Wednesday, August 26, 2009
An Interconnected Paradise of Gaming
One of the things that stood out in Blizzcon 2009 was the announcement about Battle.net 2.0. As World of Warcraft players well know, Battle.net has been around as long as Blizzard has put out games, launching with Diablo in 1997. Although Battle.net is a huge community of PC gamers, the console gaming industry jumped back ahead of the community-building game with the advent of widespread online console gaming on the Xbox, Playstation 2, and their successors. Xbox Live is the second-largest online community of gamers behind Battle.net. The best part of Xbox Live is that you can register your friends online and then whenever you turn on your xbox, you can see all of your friends on their xboxes and what they are currently playing. This allows you to join them if you wish or invite them to play another game you both enjoy, thereby making the online connection of friends completely hassle-free.
These sorts of features are currently lacking in Battle.net, which is why a ton of World of Warcraft players have not synched their WoW accounts with Battle.net. There was simply no real benefit to joining battle.net at all for a WoW player as far as I'm concerned. You could tell Blizzard wanted to fix this, as evidenced this summer by the push to get people to merge their WoW accounts into a Battle.net account during the Mountain Dew Game Fuel promotions. If you took the early plunge into Battle.net, they gave you a snazzy little in-game Battle Bot pet and allowed you to go back daily for red or blue fuel. If you have red fuel in your battle bot and a blue-fuelled battle bot comes strolling by, an amazing little battle would break out. Totally vanity, but all non-combat pets are and these were cooler than most.
At some point Blizzard will inevitably force all World of Warcraft players to merge their accounts into Battle.net, but it remains clear that they needed to sweeten the pot even more than vanity pets to keep the playerbase happy. Enter Blizzcon 2009, where Battle.net 2.0 was on full display for players to see. Battle.net takes all the wonderful innovative ideas from the Xbox Live console friends list and adapts them for their own players. Now your friends list in any Blizzard game will be updated to show your friends that are online playing any Blizzard game, and what they are doing in that game. So if you have a friend who's always on Diablo II and another friend who's always on Starcraft, while you prefer World of Warcraft, you will be able to see that they are in those games and you can message them. As attention spans of your WoW friends drifts away to check out Starcraft II and Diablo III in the future, now you don't risk losing touch with them for weeks or months at a time! It's an interconnected paradise of gaming, as far as PC games go.
Here's a screenshot of someone in Starcraft II chatting with another playing in Starcraft as well as one in World of Warcraft at the same time.
Likewise, here's a screenshot of someone in World of Warcraft looking at their friends list to see, oh my friend is in Starcraft trying to find a multiplayer battle match!
This may not seem important to you, but for me, this is a huge upgrade on Blizzard's part. You see, when I came into the World of Warcraft, I did so with a close group of 4 real life friends who had been playing WoW before me. One of these was the best man at my wedding and vice versa, and I was looking forward to keeping contact with him and the others through WoW since real life was dictating that I must move to another city for career reasons. Well a couple months into the WoW experience and my best buddy drops out of WoW, citing various reasons including looking forward to Starcraft II. So he plays a ton of Starcraft right now while the rest of us have been in WoW for the past few months. Yet I've lost one of the primary reasons I joined WoW, which was to keep contact with all of this group of friends. The new Battle.net will fix this problem because my buddy will be playing Starcraft II.
So when Starcraft II finally hits store shelves in early 2010, Battle.net 2.0 will also launch. This may not seem like a big deal to you now, but I guarantee you will have guildies and/or friends spending a lot more time in Starcraft II (and much later, Diablo III) than in WoW. They might even let their subscriptions lapse to WoW! At this point you will be thankful that Battle.net 2.0 is there to keep you connected and to allow you to network and chat with your friends in different games. Kudos to Blizzard for finally addressing this "problem" in the PC gaming market.
I know there will be some who still say "big deal, I chat with my Diablo/Warcraft/Starcraft buddies on vent anyways." However, when raiding in WoW or multiplayer zerging in Starcraft, you typically have to use vent for those purposes alone. Instead of requiring you to run a secondary chat program which is annoying, now it's all going to be within the game interface itself. That's why this will be such a great change.
UPDATE: I also realize after wow.com put up their own review of battle.net 2.0 that this opens up cross-faction and cross-server chat as well. Considering I play on both sides of the Alliance-Horde ledger and another one of the core group of 4 friends in the game plays on 2-3 different servers, it will be nice to be able to keep in touch with them whenever they are online anywhere. If we can share PUG's across servers, there's absolutely no reason we cannot have friend chat across servers. So that's another side of this I did not bring out initially.