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blizzcon 2009 battle.net panel

The following is a summary of the StarCraft II Battle.net Discussion Panel narrated by Rob Pardo:

Battle.net hasn’t been talked about lately because World of Warcraft is Bilzzard's most popular game. The goal of the new battle.net is to improve it so that it will be a premier matchmaking service. It was the first matchmaking service integrated completely into the game. Launched in 1996 for Diablo, it was updated in 2003. There have been more players on it in total than World of Warcraft. StarCraft II and Diablo III will take this prospect further.

As always everything presented in this panel may or may not change.

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In Warcraft III, automated matchmaking was introduced and it worked well. This made it easy to play with friends and Blizzard felt that this was really important to the game. Warcraft III ended up being extremely popular because of, in part, the effective matchmaking system and ladder. Randomly-selected teams were put in and were by far the most popular way to play the game. The thinking was that "if you’re going to lose, it might as be with teammate you can blame". The icon system, a poor man’s version of an achievement system was introduced. Once a player won a certain amount of games as an orc or as a human he would gain new icons and be able to display it as his 2D avatar on battle.net.

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There were some features of the latest Battle.net that Blizzard didn’t like, such as: feeling the chat system was too disorganized, gameplay being disconnected from single player, as well as new players being thrown into the thick of ladder and custom map play. They felt that the ladder system only served the best players. In a community of ten thousand players, the amount of people that cared about ladder was maybe only one hundred. How satisfying was it to be number 5329 on the ladder? It wasn’t as successful as it could have been.

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How games were displayed and supported was a problem. For example, if someone wanted to play something besides DotA or Footmen Frenzy, too bad because it's too hard to find a game. So Blizzard has decided to break down battle.net 2.0 into the following segments:

starcraft 2 battle.net 2.0

 

Always-Connected Experience

The goal for StarCraft II’s Battle.net is to provide much closer integration than in previous games and bring the Blizzard community together. Blizzard wants to make sure you’re connected to news, content, and friends. Blizzard gamers need to know what’s going on in the community. Blizzard has learned from WoW and the support of the WoW community.

In Blizzard's previous games, they had a different account structure such that they didn't know who a player was, which made it hard to have persistent characters. For example, in Diablo II, you only got to keep characters for three months. This won’t happen again. Battle.net accounts will be updated and connected to emails.

In the login screen the user enters the Battle.net account from the very beginning. It’s the first screen he sees, with access to single player, multiplayer, skirmish games, new content, widgets, and news. This will happen before the first game, so that everyone is connected to a larger community. Users will still be able to play as guests in offline mode if they select single player.

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Challenges Are Fun

The single player screen is kind of large because Blizzard assumes that new players will want to jump into it first. From the single player screen a user can also play custom/skirmish maps. Single player maps will attempt to teach more advanced multiplayer mechanics (current gaming example: Guild Wars attempted this through the Zaishen Challenges). The player will be able to try as many times as he likes to improve his time and score, as well as compare it with his friends. He’ll be able to access his friends list even when he's playing single player. Compare this to battle.net where someone has to log into battle.net, log out, be sight-unseen for a while, etc.

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One of the features of the replay screen is the ability to rewind. Rob Pardo claimed "they said it couldn't be done but we found a way".

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The goal of the profile is to be useful to the player, so that he can see where he stands and what he needs to improve on; it will feature things like achievements, statistics, and match history, which can also be browsed by and compared with other people.

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Achievements

WoW’s achievement system is great, but Blizzard will try to improve StarCraft II’s achievement system further. The awards for achievement are the avatars. A user's achievements will unlock a variety of avatars that he will display. Just like in World of WarCraft, when people accomplish an achievement their friends get a little toast that shows up. This will create a little competition. In StarCraft II, the avatar system will have a 2D avatar representing a player on battle.net, which will be based on the number of achievements a user completes. On top of this, decals, which are unlockable through the achievement system, will show up on units themselves. There will be many things players can unlock and display to their friends. The pool of unlockables will be added to over time.

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As soon as a user is logged in the game can check for patches and make sure everything is up to date.

Cloud Storage

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If someone plays the game from work he can actually play a couple missions of the campaign so that when he goes home he can leave from where he left off without saving and doesn’t have to bring a flash drive.


