Rarely, in a world constantly consumed by change, does something merely "good" manage to transcend the life expectancy of its parts and become something great. The existence of three perfectly balanced races, an accessible, yet difficult to master, gameplay experience, a strong hardcore community, a thriving e-sports presence, and a host of other factors have led to the creation of a legend among video games. StarCraft is considered by many to be the pinnacle of RTS gaming perfection. By other, less hardcore fans, who played it if even for a short while, it is remembered fondly; yet everyone agrees that its success and vitality was an unintended fluke. Somehow, over the course of a decade, an abundantly flawed game found the correct mix of elements (not all of which were Blizzard's creations) and evolved into a masterpiece. Now, twelve years after StarCraft's intial release, its sequel is about to be unleashed. There are immense expectations. Most popular games have a hardcore fan base, and StarCraft fans take this dedication to a whole new level. Even before the announcement of StarCraft II, StarCraft fans devoted huge portions of their lives to this game. Understandably, we have a stake in the depth, development, and quality of the sequel. However, StarCraft II will be released under a radically different set of circumstances than its predecessor.
In 1998, StarCraft was expected to be a respectable game thanks to Blizzard's previous track record. There was a decent amount of buzz, and even a few fan communities were established pre-release. But now StarCraft has a rabid fan following. Half of us have one foot in the nostalgia and glory of Brood War and the other in embracing the potential of the long sought-after sequel.
A large majority of people are satisfied with StarCraft II's gameplay; it's enjoyable and provides an excellent spectator experience. We understand that it will likely take years for the game to be completely balanced and for the metagame to settle down. That isn't an issue, for we know that Blizzard has a long history of supporting their games reliably long after release. We have every confidence that eventually the gameplay of StarCraft II will be equal to or surpass that of the original. What the community takes issue with is the overall experience: Battle.net 2.0. And herein lies the crux of the success or failure of StarCraft II as a community driven experience and viable e-sport.
Blizzard has explained that their vision for Battle.net 2.0 centers around an "Always Connected Experience": that is to say that Battle.net is an integral and inseparable part of the entire product. While Brood War's global success as an e-sport was a fortunate accident, StarCraft II is being designed from the ground-up to be an e-sports superstar. With that ambitious of a goal, Blizzard has their proverbial hands full. As the beta and subsequent community dissatisfaction have demonstrated, that goal is still unrealized, and Blizzard's greatest failure may be their unwillingness to communicate with the community that has a wealth of experience and knowledge. While we cannot boast to have produced some of the most successful games of all time, we have been more plugged into StarCraft's uncanny rise than the creators. While Blizzard went on to create other blockbuster games in other worlds, we have continued to live and breathe StarCraft. For our commitment we claim some small measure of understanding. We as a community have grown and evolved along with StarCraft. While we would likely all agree, and rightly so, that Blizzard is the creator, we are the consumers. Our voice needs to be heard. Some will say that our hardcore communities will be a relative minority come release. While this may be true, our experiences granted by our tenure can still provide valuable insight; the thousands of us that have been fans for more than a decade have stayed for a reason.
From Diablo to WarCraft III, Battle.net 1.0 evolved over time
The feedback that we can provide in a logical and constructive manner may not fit with Blizzard's vision or plan (that's fine), but it at least needs to be heard and addressed. The uncomfortable communication between the development team and the community can be explained as a groupthink-like phenomenon. Groupthink is thought within a cohesive, isolated group whose members try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. Blizzard Entertainment's communication of concepts is rooted firmly in marketing. Consequently, self-censorship of ideas that detract from the group's decisions occurs publicly. The issue regarding feedback is that the community views Blizzard through this narrow lens; as a result, both Blizzard and the community appear to suffer from this illogical thought process. The Battle.net development team appears to be isolated while the community is heavily restricted in its ability to provide feedback. To some degree it is inevitable, for both are relatively small groups with exclusive interests.
Within the community, the restricted discussion is most readily apparent across the various fan sites and community boards. We've all observed the flavor of the week posts, where Poster A finds an imbalanced, missing, or incomplete feature and the entire community works itself up into a frenzy; Posters B through Z agree, or "/sign", and we all sit around congratulating ourselves on our amazing deductive abilities while subsequently faulting Blizzard for their lack of intelligence. Rarely, does anything constructive result from this process and all too often does it repeat itself. While nuggets of important information can likely be found in these posts, the manner in which they are created and the cycle they perpetuate does not help the community and does not help the development of StarCraft II. As a community, we need to be more respectful of Blizzard and each other. We need to demand more from each other. We have the knowledge and the ability to be helpful toward impacting the success of our beloved game positively. But this outcome entails focusing on explanations and solutions. Feedback on many of the issues important to us needs to be more than pointing out the flaws. Being able to convey our thoughts maturely and constructively demonstrates to Blizzard that, aside for our extensive experience, there are other reasons why we deserve to be taken seriously. Remember, our demographic isn't the only target-audience. For the vast majority of us, a sale is already assured. There's a sense of misplaced entitlement in the community. While we have a vested interest in the game and experience, we aren't "owed" anything. We have to do our best to stay relevant for the journey; it is the only way to positively affect real change. While the community's issue stems from our limited experience with an unfinished product coupled with our desire to be both relevant and have a game worthy of our treasured history, Blizzard's issue with groupthink is slightly different and bit more complicated.
Blizzard's problem is twofold. Firstly, they have tasked themselves with following up a universally adored game and reinventing the entire online gaming experience in the process. This has led to expectations that cannot be met. Without adequate communication to the fan base, the result is disappointment in various shades. To be fair, during the development of StarCraft II Blizzard has been the most open and transparent that they have ever been regarding one of their games. We have been granted Q&A Batches, Battle Reports, and fan site press events. These were incredible, and they helped energize the base. However, Battle.net - the platform upon which the entire system had to run - was kept secret. Obviously, there are many reasons why Blizzard chose to do this. The issue is that Blizzard has promised to revolutionize every aspect of the online RTS experience and failed to account for their limited experiences in many of the areas required for a polished online experience. Their product remains unfinished and flawed. Without engaging the community, with all of our various talents and experiences, in an open dialogue they relied exclusively on their in-house tunnel vision. This isn't to say that there isn't great debate and discussion in-house regarding the various aspects of the game or the service, but rather that there is no outside dissent. This is readily apparent when you read or watch any of the various interviews with the game designers, producers, or officers. They seem woefully out of touch with what the community is really interested in. The exclusion of chat channels is just one example.
The expectations were set high with StarCraft
Time and time again we see a developer or a producer ask us if the feature is something we really want. Either our thunderous outcry is being communicated inadequately or the decision-makers inside Blizzard are too insulated. Blizzard's isolated stance in conjunction with the tightly controlled message exemplifies groupthink, and this brings us to the second issue regarding the phenomenon: Blizzard is perhaps a victim of its own success. In many regards, they looked on a very high-level at what they have produced in the past and used that as their basis to move forward. To some extent they must feel that they know what is best, and it is evident from some of the interviews that they are in fact "telling" us what we want. A certain amount of "we know what you want" is noticeable. Realistically, while Blizzard has its own vision and desires for Battle.net 2.0 they can't possibly tell what we want. Now, granted that they aren't catering Battle.net just to us, but our concerns should probably still be addressed. It's just good business.
When people have spent years of their lives working on something very specific, tunnel vision is inevitable. Sometimes that works; look at many of the other products Blizzard has created without outside consultation. However, for many of the things that Blizzard and the community want to accomplish with StarCraft II, an open dialogue is important. This is where Blizzard has missed the proverbial bus. Despite the fact that our feedback could be communicated more effectively, they haven't yet figured out how to best receive and evaluate it.
Traditionally, Blizzard Entertainment has developed games quietly. They were characterized as a disengaged, aloof developer, yet they planned, implemented, and supported games reliably. Marketing and public relations has always been a component of Blizzard, but fan sites have largely been excluded from this. Up until the creation of Blizzard's RTS Community Team in the summer of 2007, community sites were largely ignored by the Public Relations department. In the decade preceding the announcement of the sequel, with the exception of the Sandlot Tournament, we were a dismissed demographic. The PR team judged us to be a superfluous extension of their success. We were never engaged despite our best efforts while general gaming publications and traditional news outlets were granted access to which we had traditionally been shut out of. It is only in recent years that we've been recognized as an important part of the overall target market.
StarCraft II introduces the next stage: Battle.net 2.0
The interaction between Blizzard and the online community is improving. We now have the fan site summit, and we are invited to press events. Going forward, more communication and interaction can only help bridge the divide. The community's presence, quality, and professionalism is growing exponentially, and our focus on specific subject matter allows us to be outside experts. Each day, more and more people find our sites and our power to affect the community will only continue to grow. As Blizzard realizes that a StarCraft fan's perception about the game is impacted more by what community partners write than the articles found on a traditional generalized gaming website, hopefully the communication dynamic will realign to be more productive.
With all of that being said, this article is intended to help inform both Blizzard and the community regarding Battle.net 2.0. The criticisms enumerated below need to be aired constructively; however, we have not simply pointed out perceived problems. We have also included our humble suggestions as to how to mitigate the issues presented. While we understand that there are those within the community and within Blizzard that will disagree with our take, hopefully this editorial will help to construct a better understanding between Blizzard and the community. Twelve years has been a long time for everyone, and we should all start communicating now to make the next twelve even better.
