Wednesday, July 7, 2010

WoW: Twelve Days to Live

In the World of Warcraft, that is.

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.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

How Blizzard slipped the noose around their own neck

I'm going to attempt to be as rational as possible in this post; however, as the topic is incredibly sensitive and infuriating, I assure you right now it will not be subjective.

This morning, Blizzard announced here that, in order to reduce trolling of the realm forums for all of its games, it will be implementing the use of real names, first and last, next to your Avatar every time you use the forums. As of right now, you will have the ability to disable this feature; however, it means that you may not be able to post on the forums at all. It will not be retroactive; all posts created before this goes live will still be by toon, but all posts after will be by readID username linked to your account.

I admit, I tend to jump the gun and have a nice little freak out before I step back, cool off, and think things through rationally. But this time, the more I step away, the more disturbed I become. Blizzard did not think this through all the way, and the implications of their actions are going to be incredibly severe. There have been thousands of response posts on this both on the official forums and WoW related websites, so I will try to sum up the major concerns raised so that those of you who read this do not have to wade through the mire of the internet to find the good stuff.

How it would theoretically reduce trolling: If people are known by their real names and don't have the ability to roll level ones continuously, then they can be linked to the abusive/rude/derogatory things they say and will be shunned by the gaming community.

Obviously, Blizzard does not understand the nature of a troll.

A troll does not just do things because they are anonymous; they do things because they can get away with it, AND BLIZZARD LETS THEM. We can all name horrid trolls on our forums and our realms, and despite the fact that they have been banned time and time again, they never go away. Yea, a temporary three day ban comes in, but after that they're back, spouting off comments that would make a sailor blush. Blizzard allows them to come back because the company is so hellbent on making a profit that they'd rather give the appearance of dealing with inappropriate behavior than actually take a stand to eliminate the harassment from the gaming environment. And the trolls know this; the fact that they are continuously allowed access simply reinforces the fact that there are no major consequences for their actions, and thus fuels their fires.

So, if they haven't felt the banhammer before, when Blizaard already knows their real names, why should they be afraid now? Fellow players won't be able to take more action against them than they used to; in fact, now attempting to speak up against a troll will allow the troll to access the personal information of people who stand in their way. If a troll is well versed enough in the ways of datamining (or knows of a service that will datamine inforamtion for cheap - talk about lack of business ethics - and many do exist), then said troll can now not only harass those who were brave enough to take a stand on the Blizzard forums, but through facebook, e-mail, phone calls/text, physical mail, and possibly even stalking. It has happened before: worldwide, people who were not careful enough with their information online have been tracked down and beaten/stabbed/murdered over this video game. And that was when it took effort to find a player's information. Now it's being handed to people on a platter.

They say it's optional, and that turning it off will keep your information private.

I'm calling bullshit on that one, for several reasons:

1) Hacks are already so prevalent and intrusive, even with authenticators. For some reason, one of the biggest gaming entertainment companies in the world does not have the resources to protect our accounts as it is (even after making a killing off of the Celestial Steeds, which probably cost them nothing to make since they just had a dev do it during work hours... I won't go into copyright on that); why should we trust them to have our information hidden with only a simple click of a button? Hackers have already compromised so much of WoW that this is like giving them a FastPass to identity theft.

2) realID has already been compromised. Several addons are "glitching" (read: hacked before you download and install) so that they cause a player's entire friend's list to show as their true identity, even if the player has not approved of realID or even enabled it in the user settings. If they can't make that secure, when only the people who play their games can see it, how are they going to make something that ANYONE WITH INTERNET HAS ACCESS TO secure?

3) was optional. For a long time. Authenticators are still optional, though even Blizzard says that if you don't have one you're an idiot. realID is optional.... except that it's only the starting point for this massive social networking idea they have for their online games, so I doubt it will be optional for long. See this quote from the post linked above:

"With the launch of the new, it’s important to us to create a new and different kind of online gaming environment -- one that’s highly social, and which provides an ideal place for gamers to form long-lasting, meaningful relationships. All of our design decisions surrounding Real ID -- including these forum changes -- have been made with this goal in mind."

