Archive for real id

Yet More Privacy Ruminations

So Overwatch is out and it is amazing. I love it. I play it basically as much as I can. I’m playing Lucio primarily, but am also enjoying Widowmaker and have dallied with Junkrat, Reinhardt, Hanzo and would like to play around with Mercy and McCree.

I typically play the game with friends, because friends make things a lot more fun and you also have a much higher success rate if you’re all on a voice chat together (we haven’t really used the in-game one, but I hear it’s not terrible) and there’s chatter. “There’s a Reaper top left window!” “Got it!” is just one example from a recent match wherein we were defending Hanamura Point B.

However, not all of these people are really my friends.

There’s Majik, of course, plus my brother, Fog.

Then I also play with Majik’s brothers, Sephden and ChaosMarine. Sephden used to be a raider with us in Apotheosis way back in the day, so I’ve known him for a while. I’ve only really known Chaos for a few months — although I did meet him at Majik’s wedding three years ago.

I also play with Palantir, who was also a raider of ours in Burning Crusade, and was Majik’s college roommate. He and Maj came up to Montreal a few years ago and so we hung out and we’ve played together a lot — but not for a number of years. (Although we did walk down the aisle together at Majik’s wedding.) He and Maj and my brother play a lot of League of Legends together. (Which I do not. For a lot of reasons.)

Then I play with three other people, all friends of Sephden’s or Chaos’. C, E and JollyPenguin. I think E (I could be wrong) was a short-term raider in Apotheosis in Burning Crusade, but I don’t know C at all and I only know JollyPenguin because we also played Minecraft together.

I even played a few rounds with Fusionsnake, who’s a friend of Sephden’s, who was a badass rogue of ours in Burning Crusade. (It was nice to chat with him for a bit.)

I am probably known for being extremely protective of my privacy and my BattleTag, yet I have recently decided to let a few, select people get added to my BattleTag list. At first, it was just Maj’s brothers. Then I added Palantir. My thinking is — hey, I’ve met them all “in real life”.

Fusion and C had requested I add them and I declined those, because while it’s nice to play with Fusion and I don’t mind playing with C, it’s like… I don’t really know you. Do I really want you to be able to see what I’m doing in Blizzard games at all times? No.

In fact, I don’t want anyone to see that at all times.

The more people you add as a BattleTag friend, the less privacy you have, period.

“So I saw you were hanging out in Stormwind,” Palantir said to me this weekend. “Making gold?”

Awkward. Yes, I was hanging out in Stormwind, yes, I was making gold (or trying to). But how did he… oh, right. We’re Battle.net friends now. As such, he can see:

a) if I’m online
b) what game I’m playing
c) what WoW realm and character I’m using and even which zone I’m in

True, I can see the same info of his, but I remain uncomfortable that anyone of my BattleTag “friends” can see detailed information. I posted my ideal solution, oh, four years ago, and it’s disappointing that essentially nothing has changed.

In fact, it’s gotten worse, because our BattleTags are clearly evident in the various official Blizzard forums. I’m never going to post on the official Overwatch forum because with one click, you can see all of someone’s posts — under their full BattleTag. True, you would have to accept the invitation, but I’m very guarded and I don’t want to be constantly spammed for invitations by random people. Would this definitely happen? No. But I’m long-winded enough and critical enough that it could happen.

Hell, Palantir spammed me by requesting to be friends over and over again. Thankfully, I only saw the one invitation, but if I’d declined each, I’d have gotten new ones repeatedly.

And those invitations follow you everywhere. You see it when you log in to WoW — so and so and requested to be friends.

You see it in the BattleNet app.

Yeah, I get it — someone requested to be my friend. Now knock it off.

And I’m not even someone who has problems with people stalking them. What about those people, who live in actual fear of people with malicious intents? Just having that information out there might not be a problem for you, but it is a problem for some.