Competitive Arena for Everyone

Another feature is improved automated matchmaking. Blizzard hired a PHD statistician to come in and develop a system even better than TrueSkill, though Blizzard is not going to go out and create fancy labels and trademarks for this system. The goal is to offer play options for everyone to enjoy; battle.net needs to make sure it's easy for people to find their friends in organized games.

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Ladder play doesn’t have to be for hardcore gamers. Many people all have experience playing competitively in their daily lives i.e. basketball league at gym with six other teams. Everyone can compete in a fun, structured, organized way, instead of playing against Michael Jordan. People can have a fun experience without being the best. This concept will be key to battle.net.

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Leagues & Divisions

When a player is on battle.net for a certain amount of time, he can get put into these leagues: Practice league, Copper league, Bronze league, Silver league, Gold league, Platinum league and Pro league.

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For example , someone can be known as bronze player, etc. He’ll be in a division with 100 other players of his skill level. Battle.net will make sure that he can actually win against each person in his division and that it’s realistic. So everyone has a chance to win in his division. At the end, he can go to end of season tournaments and prove who’s going to win the league.

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Here are the casual play options: practice league, co-op skirmish, random teams, challenges, custom games. In the practice league game speed is slowed down, there are anti-rush maps and an all-around friendly experience so players don’t have to get 4-pooled rushed on their first game.

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Party System

This is something that’s been around most notably in WoW. Blizzard didn’t feel any reason why they couldn’t bring it over to StarCraft II. Players can invite someone to a party and see party members, etc. Whoever the party leader is can select which game the players go into. All the players automatically go into a game together and when it's over return to the service together. They can play as a persistent party as many games as they want until the party breaks up.

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Custom Games

In WarCraft III, the custom games list was kind of this mish-mash; there would only be DOTA games in the game list. If someone wanted to play something else they couldn’t play it. All different games will be consolidated into one line. There is a “filter by genre” so players can subdivide and filter even more. For example, the player can select co-op skirmish, and DOTA will go away.

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One of the things that’s very cool is a player can have the game lobby be private, invite his friends, configure the teams how he wants and hit the “open to public” button, which broadcasts the game to the game list. So he doesn’t have to go through the whole trying to sneak your friends in and coordinate when they will join ordeal.

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The battle.net account system helps to ensure fair games. Smurfing, which is basically expert players creating new accounts to stomp new players, is over. Players can only use one Battle.net account to play StarCraft II.

Connecting The Blizzard Community

Blizzard wondered "why not celebrate all of our games and bring them under one roof?" The idea here is that if someone is a StarCraft II player but also has WoW accounts, he will still be able to be informed about what’s going on in WoW. In battle.net players will be informed about all the games they are involved in.

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There are no more chat rooms. Battle.net has switched chat over to instant messenger style chat. It’s easier to organize and chat with one person or multiple people.

People often play with real-life friends. The other thing we’ve noticed is, especially with World of WarCraft growth, real-life friends are created from in-game friendships. When new games comes out, someone might want to play with his group of friends. It’s hard for WoW players, even if they’re in same guild, to coordinate this.

Realms keep friends apart and they’ve got the concept of trying to keep track of character names, etc. Blizzard looked at xbox live for inspiration. Their employees added each other to their friends list. But once all their friends started popping online they couldn’t remember who each person was. Then they looked at myspace: the only challenge they had was to find new friends. They could name themselves something goofy or use their real name. Even if someone used the search function he still might not find all of them. In google talk, once someone has been added an alias can just be assigned to each person.

So Blizzard has decided to introduce the concept of battle.net RealID. In real life people know each other by real names, so the goal is to introduce this to the service itself. It doesn’t matter what game or realm friends are on in battle.net, they will be able to communicate with each other all the time.

RealID

Once the user has battle.net RealID, he doesn’t have the pressure of staying on the same character because once he’s accomplished an achievement it doesn't go away. People can communicate with friends across entire realms/regions and Blizzard games.

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Someone might play StarCraft II for 6 months and play other Blizzard games. What’s going to happen is he's going to know which of his friends are playing Diablo III  and he will have a friends network right at beginning of the game. He doesn't have to start his friends list from scratch. With RealID users can have additional functionality in addition to friends. They can be in StarCraft II but also be talking about something in WoW.

