Player Handles and Privacy

One thing I’ve been asked on occasion is why all alts linked to AresCentral player handles are public, so I thought I’d give some insight into that.

The Diner

To understand the evolution of player handles, we need to go back twelve or so years, when Ares was in its infancy. Four of us from Battlestar Pacifica MU were meeting up in RL. As we sat in a diner sharing favorite MU stories, one of the other players mentioned Maddock MUSH.

“Oh, you played on Maddock too? Who were you?” I wondered.

“I was (so and so).”

“You’re kidding! I was (so and so’s BFF and roommate).”

Over the course of the conversation, we discovered that through the years we had been IC roomies, BFFs, and even sisters (twice!)–all without realizing we were the same players crossing paths on game after game.

And there the gem of the idea was born: Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to identify players from one MUSH to another. A sort of “living” playlist.

In With the Old

One of my earliest concepts for Ares involved a central player account. You logged in as your player, and then you chose which character you wanted to be. All OOC stuff (mail, forums, etc.) would be done on the player level and not the character level.

(I didn’t realize at the time that some MUDs already worked this way; I got the idea from Blizzard/WoW.)

It quickly became clear that this idea wouldn’t fly. Completely changing the way you log in would turn away many veteran MU players at the gate. To say nothing about the hurdles convincing people to accept a central account system, or the basic technical issues of how one would log into this central system from a MU client without compromising your AresCentral password. (Remember, this was well before “log in with Google” was a thing.)

And that’s how I landed on the idea of player “handles”–an optional player identity running in parallel with your character identity.

The Carrot

Now I needed a way to encourage players to engage with this optional system. I began thinking about what incentives might make handles appealing, like:

  • Account Preferences – Automatic syncing of preferences so you don’t have to set up your pose colors, timezone, and various other client preferences on every character.
  • Friends – Being able to see whether your friends are here and who they’re playing when you log into a new game.
  • Identity – Being able to identify yourself by your handle so people know who you are.
  • Alt Management – Getting notifications if your alt has mail, switching easily between alts on the web portal, resetting your password, etc.

The Facebook Wall

Of course, it wasn’t long before I realized that people might want to have some of these features (like alt management) without broadcasting their alt info to the world. So I explored adding privacy levels to characters linked to your handle, like “Private” or “Friends-Only”.

It didn’t work out. I realized that true privacy was an illusion. In order to activate the features, both AresCentral staff and game staff would know your handle info, even on a “private” alt.

There were also basic usability issues. Imagine if only your friends could see your identity:

Friend sees:

<Chat> Cate (@Faraday) says, "Hiya."
<Chat> Friend says, "Hey Fara."

Non-Friend sees:

<Chat> Cate says, "Hiya."
<Chat> Friend says, "Hey Fara."

Non-Friend is either confused (who is Friend talking to?) or now realizes that Cate is Faraday.

I realized that dealing with this “properly” (if there even was such a thing) would result in a byzantine level of complexity akin to Facebook’s data sharing features. It just didn’t make sense to do all that to offer an illusion of privacy, especially when:

  • The core concept of the handle system was to share your identity.
  • The convenience features were incentives for people to engage with the system.

Giving people the incentives without the identity sharing was kinda defeating the point.

Plus, to be honest, I never really liked the idea of hidden alts. It always made it hard for me to keep track of who was who, and who knew who’s secret identities and whatnot. I found the idea of full transparency appealing, especially since it alleviates me of some responsibility. (Hard to be responsible for accidentally revealing alts when they’re already public!)


So that’s why handle alts are all public.

I’ll reiterate, though, that handles are still completely optional. Linking a character to your handle provides some conveniences, but it’s not essential for gameplay. Don’t like it? Don’t do it. Or have more than one handle. Or be selective about which characters you link.

The choice is yours.

Side note to staff: Ares also offers an alternative way to track alts using player profile tags or shared notes for games that want to require players to identify all their alts on that game. Please don’t try to mandate that everyone has a handle.

To learn more about player handles, view the Player Handle tutorial.