While I appreciate the free BattleTag change (yay!) and I appreciate being able to play cool games with my friends, I would urge Blizzard, again, to please look into refining the system. Sometimes I don’t want my friends to know I’m playing WoW on a little-used alt. Sometimes I want to snipe people in Overwatch without my friends seeing I’m playing the game at all. Sometimes, I just want to play and not think about how I might offend someone if I didn’t accept their group invitation.

As I said in that old post, there’s no reason we should have to deal with these inelegant (at best) tools when it comes to human interaction. Blizzard can do better and we should encourage them to do so.

 

BattleTags: Digging Deeper

Well, it’s been about ten days since I last wrote in this space, mostly due to work stuff, family stuff, oh, and yes, illness. (On Thursday, I started sneezing so much someone could haven mistaken me for a pregnant Bajoran.)

At that time, I had pondered whether the “Show my Real ID on Friends of Friends lists” option would extend to BattleTags, since we still have no controls specifically for BattleTags.

The answer, it would appear, is no.

list

Yup. That’s Majik’s “People You May Know” list and, 15 screens down, at the very bottom, where there are no mutual friends connecting him and those individuals that “he may know”, I’m right there. (In order to get this screenshot from him, I had to actually tell him my BattleTag or he wouldn’t have confirmed it for me. :P)

As to why this is a big deal, I can understand why some people don’t think it is… But to me, it’s just another way of showing me that Blizzard doesn’t care about our privacy. The lack of control, the lack of refinement of the tools, these are things that, were they fixed, would have me thrilled to use BattleTags. That’s ultimately where I’m coming from: I want to be able to use BattleTags within World of Warcraft without giving up my privacy.

Since I can’t do that, I don’t want to use BattleTags. More, I don’t want anyone to be able to associate me with a BattleTag.

Think about it. With someone’s BattleTag, you can search for them on the official Hearthstone, Diablo 3, Starcraft 2 AND Heroes of the Storm forums, all without being their “friend” on BattleNet. Just how long do you think WoW’s character-based postings are going to last when all of their other properties are using BattleTags?

Then, with someone’s BattleTag, you can spam them with requests, even if they still turn you down. Someone who knows someone else’s BattleTag can also post this sort of thing to various forums, which will cause an uptick in spam requests.

Then we have this story from Jemmy

My husband decided to disable his RealId to see what would happen. He doesn’t play WoW any more and I’m the only active RealId person on his list, everyone else is btag. So I disappeared off his list, and he cannot add me back on using my email. So far so good. So then he sends me a btag friend request, which I accept. My RealId name appears on his friends list. Not my btag, my RealId name. He shows up only as his btag, but I show up as a RealId name.

What’s up with that?

It’s true that these are not exactly the most harmful or most efficient ways to harass someone, but they’re there. More, this is just what people can do with your BattleTag ID right now. What happens when WoW’s forums adopt the BattleTag?

What happens if BattleTags become visible in WoW, even to the extent that they are currently visible in Hearthstone? Right now, after you play someone in Hearthstone, you get their BattleTag and you get the option to request to add them to your friends list. What if some genius idiot at Blizzard decides this is a good plan for LFR or the LFG groups in WoW? “Did you enjoy playing with FAKENAME#0000? Add them to your BattleTag list and play with them more often!”

Again, with proper, granular controls that existed on an IM program in the late 90s, BattleTags would be brilliant. But without any kind of control whatsoever, I have to opt out of their use. I was a less-effective guild recruiter without using BattleTags, because I didn’t want prospective recruits to know every detail of my Blizzard gaming habits. I’m sure I come off as an aloof snob when people want to exchange BattleTags with me. There are actually a lot of people with whom I would like to connect over BattleTags, but none to the point where I’d like them to have an unfettered view of my gaming. I don’t want anyone to know about my Undead baby rogue on that PVP server. I don’t want anyone to know what I’m doing in Hearthstone. It’s my decision whether or not I share these activities with others — or, at least, it should be. Once you give someone access to you via BattleTags, you don’t have that decision any longer. That privacy is gone. All because Blizzard doesn’t seem to care enough to even install the most basic of privacy controls.