A History of the Online Identity and Real Identity Model So Far
Battle.net has been introduced as the "always connected experience." It has been described as allowing a Blizzard gamer to interact easily with other Blizzard gamers and play good Blizzard games. One of the largest fundamental problems in implementing this experience is the mentality of how identities exist in the online service. To establish the context, we must define identity. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the most relevant definition of identity is "the distinguishing character or personality of an individual." This section explores the information and iterations of our online Battle.net 2.0 "identities" to analyze what is distinguishing about them.
Originally, before the beta was released, Blizzard provided information regarding the naming convention. When Blizzard's Italian forums were opened, they provided the information that the naming convention would be Name.Identifier. The name component would be a public viewed name that is not unique. However, they never went into detail about the identifier. Italian Community Manager Zhydaris was willing to provide a direct QA session with the community. The second post regarded the naming convention which was later revealed with beta:1
Question: When will you reply to those who opted in through Battle.net? (Or have they already been sent?) What can you actually test in the beta? When looking at graphics and features, is beta be in a form that's "release ready" or a specific partial version that was created for the beta? When you can create a Battle.net 2.0 beta account? Will I create the real name ID? How will we register the account? Will those who registered in beta have their information retained in later phases? How does highly common "read-id" names work such as "John". In beta, can I immediately use it to get in touch with my old WoW friends?
Zhydaris: The invitations will start probably a couple of days before the actual launch of the Beta. The beta is multiplayer only, with some features of Battle.Net 2.0 already in the client (friends list, party system, etc..). Nothing campaign. The game version will be updated very often and will often be subject to change, but this does not mean that the graphics will not be complete or whatever.
The exception will be made localized versions, which may have missing sounds (to reduce the size of the client) or placeholder for some translations. Nothing to worry about anyway.
The cross-game functionality will not be present. No chatting with friends on WoW for now :)
Upon first login will be asked to enter a new nickname in the form Nickname.nick (Zhydaris.Blizz, MarioZerg.Clan, etc..). Currently the first part of the nickname is not "unique", so more people can choose MarioZerg, but only one person has the combination MarioZerg.Clan.
The Battle.net forums have been instrumental to Blizzard for engaging the community
He then went into further detail in a later post as someone was curious how this naming convention would work with upcoming Clan naming. The reply was as follows:1
Question: Regarding clan names, are you limiting the format of how we write our names? Typical formats are nomeclan.nick (For example, I am SoL.ChoBo) or [nomeclan] nick (would be [SoL] Chobe) and so on ... It looks like Blizzard has decided to make this format is required (at least in Beta) in the format Nick.Clan (I would be ChoBo.SoL). It is not clear what one should do if they are not part of a clan, I think they should be able to write what they please. If this is true, it could cause problems as anyone can reserve a clan name without approval for being in that clan. I'm just speculating but can you clarify?
Zhydaris: No no, it has nothing to do with clan name, which will appear in another way:) It is simply two levels of recognition. The first is the generic nickname, which can be a duplicate. The second is an additional identifier.
Let me give an example: You choose ChObO.qualcosa. Guy chooses ChObO.qualcosaltro. The name will be displayed normally Chobo in both cases (loading screens of games, chat games, etc..), The second nickname comes into play only on statistics, chat outside the game, etc.etc. Another totally random example:"Do you know Mario?" "I know several" "Mario, who live on Mar Sara" "Ahhh FAR Mario, yes, I know!"
Zhydaris noted that the first part of the nickname is not unique, and it lead to the assumption that the second part would be unique. This lead to a lot of speculation in the community about exactly how naming would work. Granted, this shows that Battle.net was a work in progress and we shouldn't hold them to it, but it turns out that subsequently the second part was not unique. This was proven proven by community observation, and it was later confirmed by Dustin Browder during Beta:2
Question: First question is, right now, on Battle.net you can look up someone's match history. So if you're playing in a tournament, then can someone just look up the build orders that you've been using as opposed to getting a hold of replays? Second question is, if people name themselves, Boxer.1, Boxer.2, they all look the same in the game. Could you verify the purpose of identifiers?
Chris Sigaty: I think the "finding a friend", as far as what the intention is at launch as far as getting match history, yes you can get in the system and find somebody there. We are embracing that people can learn about what you do and that sort of thing. That's what every sport is about; you go watch a tape about every football team out there, and they just watch over and over about how the quarterback works and the defensive line tries to study that over and over so they can counter him the right way. Same thing: tennis, soccer, all the way across the board. We look at it the same way. We aren't trying to hide that. We don't necessarily make it easy, but some of our plans for the tournament patch are we're going to make it easy to find who the best of the best are. We don't have all the details to reveal right now, but ultimately there will be a sort a of professional level that you can get the best of the best that are going to be out there. People can watch it. The same way they ultimately can anyway, because they play these games and they watch what build orders they're doing. Ultimately if a player wants to practice and not reveal that stuff, then they would need to get a different account or something and play not as Slayer.Boxer or whatever. Ultimately, they show their hands often anyway as they play in the tournaments. The second part of the question was around the identifier. The identifier is definitely an area that we're exploring. We're still even talking about changing it further and look for further updates in the patches. We still haven't landed on a final answer to that one.
Dustin Browder: The basic goal behind it was to let you have any name you wanted to have instead of trying to guess what names were not yet taken. If we're talking about a service that's going to grow over many, many years, that's going to include Diablo, that's going to include a host of other places, we need to have some way so that if you want to be DarthVader you can be DarthVader.
Chris Sigaty: I want to be DarthVader.
Dustin Browder: Okay, you can be DarthVader. But there has to be some way to distinguish you. But our solution right now has not quite been working out for us in a number of ways.
Question: I've actually ran into a person with the same name as me, it was very confusing when we were talking to each other. Just to clarify, it's common first then unique second, correct?
Dustin Browder: Well, it's a combination of the two together in your name. It's a little confusing.
Blizzard's intention is to allow gamers to select any name they choose. However, there is no way to distinguish your online identity. Currently, the only ways we can connect to others is by either creating a non-unique name, that anyone can copy and imitate, which clearly doesn't differentiate yourself, or by revealing information about your real identity. Blizzard could have been looking at it as first and last names such as John.Doe. There can be many people who are John and other unrelated people who have the last name as Doe, but at the end of the day the only way to identify a person is a combination of the two names. However, the introduction of the Name.identifier is misleading and unfamiliar. With only these two options, our options are restricted resulting in a disconnect between our personal friends and those who we only know in the online realm. In the connected community, anonymity is reduced. While this is healthy in the development of the online community, Battle.net currently misses the mark in allowing casual interaction between users.
Blizzard realized the disconnect, and they attempted to solve the problem by removing the second portion of the naming system completely. This means that the only way to make yourself unique is to give away part of your real identity to online friends. The current system goes against the mentality of being able to play easily with other gamers. For example, if a community member wants to get ahold of another community member to just play games. The only way to do so is to reveal part of your real identity to a person who knows nothing about your real life; sometimes a gaming friend is just another person in the game you enjoy playing with. This new methodology inadequately provides a distinguishing feature for your online identity. In addition, there is a large concern across the community, which is shared here by large portions of StarCraft: Legacy, that there is too much exposure required to share your real identity.
How is Real.id useful if you remove features from it? Obtaining a feature should neither compromise your privacy nor your convenience. Currently, there are significant concerns regarding Real.id. People we play games with, whether we "know" them or not, are frequently strangers to us. We should have the control to provide our own identities. The list of game-related conveniences that Real.id offers could be easily replaced with an Account.id system. Real.id should be an extension of player interaction, and it should provide conveniences throughout the process of integrating gaming into social media.
There are solutions that allow both identities to exist. These solutions must consider the needs of the user as well as the acceptable standards of the gaming and web development industries. We have to examine a solution that works for both StarCraft II and other associated games as well. We present a suggestion based on a basic string that will look very familiar:
While this looks much like Name.Identifier, there are significant differences. Firstly, your account name will be directly associated with your Battle.net identification when it is created. Before you create a character within a game, you have both your online identity and real identity at your disposal. When you join the online StarCraft II community, you will create your first character for the game, associating it to the account previously created. Essentially, you are creating an alias for your personal identity. The key difference here is that the second identifier is unique.
Example: You can play against "ManofSteel.Superman", "Superman.Superman", "CasualReporter.Superman" and "ILoveLois.Superman". You can also play against "ManofSteel.Ironman" and "CasualReporter.Spiderman". The real.id of "Superman" is
, the real.id of "Ironman" is
and the real.id of "Spiderman" is
. The online identity of the gamer and the real identity of the gamer is connected while their characters are still able to be duplicated.