It's not going to stop anytime soon, unless there's some massive hit to the company. And it seems like even the cried on thousands of gamers (over 500 pages on a single blue post, and there are several) are making a dent - another blue post (will add sourse later, I've lost it for now) basically gave the response "QQ moar" (for you non-gamers, that translates to "I don't care what you say, whine all you want we're going to do whatever we please.")

Here is my biggest concern: the stalking of female players. Now before you freak out on me touting reverse sexism, let me explain.

As much as I wish that I could say that the gaming community is as open to female players as it is to male, I can't. I have been incredibly lucky over the years to find groups to play with that accept females as equal to men, but even my experience has been frought with the occasional male who can't think of women in terms of anything other than objects. I cannot count the number of times I have had people find out that I am female and then request lewd acts... simply because I have girl bits.

And my experience has been tame. I have had several in-game stalkers of a very low degree, and my current guild has dealt with men who do not have respect for women or their boundaries. Yet many female players have had to put up with harassment beyond anything I have ever imagined in my worst nightmares. This harassment ranges from a player creating characters over and over (even buying a new account) to continually message a person, to having to go to the police, completely erase any recollection of your online presence, and start your life over because somehow that internet stalker got ahold of your information (aka datamined) and has found you IRL. Yes, we all laughed at The Guild and how an obsessive but harmless crush turned into a funny story, but unfortunately 9/10 times random people stalking you does not end that nicely.

As internet stalking is a new-ish phenomenon, it's not always taken seriously. Many times, even the authorities brush it off and move onto more "pressing" matters, giving the stalked person a few tips to keep their privacy safe online. This is like giving someone a fire extinguisher after the flames have completely and utterly destroyed their home: the response is not adequate to the situation.

And Blizzard? They barely give more attention to threats of stalking/harassment than they give to forum trolls. If the number of people who have been reported for harassment had actually been banned from the game, many of the incidents that have occured would never have reached the level that they are at now. You haven't heard of these incidents, you say? That's what a PR department is for; ask around in the right places (WoW_Ladies, for one) and you will see that the number of people that these issues affect is much larger than Blizzard would lead you to believe.

If you've ever pissed anyone off in game, and you happen to post on the forums after this goes live? Well hello there Google search . . .

If you're applying for a new job, and your employer happens to have a bias against video games? There goes that opportunity, despite the fact that you're perfectly qualified, ahve glowing references, and have managed to keep your personal and online life separate for years.

Minors play under their parents'/guardians' account names . . . and they'll feel the repurcussions of their child's actions, and we all know how stupid 16-year-old boys (well, 16-year-olds in general) can be at times.

There are many, many other reasons that this is Not. A. Good. Idea.

If you want to see the rage and fear that this has inspired amongst one of the most talented, respected, and mature WoW communities on the internet, just go here.

And even if you don't feel threatened by the upcoming changes, if you cannot feel for those who are incredibly compromised by this, then truly you have no heart.

WoW Cataclysm Beta: Worgen

A note: the worgen area is not finished yet, so my response is to something that is still getting a lot of work.

The worgen are one of the things I'm most excited about in the expansion. There's a huge amount of lore associated with them, and Gilneas has fascinated me since I found out about it being a locked area for so long. There was a post on WoW_Ladies about a year ago where someone had (admittedly illegally) utilized a bug and gotten behind the wall in Gilneas to see what was there. Since it wasn't implemented yet, there was really nothing, but it was still cool to know that there was land back there that could be used for something.

Making a Worgen is a bit odd at this point. For one, you canonly makes males (booooo), and they haven't added the part where you can preview your human form. The current news (from a blue post on the alpha/beta forums) is that you will not be able to tweak both your human and your Worgen form. Instead, each characteristic in your Worgen form will be connected with a characteristic in your human form, much like how a druid's hair color determines the color of their bear/cat form when they shapeshift. As of right now, though, you roll your Worgen (which has an awesome design screen) and get the human that comes with it. Mine didn't look too bad, so I just went with it.

The racial cinematic isn't finished yet, but even without the voiceover it gives you chills. You pan over the haunted-feeling city, gray skies and trees stripped bare with the new music playing in the background, which just adds to the creepy feel. When you reach the rooftops, you start to see dark forms hovering over the small English-type cobblestone streets, just waiting to jump down and rip people to shreds. Then the camera dips into the center of town, where you and the few survivors who haven't yet been infected by the curse are gathered, trying to escape while saving as many people as you can.

