Blizzard executive vice president of game design Rob Pardo hosted a Battle.net and StarCraft II panel, explaining how the integration of game and game service has evolved over the years.
Rob Pardo came on stage to talk about Battle.net. Launched in 1996 with Diablo, it was the first matchmaking service integrated completely into games. It's evolved with StarCraft, Diablo 2, and Warcraft III. The service now has more players on it than World of Warcraft—12 million to WoW's 11.5 million. "Just imagine how big that number will be once StarCraft II comes out."
Rob explained that Warcraft III taught them many important lessons about Battle.net. There was great matchmaking. It made it easy to play with your friends. Random teams were highly successful. On the other hand, chat was disorganised, the single-player experience was disconnected, new players got their asses handed to them and the ladder system only catered to the very best players. On top of that, custom games outside of defence of the Ancients were nigh impossible to find.
StarCraft II's Battle.net is split into three sections.
First, there's "The Always Connected Experience". StarCraft II and Battle.net are woven into one experience. With the Battle.net system, your characters and accounts are tied to your email, so you never lose your settings. And much like Steam, you'll always be connected to your friends.
Pardo shows off some screens of the new service in action. In StarCraft II, you log into the game much like World of Warcraft. There's a launch screen, with news, single player and multiplayer options. Once you enter the game, you'll always have access to your friends list, even in the single player game. He also showed off the profile page, and StarCraft II achievements.
By earning achievements in the game, you'll unlock avatars and decals you can use in the game, with your custom decals showing up on your units in game.
It's an always-connected experience, he said, one integrated experience, with your friends and your game always close at hand.
The next concept is to make Battle.net a competitive arena for everyone. This means an improved matchmaking system, which makes it easy for players to find their friends and organise games.
Ladder play is a major focus, making sure that the competitive experience isn't just for the most hardcore players.
How does the new matchmaking service work? After playing for a while, players will compete within coloured leagues...think gold, silver, etc. Within each league, players compete against 100 other players of their own skill level.
For casual players, there is a practice league, which slows down the gameplay with anti-rush maps to let them get used to the game.
Parties work much like World of Warcraft, with friends joining to enter into games together. Pretty straightforward.
So there are many different game types to play, it's easy to play and stay with friends and the ladder is now designed for everyone.
The final concept is "Connecting the Blizzard Community". Blizzard wants to use Battle.net as a way to keep players informed about all of the Blizzard titles they are playing. Again, making it easy to find and stay connected with your friends is key. To this end, the chat system now features instant messenger-style chat, making it easier to chat between games.
Blizzard wants to connect the players together, both friends who play together offline, and those who play together online. Players enjoy playing together in groups and Battle.net will help players stay together when new games come out.
They tackle this by exploring other services and their limitations. They looked at Xbox Live, which has a great friends system, but you quickly lose track of who is who. They looked at MySpace, which handled tracking friends well, but made it hard to find new friends. They even looked at Google Talk, which allows people to change their contact's names.
This all lead to the Battle.net Real ID, which lets you see and communicate with friends based on how you know them. The service will allow you to communicate with your friends across games, servers, and characters, so no matter what game or character you are playing, you still stay in touch.
They are also implementing an achievement system that spans games and characters as well, removing the necessity of re-doing achievements with each new character you create.
Pardo showed a screen of someone in World of Warcraft chatting with someone playing StarCraft II. And then came a screen of World of Warcraft's friends list, which will incorporate the same functionality.
The Battle.net Real ID is a layer on top of the normal friends list, with parental controls and controls in place to make sure that you choose who your friends are.
Finally, Pardo talked custom games. Custom games eventually took over Warcraft III, as the gameplay types and maps developed by the mod community were of high quality. The StarCraft II map editor will be even more powerful than the Warcraft III editor. They are also introducing map publishing, allowing players to share maps online, making it easier than ever to share your creations with the community.
Looking into the future, past StarCraft II's launch next year, Blizzard is looking into a StarCraft II marketplace, with maps rated by the community. There will be free maps and premium user-made maps, allowing creators to make money on their maps. The whole point is to foster the best mod community possible, creating a much larger selection of content for players while inspiring creativity through the potential to get paid.
When Blizzard revealed that StarCraft II would be delayed until next year because of Battle.net, many weren't quite sure why such a delay was necessary. Hopefully the extensive plans Pardo outlined today make things just a bit more clear.