The account names would have to be unique and would possibly include numbers to maintain their unique nature. The community would presumably have less concerns about putting numbers at the end of their account names than giving out private information to strangers who they only play games with. Leave it up to the gamer if they want to reveal personal information and don't influence the outcome by adding features at the expense of privacy. Allow those features to be assessable no matter which option a player chooses. This system is similar to current master-logins available through industry-standard products such as Steam and World of Warcraft. Account.id provides privacy to players while allowing them to distinguish themselves clearly. Character, previously referred to as "name", is renamed to illustrate how Account.id functions like other games, so it is a logical transition for the gamer. This will mean that you could create characters in StarCraft II, and each character can be invited to a party and will be viewed as your common name. Most importantly, this solution does not release your personal email or real name. The system identifies you, and it's up to you if you want to use your game specific id or share your real identity.
Implementing This Solution For Other Games
To see how the preceding solution could function for other games, we have to expand the identification system. Including the internal, server-related tags, the identifier for a single character could resemble the following:
Account: This is your account name, or online identity. There is only one identifier for each Battle.net account.
Game: The game which the character resides on. ie: SC2, WoW, D3
Region: The region which the character resides on. ie: US, EU, RU
Server: Most relevant when regions are separated such as they are in World of Warcraft.
Character: The name of the character created to represent you. Depends on the game if the name is allowed to be unique it seems.
While it is easy to assume that Blizzard has something regarding all this information in place, we can use this basic example to illustrate how to add a friend in StarCraft II's interface with some of upcoming features implemented. The interface capable of this could be very simple as shown in the mock-up to the right. The interface is simple to understand, and it includes features that were previously concieved to be related to Real.id exclusively. You can add people from other games to your friends list, and this allows their privacy to be maintained. This mock-up assumes that cross-region chat will become available.
At BlizzCon 2009, Blizzard confirmed that cross-realm and cross-game communication was planned between Real.id identifiers on any game associated with a Battle.net account. As you can see in the mock-up to the right, we extend the third pillar, "Connecting the Blizzard Community" by allowing people to connect via chat to others in other games and other regions while maintaining their privacy. Furthermore, Blizzard could bridge data between databases across regions to communicate with each other. This is the company that was faced with replays that couldn't rewind but quoting Rob Pardo, "They said it couldn't be done but we found a way!" The community has provided many signals across the various forums to show that this is desirable. The image to the right may be something that may not come soon, but the community can yearn for it to become a reality. Blizzard merely has to recognize what the community actually wants.
When Will Chatrooms Arrive?
One of the more obvious changes between the original Battle.net and the current iteration is the removal of chat channels. Blizzard has stated that the decision to exclude them was a deliberate choice. According to Dustin Browder:3
In contrast to the campaign the new Battle.Net is probably a huge disappointment for a lot of the fans. That's on the one side because of the fact that features we know from the original Battle.Net won't be included and on the other side, we have to read news, that even the social networking website facebook will in some way be included. So what can you tell fans who say "Just give us chat channels now and leave it with the other stuff"?
Well, we're working on the chat channels but the reason they are delayed is that we have something, which we think is much better than what we had in the original games. In the original games the chat channels were used by some of our users but they were largely misused just for spam. It was kind of a mess that they weren't focused on only one particular topic. While we definitely feel the fans sort of enthusiasm to get them back, we don't want those chat channels back. We feel like those chat channels were not a huge success for us and we can do them much better. So we will be looking into chat channels down the road that are more focused on specific topics, that are better organized around different social structures. We could certainly just jam the old channels back in but we didn't feel like those were a huge success for us. But we really want this thing back, just much more interesting than before. So we're definitely working on it and we definitely hear the users' complains, but we think we can do better down the road.
I hear what you're saying but as you know there are already a lot of tournaments and other events run through the new Battle.Net and they all need some kind of place to meet without having to know the opponent's account first. So what about implementing just a kind of chat channel system now, maybe just for private channels and redo the other stuff later?
It's not gonna happen with the launch, it's just a production issue and we don't have the time to do it at this point. We disappointed our fans, that is a huge bummer, right, and that is never a goal we intentionally pursue, but it's not gonna happen for launch at this point. We simply got too much polish left to do on the rest of the game to also get that in. And we certainly hear that from some of the players but a lot of players are also enjoying Battle.Net quite a bit at this point. So, we surely hear the people's need for additional features that we don't have and we definitely keep working on those down the road. We've got what we've got for launch at this point and it doesn't include chat channels.
The functionality of chat channels will change, for Blizzard has decided that they want to make chat channels about something. However, the issue that the community has regarding chat channels is the timing of their implementation. While Blizzard has plans to introduce subject and group centric chat functions later, they failed to understand and appreciate how valuable they are to the community now. For many of us that grew up with StarCraft and other Blizzard titles, many of our online friendships are a product of chat rooms. Battle.net is a social experience, and it is one that should remain grounded in a strong community. Chat channels allowed for the out-of-game community to spill into the game. Friends we made on fan sites were able to interact while playing the very game those communities were based on. The chat rooms facilitated that exchange.
By stating that Battle.net was supposed to be an always connected experience, Blizzard has been implicitly promising that the service would deliver a community experience as well. Instead, Battle.net 2.0 feels like a sterile, lonely place. Many people in the community wonder why chat channels have been pushed to a post-release patch: how could Blizzard have completely missed such an integral part of not only the social experience, but the "always connected" one as well? Browder acknowledged the mistake, but Blizzard needs to understand why their inclusion is important to us. In addition to the reasons discussed above, chat channels play a critical role in the execution of tournaments.
It is extremely unwieldy for participants and administrators to add everyone as a friend in order to create a game and communicate on a basic level. When we read comments from Blizzard staffers that suggest that chat rooms only served as spam repositories, it feels like Blizzard is looking at data from only the last year and completely ignored or missed the purpose they facilitated almost a decade ago.
At the most recent press event Chris Sigaty and Dustin Browder finally discussed their eventual, tentative, plans for chat:2
Chris Sigaty: So there's a couple of things. One of the biggest features that I'd like to see get in as soon as possible that won't be in there for launch is Groups. Groups is a concept of creating an entity like a map-making community so they can chat with each other and hang out. I don't have a date on that yet. It's past the tournament patch but its definitely one of the earlier features we'd like to see. Whether it happens in the patch or it happens in Expansion One, I don't know yet. There's a huge list of stuff on the Battle.net side that we really want to have happen but we don't have dates on it. Beyond that you're talking about actual constructions different than a group-like clan, I don't even have dates on that stuff, for now. I don't think that's in right now for the tournament patch.
Dustin Browder: So Groups we're viewing sort of as a social experience like if you want to get together with your friends or if you want to talk about anything. It's just sort of a group of friends or a casual group, just like Chris said. If its a mod-making group wanting to get together and discuss these things. It could be a hardcore Zerg strategy group. Whatever kind of groups you want to create. For clans, we're thinking more of a competitive construct. Something you would get together and compete with people in other clans. You would probably not have all of your friends, especially if they sucked, in your clan, but you could have anybody in your group and that would be fine. But those are all down the road.
While this does shed some light on the future plans for chat in Battle.net 2.0, it also highlights the obvious disconnect between what Blizzard thinks the community wants and what is actually important to us. Further, chat channels, something the community feels very strongly about, have apparently been pushed back to a patch following the tournament patch. The community escalated the tone and frequency of our concerns, after reading an interview with Frank Pierce, Executive Vice President of Product Development:4
Another thing I thought you'd promised was chat rooms within Battle.net...
Nope. No plans for specific chat rooms at this time. You'll be able to open up chats direct with your friends, and when we add clans and groups there'll be chats for your clans and groups, but no specific plans for chat rooms right now. Do you really want chat rooms?
Loads of people within the community are wanting Looking For Group chat rooms, and that sort of thing.
Well, if we've done our job right in terms of the matchmaking service, then hopefully they won't feel like they'll need it for that service.
Talking Into The Void: The Concerns We Have
To identify potential solutions, the problems must first be identified. Blizzard's replacement in its current form of an Instant Messenger-style chat is clearly inadequate. It's bulky, ugly, and unconducive to having a conversation with many people at once. It will be important for the clan and group chat functionality to be able to fill the current void. Our suggestion is that Blizzard implement full-screen chat rooms similar to Battle.net 1.0, but these channels accessible via a button near the profile buttons. Furthermore, they should give private chat room moderators an accessible, effective set channel moderation tools. Users could register channels and have the automated process require detailed information, and this information could be used to create a searchable list of channels that players can join. By making these chat rooms an option rather than the Battle.net landing screen, people that are interested in this extension of the community can have it, tournament organizers can use them, and those that have absolutely no interest never need use them. And if, by chance or curiosity, an unknowning player wanders in, perhaps they will explore a gateway to a greater community experience.
Warcraft III Chatrooms
Chat is a huge priority for the players; if Blizzard is willing to listen to its community, it should become a priority for them too. If something sufficient is not added shortly after the retail release of StarCraft II, many players may not be able to forge a deeper connection to the community. By being able to engage other players in an easy to use setting, a player's interest and playtime may increase and the success of the game will ultimately be increased. In business terms, this is an extremely important value-added feature that will only increase the synergy between other important features and goals of Battle.net 2.0. However, this point must be understood with a grain of salt.
The community needs to relax. Blizzard has realized and admitted the error in judgment. Yes, it is unfortunate and slightly ridiculous that Blizzard fumbled on this issue and engaged the community ineffectively, but now it is necessary to move on and focus about getting the eventual implementation right. Our feedback and suggestions can provide a valuable resource to those having the design discussion.