As Shaun (Tzirik) said, the Gilneans are/were human nobility, and Blizzard definitely modeled everything off that. The NPC men currently speak like the human men in Stormwind, no accent, same lines and all. But the NPC women have an English accent, more Cockney/borgeousie than London upperclass. However, the female Worgen have a very polished accent (from the videos released on YouTube... I'll link below), and methinks that Blizzard is trying to create some of the same class diviisons in Gilneas that existed in London in the time period they're modeling this after. Even your starting items are made to emulate the English upper-class: the caster robes look like a white shirt and black very with a long robe thrown over it, and the melee gear is similar, but with pants instead of a robe. I'm interested to see what the females get; I'm hoping they get somethign similar and not just some knock-off of the generic "serving wench" style clothes that are already in the game.

As starting areas go, it's fairly similar, except you have an actual storyline to follow instead of simply being sent out to farm mats for lazy people. At this moment, you don't know you're going to become a Worgen: you know that getting bitten is what causes you to turn, but you're still trying to survive. The Worgen running around the city are not the type you are going to turn into; they have no sense of their lost humanity, and have given themselves over completely to the curse. You have no choice but to fight them, and so you do! The ones right around the starting area are neutral, something I do NOT agree with, but it is a starting area, so i can't complain too much.

I won't go into too much detail about the quests, because I don't want to ruin everything for you. However, I will say that, although it is not quite as epic as the death knight starter quests, it's up there. At one point you get a debuff called "Infected wound" (or something similar), and the description mentions that hair is starting to grow around the outside edges, a hint of your impending fate. You finish the epic questline, go to turn in the quest, and prepare for the transformation...

... which isn't done yet. Instead, you get a nice little message from Blizzard: "This is where we'll play the video of you turning into a worgen, but it's not done yet!" You get a loading screen, and then you're bent over in the stocks, fully in Worgen form, and about to be executed. Luckily, you saved an alchemist who has created a potion that allows you to keep your mind, but you retain your Worgen form (Snape, Lupin, Wolfsbane, Harry Potter, anyone? You even have to get him mandrake root [yes, I know, mandrake root in HP is to unfreeze people who saw the basilisk, but it's pretty much a direct reference]).

And that's where I stopped, because (as it is a beta) one of the quests was planned poorly and took over an hour to complete. Unfortunately they do not screen for idiots when they choose people for beta keys, so just as many exist there as they do in the regular game, and it is twice as bad because half the stuff is buggy. Add the two together, and the wank is ridiculous.

So, links to the voices:
Male Worgen flirts
Female worgen Flirts
Male Worgen jokes
Female Worgen jokes

*A note on the jokes/flirts: A lot of them are really racy, and probably won't make it to the game. So enjoy while you can!

Monday, July 5, 2010

WoW Expansion Beta - First Reactions

After puttering around for a few hours, mostly taking SS's (soon to be added) and attempting to take video (which failed, boo... will retry that), the first reaction to Cataclysm is this: it is much, MUCH further behind in development than Wrath of the Lich King was when the beta was announced. And rightly so - it's not just creating a single (but massive) new area and tacking on a few things here and there - it's a complete overhaul of the majority of the game as we know it, which is a much more intensive process than building something up from the ground.

Gnomeregon has been touched, but not completed. The hostile mobs outside of the city are friendly, like the Dun Morogh to Ironforge. There's nothing inside yet, or at least not in the first few main hallways, but you can mount up and ride around. This is going to be especially nice when the city is fully open, because it is still as huge and confusing as ever.

Flying in Azeroth may be one o the biggest comforts of the game - you get to see parts of the terrain that you never really noticed before. Before Cataclysm, players are confined to the rocky walls of whatever land they are in; now you see that these areas that seem land-locked really butt right up to the ocean or an inlet. It's not a huge change design wise, but it gives the player a much more cohesive feel to the land than we previously had.

