Back in May when Diablo came out, I wrote a post bemoaning the lack of an “Invisible” feature on Battle Net. Well, today I arrive with good news: They are going to be implementing an invisible feature for Battle.Net!
I’ve still seen a certain amount of naysaying or people who seem unhappy that this is a feature they are going to implement. First of all, I think it’s important to look at context. Most major chat programs have had this feature for the entirety of my time on the internet. I was using ICQ (I Seek You, remember, ahah) in 1996 or 1997. I can’t remember which, but my original number was seven digits. This is an invitation for all ICQ e-peeners to tell me that THEIR number was in fact only FIVE digits or less! (Vosskah does this every time ICQ is mentioned). Anyway, ICQ had an option with the little invisible flower face. You could see friends that were online and even message them, but you yourself appeared offline. Which was great, because there’s always that one person who is going to message you as soon as they see you come online. You don’t like them, you’re fine with them, you just don’t always want to talk. Or maybe you only want to talk to one specific person and you just want to check and see if they are online. Whatever your motivations, I think it’s important to make this really clear:
You are never, ever entitled to demand someone’s attention in this context. No one is obligated to talk to you. No one needs to sacrifice their privacy on the altar of constant availability. So that’s the first thing. Invisible modes are awesome because they give us more choice, and we like more choice. If I want to pursue a solo activity, I can do that. That doesn’t mean I’m avoiding the “MMO” nature of WoW. Let’s say, for example, I want to go outside for a walk by myself. I may meet people on my walk. That’s fine. The world has people in it, almost all of whom are not me. Likewise, I may sometimes want to play WoW in a way that isn’t specifically group-oriented, such as farming herbs, exploring, or just doing whatever I want. A friend was telling me yesterday that people message him when he is in BGs. People message me when I am on my bank alt. I don’t want to have to put up a status every single time: “THIS IS MY BANK ALT,” because even that clue might not be enough for some. They don’t necessarily understand that “bank alt” to me is synonymous with “I don’t want to chat right now.” Because banking is a solitary activity for me. It may not be one for you. So you can stay online with nary a care in the world! If you want to focus completely on what you’re doing, you can do that.
Other people might argue, “Well obviously you have rude/inconsiderate/oblivious people on your list. Just take them off.” No! It’s not some angry, Real ID grudge match. I don’t have anyone on my list I don’t like or who isn’t a friend. But just because I like you doesn’t mean I always want to talk to you. If you’re like me, it’s really hard to say ‘no’ or hurt someone’s feelings if they have missed already obvious signs. Perhaps this is just an introvert thing, but I like having a bit more control over this. What makes me laugh is the assertion that because this feature is introduced, no one will ever be online. I suppose I can eat my hat if this turns out to be true, but I’d be really, really surprised.
Most of us are playing an MMO because we do like people. We have friends on our Battle Net list because we like those people especially. Sometimes wanting to be incognito doesn’t invalidate any of those things. I anticipate I’ll use the invisible feature probably in the neighbourhood of 5% of the time. 5% of the time I am banking. Many of my solitary activities include being online and in-guild chatting anyway, so they aren’t that solitary, and I’d be unlikely to use this feature for those times. If I want to make an alt on an RP server or “tour” to an RP server and enjoy that style of gameplay for awhile, I might be inclined to go invisible at those times. I’m a little bit shy about RP (also incredibly out of practice and have few friends who do it) so I don’t know if I’d even do this but at least I will have the option to do so. There may also, I admit, be the odd time when I just plain don’t want to talk to anyone and I might be off-line those times. If I feel that way, it’s okay. If I have friends who are off-line sometimes (but actually online) I’m not going to take it personally. I think that someone who is always invisible is going to be the rare exception to those of us who want to be able to narrow and widen our availability and focus depending on the circumstance and our feelings and mood.
Kudos to Blizzard for hearing us on this one. Battle.Net is slowly shaping up to be the kind of service I enjoy using. Cross-realm grouping, Battle Tags (instead of real names), and now finally an Invisible mode! I may think that it should have started out closer to its current incarnations (screen names from day one, with an invisible option from day one) but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth here. When a company actually makes changes based on feedback it gets from customers, it makes me feel validated and listened to. It makes me happy. I won’t use this feature all the time. But when I do, I will be thrilled that it exists!