LAN Exclusion and the Potentially Adverse Affects on the Growth of E-Sports
Early concerns about Battle.net 2.0 emphasized the removal of LAN gameplay from StarCraft II. A vocal minority of players in the community have expressed their frustration with Blizzard as a result. However, the exclusion of LAN gameplay from Blizzard's future games is understandable. Firstly, the removal of LAN allows StarCraft II to function entirely through an online account. This helps facilitate Blizzard's IP security and vision of a connected community. Secondly, it is one less feature to plan, implement, and maintain in the game's release. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that a significant minority of players will be unable to enjoy the game as they wish.
At least some of the uproar in the community over the removal of LAN was a result of fans who were misinformed or did not understand what the lack of LAN functionality actually meant. The fact of the matter is that the removal of LAN play does not affect the vast majority of gamers who will be playing StarCraft II. This was similar to the community's over-reaction to the campaigns being split between three expansions. One is unable to blame Blizzard for removing a small group of gamers in order to protect their intellectual property. However, the effects this removal will have on the growth of e-sports could be very detrimental.
Where the damage of the removal of LAN play may come into effect is in the e-sports scene. Blizzard has emphasized repeatedly their commitment to the growth of e-sports wordwide, and there have already been examples of how the lack of LAN play can stunt the growth everyone wants to see so much. Recently, Stars Wars, a major tournament in China complete with a live audience and stage, was ruined because of the massive latency on Battle.net. Understandably, the game is in beta, but this is a concerning prospect for the future. No one can guarantee a 100% dependable, lag-free service 100% of the time. To expect as such would be preposterous. Alternatively, LAN play is 99.9% dependable in a tournament setting to ensure the tournament goes smoothly. To facilitate this solution effectively, an alternate version of StarCraft II could be released.
Perhaps a corporate license version of the game can be created by Blizzard, and it could be sold to organizers and companies running major tournaments. This version of the game could include the LAN functionality while disabling Battle.net functionality and features in all forms. The risk of software pirates getting ahold of this corporate license version and duplicating it is valid. However, they would be prevented from interacting with the mainstream of users. There is very little a user can do with a LAN-only game. If a LAN-based option continues to be excluded, there may be adverse affects to the development of e-sports.
The Achilles heel with the direction of Battle.net 2.0 is Blizzard's responsibility to deliver dependable service for tournament play. If this is possible, then the removal of LAN can be justified. The results are currently looking grim, and they are leading to speculation that the competitive scene will suffer. Time will tell the effectiveness of Battle.net. Recently, players have been reporting very positive experiences with Battle.net 2.0 in LAN-like settings, using the "always connected" experience. Further optimization is planned for beta patches, release, and beyond.
The implementation of Battle.net 2.0 has resulted in significant changes for users. The absence of cross-region play is a primary example of this change. Before Battle.net 2.0, users could select gateways freely; consequently, cross-region play is considered a norm. However, Battle.net 2.0 requires players to play in the same geographic region from where their copy of StarCraft is purchased. Although it is possible to play on a different region by purchasing StarCraft II from that region, this method costs too much for players that want to play globally. This absence of cross-region play has been the subject of extensive criticisms from the fan base, and has even been voiced in interviews and forum threads:4
Q: There are many Europeans that have loads of American friends, and have a problem finding matches with Americans. I know you've already promised to bridge this divide...
A: [Bob Colayco: That's not the case.]
No, it'll be structured very similarly to World of Warcraft, where you've got the European region and players matched against the other players within their region.
[BC: We haven't promised anything like that. That's something we'll look into, but I just wanted to jump in and clarify that.]
Q: But you're not excluding the possibility – you're just saying there are no current plans for it?
A: There are no current plans for it, and if you're a European player and you've got friends that are in another region that you want to be able to connect with, we definitely want to support that. It might mean that you have to access it through the US client, but those facilities will definitely be available in terms of, if you want the US client, go to the US website, download the US client.
Q: So I can use my same account?
Q: So I need to buy two clients, that's what you're saying?
Q: But I can have two of them in my Battle.net account?
A: You'd have an EU Battle.net account, and a US Battle.net account.
Here's the last thing that was said on region locking by Chris Sigaty:5
Q: How far in the 'long term' are those plans which allow for swapping to U.S. servers on an E.U. account - or a global account?
A: Jumping to the region you want is definitely in the long term plan for Battle.net, although we do have some concerns about communicating properly to the player what's happening if they choose this because it WILL affect the latency of the game. As far as a date on when, I don't have one yet. There are a number of features that we want to make sure get out their first and jumping to different servers is lower on the priority list at the moment.
According to Blizzard, cross-region play will eventually be available for StarCraft II. Unfortunately, these plans for cross-region play are low-priority and uncertain. For players that are willing to pay the extra $60 to play in another region, this uncertainty is a major source of concern. Without a relative estimated time of arrival for this feature, there may be a situation where players spend money prior to the opening of cross-region gameplay. Furthermore, the thought of paying for multiple copies of the game to be able to access players around the world is ridiculous. It is counter to the themes of a connected community, and it is a severe concern considering the benefit of meeting international, online friends. In addition, players are playing for duplicate when they want to play through a different region. A possible solution to this issue is unlocking additional regions could become an account upgrade for a flat fee. However, the purpose of restricting cross-region play must be clarified by Blizzard to address the legitimate concerns about intention of such a feature.
Cross-Region Play: View-Points
The lack of cross-region play in StarCraft II addresses some issues that existed during Brood War: namely, the high latency caused by a player from another region, the numerous languages used on only one server, and the ease of using unauthorized non-Blizzard servers. High latency is prevented by restricting players to servers that are closest to them as well as making it easier for Blizzard to allocate resources to properly support the higher-populated regions. The problem of having multiple languages on one server is also reduced by restricting players to one region although it doesn’t work as well in regions such as Europe or Asia. The use of non-Blizzard servers is hindered because of the lack of a server selection menu.
These relatively small advantages, however, do not fit with Blizzard’s trademark policy of “gameplay first”. In terms of gameplay, it is much better for the international community to gather and compete collectively rather than remain divided and separate. With the division of regions, strategies and tactics are slow to spread resulting a dislocation in the playstyles of different areas; large differences in opinion and playstyle already exist between North America and Asia in just the beta build. For example, statistics have shown that the Zerg are slightly underpowered in North America but seem slightly overpowered in Asia. The stronger Zerg strategies have not yet fully transferred over from Asia to the rest of the world, which is mostly due to the lack of players attempting and countering builds from across regions. On the other hand, it could be that stable Terran and Protoss builds have not moved from North America to Asia. This division of the fanbase means that StarCraft II might feel balanced for some players, while unbalanced for others. In contrast, the original Battle.net, despite its flaws, allowed for better communication and a more cohesive community.
Another downside to the lack of cross-region play is the limited communities it forms. Each region is separated from other regions, restricting the gamer's social experience. Language barriers may stop players from communicating with each other, but this concern is redundant due to the fact that each region already has several different languages particularly in Europe and Asia. Having a global playing field would allow players to form global communities because language isn’t the most important factor in finding a 2v2 partner or just someone to play custom games with.
Dreamhack - the world's largest LAN event
As a combination of the two issues mentioned above, tournaments and, as an extension, e-sports will suffer without cross-region play. Blizzard has stated multiple times that this game was built for global e-sports, so it is ironic that Battle.net 2.0 segregates different regions to be unable to participate in, view, host, or manage a multi-continental competition. The current difficulties competing with foreign players will severely hinder the growth of e-sports and pro gamers, which will also result in disjointed skill levels across different regions. Theoretically, eventually, there will be one region that will be viewed as the most competitive, most talented, and most skilled that everyone will pay attention to; other regions’ professional players could be downplayed. This is not the kind of e-sports that will attract global viewers, and this is actually a step backwards from Brood War.
Without the option of cross-region play, the community already feels disconnected especially within fan sites that have users from around the globe. American players are unable to play with European players, and this creates a divide between members that continues to alienate people in different regions. For such an anticipated game, StarCraft II is excessively isolating players from collectively enjoying the experience.
Cross-Region Play – Suggested Fixes
Considering the benefits of cross-region play, there is little reason to exclude this feature. As such, there are some possible solutions to the current lack of cross-region play.
One suggestion is to restore the original Battle.net method of choosing a server. However, known problems resurface such as a Korean player joining an American game and causing lag. This may be a minor problem for the foreign player, but the player hosting the game would be frustrated that his or her game lags unexpectedly. Considering this, the old method is the simplest solution.
Another solution is to allow players to add friends from other regions. When the player invites the foreign player to a custom game, the foreign player would temporarily connect to the host’s regional server to allow both gamers to play together. This allows friends across continents to participate in the same game. However, it may cause additional lag, but unlike the first method, the lag is consensual; both players know and accept the consequences of any lag that may occur from playing each other, so they will not be agitated by unexpected latency issues. Nevertheless, this solution is less globally-minded as the first method. Players are unable test out newfound strategies against strangers in a different country, join an interesting custom game that was made in another region, and meet new friends through the multiplayer experience. The small progress that is made by this method is less aggravating, but it is more restrictive in the possible opponents in custom matches.
