Privacy! On the internets! It's something everyone takes wholly for granted--that your name, your location, your favorite color will forever remain lost to the mists of data until you wave your hand, Jedi-like, and suddenly you're the droid that everyone is looking for. That we maintain a fierce grip on how our data is surfaced becomes more and more important in a world where it seems like companies are increasingly looking to profit off that bit of the Matrix that is you. Your patronage of sites and services is balanced against how delicious advertisements may be sold to your tender eyeballs, and the more targeted the advertisement the better, which is why Facebook continually tries to get me to visit scenic Oakland. Enter Blizzard, Battle.net, RealID, and uproar. As someone who digs online communities and who has put in way more time than I want to think about attempting to squeegie sites clean of the vomitous filth that arrives daily, hourly, and minutely, this has put me in the mood to type. In the end, I think it comes down to this: The days where we can thoughtlessly count on companies to provide us anonymous communication portals are gone. We can still have privacy, but we have to opt-out of certain things.
Well, is it right for a company to demand that you reveal certain personal information for you to use a service? I believe that this specific aspect is neither particularly moral or amoral; it just is. What's important to me is two factors--did you tell me up front? Do I have the ability to use the service and still control who sees what information? I don't think Facebook is odious simply because it's a repository for all sorts of personal information. The company is odious because of its frequent changes to site and privacy structure that would reset your settings silently, and how you used to have to click 5 million areas to make sure everything was set friends-only. As long as you know, and as long as you are free to choose, I don't inherently have a problem with this. Honestly, I don't believe many other people do either.
The right to privacy in online games is a more complex issue. As someone who works in the gaming industry, and furthermore as someone who happens to be a woman, I control my info online like a dragon hoards treasure. You let people assume you're a dude online, because otherwise people do all sorts of random crap that's a pain to deal with. You keep your industry connections quiet because that's just good sense. The most sticky facet of RealID to me personally is that I cannot add my friends without then becoming visible to friends-of-friends. Since my guildmates add lots of annoying fools to their lists, this would mean that annoying fools would know my name. To avoid annoying fools knowing my name, that means that I cannot add people that I have played with for 6 years and tolerate very well.
It was inevitable that something would be done to tame the beast that is the Blizzard forum system. With this many users, it's not feasible to hire enough moderators and CMs to keep abuse down and important discussion up. There's a real cost to paying those people. To get the benefit of a knowledgeable userbase, the volume of junk has to come way down in a way that's more elegant than simply banning all the idiots (which is still important, but the internet makes n+1 idiots everyday). A certain amount of accountability is nice--but to me the way to do this was ideally to tie forum accounts to complete character lists so you can see if that dude really is as awesome as he pretends to be. As a reader of forums and someone who knows what community managers and moderators deal with daily, I'm happy that there's going to be a real incentive for people to not dork up the boards, if only because they don't want prospective employers knowing they play WoW. But as a user, and someone who manages her privacy, I won't be posting. This is okay with me because I can play Blizzard's games and hang with friends and neither of these things requires my name get posted to the public. And really, those 2 things are all I care about.
Going from anonymous to full names, period, is going to throw the message boards into turmoil. Some people will stay away. Some people will happily use their real name and have no issues at all. Some people will use their real names and end up victims of internet cowboys or other people on their realms. But posting to the forums is a choice. Adding people to your RealID friends is a choice. As much as community members become invested in sites and products, as much users tend to feel a growing ownership of forums as they set their roots there, you use any company's forums only at their discretion. For the same reason that I feel it's ridiculous to pitch a fit about getting moderated on a site with a TOU, a mod team, and a bad word filter, I think it's silly to get TOO upset about the fact that Blizzard is tying real names to forums. Posting to forums is not a right and not a requirement. It never has been. That this change will mean that a large percentage of users will not post to Blizzard's forums is Blizzard's calculated loss--not yours, not so much. Whether those forums will become something that people will want to read and perhaps take the chance to use is Blizzard's gamble here. But it's a gamble that they have every right to make. If it doesn't work, they'll scrap it and find something better.
I'm a creature of the internet world. I use sites that make my real name available, and I do that with full knowledge. Whether or not you do the same is up to you, but don't take internet privacy for granted. Make informed and thoughtful choices about how and why you reveal what you do, and try not to sweat the rest too much.