Blizzard Gets Social with a Big Overhaul of Battle.net

BattlenetOver the past couple months, we have seen Blizzard Entertainment dabble in the realm of social games and networks, from virtual goods in the massively multiplayer online game, World of Warcraft, to a Facebook application that publishes player accomplishments from the game, to hints to a more social Battle.net. Those hints – which first came up in September – are coming to fruition. Blizzard offered a preview of the new, improved, and social version of the online gaming service.

Founded 14 years ago with the company’s ever popular Diablo title for the PC, Battle.net has always connected gamers to an online world of multiplayer competition, chat, and leaderboards. Frankly, it is one of the oldest and most successful gaming services to date. Having evolved through the games of Starcraft, Diablo II, Warcraft II: Battle.net Edition, and Warcraft III and holding, currently, more than 12 million active accounts worldwide.

StarCraft IIHowever, Blizzard feels there is still more to be done.

Essentially, Battle.net will become an “always-connected experience” where users can log on and interact within the service whether or not you are playing a solo mission (i.e. in the upcoming StarCraft II) or competing in multiplayer matches. In times past, the system was merely a means for people to play online with one another with no real sense of self, in its own right, save for some basic chat room-type features. Soon, Battle.net will allow users that prefer solo play as well as multiplayer combat will receive the same news, content, chat, and friends’ status updates.

ProfilesUsing StarCraft II as an example, Blizzard states that players will be able to create a single “StarCraft II Battle.net character.” This will act as their personal identity across the entire service and track everything that you do in Battle.net connected games, including win/loss records, achievements, unlockable rewards (i.e. new avatar portraits), and so on. Furthermore, since the games will be connected through Battle.net, all saved games will also be accessible to that user from any computer at any time.

The backbone of all of these new features, according to Blizzard, is “Battle.net’s social networking and communication capabilities.” This comment refers to more than just text and voice based chat systems, but actually refers to a new feature dubbed Real ID.

WoW ChatUsing a mutual invite/acceptance method, players can form Real ID friends that will identify users “by their real name, along with any character they are logged in as.” In addition, Real ID friends will provide users with more detailed information such as what they are doing, allow for broadcast messages, and even allow cross-game chatting between, initially, StarCraft II, Battle.net, and World of Warcraft. Of course, this will carry over into future Blizzard games as well.

The new Battle.net is also going to be highly supportive of community-created content as well. In the past, users have often submitted maps for StarCraft, modified levels for Warcraft III, and so on, and as a company that has always openly supported creative user generated content, Blizzard will now grant said users a “full-featured content-creation toolkit” for their creative endeavours. The kit uses the same tools used by the StarCraft II design team to create the single player campaign. Moreover, Battle.net will incorporate another new feature called Map Publishing which will allow players to upload their creations and share them with everyone immediately.

Custom GamesEventually, these creative individuals will gain even more advanced sharing capabilities, at least with StarCraft II, with a StarCraft II Marketplace. From here, anyone can browse, download, rate, comment on, and even buy mods and content should the creator desire.

The system will also have a myriad of other minor improvements, better individual and group matchmaking systems for games, leaderboard and ladder systems, and a ton more. All in all, this is a huge move and improvement for Battle.net and we expect it to be a success for Blizzard Entertainment as a whole, as well. An in-depth preview can be found here at the StarCraft II website, including an interview with Battle.net Project Director Greg Canessa.