Finally, the first and second suggestions can be combined. Before players log into Battle.net, they could choose a "Regional" option or a "Global" option. The Regional option would be the current system that has no cross-regional play. The Global option would be a method for gamers to play with people around the world albeit with the possibility of high latency. With the Global option, players could have a menu where preferred regions may be selected. When being matched with an opponent, the player would be matched to an opponent that is living in one of these preferred regions; additionally, the opponent that he or she is matched against must also prefer the player’s region. For example, Player A from Canada sets his or her preferred regions to "North America" and "Asia" while Player B from Korea sets his or her preferred regions to "Asia", "Europe", and "North America". Player A and Player B could be matched with each other because they both prefer each other’s region. Because of issues with lag, there should be an in-game option to vote for a draw, so that the game can end without a recorded loss or win if everyone unanimously agree to a tie. For custom games, there could be an option to sort by region or latency, so that players can join any game they want with a general idea of the lag they will experience. Players that wish to host a custom game would only have their custom game displayed to players from their preferred regions. In this way, hosts and participants could both have a global experience while reducing most of the problems that the global multiplayer experience creates.
These suggested solutions are only a few basic ideas that seek to incorporate an international multiplayer experience into Battle.net 2.0, which is something many believe could ultimately be the service's Achilles heel. Although the third option is ideal in terms of informing players of probable lag, it is a starting point that may be improved and expanded to become something else entirely. A global community is essential for a game as anticipated and as geared towards e-sports as StarCraft II, so bringing the always connected experience into an always connected global experience will vastly improve the game's potential and longevity.
Compromise: E-sports and Casual Gaming
When viewing Battle.net 2.0 from the "Competitive Arena for Everyone" perspective, Blizzard has made great strides to bring the competitive experience to players who were left out previously. Simultaneously, they wanted to develop a rich feature-set for competitive and commercial e-sports. StarCraft II multiplayer is attempting to define e-sports, and the features of Battle.net 2.0 will be the limit of StarCraft II's e-sports evolution. The feeling of self-improvement and victory in competition is part of the human condition, and it is centered around the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
This brings us to the vision of Battle.net 2.0. Blizzard's vision of the platform is a competitive arena at every level where friends test casually while elite players can scrutinize every detail of their game at the same time, in the same environment, and at all times. Unfortunately, recent choices with the utilization of matchmaking, leagues, and divisions have indicated that the needs of the casual gamer are being met more fervently than the needs of the elite players.
Blizzard stated several times while expressing their vision for Battle.net 2.0 that they felt the original Battle.net experienced catered too heavily to the elite players while leaving the more casual players to be ignored by the system. This is a noble and just concern, and it is certainly not one to be ignored. However, it appears that overcompensation is happening with the current platform, and the hardcore elite are becoming the new Battle.net orphans.
In this regard, one of the largest concerns is the lack of a mechanism to compare your statistics with everyone else playing the game. Rankings on Battle.net 2.0 are organized up into ambiguous "divisions" that consist of pools of players ranked from one through one hundred. The player can compare statistics and rankings with other players in his or her division and his or her division only. The intention of this setup is to allow more casual players to feel more accomplished: the placebo effect of reaching #5 in your silver division, for example, is much more encouraging to a fledgling player than observing that his or her rank is 105,332. Again, this is a noble notion. It is great to make less skilled players feel like they are getting somewhere. Unfortunately, the adverse effect of this is system is that the more skilled players feel little momentum or progress. Is being rated number one in your Diamond division actually something to be proud of? The answer is unknown because the ladder is shrouded in obscurity. The system is actually discouraging to players trying to reach the top of the heap, for they have no measuring stick by which to compare and evaluate their progress.
As Blizzard clearly stated at BlizzCon 2009, this was an intentional design decision. The reason they've selected this method is to mitigate an existing disadvantage in Warcraft III: "The matchmaking system favored the elite". This was specifically targeted for resolution in the five points in the BlizzCon. When you look at it from the perspective of the hundreds of thousands of non-elite players, it was indeed a disadvantage. However, when looking at it from the view-point of the elite players, it wasn't an advantage, it was a necessity for the competition to thrive. Now that there are divisions and the implementation of a smart match-making system, the coin has flipped. The casual players are no longer left out. The problem is now the coin has been flipped; the concerns of and features desired by the elite players have been relegated as collateral damage. Our suggestion to address this inequity is to allow for a regional rank. The technology must already exist to equalize the player's score over a single base-line because of the way players are moved between divisions. One suggestion to address this issue would be to limit the league in which a global rank would be displayed to Diamond or have there only be a single Diamond division. An alternative, would be to have the global rank hidden on profiles, unless individually enabled by each player in their user options. This customizable part of the interface would be the product of the player's choice. Those that have an interest in tracking and displaying their universal rank would have the option to, and those that don't, never need to address it. In the end, it's about providing more options for different types of players rather than treating all players the same.
To Blizzard's credit, Patch 15 brought a universally applauded and necessary change to the ranking system: the Diamond League could no longer be accessed through placement matches alone. Players must instead fight for their promotion to the Diamond League, providing a more exclusive feel to the league and the skill required to join its divisions. This simple change has added a layer of prestige to the Diamond League by it restricting players who have the skill to rise above the skill level of platinum over time. Without this change, the achievement of reaching the pinnacle of skill within the leagues was diluted by the constant influx of players that could have happened into that league by a handful of lucky placement matches. E-sports needs to thrive by the ability to clearly identify those who have shown mastery of its skills and by removing the possibility of achieving the honor of the diamond rank by the luck of five mere games helps everyone know who to watch, follow and aspire to play like.
Adding more challenges, and thus layers and levels of achievement, will help foster the growth of e-sports.
Despite the fact that this article seeks to provide constructive criticism regarding certain design decisions, something that we must recognize Blizzard for is their excellent design and implementation of the match-making system. This is unquestionably one of the most intelligent systems in any game. Because of this, the leagues you exist in actually signify skill, a trait that not many other games can achieve. By attempting to place you with players of similar caliber it constantly tests your abilities and provides you the opportunity to become better. Even if the system erroneously places you into an incorrect league after the placement matches it will eventually place you where you belong. The system is self-correcting! This is clearly something that Blizzard has dedicated substantial resources to and it stands-out among the rest of Battle.net 2.0's features.
Group Replay Viewing
The experience of viewing a replay is an incomplete experience in the current iteration of Battle.net 2.0. Another often requested feature that the community would benefit from significantly is the ability to watch replays in a party. It would be excellent for a number of reasons. Successful e-sports engage the spectator, and an effective method of engaging spectators is allowing them to be in a group. While replays differ greatly from the arenas filled with throngs of screaming fans, they add a communal, casual element to StarCraft II. They also encourage the development of skill, as players can critique and help each other. Furthermore, the process of connecting and assisting players to improve is a fundamental tenet of Battle.net 2.0, so this feature is sorely missed.
The option to view replays as a group is something that would greatly benefit the StarCraft-commentating community. If multiple people can view the same replay it is much easier for commentators to create videos collaboratively. There is also the use of showing others a particular strategy with friends and having an in-game group discussion about it. The additional statistics and details could be optional. While we recognize that the casual player could be overwhelmed by a deluge of information, the implementation of this information should respect the user's desire to dig deeper or remain on the surface of gameplay.
On the topic of the actual replay browser, it would benefit greatly from basic functionality such as traversing replays through arrow keys. Right now, replays have to be clicked on individually and misclicks can load up an unwanted replay; this is especially a problem as the list grows. It's the same issue with custom games. However, this is something that Blizzard might already be working on.
Looking Into Battle.net's Interface
The Battle.net 2.0 interface design is sleek and effective. The community generally agrees that the design of Battle.net is aesthetically pleasing. The menu icons are easy to navigate, while the graphics, which provide visual interest, are placed unobtrusively. The gritty Terran atmosphere is fresh and retains the feel of the game with its blue and steel theme. To add emphasis, highlighted facets of the interface receive an orange color to draw the user's attention to important features, notifications, and updates. The interface feels familiar to the user interface found in Windows, such as window buttons in the top right corner and the clock in the bottom right corner.
Considering these comfortable, effective components, a major issue exists regarding the direction of Battle.net 2.0 since BlizzCon 2009: the user interface appears incomplete. There is a disconnect between functionality and aesthetics. While Battle.net 2.0 is in development, both the developers and the community appear to be unaware of what, exactly, it is capable of. Greg Canessa mentioned that there are great opportunities ahead for the Battle.net team.
Another significant concern about the interface regards the functionality of the layout design. Currently, Battle.net 2.0 is a beautiful, slightly ineffective shell. It must be optimized and expanded upon. The disconnect between functionality and aesthetics is a limitation of the Battle.net experience. Therefore, the poor design choices of the user interface development team are degrading the product. Blizzard is attempting to provide a premier professional online service. However, Blizzard's in-house stylization is inadequate considering the established standards of web and web service development. It must be recognized that the greater industry and community as a whole has relevant experience. We encourage Blizzard to note the norms before deciding to revolutionize them. There is a difference between complexity and sophistication, and the current Battle.net user interface resides in complexity.