It’s a worrying privacy creep and it just continues to show me that, perhaps, my love affair with World of Warcraft and Blizzard in general, is truly over.

(You’re welcome to comment, welcome to disagree, but bear in mind my Comment Policy.)

ETA: Related podcast: Episode 19 of the Kurncast: Privacy Creep

Blizzard, Why Do I Still Have to Talk About This?

Dear Blizzard,

I have been playing your games, in some fashion, since the original PC version of Diablo. I played Diablo II, as well as at least one expansion. I eventually found my way to World of Warcraft in October of 2005 and the rest is basically history. I played until November of 2012 and then took a break for approximately 17 months.

I came back to the game shortly after the Warlords of Draenor pre-purchase came out. I pre-purchased Warlords, then four hours later, I resubbed to the game.

As I write this, I have about 68 hours on my current game card and, to be honest, I’m not really inclined to fork over another $15.

It’s not because of the sexism and even homophobia and misogyny that I have seen in the game — although those exist.

It’s not because you nerfed my class to the ground — although my main raiding character was a paladin for the majority of my playing time.

It’s not even because it’s going to take over a year between content patches — although that’s a truly abysmal production schedule and if I had been raiding this whole time, I would have surely quit in disgust by now.

It’s because @YAWoWB on Twitter said this:


I wasn’t exactly sure what Rooster was talking about, until I opened up my own desktop app. Now, let’s be clear: I have precisely 0 BattleNet friends and my RealID is turned off. But I still clicked on “Add a Friend” and was rewarded with this piece of nonsense:

addafriendblog

 

Now, to be fair, because I have RealID turned off, those are all BattleTags. But that’s my brother’s BattleTag, my friend Majik’s BattleTag… and the guy above Majik? That’s one of his friends. Something like two years ago, I played Diablo III with Majik and his friend, for a period of approximately THIRTY MINUTES.

Then, Blizzard, I gasped out-loud at the possibility that my BattleTag is floating around out there like that. See, you have a flag in the BattleNet account options to not show up like that… except that it’s for RealID, not BattleTags (click for a bigger version):

friendsoffriends

Now, one might think that, possibly, since there are no preferences for one’s BattleTags, that perhaps they follow the rules laid out for RealID, but, honestly, I have no idea if this is the case.

As my brother is the father of a newborn and I don’t actually know Majik’s friend, my thought was immediately to get him on his computer and then have HIM click “Add A Friend” and see if I showed up. Unfortunately, he was asleep when I texted him (multiple times), since he has to be up at 5am and I think I might have woken up his wife with my constant texting…

So I’ll have to post again with the results of this test.

But, honestly, Blizzard. It’s 2014. Why do I have to be angry with you about your complete and utter lack of social controls?

It’s been nearly two years since you posted that “Appear Offline” was “coming soon”. TWO YEARS, Blizzard. That’s longer than Mists of Pandaria has been out! And your inelegant (to say the least) “privacy” controls are still absolutely laughable. I say this as someone who has been in the online community industry for over a decade. In this day and age of Facebook privacy screwups, of cloud hacking, of nations spying on their own citizens, you’re really going to continue to deny your users the ability to properly manage their online/offline statuses? You’re going to make it easy to find people who don’t want to be found?

Look, I get that community makes your product stickier. Believe me, I do. People come for the games and stay for the people. I know! And you want to compete with Steam, I’m guessing, right? Guess what? STEAM HAS AN OFFLINE MODE. And a variety of ways for users to manage their privacy. And Steam hit the 75 million active user mark last January.

Why, why, why do you continue to eat away at the privacy of your gamers? Why don’t you understand that, when I play your games, I don’t really want to announce to a dozen people that I’m on a rarely-used alt on a server I never visit? Why don’t you understand that I don’t want people to know all of my alts? That I don’t want prospective recruits to know all of my alts? That I don’t want people to necessarily know that I’m in one of your games?

