Traditionally, the customer for a video game company (publisher or developer) has always been the gamer. Or, to avoid categorization, anyone who purchases a game to play it. As a moneymaking venture, gaming companies focused on eliciting as many purchases as possible. This motivated the developers to provide games and features that the most gaming customers would be interested in paying for.
Ask the average person on the street, and it's likely they think of television the same way: that the customer of the television industry is the viewer. You would think, then, that this would motivate television companies to make decisions in the interest of the viewer, because their primary goal would be to make the viewer happy.
And yet, Firefly gets canceled, great shows get underpromoted into obscurity, and we're inundated with reality shows that everyone claims to hate yet everyone seems to watch. [I believe they watch mostly because they want to watch TV and that's what happens to be on, and because it's something they can talk to coworkers and strangers about as a shared point of experience, much like sports; but the reasoning doesn't really matter to the point I'm trying to make here]
So why doesn't television cater to the audience in the way you'd predict if the viewers were the network's customers?
Because the television network's customer is not the viewer. The network's customer is the advertiser.
NBC is not in the business of providing television programming to viewers. It is in the business of providing eyes to advertisers. Every decision is not made based on providing quality programming in a way viewers want to see it. Decisions are instead made based on the most cost-effective ways to get advertisers to pay top-dollar for ad space. That just so happens to lead to television striving to attract viewers, which often leads to the network acting in the viewers' interest; but such actions are coincidental. They are simply a side effect of serving advertisers.
There's no need to demonize the networks over this, but it's important to be aware of it so we have realistic expectations. Television networks do not consider you to be a customer, so don't be surprised when they routinely act in ways that seem unfathomable to you as a viewer. If they lose 10% of viewers over intrusive product placements or longer commercial breaks, they'll do it if it increases the other ad revenue by 11%. They'd never do it if viewers were the customers.
So what does this have to do with video games, and Activision/Blizzard's expansion of Real ID? I'm glad you asked.
Actiblizz's recent actions seem unfathomable. They are going against the wishes of the vast majority of their players. They are startlingly unresponsive to criticism from the customerbase on the Battle.net and Real ID issues. They are taking actions that are clearly contrary to the best interests of their players, and are going out of their way to avoid explaining them (except through the ocassional half-truth like "cleaning the forums"). People are canceling WoW accounts and SC2 preorders left and right over something that seems so easily avoidable or fixable. Don't they care about losing so many customers?
You have probably guessed where I'm going with this by now: we, the players, are no longer the World of Warcraft's customerbase. Advertisers are.
It's pretty clear from this interview and other statements about Real ID about how they "have been planning this change for a very long time" that Real ID is the lynchpin in an effort to leverage an untapped asset that Actiblizz has more of than any other company out there except Facebook: our personal information.
Facebook makes its revenue from advertisers by using our personal information to help them target us more accurately, and by using our social connections to lubricate the spread of marketing messages. Activision has done the math, looked at their potential to help advertisers target 12 million people, and decided that, come hell or high water, the potential loss in subscription revenue will be dwarfed by the potential gain in ad revenue along with the other benefits to emulating the Facebook business model with a near-captive mob of players to be tapped.
Blizzard once had a reputation for making games for the players. They were known for scrapping sub-par products rather than releasing them for a quick buck. They were known for being more player-friendly than any gaming company outside of Valve. But to Actiblizz, we are no longer the customer. We are an asset to be monetized . . . stock in a warehouse . . . entries in a quarterly earnings spreadsheet. We are now Actiblizzard's product, to be sold to advertisers for more than our subscription is worth. This is, ironically, our reward for making the game so popular.
Actiblizzard has signed a contract with Facebook. They are committed to this course of action, no matter what we say. And no matter how many of us quit, it's most likely going to be a profitable move for them.
From this point forward, Blizzard's reputation is done. We can stop expecting them to treat us like customers. Advertisers are their primary customers now.
I wonder if Actiblizzard treats them as well as the old, dead Blizzard used to treat us?