Synopsis: Battle.net 2.0 was designed to protect Blizzard Entertainment intellectual property rights. To understand why, follow computer game history. Enticed by the success of third-party gaming portals DWANGO and Kali, Blizzard would launch Battle.net in 1996. Using the free-to-play service as a selling point, Blizzard would sell millions. Two entities posed a threat to the goals of Battle.net. The first was the Korean e-Sports Players Association, who used StarCraft to create a South Korean spectator sport financed by corporations that paid Blizzard no sponsorship or licensing fees. The second was the Garena online gaming service, which provided the owners of illegitimate Blizzard software a means for playing the games in a global online setting. To fight these problems, Blizzard would use the lessons learned in their development and support of World of Warcraft, which used a closed system to funnel all players into a central network. Along the way, their victory against the creator of the Glider cheat software set legal precedent that any manipulation of game code in violation of the End User Licensing Agreement could constitute copyright infringement. In June of 2009, two months after the Glider case was put to rest, it was announced that StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty would not be playable on a Local Area Network. The closed service known as Battle.net 2.0 was born.
Part One: Introduction
Hello there, children! I’m back! You thought I was done with this topic? Too bad! I have a fiduciary responsibility to my shareholders! And by “shareholders”, I mean “It’s lonely here and I need a hug.” This month marks the one-year anniversary of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. In my opinion, it was one of the ten best video games released on July 27th, 2010. Let’s catch up on a couple of things. Namely, I want to catch up on Battle.net 2.0.
Let’s do a quick recap of the situation. This whole “Battle.net 2.0 sucks” thing started back in June of 2009, before the service was given an actual name. An announcement was made by Blizzard Entertainment that you would be unable to play StarCraft II through a Local Area Network. In order to play the game in a multiplayer environment, you would have to be connected to the Battle.net service. This was later revealed to be a new online gaming service that was creatively titled “Battle.net 2.0”. Being a day that ends in “y”, computer gamers took to the streets in order to burn cars and break windows all across the internet. Their message was civil and it was simple: “FUCK YOU BLIZZERD IM NOT BUYIGN YOU’RE GAMES ANYMROE!” Fresh off my defense of “StarCraft II: The Trilogy” (a development decision that I still defend today), I once again came to the defense of the company. I stated that nobody knew what Blizzard was going to accomplish with this always-connected approach to computer video games. I also stated that the company would probably build an emulation of the Local Area Network component into Battle.net 2.0; that games played on a local network within the Battle.net service would be treated as local games. In other words, “Quit whining, nerds.”
It wasn’t crazy at the time. The popularity of the real-time strategy genre was built by a world where Local Area Networks and company-developed gaming portals worked in tandem to hide the weaknesses of each other. As StarCraft II came closer to launch and Blizzard developers spoke more openly about their intentions for Battle.net 2.0, I realized that I was wrong. Battle.net 2.0 was always going to be connected to the internet in a way that would always generate server latency. This was a very bad sign. Split-second reflexes have always been a requirement for playing the StarCraft franchise at a high level. Almost immediately, my opinion of Battle.net 2.0 was downgraded from “cautious” to “grudgingly tolerated”.
So, fast-forward. I got access to a StarCraft II beta key, placed in the Top 100 in my division, blah, blah, shitty ranking system, and so forth. The game was good, the service was shit. I lived with it. Then, during the third week of May 2010, Blizzard released a patch for the StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty beta test. This should have been an innocuous circumstance. However, it’s not a good thing when the reaction to a game update can be cynically compared to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, in that an oddball circumstance would trigger chaos and send seventeen-year-old men to war. This patch eliminated the existing hierarchy of friends lists and mandated that all friend requests use the much-maligned RealID™ service. Remember when it was announced that the official World of Warcraft forums would require the use of RealID™? And in response, players cancelled pre-orders and subscriptions by the tens-of-thousands?* Yup, same RealID™. While username and account purges had been regularly accomplished throughout the beta test, the company didn’t give any warning on this one. They also didn’t mention, “Hey, we’re just doing this to gauge the amount of interest in RealID™. We’re going to bring back the original system. Relax. It’s a beta.” The pool of beta testers had been severed from their in-game contacts and they were not happy. A few days later, the service shat a brick. That is, “Battle.net 2.0 was running slightly worse than usual.” Quite the feat. Nobody was able to find a stable match. The latency issues were so rampant that it inspired a TeamLiquid.net “Screen Freeze Art” thread, where players would use right-click commands to draw pictures in the playing field before they were booted from the game.*
Pictured: One of the high-level maneuvers that came to StarCraft II.* (Credit to TeamLiquid poster “earky”.)