These are fundamental questions for me. I am increasingly disturbed by each and every privacy issue that comes up when it comes to BattleNet and Blizzard’s games.

You know, Blizzard, there was a time when I loved BattleNet. Those times were back in the late 90s when I was playing Diablo. Ever since RealID came out, I have learned to loathe BattleNet. I resent it. I resent people expecting me to share my RealID/BattleTag with them. I hate that people I barely know are all “hey, whats ur btag???” because “lol its just ur btag”. I hate that I can’t even post on the Hearthstone forums without my BattleTag being exposed for all to see. I cannot believe that I cannot remove a BattleTag from my account and I am just as incredulous about the fact that there are no distinct BattleTag privacy options available to me.

Blizzard… it’s time. It’s time to fix this mess.

Yours sincerely,

Kurn

Hearthstone & BattleTags

Well, it’s been nearly a month since I last posted and, thus, last ranted in this space. ;) (Actually, my last post wasn’t too bad and actually included praise, so hey, go me!)

A new Hearthstone closed beta patch launched this week (1.0.0.4217) and lots of things changed. I’m in favour of many of the changes, ambivalent about others, but I’m quite annoyed at a specific change.

“New Feature: Recently played Opponent – Your friends list now displays the last person you played against, provided they were not a Real ID or BattleTag friend. If you had a particularly great match against someone, you can now friend them for future play!” (Source)

How do they do this? By actually displaying the BattleTag of the person against whom you last played. Here’s a (slightly obscured) screenshot of my “friends list” that shows the BattleTag of the person whose ass I kicked to get to rank level 23.

hslastplayed

It does NOT seem to persist after a logout, so if I played you and then logged out and then logged back in, your name would be gone. (Such was the case with DJNOclue.)

Kurn, you may ask, Kurn, why is this a problem?

Quite simply, I feel strongly that my BattleTag should not be displayed to anyone but me without my permission.

Uh… why the hell not? It’s not as though it’s your RealID or anything.

Excellent point. (Although I should note for full disclosure that I have actually turned RealID off on my Battle.net account.)

Putting aside all the issues I have with the incredibly inelegant RealID/BattleTag chat stuff (and boy, do I have issues!), let’s look at how things came to be in order to perhaps better understand my issues.

Once upon a time, Blizzard created World of Warcraft. Then, they added RealID. Then, they added BattleTags. None of these things were actually necessary to play this game or, another contemporary of WoW, Starcraft II. However, when Diablo III was released, suddenly, BattleTags were not only created, but were required to be created in order to play Diablo III. Since I played D3 for a short period of time, I was forced to create a BattleTag. Even once I abandoned the game, my BattleTag persisted. Even though there is no requirement for BattleTags to be used in World of Warcraft, I still have one and I cannot get rid of it. (Actually, I just opened a ticket through the website to try to get it removed. I am not optimistic, but we’ll see!) I believe that they are planning to make BattleTags required for everything, but as it stands, you can still play World of Warcraft without a BattleTag. (I just created a new Battle.net account and was never prompted to create a BattleTag when creating the account, although there was an option to do so once I was in my account management.) Further, there is absolutely no way to go “offline” or “invisible”, despite the fact that, more than a year ago, Blizzard said Invisible Mode would be implemented “in the coming months”.

Why do I need a BattleTag? Well, I don’t believe I do. So let’s take a look at the Battle.net BattleTag FAQ:

A BattleTag nickname is a player-chosen handle that identifies your Battle.net account in Blizzard Entertainment games, websites, community forums, and more. Similar to Real ID, BattleTags give players on Battle.net a way to find and chat with friends they’ve met in-game, form groups, and stay connected across multiple Blizzard Entertainment games.

BattleTags are required for Diablo III play, where they are used to publically identify players in groups or when chatting in-game, as well as on the Diablo III forums.

