As reported by Kotaku, Blizzard is introducing a new feature to its Battle.net forums. In an attempt to create a happier, more sociable environment, its forums for both StarCraft II and World of Warcraft will soon display the user’s full name, taken from the Real ID used to register a Battle.net account.
For my money it’s an ingenious idea: forums are filled with people behaving in ways they almost certainly wouldn’t in the real world. Racist, sexist, profanity-filled posts are, I’d imagine, easier to make when you’re hidden by the veil of anonymity, less so when your real name is there for everyone to see. It’s all about accountability. Make people realise that they’re behind the opinion they’ve expressed, rather than the forum persona they’ve cultivated, and they’ll likely think a lot harder before they click ‘submit’.
Will it make trolling and flame wars a thing of the past? I’m not sure. The idiots will always find a way to spoil the party, whether it be faking their Real ID (I presume it’s possible to do that) or simply because they don’t really care if their real name is displayed. To some, it might even become a badge of honour: they’ll be proud to be known as a troll. But I do believe it will weed out a number of the troublemakers, and certainly reduce the level of friction found on messageboards.
I imagine some will watch this experiment closely and see whether it has the desired effect. A positive result, and you can see this happening on more and more dedicated forums. It’ll be much harder to implement on websites like Eurogamer, IGN or Kotaku as forcing readers to suddenly provide personal details if they want to keep on posting will more likely drive existing members away. But new members can probably expect to be asked for their full name when registering for the first time on a new site.
As Kotaku’s Mike Fahey explains, it could also solve another problem, particularly for MMO gamers:
I’ve been playing MMO games for more than a decade now. I spent a good couple of years in EverQuest, interacting with the same people every day, yet I don’t know any of them. They were my closest friends at the time, and they’ve all completely disappeared from my life now that I don’t play anymore. This change could keep that from happening to Blizzard fans.
Blizzard’s suggestion that this move will “provide an ideal place for gamers to form long-lasting, meaningful relationships” doesn’t sound as far-fetched as it first appears. True, some perfectly friendly and even-tempered users may have to forego posting for the sake of keeping their personal information private, but if that’s the price that has to be paid for a happier, healthier social environment, then I’m sure the majority will accept that cost.