Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

What's in a name? Okay, okay, enough with the Shakespeare quotes. Since last weekend Blizzard is offering paid character name changes for World of Warcraft. So if you have a warrior named Phred and don't like that name any more, you can pay $10 to rename him to Djoe. But this apparently innocent service raises some fundamental questions of identity in virtual worlds.

In the real world, some people I meet greet me by name, others don't. And there is a certain correlation with how well people know me, because only those that know me well enough to actually connect my face to my name can greet me using my name. I'm not running around with a huge name tag. Recognition in the real world is mostly visual. If I changed my name, the same people would still recognize me.

The virtual world doesn't work like that. If a new guy is invited to your guild you get a message saying:
[Djoe] has joined your guild
[Guild] [Djoe]: Hello guys!
and you can greet him with "Hello Djoe" without ever having even seen his face. You would have no idea if Djoe was previously called Phred, even if you had read on the forums that a guy named Phred had quit his previous guild taking the contents of the guild bank with him. And facial recognition doesn't work in MMORPGs, because first of all there aren't so many different faces in the game, and second the face is relatively tiny on your screen. If you met Phred a few days ago, and today you meet Djoe, still being a level 70 warrior but having meanwhile acquired a different shoulder armor and a new name floating over his head, you'll think he is a different person. There are too many similar looking characters around to assume otherwise. The name *is* the identity, and by changing your name you can easily change your identity. No FBI witness protection program needed.

If Phred never did anything wrong and just changed his name to Djoe because he liked the new name better and didn't think the consequences through, he'll be in for some nasty surprises. For a while he won't get any tells from friends, because they don't have his new name on their friends lists [EDIT: As some readers are prone to dismiss my whole post because of the tiny error in this phrase, I'd like to point out that I missed the fact that the WoW name change apparently also edits friends and ignore lists]. And some guild members might treat him like the new guy Djoe, and not like their pal Phred with whom they did a thousand raids, until they realize that Djoe is Phred. Whatever reputation as a reliable tank for pickup groups, or as the best master smith on the server, Phred had acquired will be totally lost to the new Djoe. It's not unlike the whole Prince / Symbol / The Artist Formely Known as Prince fiasco. So in the end I'm not sure that offering a name changing service is really such a good idea.
But that's not how WoW name change works. If you get your name changed, the name will change as well on friends lists and ignore lists.

The tank argument works, but not that he won't be available on friends lists and such.
True, it could help people with abrasive personalities wipe the slate clean. But there are legitimate reasons why someone might want to have a name change, such as if they really do want a fresh start in game.

Such as: in the aftermath of some major guild drama, a name change would be indistinguishable from leaving the game. I know someone who left the game once and later came back and they didn't want our former guild leader to know they were back in game. They didn't do a name change, they rerolled, but its nice to have the option to keep your character in a situation like that.

Ninjas and incompetent players who wipe their reputational slate clean through a name change don't benefit from this as much since their true personality will shine through eventually anyway. So I would hardly worry about the tank argument. After the name change, people will just learn there's another really lousy tank on the server. Egads.
Just wanted to second what Andrea said. Your blog post reveals you didn't do your homework on this issue. Please add a note debunking the concerns that are not valid or correct your post.
Fixed. Man, you guys are annoying, the small error changes nothing in the greater issue of identity in a MMORPG.
I think these might be valid concerns in a game in which people only have one character - it's less so in a game where we have so many options.

Most people develop a network of friends that they'll fill in. I can't even maintain an anonymous alt for long if I'm on the same server.

And as to random people you may or may not have met - with the large populations of most servers, names are already essentially meaningless and anonymous very quickly.

The only place it will make a difference at all is in the smaller communities of things such as PVP arena and battlegrounds. And most of that difference will be a cross-faction one.
I agree Tobold. I've had reservations about this since I heard about it last week. To me the benefits don't outweight the drawbacks. If someone named themselves Uberninja then they are an idiot and I won't group with them unless their reputation of being a great player gets around.

Too many idiots steal/cheat/abuse in an MMOG to allow them to do this. sure it is a small majority but there are some freaks out there that are bored and abuse people for kicks. I know because I had several in my guild. They thought it was a riot to leave the guild and join other guilds, talk smack about ours in their guild chat, copy what everyone said, then laugh at them, drop their guild, rejoin ours and post everything on the forums just to start arguments and hatred among guilds. Now they can take it one step further, wonderful.

And yes, one of the reason I left that guild. It was 80% great, but 20% were idiots always doing stupid stuff like that, partially including the GM. Oh well, I've been retired since March so it won't affect me.
If that player chooses not to tell friends and guild then are they considered a "friend".
I completely agree. If you are outed as a ninja on the forums for example, you can just change your name instead of taking a server transfer. There should be some way to see the history of your name change. As well as previous server history.
Ok, i'm just going to come out and say it. This is by far the most ignorant, money grubbing, slap in the face of serious gamers, moronic mistake Blizzard has ever made.

What keeps most people following the rules of society? CONSEQUENCES!

Sure the morally sound follow rules because it's the right thing to do, but most follow rules because they have to.

Now, what in the game of WoW forces you to be civil to other players? Your name, and nothing else. I remember playing Diablo 2, where hundreds of thousands of players ran around with no checks and balances. What did that get? Griefers joining games called "Barbarian Highlands 002" and slaughtering 7 players half their level. In WoW, this converts to $10 epics for those who are willing to pay for the erasure after ninjaing in a run.

Ignore and Friends list will reflect this? BIG DEAL! How many players do you avoid who aren't on your friends list? I have several alts, and those lists don't link to my other characters. I keep my list in front of my PC on a pad of paper.

"But Anselm, Master Loot works fine"

Ok, you want to guarantee you get the primal and epic drop that you have been after in a heroic. You decide it's worth $10 to do it. You form the group, explain ML will be used to avoid the cheating, take all the items, log out, and change your name. At that point all the other players can do is take up a slot in their ignore list to identify the new name, then report it in the forums for the trolls who care. The ninja would then argue that someone else on your ignore list changed their name, he isn't that person, and no he won't tell you his previous identity because of a very sad story of how he got screwed over and did this to play the game without being harassed.

I know of a few players who have caused EPIC drama on my server. They left the server to get a new start. That's acceptable in my book. A new server means a new player base, which means a new start. Being able to stay on a server with a new name means the morally challenged get a second chance at hurting the same players.

Just wait till the first server forum post laughing about stealing from the same guild twice, with screen shots to back it up.

I hope the $10 price tag will be enough of a profit for Blizz to alienate their legitimate players. And don't tell me this about anything other then profit. If it wasn't, name changes would cost in game gold.
This will have a simple consequence. People who have dug themselves a reputation hole can get a clean slate more easily.

That's kinda good and bad. People can be anti-social and more easily dug the social consequences of that.

On Elitist Jerks one of the first reactions was "Blizz put a price-tag on ninja-looting". It's a catchy characterization I think.
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