As a player who has been in the Hearthstone beta for a few months, I have never once wanted to find and chat with anyone I’ve met in-game. When playing WoW, I hadn’t really found a compelling reason to even keep RealID enabled on my account and never found a compelling reason to give out my BattleTag, even while recruiting for my guild. (It would have made things easier, but I wasn’t prepared to let potential applicants know where I was in-game, on which server and which character at any given time.)

Further, I do not want to “stay connected across multiple Blizzard Entertainment games”. As of right now, I’m only playing one of them, anyhow, and even then, I don’t even want to play Hearthstone any longer because my BattleTag is being displayed to every random player I play against!

My objections largely stem from the fact that:

a) I was forced to create a BattleTag in order to play Diablo III, which I played to level 50 and haven’t touched since (more than a year ago)
b) It is always on.
c) It is now being displayed to random players without my permission. (Unless, by “permission”, you mean playing the game with another random human being, which is basically all the interesting gameplay in Hearthstone. It would be like your BattleTag being displayed to everyone you hit a random dungeon or raid with, in WoW.)
d) Further, your BattleTag, in case you were unaware, is publicly shown to people in the Hearthstone forums when you post there. (Just discovered that one tonight.)

But you can always decline the invitations!

Due to my various objections, due to the clunkiness and inelegance of the entire system (see previously linked posts about RealID and such), I have no intentions of accepting any BattleTag invitations. Since I will not accept them, I do not want people to bother me with invitations. So I don’t give out the information. Period.

Is it such a big deal to decline invitations?

Why don’t you ask people who are on the receiving end of dozens of invitations from gold selling spammers?

While you’re probably still being overly weird about this RealID/BattleTag business, I accept that you’re not going to change your mind on this. So what do you want out of this situation?

It’s simple: allow me to remove my BattleTag entirely or, if BattleTags are required for Hearthstone (despite the FAQ not saying so), allow me to opt-out of other people being able to see my BattleTag if I play against them in Hearthstone, or allow me to turn off BattleTags the way you can turn off RealID. (For all I know, removing my BattleTag would happen if you could turn them off, but in case it’s a different process or whatever, I include the turning off option.)

It’s been more than 15 months since Blizzard promised various changes to the chat system, including invisible mode, and the fact that they haven’t yet implemented anything gives us the impression that they’ve dropped the ball on this. As such, let us turn the thing off. I don’t even see why it’s precisely required for Diablo III play, to be honest, but it’s not required for World of Warcraft, I’m pretty sure it’s not required for SCII and I’m hoping it’s not required for Hearthstone, even after this latest patch. I like Hearthstone and would hate to feel like I can no longer play it because my BattleTag is on display for all my opponents to see.

Invisible Mode: Too Little, Too Late (for me)

It was announced today that Blizzard will be implementing an “Appear Offline” mode (aka Invisible Mode) to BattleNet “in the coming months”.

Let me be clear, this is a great thing and is long overdue.

However…

The RealID/BattleTag chat system is still clunky, clumsy and inelegant and “Appear Offline” is going to add to the clunkiness of it all, not remove the clunkiness.

It is a great thing that people will be able to go invisible, don’t get me wrong. I’ve very excited for everyone who will make use of it. However, rather than look at the system in a critical way, I feel as though Blizzard is using “Appear Offline” as a band-aid to the underlying problems inherent in the system.

With the information we’ve been given (which is, to be blunt, not a lot), it can be understood that people will be able to be seen as “offline” with this option, to RealID/BattleNet/character friends.

To begin, here are some of the immediate questions that came to mind concerning how this will work in World of Warcraft:

1) Will you have this option before logging in to a character? As it stands, you have to log in to WoW first (thus becoming “visible”) before you can edit your BattleNet settings.

2) Will the Appear Offline mode persist through different logins? Say I log in to Kurn and I set myself as offline. If I log out as Kurn and log back in (on Kurn or any other character, for that matter), will the mode persist in the same way announcements do?