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There is also the concept of a broadcast. The way it works is if someone is playing WoW, WarCraft III, or StarCraft II, they can tell their real-life friends what they might want to play later. Real-life friends in battle.net are mutual; Blizzard is taking a page out of the social networking sites' book. They will also be making these changes in WoW to reflect real-life friends.

Privacy options and parental controls will be there - it's something they are totally adding to the service. There are lots of knobs and dials. There are many levels of friendship i.e. acquaintances or parents. The goal is for users to choose what information they want to share with friends.

Custom Map Community

This is something Blizzard hasn't always talked about. Two years after WarCraft III was out, the popularity of games actually shifted to playing custom games. 99% of people played Reign of Chaos when it was released. The modding community eventually shifted this towards custom games.

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The StarCraft II editor will be much more powerful than WarCraft III’s. These editors are the tools Blizzard uses to build the campaign - the entire game as well as past games can be recreated. Everything Blizzard can do, a modder should be able to do, plus there is more functionality even Blizzard doesn’t need, such as items.

Map Publishing

There is the new concept of map publishing. Once someone actually makes a map he can publish it up to the service. He can make it so that everyone can get a hold of it. A user can download maps without joining a game. When a user pulls up a list of maps, he can browse all the maps on the service. He can see all maps on battle.net – everything that’s been published. [Editor's note: this means that maps will no longer be hosted on websites, but on battle.net]

The big things to discuss in the future i.e. not at the launch of StarCraft II are the following:

StarCraft II Marketplace

In the marketplace players can see all the different maps and it is easy to browse. There is the concept of ratings, and people can comment on maps. Users will be able to browse, search for maps and they’ll be rated and sorted by stars or popularity. There will be free and premium maps. A portion of the revenue will go to the map creator.

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This is all aimed at making this awesome, awesome, map community. What happens when people have a budget? To find out simply take a look at all the sorts of things people can create i.e. Counterstrike and Day of Defeat. Imagine if a company could hire a small development team and create a game using StarCraft II as their engine. This creates a much larger selection of content for players.

Blizzard wants to see what new genres people can come up with. Tower defense came from WarCraft III; now it’s in other games.

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Defense of the Ancients and other maps will be a free map, because in StarCraft II they are not an original concept. Blizzard totally intends for there to be lots of free content i.e. the iPhone apps store. But there will be a layer of super-professional content on top of that. Blizzard can look at maps that rise to the top and can create automated matchmaking or achievements for these maps.

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All this adds greatly to the longevity of the game. Get prepared to start making awesome maps! Blizzard wants modders to have a head-start – it takes a long time to make an awesome game.

Q&A:

Q: Any plans for add-ons for forums, fansites, social networks?

A: Yes we have some aggressive plans for this area after the game launch.

Q: For achievements, what about offline play – for people who can’t connect for two weeks? Does that get factored into battle.net?

No. If we allow people to bring offline games into achievements, it allows people to hack the system.

Q: Will you be discouraging cheating by banning IDs? Will it affect other games?

A: In WarCraft III we could ban your account, but accounts were free. Now we can do any of these things. The question is what the person did.


Q: With battle.net, should we expect significant reduction in latency?


A: We are looking at various solutions to decrease latency especially for other countries.

Q: Are you guys doing anything to make people liable for leaving games?

A: It’s really hard for us to enforce something like a custom map like that from a Blizzard point of view. Our solution in WarCraft III was that we had a concept of shared control. If your partner drops you can control all his units. We’re looking for solutions but there are things that will be tough to enforce. People might have a legitimate reason to leave, so it’s really hard for us to be the bad guys to enforce this.

Q: Do you have any plans for realtime spectators & pro-league replays?

A: Yes, we’ll have realtime spectators for ship & pro-league replays on ship.

Q: Matchmaking system – how does that mix in 2v2 if your friend is different rank?


A: We track your ranking as a team.

Q: Will we be experiencing new battle.net changes for legacy games?

A: No, not for now.


Q: You guys have plans for allowing people to incorporate their own models, etc?

A: Definitely. But I’m not sure of the extent of that.


starcraft 2

This is a StarCraft: Legacy (http://sclegacy.com/) BlizzCon 2009 event article.

starcraft legacy

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