On Pepsi and Blizzard.
I mock your Pepsi pants
First we have the mysterious case of the PepsiCo overlords apparently buying space at ScienceBlogs, promptly pissing off and worrying several of the bloggers there. I’ll allow the reader to peruse the thoughts of the people directly involved, but suffice it to say that I hope the PepsiCo blog at least clearly identifies itself or the blog’s title might as well be “Conflict of Interest”. Even with that though, there is great concern that ScienceBlogs attracted PepsiCo’s investment in the first place because of the blogging reputation and community that individual, indipendent bloggers had built for them. This doesn’t say good things about their regard for their user base.
*UPDATE: ScienceBlogs may be taking steps to ensure that the Pepsi blog is identified as advertising. Though Skepacabra discusses another angle of this that I hadn’t yet considered: the crank angle. How will this allegiance with Pepsi be used by cranks who may have issues with certain ScienceBloggers?
**UPDATE: After a huge backlash, the Pepsi blog has been canceled.
Some pun about a shit blizzard, I guess
Second there’s the baffling case of game developer Blizzard apparently thinking that they are immune to the criticism Facebook got when it tried to force people into doing things. Less vaguely, Blizzard has developed a RealID system for it’s MMORPG World of Warcraft (WoW) and will essentially be forcing players who use the forums to have their real names appear on posts with the launch of their new forum system during the Cataclysm expansion release. RealID is used to identify players via their real names in game and while use of this system is currently optional (and useful for those who have real-life friends who play the game or know players that can only be contacted through the game), so far it’s an all or nothing system. With this change to the forums, incorporating RealID, players are concerned that this will become mandatory in-game, as WoW apparently moves to a more “social-networking” model.
This is especially of great concern to groups, as PZ Myers points out, use WoW to foster a community that they may not have the freedom to participate in elsewhere without harassment, such as gay groups (or, in game, “guilds” — as a WoW gamer, trying my hardest here not to use too much out-of-context jargon for those unfamiliar with the game, I hope I’m succeeding). It’s not up to Blizzard to out these people. There is also the potential for real-life harassment of female and youth players. Finally, there are people in certain jobs who may not want it known that they play WoW and may prefer to have their names unlisted.
As someone who plays WoW fairly casually (I mainly play solo or with my husband, I don’t write on forums, and I have no desire whatsoever for people to find me in game, I don’t spam people, and I’m not a troll), I find these changes rather disturbing. I do not appreciate forced sociality in a context that I entered for the purpose of playing a game — let me decide how social I will be and with whom. I can easily play my Wii as anonymously as I’d like. Why does something being online necessarily make it a hub of forced social activity? Though I meet the occasional nice and helpful person, I don’t want to interact with most of the inconsiderate tards that play WoW. And that brings me to, I think, the first and foremost objection: choice (or, rather, the apparent lack thereof).
Though I respect the fact that most of the time there’s very little than can be done with just a name, and that many people don’t care if their names are given out, consumer protection and consumer choice should be a number one concern. Recent trends in internet development, such as controversies with Google, Facebook, and now Blizzard, have demonstrated that there is an unfortunate lack of consumer control and seemingly nothing we can do about it short of avoiding these products entirely. Some complaints have led to change, such as Facebook instituting an opt-out option, however buried, for its “Instant Personalization” feature. Though, as implemented, these changes seem rather half-hearted and half-assed.
Players don’t have to post on the forums if they don’t want to, but there’s the issue of real names appearing on technical support forums, potentially limiting troubleshooting options for those players that prefer not to have their names appear on any forum posts. Also, people who devote their time to posting guides and other helpful information to other/new players may be deterred from forum participation. Though the trolls may diminish, I expect there will be an unfortunate reduction in these helpful aspects of the forums as well, if players are forced to publicly out themselves just to help someone else (however rational or irrational that concern, there is the potential for this to occur).
Though I like WoW, I don’t like it as a social networking service. I am there to play a video game. Nor do I appreciate systems which default to opt-in, burying opt-outs within layers of “customization” options. I’m not sure what the best solution is here, but certainly forcing players to reveal their real names without being able to predict the consequences, is a short-sighted and apparently poorly-researched concept. Though I’m sure there was some sort of corporate logic behind this, I have yet to see a coherent reasoning for it from Blizzard.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see how these situations turn out and what the “corporate overlords” decide…
*UPDATE: There’s now rumblings (i.e., possibly just rumors) that because of incidents surrounding the posting of a Blizzard employee’s information on the forum (obtained after he posted his name there) and subsequent harassment, “blues” (that is, employees that post on the forums) will no longer be subject to the RealID forum rule. In other words, because of the exact objections that the players have regarding potential consequences of RealID, Blizzard is allegedly exempting their employees, but not the players, from this rule. Now, this is just a rumor at this point, but if it turns out to be true… poor show, Blizzard. Poor show. I will update if Blizzard addresses this rumor directly.
**UPDATE: After much blow-back, Blizzard has finally released a statement about their decision to force the use of RealID on the forums. They have decided to scrap it. They indicated their decision was based on user feedback (some of which included outright cancellation of accounts with Blizzard, as they use Battle.net – and thus RealID – with all of their games). Whether this is a sign that they have totally reconsidered their stance on making Battle.net, and WoW by extension, more of a “social network” remains to be seen as the WoW community deciphers their PR speak.