3) What implications are there for guild listings? I presume I’ll still show up as online in my guild, which I think is fine — that’s part of the deal when you join a guild, really. But what if someone on my realm (with whom I am character friends) does /who Apotheosis and sees Kurnmogh online? Would they see me? Would they not see me? How would that work? Could they still whisper me?

Now, while you’re all chewing on that, let me re-iterate a point I’ve made in my previous RealID-related posts:

– Social interaction between people is complex. The ongoing lack of any kind of personalized contact system for one’s RealID/BattleTag friends is antiquated. We are firmly in the era of social media and social networks. If Blizzard is intent on creating/using their own social networking system, they need to recognize that social interactions and relationships are extremely complex in nature and one-size-fits-all does not, in fact, fit the needs of most communities. Is it better than nothing? Maybe. But it can be a LOT better.

So how is it clunky? How is it antiquated? Aside from the points I’ve brought up (versus other solutions) in my other posts, let’s look at BattleTags. BattleTags are also “always on”, just the way RealID is and, worse, you have to have one if you want to play Diablo III. So I have a BattleTag, because I played D3 for approximately eight minutes. (Okay, level 50 or something.) And it’s always on, despite the fact that I have RealID turned off. I don’t share that information with anyone, but the fact remains that BattleTags are something we are forced to use (as in we are automatically logged in) in other games if we’ve played Diablo III. Really? How is that okay? And there’s no off switch, either. There’s an enable Real ID option, but nothing about enabling or disabling BattleTags. Why not? Let me turn off being able to communicate with me via BattleTag in a game that doesn’t currently require BattleTag use. Especially if I’ve already turned off RealID. (Follow-up question, why require BattleTags for D3 in the first place?) What if I wanted to chat with people in D3 but not in WoW? Why not be able to have an option to turn on BattleTags for each individual Blizzard game, rather than just opt us in without a choice?

Do you see how it’s inelegant? It could be so much better. It should have been so much better. And I would have been its staunchest supporter.

As it stands, the RealID/BattleTag system is, in my opinion, deeply flawed in a variety of ways. The “Appear Offline” option is definitely a step in the right direction, but it’s not the panacea for the system. At best, it’s a quick-fix solution for a system that is invasive, persistent and not even as smart as a system that was built in 1996, namely ICQ.

16 years after ICQ, this is the best Blizzard has to offer?

Too little, Blizzard. Far too little for your customers and way too late for me.

Why I Disabled RealID

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.

RealID, BattleTags and Blizzard's "Social Network"

Those of you who are long-time readers of this blog probably already know that I am not a fan of RealID in its current iteration, nor am I all that thrilled by BattleTags (yet). Apart from all the privacy concerns and the fact that online harassment is not only possible, but likely when you’re a woman, there are some key deficiencies in the whole RealID/BattleTag system from a structural standpoint.

First of all, you have two choices: allow it to be enabled (by default) or turn it off through parental controls. I don’t actually have a problem with this. Anyone who’s in control of their own account should be able to be smart enough with their RealID info to prevent too many creeptastic exchanges. But in order to even play Diablo III, even as a single-player campaign, you absolutely must make a BattleTag, which functions similarly to RealID in many ways. The only major difference is that you’re referred to as your BattleTag name instead of your real name. (This, in my not-remotely-humble opinion, is what RealID should have been in the first place. Apart from the forced-to-use portion of it.)

Assuming that you’ve chosen to allow it to be enabled, then, if you choose to give either your RealID info or your BattleTag out to people, they will always be able to tell if you’re online, regardless of what Blizzard game (WoW, SC2, D3) you’re playing, regardless of which character you’re playing. By the same token, you’ll always see when that person is playing as well.

