished or at least not remotely polished. Sure, it’s a great idea to be able to chat with your friends who are online, but one thing all the chat programs in the 90s eventually did very well (and all the more recent applications that learned from these initial instant messengers) was giving the user the option to use it (or not) on a day by day or moment by moment basis.

RealID and BattleTags do not give you that choice. Yes, you can turn it off, which requires going into your account settings on the BattleNet site. Turning it back on, however, means that if you want to re-connect with the people formerly on your friends list, you must re-request access as their friend, since turning it off will wipe all that data. Enabling or disabling RealID is not a choice you make based on how you feel at a particular moment in time. The repercussions of this choice are not simple, rather the repercussions of disabling a once-used RealID means the actual destruction of those connected contacts that need to be re-requested if you ever decide to re-enable RealID (and want to reconnect with those individuals).

So, realistically, those who don’t want to be visible to anyone but still want to play the games will not turn off RealID if it’s just a passing feeling of “oh, I feel like farming but I don’t feel like talking to anyone”.

Why, in the year 2012, is a company as large as Activision-Blizzard not using lessons learned by Mirabilis (the developers of ICQ) and others as early as 1996? Google understands the importance of invisible mode in its Gchat client. Facebook allows you to appear offline in its chat. Steam’s community allows you to play its online games while offline in its chat client. All of these companies (and more) understand the importance of user preference and user choice and they understand that sometimes people feel more social or less social and will flip their availability depending on those feelings.

Essentially, each client that allows you to see someone’s online status has some option for an invisible or offline mode.

There are over 10 million WoW players. Diablo III has ~4.5 million people running around there shortly after launch (1.2 million or so are WoW players who had the Annual Pass). SC2 has sold something like 4.5 million copies.

Even if all D3 and SC2 players are WoW players, that’s still over 10 million people who are automatically enrolled in this “social network”, although due to regional differences, not everyone can talk to everyone else. Still, that’s a ridiculous number of people playing these games with a built-in social network that’s on by default, where the only options are “use it (either freely or conservatively)” or “don’t use it at all”.

The thing is, of course, Blizzard wants us to use it. Blizzard has created this social system in order to make their games stickier. Everyone I know who plays WoW says that they play because they enjoy the game also plays it equally for the people. Let’s be honest. If my old Burning Crusade era Apotheosis folks hadn’t wanted to get back together to raid for Cataclysm, chances are I would have stopped playing. But they WERE interested, so I was interested in leading these people to a Deathwing kill.

Therefore, it’s in Blizzard’s interest to encourage people to use RealID and BattleTags and it’s not in their interest to make it intuitive to turn off RealID and to institute repercussions (such as having to rebuild any contacts) if you turn it off. Blizzard should want us to use RealID and BattleTags.

Their tools, as I’ve stated earlier, are clumsy, clunky and, like I said earlier, have not learned the lessons most companies learned from the chat clients available in the 1990s.

As such, I have opted out. The simple choice of “on” or “off” doesn’t sit well with me. The use of my real name with RealID never sat well with me. The developers’ blatant ignorance of the necessity of certain baseline tools hinders this system and holds it back.

What really upsets me, and this is why I keep talking about it, is that it could have been something really wonderful. I would have been its number one supporter if the developers had implemented it differently, because the idea of it is fantastic, but the implementation of it is absolutely ridiculous.

What I would have done is this:

- BattleTags first, option for “RealID”/real names later, not even the hint of a forced use of real information, unlike the RealID Forum fiasco of two summers ago
- Options available from Day 1, once online: Available, Busy, Do Not Disturb, Offline
- Eventually, integrating “invisible mode” and allowing others to see you if you chose, the way ICQ did it, or perhaps doing the group thing I suggested last week right from the start

Having that sort of thing done from the start would have had me praising BattleTags and the social system Blizzard was setting up from the start. It would have shown respect for the users, basic understanding of social media and chat programs and it would have allowed me to use my BattleTag more freely to do what I need to do in terms of guild recruitment.

As it stands, they scared the crap out of us by saying RealID/real names would be used on the forums, they didn’t give us any flexibility in terms of options of using it or not and now they have required the use of a BattleTag for Diablo III. Even if you never give it out to anyone, you still have to have one.

I feel strongly that it’s the wrong way to go about it and the small benefits I get from the use of RealID are absolutely not worth being consistently frustrated by the poor choices Blizzard has made in the implementation of their system.