As of July 7, 2010 at 9:15:34 PM, I have suspended my account indefinitely.
Activision will not understand the gravity of the situation until they feel it where it hurts - their profits. I attempted to post this in the comment box when I deactivated my account, but all of a sudden their "please share any concerns you may have" statement has a stipulation: if you can say it in a sentence. It's lost now, but the part I posted (the constructive part) was along the lines of, "You broke our trust, and are willing to put profits over the safety of your consumers. How ethical of you." The part that I didn't post went something like this: "When you realize that your customers can see through your thinly veiled lies to the derelict business practices beneath, and thus change your business practices to model those of companies who continue to make a profit without exploiting their consumer base, then I may consider purchasing from you again, albeit warily."
I covered a lot of my concerns yesterday, but I am going to expand on the rest below.
In World of Warcraft, I play a tank. A tank is charged with the task of protecting those in her group, making sure that no one is in danger and/or eliminating that danger when arises. The tank is the first into battle, and many times has a place of leadership, formal or informal, within the group as a whole.
I have played a tank for close to four years. I don't do it because it is a glamorous job (most times, it really isn't; it involves a lot of floor buffets). I do it because it fits me: I have the same tendencies as a tank, to make sure that those around me are safe and secure even if it means I must make a personal sacrifice.
I cannot stand aside and let Activision/Blizzard not only lie to their customer base, but endanger them as well. All the chatter about banishing trolls is just a front for the true reason realID is becoming more prevalent: Activision recently signed a contract with Facebook to make all future Blizzard properties integrate immediately with their products. On top of that, a new law has been passed in South Korea (where StarCraft, an Activision/Blizzard property, is so popular that it is informally considered a national sport) that requires internet users to disclose their identity on all internet forums. In order to keep their player base, Blizzard has to find a way to post the real names of their users. As mentioned in the post, Google got around this by banning any incoming posts on YouTube until Korea exempted them from the list. However, Google also has a history of standing up to internet bullying (I've been cheering for them 100% since they took on China and it's censorship policies), while Activision has a history of breaking every ethical standard I can think of. If after you read the linked article you can continue to give money to Activision without feeling dirty, you have no social conscience.
I already have problems with the way Asian countries deal with free speech. The restrictions China has imposed disgust me, especially when it comes to finding information on the lack of human rights in their country. The South Korean law feels like a similar situation to me; the country is in a dangerous political situation, and thus has passed this law in order to silence the masses. The ones who are still brave enough to speak will be in danger of stalking and physical harm, if not death (there are numerous documented cases of this happening in Asian regimes, see Tibet). The rest know of the danger and will not speak out as they value the safety of themselves and their families above protesting oppression.
Are the Blizzard forums as weighty a matter as political oppression across the globe? Maybe not. But the principle is the same: those who are suffering from harassment and use the forums as a place to out their harassers will lose this safe zone as speaking up will reveal their true identity. If the harasser obtains the harassed's full name, they can then stalk them on numerous sites across the internet without ever being traced back to getting the information off the WoW account. Thus, Activision would not be responsible for any consequences and could not be held accountable for something that they helped perpetuate.
I have been on the internet since I was a child. On every site that I am a member of, I have my privacy settings so high that I do not show up when I Google myself. I have taken every precaution to make sure that my real name is never associated with any of my public accounts. Even this blog is linked to an e-mail for which I use a pseudonym.
But when I enter my name here, my personal information comes up within a couple clicks. My full name, my parents names, an old address, my family's income, and a picture of my family's neighborhood. My family's home. With my sibling's car parked in the driveway.
All of my precautions over the past decade have been for naught, because with my full name my security is highly compromised. The information is technically public: in phone books, from the census. Something anyone who is willing to do a fair amount of research can find. But I'm not in the phone book. I have never filled out a census (for this reason). But because my family has, they are now possible victims if anyone decides they want to find me.
My name is common. Imagine trying this with an incredibly unique name. Even my boyfriend, who does not have a particularly unique name, had two hits when I searched him, and the second one was dead on.
And to get your information off of this website, you have to pay a service to remove it for you. Once again, a massive breach of ethics that astounds me.
