Blizzard Entertainment formally announced its plans for Battle.net 2.0 at BlizzCon 2009 along with the features the company hopes to include at and after the release of StarCraft II, which will be the first game to run the updated service. The service will remain free and integrate with World of WarCraft and future Blizzard games.
The major features of note and their purposes:
- A "Real ID" system, tying CD-keys to specific accounts. This is being done to prevent "smurfing" where skilled players create new accounts to play against less experienced players in the matchmaking system.
- A tiered ladder system, with levels of play for multiple skill levels. Players will be placed into different tiers on the ladder after playing enough games for the system to determine his or her skill level. Ladder seasons will play out for each tier, making ladder play applicable for all players, not just for skilled gamers.
- Custom game publishing and filtering. Want to play something other than Defense of the Ancients? StarCraft II will allow map makers to "publish" their maps to a database, giving them control over their work and allowing users to search and download maps without having to join games. Premium maps can be offered for a cost with some of the revenue going to the author(s).
The first two planned features are major for keeping players that would otherwise grow tired of losing online. Blizzard's Rob Pardo explained during the presentation of B.net 2.0 that the goal with the tier system is to give every player the chance at winning 50 percent of their games by matching them up with opponents of similar skill levels. Combined with the Real ID system to prevent smurfing, this should ensure that the competition is fair and yields worthwhile games for every player. WarCraft III's auto-matchmaking system was actually fairly good at finding matches, but was plagued by smurfing.
In addition to these online changes, Blizzard will also be putting things like challenges into the offline game to try and encourage players to learn the skills that they need to step into online play. Lead designer Dustin Browder explains this in my recent interview:
"We’re trying to get you into the multiplayer in some other ways. We’re encouraging you to take some baby steps. So, you’ve played the solo play. Okay, play some against the AI - hey look, there’s some achievements for that. You know, maybe you should try to get some of those. You know, maybe you should try this casual league. There’s no rushing on these maps, by the way, we’ve blocked everything off and made these maps just really no fun for the hardcore guys, but really fun for you, right, because you’re scared of being rushed."
How many of you have gone back in an attempt to play an older RTS game only to find out the remaining community is far more skilled than anything you could compete with? You have to remember that there will be a lot of players of all skill levels getting StarCraft II. The challenge for Blizzard is getting these players online and competing with other players. The game will still support eSports and pro-level play, but Blizzard seems to be on the right track in facilitating an enjoyable multiplayer experience for all players.
With that being said, there's the looming question about when the StarCraft II beta will launch. At BlizzCon, Mike Morhaime was confident that the beta would launch in 2009. I have been lucky enough to have played StarCraft II on three occasions over the past three months: the multiplayer event in late June, the single-player event in July, and just this past weekend at BlizzCon 2009. In each session, I played the multiplayer game extensively, though my play was limited to AI skirmishes at the single-player event. After each event, I was left with the following impression of the multiplayer component: "This is ready for beta."
Now, I've been told by Dustin Browder that there is still a lot of optimization work to be done on the game so it will run on a wide spectrum of PCs, but I believe that is the last obstacle on StarCraft II's side of the matter. The rest of the work lies on Battle.net 2.0. I don't expect Blizzard to fit all of the features it is hoping to launch the game with in the beta, but I'm finding myself believing Mike Morhaime. I think the beta will be released in 2009.
Are you looking forward to StarCraft II? Are you getting it for the single player only or will you be jumping online and playing multiplayer?