The Untapped Potential of the Landing Page
Every patch that was released during the beta not only contained balance changes, but also changed the Battle.net landing page. It is as if the development team has some ideas that are being rotated in and being tested using trial and error. They have attempted many different looks with different pages such as the inclusion of a rotating news box and list of recent broadcasts, highlighting suggested achievements, a listing of informational and survey links, Battle.net statistics, and placing a large panel of Tychus's ruggedly handsome face for all to admire. There have been many iterations, but few concepts have remained throughout the various versions of the home page. The portion with the most utility is the button section in the upper left area that connects you to various external Battle.net features. These buttons are key to demonstrating how the home page can continue develop.
Google is a successful search engine that consists of two main pages. The original page is purely functional, which is essentially a header, a text box, and a selection of plain text buttons. It's simplicity provides exactly what casual/single-use users want. However, Google recognized that useful pages for a richer experience can be achieved by providing the ability to customize. Google developed that understanding to create the iGoogle page, which allows users to select and organize widgets according to their personal preference. The complete customization granted by this flexible functionality allows each user to personalize the entire experience. Similarly, companies such as Valve are continuing to evolve their own services. Valve is currently in the process of adding blog sections to the main-pages of each of their major game's pages. To facilitate this blog development, they include a weekly blog entry that includes a poll to engage the community directly. Valve recognizes that the most valuable method to communicate with gamers is through the game itself.
The original BlizzCon 2009 mock-up image Blizzard presented us. Imagine if these were modules you could add/remove
This is the BlizzCon 2009 Battle.net home page. This interface could have been the origin of an entire widget based home; the widgets that appear here could be the start of a completely user driven page. The limited amount of information is provided in a useful way. The current home page needs the combination of limited, relevant information and customization options.
It would be interesting to provide cross-account widgets for the user to select from. For example, widgets could include achievement trackers, Blizzard and community partner newsfeeds, game-related news, recent broadcasts, blue post trackers, polls, and developer blogs. A user-driven approach provides many opportunities for the community to connect and for the player to interact with Blizzard. For Blizzard, it means that their landing page will really serve as the landing page, which is the hub of the entire experience, rather than just a transient nuisance. Those who wish to get the most out of the choices can and will while those that don't won't need to. In this way, everyone derives the greatest benefit according to their desire.
The Inconvenience of the Improved Custom Game Interface
While there have been many improvements and goals attained in the new map publishing content, there are many small concerns regarding it. This section addresses the concerns regarding the interface itself. They include the inability to name and manage your custom games, limitations of finding games, and the inefficient lobby.
Pros and Cons of the previous Warcraft III Custom Game Interface (Battle.net 1.0)
|Names allowed people to setup specific criteria to join the game
High Level of customization
Allowed Password protection to enable people from not joining who weren't intended
Enabled easy "game remakes" to build comradery and strategies between multiple games
Game lobby very easy to see, all players fit
Bot functionality: allowed for auto-starting game when criteria was met
Bot functionality: allowed leaving of game before it reached one
Bot functionality: If someone left, the game would auto-stop the start sequence
Bot functionality: Stat-tracking
Multiple same-map games would be open, causing them to begin at a slower rate
Named List was difficult to look through and find what you want
Too many duplicate names
Difficulty to get friends in the same game sometimes
Pros and Cons of StarCraft II Custom Game Interface (Battle.net 2.0)
Games start quick as they fill only one to two games at a time.
You can join games together with your friends by the party section
Easy translation across regions overall
Good games can be identified with popularity
Map Publishing allows people to host maps, even if they don't have it downloaded
|Popularity is the ONLY way to look for a game, this can be misleading.
Popularity listing encourages use of "bot" programs to boost popularity.
Lack of consistency in categories create difficulty to search games
Lack of solid filter/search criteria difficulty to search
The games seem to lack consistency, not easy to replay with previous comrades
More difficult to make new friends compared to the old methods
No way to provide a private game, preventing friends you don't want to join to join
Not easy to find "newly created" or "fresh" games in testing
Can't leave when countdown starts
Game hosts are often clueless that they are game hosts, creating delays
Icons that refer to "Melee" skill take up unneccessary space on the "custom" games
Game Lobby requires you to scroll down, very inefficient use of space
No way to specify skill for opponents using a melee map
Very little customization in games at this time
The Dilemma of Custom Game Names
At BlizzCon 2009, they provided an example image of what "Type/Genre" (Now Mode/Category) could be like. Note how DotA gets duplicated because of multiple modes.
One of the major flaws in the custom game interface is the inability to name your games. Blizzard has stated that naming custom games is now unnecessary. Their desire has been to remove the large amount of seemingly random games that clogged the "join game" screen of the original Battle.net. We agree that listing games by categories and maps is far more organized than having users name their lobby themselves, which leaves the participants to interpret the games' title; also, popular maps will no longer block the available games list. However, the system stumbles when it comes to game transitions among groups of friends.
In the original Battle.net, groups of people could join games in two related ways: either the user talked to another player in a chat channel, or the player rejoined a custom lobby after the host remade it using an identical name. In Battle.net 2.0, players are unable to use either method since chat channels do not exist and games are no longer shown by names. Instead, map-specific lobbies sort players. The most effective way to remain as a group is to get people you already know to use the party system, but this limits informal organization of players.
The inability to name games also impacts custom melee games. Unless the map titles indicate any special quirks, such as "fast-money" or "no rush", players could enter into what is essentially not the game they were looking for. Another benefit of naming custom melee games in the original Battle.net was that users could specify the skill level of players they would like to face. For example, a beginning player could tag their game with "newbs only." Compare this to what has been going on in Battle.net 2.0 recently. There are practice league players creating and joining custom games alongside upper league players: mismatching is likely to occur. This applies to all players wanting to play unranked matches. One possible solution to this concern would be to institute an unrated matchmaking system for melee custom games. The inability to describe a game creates a lack of clarity, and this carries into the custom games list.
Lack of Clarity Extends to The Custom Games List
While the planned use of category and mode may assist in partially mitigating the void left by the absence of game names, there are just too many exceptions to something as simple as "mode" that would not be covered such as people easily rejoining games, defining skill levels, or adding a comment about the game. Names are so dynamic and add so much functionality that are unable to be replaced by defining two variables. Furthermore, the current filter mode is very simple and can provide much more functionality. It lacks the most basic of features such as a search field and search customization features.
This is the custom game lobby from BlizzCon 2009, and it represents the level of options that Battle.net 2.0 must strive for. The current search interface is simply too devoid of useful search options. Blizzard could look toward modern multiplayer games that have multiple modes that are organized separately. This organizational idea provides an opportunity to alleviate those duplicate lines while enabling game names. In the game listing you can enable a tree listing, which creates an icon to the left of the map. When this icon is clicked, it would expand the game name, showing first the individual modes you can play, the specific named games below that and finally a list of automatically generated games. By double-clicking the header you join a random game with any mode being available. Double-clicking a mode will join an existing game of that mode or generate a new one. Double-clicking on a named or auto-generated game will allow you to join that specific one.
Another option to consider is removing the ability for map developers to color the name of their games on the selection screen and instead use colors to provide visual clues to important notes. For example, include the ability to color a game name green if a person on your friends list, common group, or clan is in the lobby of a game. Something similar to this would quickly allow players to connect with their friends in custom games. Different colors could mean different things, and these visual filters could be customizable.
The current filter for custom games in Battle.net 2.0 includes some of the basic functionality we would expect, but it lacks the neccessary set of dynamic features to allow users to effectively browse the overwhelming amount of custom games that will be added over the next few years. To address these issues, map developers and players of custom games need the tools to identify and highlight the games that show potential. Ultimately, a mechanism within the Battle.net interface would be ideal to present player suggestions and recommendations.
There must be another method for gamers to identify and recommend maps other than popularity. This can be achieved by implementing a multi-faceted ranking system. Players can have an opportunity to provide feedback by ranking custom content from one to five stars after a match. It will not only allow the gamer to identify their satisfaction, but it will also allow a developer to get feedback from the community. Extreme levels of appreciation or disapproval can also alert Blizzard to potential problems or signal extra scrutiny. A good example is the recent "DotA Rick Roll" map, which became highly popular while simultaneously loathed due to the inability to exit the map. Constant low ratings could easily bring the issue to Blizzard's attention before anyone sends an email or posts a comment regarding it.
We can even increase the utility of the rating system by applying a basic color code to the stars. This allows a player to easily follow the progress of the games they enjoy or follow. For example, green stars could show the rating they left for a particular map. As we can expect maps to be updated over time, a map you've previously ranked that has been updated would show their rating greyed out. If the player hasn't yet ranked a map, the aggregate public rank would display instead, represented by the color blue, and any maps on a particular user's ignore list will display as red.
There are also issues with the current categories. They are are defined unclearly at this time, and they limit the potential sophistication they could otherwise bring. The strength of categories depends on their structure, allowing them to be used as a tool when searching for what you truly want. When the search structure becomes flexible, the public will have a have a plethora of perceptions on how it should be. This will create complications when trying to search as you will find likewise subjects approached in different ways. An example that existed in phase one of beta is the four different games that would fall into the category of Tower Defense: td, towerdefense, Red's TD and defense.
