30 June 2010

Real ID - Its potential and its flaws

Patch 3.3.5 is out and with it came Real ID, a new friend-network that Blizzard introduced for communication between players on different factions, realms or even games. Sounds good, right? I'm planning on getting StarCraft 2 when it launches and spending time in there when not raiding (since there isn't much else to do in WoW right now for me) and it'd be great if guildies could give me a poke because they need a tank for a 10man or so. However, the way Blizzard has chosen to implement Real ID leaves much to be desired. I'll quickly go over how Real ID works and what's wrong with it.

How does it work?
Next to your regular WoW friendlist, you can now add players as friends by inputting their Battle.net username, which is the email-address you've used for your B.net account. The other person gets a friend-request and if he/she/it accepts, you will become "Real ID friends".

You can talk to Real ID friends from any up-to-date Blizzard game. Right now, that's just WoW, but in a month, StarCraft 2 will be added to this list and Diablo 3 will follow when it comes out. In addition, classical WoW-related boundaries like realm and faction do not apply to Real ID friends, so you can keep in contact with a friend on a different realm.

As a bonus, you get what Blizzard calls "Rich Presence" information about your Real ID friends, which means as much as being able to see which game the player is logged in to and where he is in the game (WoW) or what he's doing (SC 2). So you can check if your friend is raiding in ICC or playing a ladder-match in SC 2 before disturbing him with the latest Chuck Norris jokes.

Since Blizzard wants Real ID to become sort of a mini social network within Battle.net, you will be able to see the friends of your friends, so you can add them to your friend-list if you would want to.

So that was the happy story, what's the bad news?
In a world where information is power, you have to give away quite a bit of information to use Real ID. First of all, your unique identifier is your Battle.net email-address. Now you could use a secondary spam-address for this, but it's quite a bit of extra hassle. On top of that, your display name within the Real ID system is your full name associated with your Battle.net account.

Not only is it not directly desirable to have to give away this information in order to use Real ID, it's also not convenient in an online world where nicknames have replaced real names long ago. If I were to whisper a guildie who is online in SC 2 and it would say "Rannasha says: ...", they'd immediately know it's me. If it would say "Gideon says: ...", most of them would have no idea who it is that's talking to them.

Now, Blizzard claims that Real ID is meant to keep in contact with real life friends that are online in a Battle.net game and that therefore the whole real name business makes sense. But ask yourself: How many real life friends do you know that play WoW / SC 2? And how many people in WoW do you know that you would like to keep in touch with? For most people in solid guilds, the second group will be bigger. In addition, most people will already have their real life friends on some communication network like MSN, Skype or Facebook, which they can use without having to be ingame.

Then there's the "friends of friends" feature. I don't want this. I want to be able to turn it off and as far as I know (EU realms are still down, so can't check), it's not possible. I just want a way to chat with guildies when either I or they are not online on our realm. I don't need to build my online social network. If I wanted to do that, there are several superior systems for that already.

I will use Real ID. With SC 2 coming out, the ability to cross the boundaries between games to chat with guildies is too useful to pass up. But I would've preferred if Blizzard had made Real ID more focused on actual gamers: Nicknames instead of real names as identifiers and no visible friends-of-friends. Save that for Facebook and co.

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