These two events boiled into madness. When most people are confronted with the prospect that their free beta test for an unreleased video game is not working properly, they find something better to do with their time. Me? Finding something better to do with your time is for bitches. I was pissed off. StarCraft II was the only video game of the last four years that I had penciled in as a “personal video game event”. I came to the conclusion that Battle.net 2.0 was a business decision and not a game design decision, and that those business decisions were destroying the excellent work of Dustin Browder and his development team. I reacted in a rather funny way. I spent four-thousand words cursing and swearing a storm and then I published it on the internet. “Battle.net 2.0: The Antithesis of Consumer Confidence” was published on this website during the second week in June and the damn thing went viral. In four days, over seventy-thousand people would view the article, realize that it was longer than three-hundred words, and immediately leave the web site, never to return. That article is currently the third Google search result for “Battle.net 2.0”.* I wasn’t the only person who gained success in making their displeasure public. Two members of StarCraft Legacy received acclaim for publishing a kinder, gentler discussion on the failings of the service.* StarCraft shoutcaster Husky would also offer his opinion of Battle.net 2.0, earning nearly half-a-million views on YouTube.* There was a fairly pronounced community consensus: “You took away our Local Area Network and you didn’t give us a proper substitute. We don’t like it.”
Today, the only significant difference in the Battle.net 2.0 service is a resignation from its player base that this is the future of Blizzard video games and they can’t do anything about it. The only “victory” won by the player base has been the addition of chat channels. Whoopity fucksterdam. Nothing else has changed. Battle.net 2.0 still sucks. It will always suck. Tethering more good video games into the service will not change that. Pushing Battle.net 2.0 to the standards set by the online system in the nine-year-old Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos will not change that. So why am I writing about this service a second time? Why write about something that one obnoxious forum troll cannot change?
If it was up to me, I would leave this conversation for dead. I don’t want to write about it anymore. There’s a simple problem: Your mainstream video game journalism overlords will never start an intelligent debate on the Battle.net 2.0 service or any topic worth a damn. They’re more interested in selling you the games or talking about Japan’s fetish for penises* or mocking competitive video game players.* It’s better for their bottom line. That leaves consumers to figure it out for themselves. And I don’t know if you’ve ever read the GameFAQs forums, but they’ve obliterated that theory about a million monkeys with a million typewriters. Holy shit. It has become my personal civic duty to bitch about the Battle.net 2.0 service. It doesn’t pay well and it doesn’t get you laid. But hey, it’s a civic duty! This is some patriotic shit right here. People still think this war is about a crappy system for custom games. People think this is a war over public chat rooms. It’s not and never really was. And yes, I am at fault for that. When I gave my first opinion on Battle.net 2.0, I dwelled on functionality. I complained about things that did not get the discussion where it needed to go. Today, the debate is still framed as “Why can’t I play StarCraft II offline?” versus “Because you are a filthy pirate who wanted to download the game!” I want to have the debate that the StarCraft and video game communities should have had a year ago.
“This raises an interesting question. If the original Battle.net was so successful, why change it? Updating a service like Battle.net is a hugely complex undertaking. Are there really that many new features that Blizzard Entertainment could offer that would deliver a world-class online gaming experience to its community?”
Battle.net 2.0 Preview, published on the official StarCraft II Web Site; 2010.*
When this question was posed on the StarCraft II preview web site over a year ago, somebody should have answered it. That is what I intend to do here. I would like to answer, “Why?” Most people think Battle.net 2.0 is about software piracy. I took a guess that Battle.net 2.0 was about dominion over the lucrative StarCraft competitive gaming scene. In a way, we were both right. We were also wrong. Neither hypothesis captured the scope of the ambition involved. The goal of Battle.net 2.0 was to create a service that would give Blizzard Entertainment complete control of their intellectual property rights. In the world that kings, queens, and politicians are setting up for us, control of the copyright means control of the product. Intellectual property rights can act as a deterrent to software piracy. Intellectual property rights command the oversight of competitive gaming scenes. Intellectual property rights create rules for the way that the game is distributed to the customer. Intellectual property rights dictate how the customer is allowed to use, modify, and manage his or her purchase. That’s what Battle.net 2.0 is about. “[W]orld-class online gaming experience”, my ass.
Now, I guess all that I have to do is prove that to you. Despite what modern video game journalism has led you to believe, the complex issues surrounding the video game industry can be explained in ways that are more meaningful than “Top Eight Mario Cupcakes of All-Time!” I can give you better than Kotaku ever will. The goal of this article is to explain the course of cosmic forces that led to the creation of the Battle.net 2.0 service. This is one complicated history lesson. When you think about the history of Battle.net 2.0, you probably think about seventeen months of uptime. Your mind goes back to the February 2010 launch of the StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty beta test. If you have a little foresight, you head back to June of 2009 and think about that Local Area Network debacle. I’m a little different. I have plenty of free time and I’m prepared to use it. I want to do some back-in-time crystal ball shit. I want to go back two decades, when Blizzard Entertainment doesn’t even exist. I want to start in the days when they’re known as Silicon and Synapse, when the company is a go-nowhere software mill creating computer video game ports for the Amiga and Macintosh platforms. From there, you can learn how this company built the most successful online gaming portal in retail video games. And from there, you can learn how Blizzard Entertainment (and the video game industry) got this crazy idea of defending their intellectual property at all costs.
Continue to Part Two: Into the Dark Portal