Blizzard Backs Away From Requiring Real Names from Warcraft Players — MMO Makers, Take Note!

Triumph of the Horde! A huge turning point in the relationship between consumers and virtual worlds is occurring today, and it took thousands of pissed off orcs and elves to make it happen. Only 3 days after announcing a widely protested policy to require real names in its user forum, World of Warcraft developer Blizzard just announced that they’re cancelling those plans. “We will always appreciate the feedback and support of our players,” Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime wrote this morning, crediting the community for influencing this change. (That’s one way of putting it. The protest got so ugly, some Warcraft fans resorted to posting real life details of Blizzard employees and their familes; even info on Bobby Kotick, CEO of corporate owner Activision Blizzard, was put online.) And now that the West’s most successful MMO developer has backed away from connecting real names to online worlds, a line has been drawn:

“Blizzard didn’t even offer opt-out [from using Real ID],” famed MMO analyst and developer Scott Jennings, who’s been covering the controversy on his blog like crazy, told me. The company assumed it was big enough to state the terms of their relationship with consumers. “And the users said, ‘Uh… no.'”
Now that the proverbial 800 pound gorilla has retreated, it’s unlikely we’ll see Facebook Connect or other real world connection systems offered up as a sole log-in method for other virtual worlds and MMOs. (Much as developers might like to use them, to take advantage of Facebook’s massive user base.)
In any case, notes Jennings, “I don’t think Facebook Connect is a good idea for commercial games simply because it puts user authentication outside of your control. What happens if Facebook breaks? Users can’t log into your game?” And we now have tangible proof that consumers don’t want to link their online fantasy self with their real identity. Turns out the Facebook philosophy can’t swallow up all Internet activity — and MMO developers will need to come up with alternate ways of leveraging social networks which don’t puncture the assumption of anonymity that their worlds create.