If the list were standardized with a set selection categories that developers could define, it would enable easy searching. A filter button could be added to the custom game selection list, allowing a window to open and customize the list to the user's specific desires. To allow expansion, the developer could take it to another level by use of an "other/uncategorized" section to define a new genre that fits the game and isn't on the list. Blizzard could use the volume of games uploaded in a given genre to monitor the demand and perhaps use the data to justify the creation of a new category for inclusion in a future a patch. This would allow the system to stay current and evolve as new custom games become popular over time.
Similarly, a filter mentality will couple well with the category functionality Blizzard showcased at BlizzCon. There is a great deal of functionality that can be realized by adding a filter button to the top of the list, which would open a window that allows the user to select the specific categories they wish to browse through. If Blizzard believes that this is too much information and choice to throw at a casual user, everything additional could be relegated to an "Advanced" button. All Filters should be highly customizable, and they should feature the web standard of a right-justified search bar. It is all about providing the user with the richest possible experience.
A Short Note About The Inefficiency of The Game Lobby
Currently, the game lobby does the bare minimum. The artistic style appears to have taken priority over the utility on the players list. Consequently, the use of space is inefficient. There are some factors that could improve its functionality. First, there is no reason that a game with three teams and six players should require you scroll down to see all of the players. This is largely due to the larger, yet difficult to use, team headers. If you look at previous iterations of Battle.net, the headers are clear and the ability to change teams requires a simple click. The system now requires the host to manage the player area, which may be difficult for new players, alt-tabbed players, or those unfamiliar with this modified interface. Even in the concept presented at BlizzCon, the teams are easy to define and take up no extra space in the lobby. It also presents a cleaner, less gradient cluttered color scheme in their chat room. We feel there is no reason why a solution that involves seeing twelve-plus people on a list at the same time could not be feasible.
In Warcraft III, third party bots evolved the custom game experience, and Blizzard has already imitated some of their functionality in the auto-creation of game lobbies to speed up game creation time. Some features that in-game bots created involved auto-starting when a set number of players were present, allowing a player to leave during the countdown, cancelling the countdown if a person left, and in-lobby stat tracking/inquiries. As it is now, in StarCraft II, there have been many times when a person joins a game and they suddenly find themselves locked into it because the host hits start as soon as the game is full before a player has a chance to realize they joined the wrong game or chose the wrong race. The experience turns sour when someone leaves the game the moment it starts. Unfortunately in this scenario and many scenarios like it, no one is at fault, and the situation begets the frustration that should be aimed at an interface lacking rudimentary features. These features could also allow auto-generated games to start upon a certain point defined by the developer or mode, but still instate hosts in specific game lobbies to ensure the terms they set are met.
Another improvement that the lobby requires is an extensive set of permission features for custom games. There is also a concern regarding friends being able to easily identify and join games, even ones they aren't invited to join. An easy solution to this problem is to have more options for the drop-down permissions menu where the "Open to Public" button currently resides. This drop-down menu could contain "Invitation only", "Open to Friends", and "Open to Public". Simple options such as these would reduce the need to use password protected games as players will have more ways to control the population invited.
The community has provided mixed reviews of the custom game interface as a result of small inconsistencies. While the level of polish is good, some minor components appear to be missing. The interface's ease of use is disrupted by an awkward level of functionality. Parts of the custom game interface have been modified, and they clash with the otherwise clean interface. For example, you must scroll through the player list in the lobby to view all twelve participants, or the fact your character is still identified by melee achievement portraits in custom games. These minor annoyances detract from the extended experience and should be relatively easy to address.
Other Thoughts on How to Improve the Melee Game Experience
We have a number of suggestions to improve the melee game experience.
The ability to reconnect to a game post-disconnect is a prized feature. The development and optimization of Battle.net is likely to cause instability, so any reconnection features will be important. The disconnecting player could have the option to rejoin the game upon reconnecting to Battle.net while the players in game could have the option to drop the player from the game permanently. However, there are few technological suggestions for Blizzard, for services such as Battle.net are exceptionally complex.
The option to declare a draw mutually could provide a bridge between technical difficulties and player satisfaction. The benefit of this function would be to allow players to admit that there is a stalemate, and agonizing waiting could be prevented to avoid a negative impact to rating. Likewise, a draw could be declared due to technical difficulties such as lag, hardware malfunctions, or real-life events. This would also work to create a fairer matchmaking system because people will have less wins or losses as a result of questionable circumstances.
The addition of chat to the post-game score area would provide a transition between the intensity of the game and the general Battle.net environment. It would be a good way to discuss the game, extend congratulations, and add friends after a ladder game. Considering Battle.net 2.0's deficiencies in social interaction, this function would allow people to meet friends that they have played with in a casual atmosphere. Similarly, the ability to chat in the game loading screen would further the casual interaction. These are minor additions that would contribute to the elusive satisfaction in the Battle.net 2.0 experience.
Adding the option to save a replay from the score area is a minor convenience feature. This function existed in Brood War, and it would allow players to save a replay faster. The result would be joining another game faster.
The option to re-match a player after a game is a desired feature by fans. It would allow players to challenge a previous opponent to another melee game, and it would encourage the competitive rivalries common to e-sports. However, there are a number of balance issues associated with implementing this. Allowing ladder game rematches to be ranked might be excessive or easily exploitable. For example, two friends could be lucky enough to be matched with each other, and they could continue to challenge each other to rematches. Unless both players are evenly matched and trying to win, abuse could occur. Although this caveat could be mitigated by limiting the number of rematches per player, it could still allow unscrupulous players to potentially find ways to game the system. Alternatively, Blizzard could make the rematch option spawn an unranked game, which makes the rematch an opportunity to improve. Still, its addition would make the game more customizable, with a greater range of options, that once again puts the focus on the players' choices as opposed to fighting with the interface.
Map Making/Editor Issues
Battle.net 2.0 has shied away from the standard map hosting system of Battle.net 1.0, where maps were hosted on web sites or users' local hard drives and then shared via a peer-to-peer connection provided by the service. Instead, all maps will need to be published to Battle.net 2.0 directly and users download it from there. Blizzard has centralized the distribution of maps into its service. However, there are several drawbacks to the current system. IskatuMesk, from the TeamLiquid community, provides a summary of some of the largest concerns to the map making community:
- There is no local hosting on Battle.net 2.0, and there probably won't ever be.
- You can only have 5 maps or "mods" (which aren't even mods) on Battle.net, so anything else you've got cannot be multiplayer unless you sacrifice an existing project.
- You have a 20mb global limit across everything and a 10mb limit individually.
- The editor censors whatever Battle.net censors and refuses uploads. "Suicide", "God", and "blow" are amongst the words that, even if only contained in editor-related strings, will prevent you from ever playing your map online. StarCraft was rated M on release and StarCraft II will be rated T on release. Blizzard was not liable for any obscene content on custom projects until they introduced this system.
The 20 megabytes total limit and 10 megabytes per map limit is completely unrealistic for any larger projects. Unless Battle.net will only have multiplayer maps with little to no custom assets, then this system cannot possibly stay. The only solution is to either increase the size limit for free or by making users pay for extra storage. For example, the system could be like that planned for premium maps. Battle.net 2.0 is still a free service that doesn't require payment in the form of a monthly subscription; now that users are forced to download from Battle.net, it's not entirely unreasonable that the maximum size is limited to something like 20 megabytes. However, if users are forced to purchase extra storage, the "super professional content" that was promised at BlizzCon 2009 will only imply that the map has custom assets in the first place. Similarly, this could have a very damaging impact on the community. A map designer would have to be relatively confident in his or her map's success before purchasing the necessary storage to host it. It would also be likely to decrease the total number of larger maps and mods produced, for much of the community is composed of volunteers. This would serve only to shrink the talent pool as well as the range of possible exposure.
As for the custom game system itself, it is flawed in that it uses popularity. First, in the current implementation, some maps don't even show up after you publish them and make them public. You can hit "show more" until the button itself goes away, and the map that you are looking for is still nowhere to find. Whether this is a bug or the way it will stay remains to be seen. Second, the current system needs work because it is easy to abuse in its current form, and it doesn't allow new maps to become popular; users can rehost their maps if they want them to be more popular in the list display; custom bots might be created that take advantage of this. As time goes by, it will be nearly impossible for a new map to become popular, and the original maps that made it to the top will persevere. This is akin to YouTube's just-as-flawed thumbs up system; people tend to thumb up only comments that are already up-voted just like people will tend to play custom StarCraft II games that are only at the top of the list, so they are completely ignoring any true benchmark of quality. Xordiah claims this is not a factor and maps will eventually rise to the top themselves by being featured by the community:6
On the last point, I saw some concerns in this thread that you guys are afraid that a map that is published maybe five months after release but is really good will never get any attention. I don't really share this concern, because of the awesome sites out there that will start promoting good content. I mean, even today, when map publishing is still doing its first steps and while there is still quite a bit of work ahead of us, I have seen so many great maps that are featured on sc2mapster, on TL.net and many other community websites. There will always be a map making community like the Hiveworkshop were map makers will find support. And though all these sites, through the forums, through casters like Husky and especially through word of mouth good maps will be spotlighted and players will find them and make them popular. If a map is good, make a youtube video of it and it will spread if players think it is cool.
