The World of WarCraft fanatics over on the OwendCore forums have uncovered what they claim to be evidence of Blizzard embedding World of WarCraft user ID info into screenshots taken in-game.
There was a lot of sleuthing involved, with much discussion about disassembling the .JPG compression algorithm for the screenshot routine, ruling out compression artefact theory, and possible reasons for Blizzard doing this in the first place.
To see the watermarks, one has to go to extreme lengths, taking a shot of an area of flat, bright texture, and then twiddling in an image program to sharpen and enhance the image until the watermarks stand out to the human eye.
The end result looks something like this:
Another screenshot, with high contrast added to emphasise the watermarks:
This appears as some sort of custom matrix bar-code (like the familiar QR-Codes) which Blizzard can presumably decode to obtain information about who took the screenshot.
It is believed that the following information is embedded: Account Name, Realm Info (Serialized, unknown content), Realm IP, Timestamp.
It appears that the watermarks are created as a function of the WoW screenshot tool, but only at compression quality levels of 1-9 (with the default value being 3). This value can be changed via console commands; but what is strange is that, on maximum quality (10), the watermarks do not appear.
Further backing up the notion that WoW’s in-game screenshot function is the culprit, is the fact that using a screen capture program such as Fraps doesn’t result in the same watermarks appearing.
With no official word from Blizzard on the matter, current theories peg it as a method of identifying those who have posted evidence of in-game exploits being abused.
During a developer Q&A on Reddit yesterday evening, the question was posed to Blizzard about the purpose of these watermarks, but no asnwers were forthcoming.
What do you think? Storm in a teacup, or massive Activion-Blizzard conspiracy? Let us know in the comments below and on the MyGaming forum.