With this in mind, it's not difficult to imagine how anyone who voices an unpopular opinion could be harassed outside of the game. It's not difficult to imagine how someone who is openly homosexual could post on the forums and be hunted down and become a victim of a hate crime. It's not difficult to imagine that simple online crushes could turn into dangerous obsessive stalking (a perfect example of this is the boy who said he wanted to find his female guild member with the hot voice "and just bump into her"). It's not difficult to imagine the danger to transgenders who have yet to change their legal name, the fear it inspires in those in the witness protection program, the implications to professionals, the myriad of ways that dissolving solid divisions between frivolity and reality could seriously impact lives.
I hate to suggest it, as it would mean that Blizzard would simply be coddling countries that are invoking oppressive laws, but with the resources that this gaming company has it would not be difficult to implement two systems of game play: one for world areas requiring name disclosure on the internet and one for the rest of it's users. Unfortunately, this would also mean spending money in order to embrace a more ethical business model, and Activision is deathly allergic to that.
I explained why real names don't matter to the truly dangerous trolls in my previous post, but here are a few ways Blizzard could easily solve the troll problem, if that was their real purpose behind this maneuver:
1) Instead of using real names, use a single handle per registered account. I know so many players who would approve of this. It would mean that players could not create new characters to constantly harass people on the forums; instead, everything would be attributed to that one handle. Enough anonymity would be removed to hold players responsible, and the players who use the forums for constructive purposes would not be punished in the process.
Another cool option with this? All characters on one account could be linked to one handle in game. If the player so chose, they could share this handle with other players like the real names are being shared now. If they so chose, they could not share it with other players, and thus each toon would be a separate entity. Yes, this would mean that creating an alternate character to "hide" on would not be an option for people you have friended, but they can always be removed, right?
Why this won't happen: Facebook will not be able to access Facebook accounts per the toon name; it needs the e-mail address to verify that the user has a Facebook account. And there's no reason to give the e-mail out if you're just going by character name. And thus the contract with Facebook isn't being fulfilled. Thus they lose money.
2) Give the real trolls a permanent ban. Not a warning, not per account, but by credit history. Unless you're committing credit fraud or identity theft, every single credit card you have ever used is linked back to you. When a credit check is run with your proper information, the user can see all the accounts you have ever been linked to. So, if a troll commits a serious enough infraction, it will warrant a permanent ban on that account. If that person attempts to sign up for the service using another credit card, they will be denied. Perhaps there is a tier of infractions: denial of an account for one month, then six, then never again. This would silence the trolls and allow the decent people who use the forums as they were intended to continue to foster community, while the naughty children got a time out in isolation.
Why this won't happen: The money issue. Permanently banning someone per individual and not per credit card equals a big money loss for the company. The few times they do permanently ban people, causing them to open another account, they get even more money: they must buy the game and the two current expansion packs again, and then pay for a subscription. That's close to $100 per account banned (going by credit card). Activision/Blizzard doesn't really care about getting rid of the trolls; they'll take some public action in order to give the appearance of regulating the situation, but as long as money is flowing in, the ethics really don't matter.
I don't want to leave. It actually hurts to even consider it. The guild I am currently in has some of the most wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure to spend time with, both online and off. We're so close that we have even become friends offline and now participate healthily in each others' offline lives. I can easily give up the pixels; I have before in the past and been perfectly happy finding other things to do. But there is a community in WoW that I will miss dearly, despite the trolls and the children spouting obscenities.
I hate to disappoint those who have come to rely on me, but I cannot continue to monetarily support a company that clearly has no moral guidance. If, by July 19, 2010 (when my account officially expires) Activision has come to it's senses and reversed the decision, or at least begun to take the steps in cleaning up this mess, I'll come back to the game.
But, until then, I have twelve days to enjoy a game that has given me many fond memories, entertained me for countless hours, helped me through personal slumps, and connected me with people who constantly make me laugh. I will say goodbye to Blizzard with a wistful smile and a wave, hoping that maybe soon they can return to the innovative gaming company that they started out as so many years ago.
Activision, on the hand, will get the finger, a string of obscenities, and a fervent wish that CEO Bob Kotick dies a horrible, firey death by forum troll who finds his information online and stalks him because he integrated Farmville with World of Warcraft.