The major problem with this theory is that if new maps are hard to get to in the first place, then they will neither be featured by the community nor picked up by new players due to the saturation of already popular maps. Realistically, most of the maps that have been featured on community sites now are either cool tech demos, which can be downloaded onto the user's hard drive and played locally, or maps that are already popular. Imagine this scenario: a new map that is at the bottom of the list, that nobody plays, somehow gets featured on a popular community site, and somebody decides to create a lobby with this map. The problem is that players are unable to see this map! The inability to name games prevents less known lobbies from displaying, and unless a user spams the "show more" button enough times to find this map, it won't get played. The best case scenario here is that so much attention gets diverted to the map that it gets enough people to get on at the same time of the day to play a game or two in comparison to the thousands or millions of times other maps have been played. The map fights it out with other equally good maps for the #112th most popular map on the list, and after the traffic stops coming people stop hosting games.
The inclusion of a seemingly frivolous feature, such as Facebook integration into Battle.net 2.0, can be frustrating to for many fans who think that higher priority issues are receiving less attention. However, Xordiah did note on the Battle.net forum that Facebook integration was fairly simple:7
Please note that the Facebook integration in its current form, is a lot simpler to implement than most of you would believe.
Facebook integration does fit in with Blizzard's long-stated goal of achieving a "social networking" like feel for Battle.net 2.0. Since it was apparently simple to implement, this optional feature should be of minor significance to frustrated players. As long as Facebook is an optional extension of the friends list, and the traditional method of adding friends remains what people are actually looking for, then both features can co-exist to create an enhanced friend's list mechanic.
The feedback regarding the Facebook integration is indicative of the greater frustration felt by the community about the development of Battle.net 2.0. It represents Blizzard's community vision, and it exemplifies the community's frustration with the design process. According to Xordiah, it is an easy way to add richness to Battle.net's features. However, the source of the frustration stems from the fact that a Facebook feature was implemented before other critical features. The community emphasizes commitment before cost; as a result, the exclusion of fan-desired critical features, while other less important features are added, is enraging community members. As mentioned above, Blizzard has de-emphasized the significance regarding some of their decisions, but that still doesn't excuse why Blizzard was unable to understand or engage the community. This is the root of the community's issues with the Blizzard model.
With that being said, Blizzard has recently started engaging for more feedback, and it is obvious that the community needs to find constructive outlets for its suggestions. It would be reassuring to know that if future third-party features are implemented, their implementation would not hinder the progress of other UI features that the community is clamoring for.
Conclusion: It's About a Better Battle.net
My name is Greg Canessa and I'm the project director for the new Battle.net service here at Blizzard Entertainment.
Battle.net is a service with a long and storied history, very successful for the company, very strategic. It launched with Diablo, and then moved on with StarCraft, Diablo II, Warcraft II Battle.net Edition, and then Warcraft III. Our vision for the new Battle.net is to build a world-class online game service for all Blizzard games. There are three key design tenets or pillars for the new Battle.net.
The first is the "Always-Connected Experience." This is where you have the concept of a persistent character, and many of the benefits of being always connected to Battle.net throughout the gameplay experience. There's a persistent character that's online at all times, being able to socialize and chat with friends inside and outside of the game, having the connected experience extend into the single-player experience, and having a full achievement and unlockable rewards system. That achievement system will be a cross between what you see in World of Warcraft and other online game services. Players can earn single-player achievements in the campaign as well as in skirmish or co-op vs. AI modes. Unlockable rewards in the new Battle.net come in two forms for StarCraft II -- portraits and decals. There'll be an interface in your character profile where you'll be able to see the entire collection of portraits and decals. You'll be able to select any portrait that you've earned as your portrait to show off to the community. Any that you have not earned will be grayed-out, and you'll be able to right-click on it and view the correlated achievement. So you'll be able to earn that achievement to unlock that reward, and you can collect them all.
The second pillar or tenet is the Competitive Arena for Everyone. That's the design principle that shows our desire to create a great, structured competitive play experience for everyone on the new Battle.net, while at the same time making it accessible to a whole new audience. These include some of our more casual gameplay modes, custom games, co-op vs. AI, and a practice league. A lot of the competitive features fall under this second pillar.What we’ve done for the competitive player is we've created a new auto matchmaking system on Battle.net for StarCraft II. This system is the most sophisticated one we've ever created, and one of the most sophisticated in the industry. This is a learning system that will learn your skill level as you play through games. You can also play on our leagues and ladders system in a structured team. You can simply invite your friends into a party, and have our auto matchmaking system put you into a game and you'll be ranked with your friends on our leagues and ladder system.
The third pillar is Connecting the Blizzard Community. This is where the social networking and communications aspects of the new Battle.net experience come into play. Everything from forming up a friends list, chatting and socializing, text chat as well as voice chat, cross-game communication between StarCraft II and World of Warcraft, as well as broadcasts, system notifications, and other aspects. Battle.net is being built specifically around Blizzard games. Unlike other online game services, we can do tightly integrated gaming features specific to our games, that other online gaming services can't pull off. We want to take advantage of the opportunity to relaunch Battle.net. We want to create a service with a set of features that not only works for World of Warcraft and StarCraft II but will power all Blizzard games going forward.
That is the opportunity that is in front of us, and that is why we're investing so much time in creating the next generation of Battle.net.
This is the transcript of Greg Canessa's public introduction of Battle.net 2.0.8 These statements were our first glimpse into Blizzard's vision for the ultimate gaming platform. For much of the community, this video provided yet another reason to be excited for a beta that wouldn't be seen for another nine months. Once the community became aware that the reason for the StarCraft II Beta's delay was to ensure that Blizzard created the revamped Battle.net correctly, the anticipation peaked. It was clear, however, that Blizzard developers needed to fully invest their efforts into making the "world-class online gaming experience" that was promised. This claim became the bare minimum for expectations of the original Battle.net's sucessor, which was so successful in pulling together more than twelve million passionate gamers. It seemed quite feasible considering Blizzard Entertainment's track record in the industry.
At BlizzCon 2009, a full panel was entirely focused on Battle.net 2.0, and it revealed a plethora of information. The panel not only expanded on the three key tenets of Blizzard's Battle.net philosophy, upon which the service was being built, but it also presented a history behind the vision. The slides of the presentation provided Blizzard's notes regarding their take on the pros and cons of the original Battle.net. They pledged that they had learned from the flaws in their own system, and they were constantly working to apply those lessons to Battle.net 2.0.
Pros and Cons of the original Battle.net (BlizzCon 2009)
Easy to play with friends
Random teams incredibly successful
Icon system for character avatars
Disconnected from single player expirience
New players get pwned
Ladder system served only the Elite
Can't find a custom game except for DotA
With this information, the community has been given the blueprint upon which the service is being constructed. This preliminary rubric allows us to evaluate what we have seen of the project according to the three pillars that Blizzard have established for themselves: The Always Connected Experience, a Competitive-Arena for Everyone and Connecting the Blizzard Community. The strength of these pillars will determine the overall success or failure of Battle.net 2.0, and the community has repeatedly measured the success or failure of the current service throughout Beta. However, Blizzard is improving and reinforcing their perspective of the design tenets inch by inch. Components of the design philosophy stand strongly, ready to bear the weight of a world-wide community at the end of July. However, some pillars show the designs of a poor foundation, flawed implementation, or the lack of cherished features. Blizzard Entertainment's only response has been that these features will be added later. Understandably, this has upset the community. We realize that Blizzard will provide solutions for many of the issues presented even if they don't implement the community's suggestions. Blizzard loves to put its own spin on standard ideas. Generally, they create excellent experiences, but StarCraft II has been delayed for this service; importantly, the service feels unfinished and flawed. Furthermore, if quality is the key to Blizzard's success, why is the game launching next month with much of these issues unaddressed? The purpose of this editorial is to generate constructive, intelligent conversation in the community and with Blizzard. We have offered food for thought; the next step is to take the lessons learned in Beta and create a rich environment together.
1. Italian Open Q&A: http://sclegacy.com/news/23-sc2/591-italian-open-qa-beta-now-global-release-mac-support-to-come-later
2. April 19th Wings of Liberty Fansite Q&A Session: http://sclegacy.com/feature/3-events/670-april-19th-wings-of-liberty-fansite-qa-session
3. InStarcraft.de Interviews Dustin Browder: http://starcraft2.ingame.de/sc2cl/?m=article&s=1034&id=102427&p=1
4. Blizzard's Frank Pearce Interview: http://www.incgamers.com/Interviews/270/blizzards-frank-pearce-interview/
5. BlizzChat Developer Chat #2 on Twitter 4/30: http://sclegacy.com/news/23-sc2/676-blizzchat-developer-chat2-on-twitter-4-30-extended
6. Battle.net Forums: http://forums.battle.net/thread.html?topicId=25170778573&sid=5010&pageNo=6
7. Battle.net Forums: http://forums.battle.net/thread.html?topicId=25170778216&sid=5010&pageNo=3#42
8. StarCraft2.com - Battle.net Preview: http://us.starcraft2.com/features/misc/battlenet.xml