Rohan over at Blessing of Kings had a really interesting post about how we all want to be invisible but want to know if our friends are online and came up with an idea about “going dark”, which would effectively show you as offline to your friends, but you’d be unable to see them  if they were online while you were dark. While I think that’s probably a fair and simple way to accomodate requests for some kind of invisibility mode with RealID and with BattleTags, it doesn’t address the major problem with the system.

The major problem with the current system is that it assumes everyone who has your RealID or BattleTag is of exactly the same importance to you and you would want to be potentially contacted by any and all people with that RealID/BattleTag info at any given point in time.

That, of course, isn’t how people work.

I make very rare use of RealID and I haven’t given my BattleTag out to anyone as of yet. I have precisely six people on my RealID list; one is my brother, one is my Real Life Friend the Resto Druid, one is Majik, one is (I’m not even kidding here) my highschool-era ex-boyfriend and the other two are people I’ve encountered in-game and known for quite some time and respect quite a lot.

Any one of those people are more than welcome to contact me in-game if I’m online. My brother does now and again, as does my RL Friend the Resto Druid. Majik uses RealID with me more than anyone else does, whereas the in-game people and I rarely chat (we’re rather respectful of each other’s time and privacy) and my ex-boyfriend and I haven’t even said “hi” through RealID in the month or so since we’ve been RealID friends.

Again, I like and respect all of those people (well, except Majik… ;)) and I’ve been extremely careful in giving out my information.

However, I also do recruiting for my guild (apply now!) and I see recruiters throwing their RealID info out all over the place. Due to privacy concerns, I won’t do that, but I was thinking seriously that I should throw out my BattleTag info when it’s fully integrated into WoW.

If I did that, though, I would be changing my online experience substantially. What if a potential applicant whispers me through RealID when I’m raiding with Choice on the baby pally? What if some random person on the forums sees my post and decides to hop into my Diable 3 game? If I give out my info, which would be really helpful in terms of recruitment, for example, then I’m potentially changing my gaming experiences significantly. All of a sudden, I’m much more available to a set of people I don’t really have ties to. Suddenly, I have elevated random people to the same level of importance in my life as the six people on my RealID list. Any of them, so long as I accepted their request (and why wouldn’t I, if I were trying to recruit them?) would be able to see when I’m online, in which game and on which character.

In his post, Rohan says that ICQ, which was a great instant messenger client that was hugely popular in the 1990s, was overly complex and complicated in the way they used their invisible modes. I’ll say that it was complex, sure, but I would argue that relationships are equally complex and deciding when and how to communicate with others is complex in and of itself. Thus, a system is needed that is better than “always on” to help deal with the subtleties of human interaction.

There are a couple of different ways that I think this could happen.

1) A Ranked System.

In a ranked system, I would ideally be able to create a group called, for example, “Close Friends” who would then have permission to see me online regardless of what I’m doing in what game. These are the people like my brother and Majik and my RL Friend the Resto Druid, for example. This group would have the most privileges and would be my top-ranked friends.

Then, I’d like a second tier, lower down, which would have mix-and-matchable privileges that include what games people can see me playing and, ideally (well, as long as I’m dreaming, you know?) even be able to distinguish which characters I’d like people to be able to see me on.

So I’d like to create a second group called, for instance, “WoW Friends”. My “WoW Friends” would then have permission to see me regardless of where I am in WoW. Whether I’m farming on Eldre’Thalas, making money on Skywall, raiding somewhere or whatever, they could see me on any WoW character. But they would not be able to see me if I were playing Diablo 3 or StarCraft 2 (not that I play, but you get the idea). In this group, I’d put a couple of the people I’m RealID friends with whom I’ve met through WoW and greatly respect. That said, I’d prefer that this group not have my real name. (It’s kind of too late now, but anyhow.)

The selection screen could look something like this.

See what I’m getting at? Each group, even the top-level group, would have options you could set that would include limiting visibility based on what you want them to see. Using specific selections like this, you could have a really intricate system of groups of people who can/can’t see when you are online, and to whom your private information (such as your name) is revealed.

