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BlizzCon 2009: The new Battle.Net

Kevin Kelly

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Blizzard finally unveiled the much-hyped new version of Battle.Net at BlizzCon and, as expected, it's a huge leap forward from the service that was first introduced with Diablo in 1996. Although, in typical Blizzard fashion, this is still a work in progress and could change by the time it eventually comes out. In 2013. (We kid, we kid.)

Everything shown was modeled from inside of Starcraft 2, which Blizzard is calling the Battle.Net 2.0 launch title. The developer will be working to expand it to older titles, possibly including legacy games like the original Starcraft and Warcraft. It's also safe to say that Blizzard must be working on a client-only version of Battle.Net, so you don't have to be inside a game to see when your friends are on.

Check out the gallery below, and you can read about all the new details of what Blizzard wants to be the "premiere matchmaking service out there," after the break.

Gallery: Battle.Net (BlizzCon 2009) | 16 Photos

On the new Battle.Net you'll be identified by your real name, which Blizzard is calling your Real ID (did it just coin a name for ... your name?) The company hasn't yet identified how Battle.Net will differentiate between users with the same name -- keep your fingers crossed, John Smith -- or how it will prevent fabricated monikers. Ideally, you'll see the Real ID inside of Battle.Net like in the shape of "Kevin Kelly: in Starcraft 2, getting pwned."

Battle.Net actually has more players on it than World of Warcraft (you can thank Starcraft for that), and just imagine those numbers after Diablo 3 and Starcraft 2 have launched. WoW is sitting at 11.5 million users, while Battle.Net sports 12 million. However, if you've been on the service lately, you'll probably notice that it's a mess right now. It's filled with thousands of Warcraft III "Defense of the Ancients" matches.

If you build a popular map, you'll get a portion of the revenue.

"Defense of the Ancients" is a map that was made by members of the community based on the ""Aeon of Strife" Starcraft map, and it rapidly became far and away the most popular Warcraft map. That hasn't been lost on Blizzard, who is including a massive map editor with Starcraft 2 and integrating a Starcraft 2 Marketplace into the new Battle.Net that includes map rating and revenue sharing. If you build a popular map, you'll get a portion of the revenue.

Both free and premium maps are included, which should clue you in on how Blizzard plans on monetizing Battle.Net: microtransactions! You'll have to pay for certain maps, and whatever other additional content it wants to add a dollar sign to. The company didn't elaborate much on this, but it's probably the tip of the iceberg. Especially when the service already looks to add content like Avatars and Decals.

Clear a tough level or get a certain achievement, and you'll unlock an Avatar. You'll be able to tell how good a player is by the avatar they sport (provided they've chosen it). Also new will be Decals, which are other rewards that will show up on your units as part of their armor / texture. It's only been implemented for Starcraft 2, but Blizzard is already looking at how it will work with other games as well. These will be used as rewards, although it's not difficult to imagine premium Avatars and Decals coming later. One nifty side note: Blizzard has adopted the cloud, and whether you play at work, home, or a friend's house, your files (like custom maps and avatars) will be available wherever you log in.

Besides those two perks, you'll find a full achievement system in Battle.Net, which is being made more robust than WoW achievements. Blizzard is also adding replays with a rewind feature, which we'd already discussed back when we had an in-depth look at Starcraft 2. It's unclear if this will extend to other games at this time. How useful would a replay be in WoW? You can record gameplay in WoW on the Mac version, but not on the more popular PC version. Perhaps players will start huddling up like NFL linebackers to study game films in the future.

You can chat up people from inside Starcraft 2 while they're off raiding somewhere in Azeroth.

Although the service is only in-game right now, you'll still be able to see everyone on your friends list playing at launch, even if they're playing World of Warcraft. You'll also be able to use the chat system to talk cross-game and across realms, meaning you can chat up people from inside Starcraft 2 while they're off raiding somewhere in Azeroth. The system won't work with older games, but Blizzard is looking at bringing it to Starcraft and the popular, older Warcraft games as well.

It's also spending a lot of time on matchmaking with a much-improved matching and ladder system. The developer is adding party lobbies, rankings by league, and custom game matchmaking. The goal is to improve the service for everyone, so you don't log in and see a million games with "NO NOOBS" listed in the title. You'll be able to make a party private for custom games, and then click an "open to public" option at any moment to jump out and compete in public matches.

Blizzard looked at many different services for Battle.Net, including Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Xbox Live, and Google Talk, and it's clear it has robust plans for the service -- it's just that right now it feels like it's only a third of what Blizzard wants it to become. If it wants to move into the arena to compete with services like Steam, it needs to make this a content distribution service as well, and possibly open it up to other publishers. The Starcraft 2 Marketplace is promising, but what about a WoW Marketplace to open it up to all of the third-party modding tools and having them rated like Apple's App Store?

Even when Starcraft 2 launches, we'll only have a partial Battle.Net, but at least we've finally seen something. Now just finish the game already!

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