‘Cataclysm’ Living Up To It’s Name

July 7th, 2010 by Dave

First of all, let me start off by saying that despite all the smack talk, I really do emphasize with Blizzard/Activision. Really, I do. Becasue they have a monster on their hands right now; a monster in the form of their player base. Go onto the Blizzard forums and you’ll see a wasteland of troling, flame wars, and juvenille hostility, along with a precious few actual bits of usable information. Go to Goldshire (or other starting zone) in WoW during peak hours and you’ll see more flesh, offers for bizzare sex, and guys pretending to be girls than an average Friday night in Bangkok’s red light district. And no, I’m sadly not exaggerating (much) with that last sentence.

Yes, there is a cancer eating away at Blizzard’s games. But it’s a cancer of their own making by refusing to do nothing when the problem was still small. And now, Blizzard/Activision has decided the time has come for drastic measures; measures that might just kill the patient.

On Tuesday, the following thread went up on the StarCraft II forums, confirming the fears of many gamers. With the launch of SC2, RealID will be *required* in order to post on the oficial Blizzard forums. RealID will be required for WoW forum posts with the launch of Cataclysm. Forums for legacy games like Diablo and Warcraft 3 will get a consolidated forum where RealID is requirted to post in the near future. The official party line from Blizard is this measure is being taken in order to cut down on spammers, troll, flames, and other anti-social behavior while bonding the gaming community tighter togather socially.

And the community is bonding tighter, alright.

A brief scan of the forum threads shows that the players are pretty much dead set against this, even to the point of canceling pre-orders of SC2 and cancelling their accounts altogether. Blizzard is getting some defense from a few hard-core fans, but really, that’s like sombody drinking a double latte outside an Apple Store defending Apple on all the iPhone4 issues. The bottom line that is so frightening is that for the first time, a game company wants to strip away the annominity of it’s players. Blizzard is requiring all users to post on the forum using their real names, including the technical forums. You know, the forums where you post to report things like your account getting hacked. So, not only are you posting that your account has been compromised for a few billion of your closest friends and neighbors that have an internet connection to see, but your real name will be attributed to the post.

Quite frankly, there’s nothing that I can say that isn’t already eloquently covered by the detailed post at the bottom of the first page of the thread by Patientzero. Every single security question that has been raised is summerized there, including some that I hadn’t thought of or heard of before. How about the fact that this move is stripping away annominity to reveal gender and minor status. Because there’s no-one on the internet that would stalk or harrass a woman or a child; that’s just inconcievable. How about the fact that this move is also stripping away the annominity of Blizard’s own employees? I raised questions of safety last month in regards to the Counter Strike attack in France, and that’s just stemming from the off chance of encountering some psycho in a PvP match. How many of these kinds of individuals that could be emotionally unstable and a very real threat do Blizzard GM’s deal with and ban on a daily basis? Now, you’re going to force your GM’s and forum mods to reveal their real names to the people they have to discipline? I suspect that applications to work at Blizzard are going to be in sharp decline and there’s going to be a lot of job openings once Cataclysm hits.

One further thought to consider in all this: what about all the celebrities that play or claim to play WoW? I don’t really buy into the hype about JCVD or Ozzy playing WoW, but there are many celebrities that are public about playing WoW, such as Seth Greene, Mila Kulnis, and Adriane Curry. Even discounting the Hollywood crowd, how about someone with less overall fame but still possessing a devoted fan base, such as bloggers and web cartoonists. Do you think Scott Kurtz of PvP is really going to appreciate having his real name out there on WoW for fans to incessantly bother him with in-game tells? An ignore list only goes so far and only holds so many names.

Some people might counter that the RealID implimentation is only for posting on the forums, which is an ‘optional’ part of the game. Aside from my problem with having to put my real name on a technical forum post in order to recieve assistance in the event of a security breach, I agree. I’m not a forum presence in any game that I play, so this isn’t going to affect me unless I need to post because my account got hacked. What worries me is that this is the first step toward completely stripping away any veil of annominity in Blizzard’s games. We all know the anology of tossing a frog into a pot of boiling water versus gradually turning up the heat. This is a case where Blizzard is slowly eroding away an important feature of safety and security in the internet age: annominty. What may be only required to post on a forum today may be required to play the game tomorrow.

So, what can be done about this today?

Maybe not much. There’s a petition for players to write to the ESRB to protest this move by Blizzard, but really, that”s like writing to the MPAA to complain about Paramount because of Transformers 2. The best thing is to post logical arguments on the Blizzard forums, couched in terms that Blizzard will understand like potential lawsuits and loss of revenue. We can always hope that some measure of sanity returns to Blizzard and they nix this idea. Barring that, maybe some stockholders can band together to file an injunction from implementing the RealID requirement on the basis that it could have a severe, negative impact on the company’s earnings and devalue the stock. Again, a long shot, but you never know.