Stormwind is the biggest shock so far. It's still the same city, in some regards, but it's been redone in a way that will unsettle long-time players a bit. The front gate seems untouched, and as you fly over the city (which is rumoured to soon be taken out so that the Old World cities don't feel as empty as Shattrath did even before WotLK) most of it seems the same. The first change you see is over old town - the command center is no longer in a stone building, but in a grassy area tucked into a rocky nook. Same people, some place, different design.

For some reason, the humans have decided to honor Varian Wrynn with a massive statue... even though he is still alive, and really didn't do anything in WotLK other than show up and act like an emo kid with a temper problem for the majority of the expansion. Maybe he does something in Ulduar that I've missed, but I don't see why he gets one when, if anyone, Llane deserves such a devotion. Yea, I know, there's one of him in the keep, but... yea. It feels to me like the Statue of Jane in Firefly, erected without taking the full story into consideration.

Anyways, the rest of the keep: it looks more like Stormwind Harbor in the design of the area. The main keep has been pushed back, and now the throne is at the back of the hall instead of at the center. To the sides, the PvP rooms have been made to look much more like strategic war rooms, like in Dalaran, and those two empty rooms that were sitting around doing nothing now are closed off by wooden doors... still doing nothing, but no longer taking up resources. The little courtyard off the hallway is still there (I agree with this... one of the most interesting quest lines is in there, and I would hate to lose it even though it doesn't really make sense after WotLK), but now opens up to a pond/park and a farm.

In the middle of Stormwind comes an area that makes it feel much more like a lived in city than simply a commercial area. I think it's labeled the outskirts or something similar, and the architecture reminds me of the Tudor style houses so popular in England. There's also a graveyard in the city, and rows of smaller graves line a path up to a large tomb that is modeled off Uther's tomb in the Western Plaguelands. This hasn't been completed, so I have no idea who it is for at the moment, but maybe Bolvar Fordragon? Mm speculation...

Th Mage Quarter is overgrown with trees. It took me a second to figure out why it felt so much more closed off than usual, but the little trees that have been around there for years are now full grown, massive trees like in Elwynn Forest. It makes sense, since plants grow over time and all, but it's a detail that I never really thought about. I love it; and I think we're going to see a lot of little changes like this that show the passage of time in the world that has been so static (growth-wise) up to now.

Okay, so anyone who loves the park area of Stormwind, I warn you to brace yourself now: It's gone. Not removed by developers for a different area, no.... it's been destroyed by a dragon! That entire neighborhood is in flames, a massive chunk of the cliff has fallen away and buildings are falling into the sea, and what is left of the stone in that area is charred and smoldering. Personally, I love it. They've added so much else to the city that something needed to be destroyed, and as much as my druid lady loves the park I'm kind of glad to see it go. However, I do need to figure out where she's going to train now; I'm hoping all the druid trainers are not on Kalimdor alone.

The city overall has been outfitted for war - canons in towers, more war equipment on the dock, etc. There's a much more serious feeling to the city than before; this is the second time Stormwind has had to rebuild itself, and it feels like they decided not to cut any corners this time around.

However, there is one thing long time players have been waiting years to have answered: what happens with the portcullis and the instance entrance behind it? Does it lead somewhere? IS a second instance added to the city? Does it have something to do with the expansion?

Nope. It's a fountain. A cute lion head spitting water into a shallow pool below, a simple decoration in the city. Yes, groan in frustration, curse at Blizzard for toying with your hopes all these years, let it all out. It's the first step to recovery.

This got a lot longer than I originally intended, so I'm going to cut it short. I'll post soon on the Worgen starting area, and hopefully I'll soon have a video capture program to get some real-time action shots. I'll also be toying around with embedding pictures from my Picasa account, but I need to pay for that before it'll host anything for me.

Anything you want to see or hear about? Let me know, and I'll do my best to get something for ya.

Friday, July 2, 2010

So, this is what social networking looks like...

Hello there, dear readers - which at this point is zero, but perhaps it shall climb to one or two by the time everyone trolls Facebook by the end of the day.

I've been contemplating blogging again for a while. I have my communities that I love over on Livejournal, but a) it's much easier to have everything connected to my google acoount (/slave) and b) most of my friends have blogs here, and it'll be much easier to follow them than to try to link everything together.

I'll post more on interesting things that you don't get to do in another entry.

/end obligatory first post awkwardness