It’s not the simplest solution, but I think it deals nicely with all of the potential concerns I have. Further, no one knows what “rank” they are because everyone’s ranks are different from everyone else’s. So there’s none of that “hey, Kurn, why am I ranked THREE on your list?? You’re in my first group!!!” nonsense.

There could also be default groups with default settings, but all of them would, ideally, be very easy to customize.

2) The Invisible System.

The second major way I see to deal with the complexities of human interaction is to have exactly what Rohan discarded right off the bat — an Invisibility system. In such a system, you would be able to GO invisible, first of all. (And actually, I would append this to my ranked system, too!) Then, you could select players who would be allowed to see you while you are logged on and invisible. To these people, you would simply appear as “online”. (Note that you would still always be online to guildies and people on your server — I’m just talking about RealID/BattleTag friends.) It would be much less customizable than the ranked system I laid out, but it would still address some major issues.

What if I’m raiding and I don’t want some potential recruit whispering me as I’m working on Heroic Spine? Invisible for the duration of my raid. What if I’m farming and don’t want to be bothered while I’m chilling out, but wouldn’t mind hearing from friends? Invisible but anyone marked as being able to see me while invisible would be able to chat.

It’s not as complicated as the ranked system and so it also lacks some finesse, but this could be a good way to allow people to make use of RealID/BattleTags without someone becoming “too accessible” to various people.

The Blizzard Social Network

I know that I’m dreaming by even thinking that Blizzard will ever evolve their RealID/BattleTag system beyond what it already does. I know that my ideal ranked system will never happen. I strongly doubt an invisible mode will ever come to be.

However, just because Blizzard won’t do that doesn’t mean that we should roll over and accept a system with which we’re unhappy. It doesn’t mean that we should blindly accept whatever they give us with regards to their idea of a “social network”. While it’s nice to chat with people on other factions and other servers in WoW, don’t be fooled. RealID/BattleTags aren’t there for you to conveniently chat with your friends. The system almost certainly exists to take the middleman out of social networking for Blizzard. World of Warcraft has an insanely large community. There are websites, podcasts, blogs, twitters, livejournals, tumblrs, everything under the moon. How are those community sites beneficial for Blizzard? Word of mouth and free advertising for their product, yes, but otherwise, they’re not. They’re taking discussions away from the official forums, they’re allowing people other ways to connect with each other outside the game. If Diablo 3 had come out three years ago, people would have emailed or sent each other messages on guild forums or IMed or texted each other to say “hey, are you playing D3? Wanna play together?” instead of just seeing that your friend is already in a D3 game and allowing you to quick join in.

I’m fairly certain that they’re trying to ensure that their games are “sticky”, in the sense that we won’t need to go elsewhere to communicate. Looking for a friend to LFR with? Log on, check your friends list. Playing D3 to pass the time until your raid? Play with other guildies who might be online doing the same thing. They are, in my opinion, making their three games, and the communication between them, into a whole social media platform.

The only trouble is, they’re forgetting about how complex social interaction really is, particularly in the live format. You don’t need an invisible mode on Twitter, because it’s not realtime. No one knows when you’re checking Twitter or not. Since all three of Blizzard’s games include you logging in (even at the menu selection, in D3 and SC2), there is the realtime factor one must account for. The way Blizzard has accounted for that is this persistent, always-on chat system, which is clunky and extremely basic in terms of the options available.

They’ve got the bare bones of a real social platform built on top of these incredible games and obviously, the games are the priority, but they’re shoehorning the social system into the games as best they can and expecting us (and forcing us, in terms of D3) to use them.

So even though I know they will never make the system work the way a good social system SHOULD work (by using something akin to my suggestions above), I can’t help but wish they would. If they’re going to try to be sticky and make the game platforms a social hub, they need better tools to make the user experience go more smoothly. There is nothing in the world as complicated as human interaction and Blizzard is doing us a grand disservice with their inelegant tools.

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