Blizzard’s B.net Project Director Greg Canessa and Technical Director Matthew Versluys gave the keynote address at the recent online GDC. Their talk was framed as a postmortem for B.net, and in it they discussed the growth of the system since its launch with Diablo I back in 1996, along with their future plans. Most of the discussion touched on recent upgrades and changes, especially the oft-controversial inclusion of the various Real ID features and Facebook integrations.

    Gamespot has posted a nice write up of their talk, from which I’ve pulled a couple of quotes:

    A lot has happened since the service launched, with Canessa talking about how Steam, iTunes, PlayStation Network, and Xbox Live have revolutionized digital distribution, while Facebook and MySpace have changed the way people interact with one another. Things have changed at Blizzard as well, with World of Warcraft’s success having a profound impact on the company.

    For the new Battle.net, Canessa said the team had a vision to create the world’s premiere online game service that would connect the company’s entire catalog, with a goal to make Blizzard games (and their multiplayer experiences) more fun in the process.

    …The next big lesson the team learned had to do with the user outrage about a decision to make the Real ID system require a person’s real name. For Real ID, Blizzard found there were issues with having multiple tiers of virtual identities—specifically, one name for each game and another for the Battle.net system. At the same time, the developers noticed that social media sites were using their real names. Given the security concerns with using an e-mail address as the Battle.net name (many users have one password for all of their accounts) and a desire to make players more accountable for their actions, they originally decided to require that real names be used.

    That decision did not go over well with many gamers, and the requirement was changed. Despite that, Versluys said the ultimate community reaction to Real ID was more positive than they had anticipated. In the end, they learned a few things from the incident. They realized that anonymity is very important to gamers and that having tiered identities requires more work but was ultimately the right call.

    If you somehow missed it back in July, or you want to refresh your memory, there’s a nice summary and timeline of Real ID events in the wiki. Despite the massive user outcry that led to the removal of that real names on the forums feature, Blizzard clearly feels the various Real ID features on B.net are a good thing, and something most players like.

    Gamespot’s also posted an interview with Canessa, in which he talks more about the service and the Real ID B.net forum debacle from earlier this year.  Click through for that, and some Blizzcon panel video.

    The interview with Greg Canessa covers much the same material as the keynote address, and there aren’t any shocking or controversial remarks, but it’s full of useful info and insight into Blizzard’s thought process behind the new B.net features.

    Gamespot: In your GDC Online session, you said the Real ID thing went over better than you expected. Was that in the context of its going over better than expected at launch, or during the time when the Blizzard forums were flooded with complaints?
    Greg Canessa: The statement in the presentation was about the initial reception when Rob Pardo and I announced it during our keynote at BlizzCon last year. What Matt was referring to was we were expecting if there was any backlash, it would have been when we announced the Real ID concept to the world last August. The following slide talked about some aspects being better received than others: the in-client social features, the Real ID inside Starcraft II, cross-game chat, friends lists, notifications. All the stuff we have in there has been super positively received overall by the community. Really the only exception to that was some of the stuff around the forums.

    Gamespot: And that was the requirement—that was eventually dropped—to use real names?
    Greg Canessa: That’s right. And that was a totally separate thing. Though it used the same name, it was two completely different things. All the work we’ve been doing the past two years has been building out the client-side and server-side services to facilitate the friends invite, the toasts, notifications, and cross-game chat. That’s the hard work, and that’s why the forum thing was a footnote. That was a thing our Web team did. It was, “Oh yeah, we’ll do it over here too.” But that was not the focus.

    So it was a little surprising, it was kind of a “wag the dog” situation. It was like, “What’s that thing? That was like some little decision off to the side. Oh, that’s a big deal? OK, we’ll reverse it. People don’t want it? Fine.”

    Gamespot: So you didn’t even have expectations for a response to that decision?
    Greg Canessa: We didn’t expect it to be as vitriolic a response to the negative, it’s fair to say. The level of heat [surprised us].

    Gamespot: So why are gamers so suspicious when you say things like “social features” or “Facebook integration”?
    Greg Canessa: It’s something we’ve definitely noticed more from the hardcore gaming community, and Blizzard has a lot of hardcore gamers. I’m not making a definitive statement on behalf of the industry, but I can tell you that Blizzard has observed there are some in our community that react viscerally in a very negative, emotional way to the social network phenomenon that’s going on right now. Some have viewed it as “this Facebook thing my mom does,” that it’s for casual gamers because of the content that’s on there, because their girlfriend uses, or whatever. I’m not exactly sure. I can only speculate and say there’s a percentage of the audience that has reacted negatively to the feeling that social networks have overtaken everything.

    So they were inherently skeptical when they heard there’s some integration with Facebook, when in reality those same people have come back and apologized. They’ve said, “We’re wrong. We shouldn’t have doubted you. We misheard you or didn’t read into it. We saw what you guys did and it’s actually awesome. It saves us time, it doesn’t have anything to do with pushing Facebook on my hardcore gamer buddies.”

    That was really a statement as to the complexity and communication challenges we have with some of these online gaming services combined with just getting the message out. It’s resulted in some confusion as to what Blizzard’s strategy is on some of these things until people actually see it in code.

    I don’t exactly have my finger on the pulse of the WoW or SC2 community, but have those of you who are playing those games noticed a growing embrace of the Real ID stuff? From what I’ve heard, the DiabloWikiReal ID stuff is tolerated since it’s not impossible to opt out of, but I don’t know anyone who’s enthusiastic about it. People accept it as an inevitable and unfortunate real world intrusion that Blizzard’s using to leverage their gaming population for greater corporate ad revenue, and don’t freak out since it’s not (yet) impossible to opt out of the “feature.”. Tolerating Real ID is the price you have to pay to enjoy the great games that are connected to it.

    But my sample size is small and perhaps non-representative, so feel free to disagree via comments.

    If you want more info, check out this segment from the Blizzcon 2009 B.net panel, at which a lot of the newer features were debuted and discussed. The demo’s all about Starcraft 2, but all this same B.net integration is going to be present in Diablo III, so you might as well know what’s coming.

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