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October’s discussion topic – the Battle.net wish list – prompted a lot of fans speak up and tell Blizzard what’s on their minds regarding the new Battle.net, which will launch along with StarCraft 2. With October gone, and before a new discussion topic pops up, we will review the Battle.net system, its advantages and drawbacks, compare it to other, similar services, and offer our feedback to Blizzard.

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Battle.net was first launched in 1997, allowing up to 4 Diablo players connect to, and play with, each other over the internet. The system was very limited, but it was the first gaming service to be directly incorporated into a game.

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1998 brought StarCraft 1, and with it, a new Battle.net system. This one was more advanced – aside from letting players host games that could be accessed by anyone in the world, it also featured a Ladder system and kept track of players’ rankings and game statistics.

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In 2002, when WarCraft III was released, Battle.net has evolved again. Arguably, it is still the best online gaming service available – and that’s without taking into account the fact that it’s free. WarCraft III added a few great features to Battle.net:

* Automatic/Anonymous Matchmaking (AMM): This feature, which was later copied by just about every other online service, allowed players to log in to Battle.net and start playing an online match in seconds. The AMM system took the player’s skill level into account when matching him against other players, which facilitated equal-skill matches. The ladder ranking system was also a natural product of this, and it worked perfectly.

* Arranged Team AMM: If ranked AMM is fun, imagine how great team AMM is. Form a team with your friend and automatically get matched against other such teams, gaining or losing ladder positions in the process. Surprisingly, many other services that feature AMM still lack proper arranged team AMM functionality.

* Friend System: The built in friend system allowed players to form social connections with other players. This made it easier to form games with friends and know what they’re up to. For some reason, the maximum number of friends was limited to 25.

* Icon System: This system, albeit being completely without function, added a nice aspect to the game – each player was represented by an icon that corresponded to the race he was most proficient with and his rank with that race. With 4 races and plenty of ranks, players in the chat channel had a much more interesting – and fun – look.

* Custom Games: These already existed in StarCraft 1’s Battle.net, but for the sake of completeness, we will mention this here as well. Battle.net allowed players to easily host games and play any map – even ones they themselves have created. With Blizzard itself constantly and frequently releasing great maps, and taking into account the amazing popularity some user created maps have generated, this is a very important feature that has not been neglected.

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The WarCraft III Battle.net service was great for its time. Six years later, a few other online services have matched and even surpassed it in some areas:

C&Cs “BattleCast” system:

“BattleCast” is designed to allow for players to schedule upcoming games with others, to spectate in games that are currently being played, and to serve as a centralized replay archive of previous games. “BattleCast” additionally allows for players to function as commentators in a game, providing a running description of the match as it unfolds. Commentators can talk to other observers of a game through “BattleCast”, and use a “paint”-style brush to draw onto the screen.A free “BattleCast Viewer” is also available for download from the official C&C website. This viewer will allow for people who do not own the game to watch others playing.

This is the most comprehensive replay viewing system currently available, allowing the game to be treated as a sport to be watched and commented on LIVE.

Voice Over IP (VOIP):

Another feature that’s available in C&C3, this is something that’s been widely supported by many games across all genres. This is an obvious feature for a strategic team game that greatly benefits from coordination and planning. Fortunately, VOIP has already been confirmed to be in the game.

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Answering Blizzard’s call for community feedback, we have compiled a comprehensive list of suggestions. These are the additions and changes we want to see in the StarCraft 2 Battle.net – Blizzard’s future multiplayer RTS platform.

  • Bigger friend list.
  • List of favorite replays, accessible from a player’s profile – and easily shared with others.
  • Online replays that can be watched with other players.
  • No UI lag – animations should never be the bottleneck in Battle.net.
  • BitTorrent-style custom map distribution (when a player or players don’t have it).
  • Ignore lists that don’t reset every session.
  • Ability to operate in a windowed mode and launch into full screen when a game is started.
  • Comprehensive game searching and filtering functions. Finding games for a specific game type or custom map should be easy and intuitive – some players only log in to find games of DoTa in WarCraft III, for example.
  • Cancel the countdown if a player leaves during it instead of launching the game. Usually, when a player leaves, the game becomes useless and the host has to recreate it anyway.
  • Random selection between two races only (i.e. excluding one race from the selection).
  • Multiple channel presence, tabbed browsing.
  • GameReplay’s take on Battle.net 2.0 included an interesting suggestion regarding game statistics collection and data distribution via XML, which could be “mashed”, widgetized and rendered into custom ranking systems.

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Finally, and perhaps, most importantly, check out our poll on the top right corner of the blog. The poll deals with the rumored Battle.net fee, or, more accurately, with the widespread refusal to accept it! Make sure your voice is heard and vote in the poll.

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