Again, becasue this is at the forum post stage, I’m nervous, but it doesn’t affect me much. Whether or not I decide to ultimately stay with WoW is going to depend on how things progress with SC2. It does look like Blizzard is indeed going towards full disclosure of player identity with full integration of RealID, but part of me is hoping that they’ll pull back. Regardless, if there ever does come a day where I have to have my real name publicly available in order to play an online game, I’m leaving the game that same day and erasing the account. And I’m pretty sure I’m in the majority opinion here for once.

UPDATE: Well, it certainly didn’t take long for things to take a turn to the comically tragic. Earlier today, Blizzard mod Bashiok posted his real name on the WoW forums to show folks that it was perfectly safe. Five minutes later, WoW plyers were posting personal information on Bashiok (aka Micha Whipple), including home address, phone number, family memebers, ect… Current rumors are that he’s been so bombarded that he’s turned off his phone and perhap even canceled his Twitter account. However the Twitter thing might be just a rumore since coffeedrunk is reporting he responded via Twitter that everyone was message and phone ‘bombing’ the wrong Micah Whipple.

Becasue yeah, Micah Whipple is such a common name; especially one that lives withing commute distance of Irvine.

So, now this long-time employee of Blizzard is the 59th most populare search on Google as of this update and well on his way to becoming an internet meme. Good jorb, Blizzard. Way to think outside the box here.

Regardless, I think the case has been made on just how bad of an idea this is. So, Micah, Geek Tragedy salutes you for taking one for the team here and falling on the grenade to protect Blizzard. Unfortunately, the grenade turned out to be of the nuclear variaety and not the annoying Night Elf Mohawk kind.

And Micah, if you’re reading this, don’t feel bad. Get in contact with us and we’ll send you a free NPC Comics t-shirt for being an overall nice guy stuck in a rough situation.

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Categories: Gaming

Blizzard drawing gammer aggro

June 10th, 2010 by Dave

So, like millions of computer gamers, I too plunked down $5 to reserve a copy of StarCraft II. SCII has been one  of the most eagerly anticipated  games as well as being delayed long enough to give Duke Nukem Forever a run for it’s title. However, based off the info I found on this article, the anticipation and the money are probably going to be wasted.

For the tl;dr crowd, Blizzard is continuing the trend of all companies once they have a dominate share in their respective markets; they’re convinced of their own superiority and think they can do whatever they want with no repercussions. To point out 3 items from the article:

1) No LAN capability. Blizzard has taken LAN functionality out of SCII, instead all multi-player gameplay will be through their (proprietary) BattleNet 2.0. This includes all tournament play, which BLizzard wants to ‘regulate’ (i.e. get a piece of the money). So all the local and college tournaments now have to pay Blizzard a portion of their already shoestring budget in order to run an SCII tournament.

2) All custom maps are stored on BattleNet and can be used and distributed freely by BattleNet members. That’s right, the awesome custom campaign map you made and spent days working on and planning out can be taken by some schmuck and passed off as his own work. It’s your word versus his as to who the creator is and if he’s got a bigger rep score, guess who most people are going to believe.

3) BattleNet2.0 accounts are linked to Facebook and RealID accounts. That’s right, you want to play multi-player SCII, you need to have a Facebook and a RealID account. The company line is that this is being done in order to crack down on multiple accounts and griefers that simply make a new account name when no-one wants to play with them any more. However, considering that we at Geek Tragedy just ran a news story about a French gamer that tracked down his Counter-Strike rival in real life and stabbed him in the chest, this is a rather chilling feature. What is Blizzard’s legal liability here if some person that’s been Zerg rushed one time too many decided to take out his frustrations in real life? In the French case, it took the person 6 months to track down his rival, normally plenty of time for common sense to hopefully set in. But in the heat of the moment, Mr. Internet Tough Guy can look at my BattleNet handle, check my Facebook page and find out approximately where I live? Assuming, of course, that I don’t create a fake Facebook page with bogus information, which would probably violate the terms of the SCII EULA, possibly causing Blizzard to invalidate any rankings I may have as a disciplinary action. It’s a no-win situation for gamers and puts Blizzard in a rather precarious legal position; if an SCII player gets harassed or physically harmed by a vengeful player that tracked them down through BattleNet/Facebook, couldn’t Blizzard be held as an accomplice after the fact for making such information so freely accessible? Probably not for any criminal proceeding, but in a civil case where millions of dollars in damages is at stake? You can bet that once they find out, there’s going to be a hefty number of ambulance chasers circling around just waiting for that kind of a scenario to play out. And let’s not even delve into the possibility that this feature may soon be required in World of Warcraft, the average player of which has all the emotional stability of nitrogen triiodite.

Like I said before, this is a case of Blizzard getting too big for it’s britches and thinking that the gaming community will just put up with whatever crap Blizzard heaps upon them and ask for more. And as the original article points out, the sad thing is that this kind of thinking is coming not just from Blizzard, but from their parent corporation Activision, a company that started out as a bunch of game programmers tired of the static corporate culture of Atari. EA is already firmly on the path to ruin with gamers, it’d be a shame for Blizzard to join them on that path as well.

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Categories: Gaming, Tech