Let me preface this by saying that the people who read my articles can attest that I’m quite positive when it comes to talking about Blizzard and their design choices. They are my favorite game developers by far, and I am a big fan of all of their games. This is not an Anti-Blizzard rant, or anything close to that. And also please note that this article is an opinion feature-article, and these are my personal opinions.
There is a fundamental problem with Battle.net 2.0, and it has existed since SC2. In fact, I am 100% convinced it played a huge part in SC2’s lack of longevity and lack of success amongst the community.
The lack of presence and “Ghost-town Effect” of Battle.net.
Like many others, my history with Blizzard games is very long, detailed and grateful. Grateful that Blizzard existed because their games have been the only ones that have been ridiculously fun, long-lasting and satisfying. I started with SC1. Than I played D2 for many years. I even played WC3 for a few years, and of course, WoW for many years.
Starcraft 2 was the first Blizzard game that I only played for 1 month. Not because it was too competitive, too difficult or not fun, but because the game had something missing in it. I would find myself only logging on to play a game or two, than logging off. A far cry from previous Blizzard games, where I would log on, chat to people, mess around, talk strategy, experiment, play games with friends and in the mix of that, play the game. Eventually, Starcraft 2 felt like every other non-Blizzard game – dead, finished and pointless to play.
Battle.net 2.0 turned SC2 in to a ghost town, and ruined one of the most social RTS games in history. As I write this article, on a Saturday afternoon, there are just 13,000 SC2 games being played right now, Worldwide. At this same time, there are 51,000 games being played in Diablo 2, an 11 year old game. SC2 has no community that compares to what have seen in past Blizzard games, (except for the e-sports community). Why? Because Battle.net 2.0 doesn’t have any kind of social features, and is built from the ground up to prevent communities from ever forming.
Before Battle.net 2.0, I didn’t log in just to play the game and log back off. I logged in because it was a part of my every-day entertainment schedule. It was what I did instead of watch TV or play other games. And it was the most satisfying piece of entertainment for me for the last decade. Battle.net 2.0 took away every single part of the Blizzard community, and became a means to an end for them, rather than an epic gaming platform that brought players together and was a social metropolis of entertainment, community and excellent games.
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Blizzard have done something to Battle.net. Whether intentional design choice or just plain bad work and negligent design, Blizzard has turned Battle.net and its related games to ghost towns, where players come in, play for a bit, and jump back out. No longer is Battle.net the place you hang in, socialize in, idle in and keep open on your computer throughout the entire day, but rather an invisible platform that pushes you in to a quick game. Where your identity is invisible, and you don’t see anyone else. Where the community is non-existent, and your character doesn’t even have a presence save for a 4 player game.
Without avatars and proper chat channels, Diablo 3 will be a ghost town. It will feel like a dead game with no heart, no memories and no community. No presence, no individuality, no “hey check out my new Sword that I just found”, no random private messages from some guy who wants to ask you about your build, or your gear. No sense of achievement, no bragging rights, no talking to a bunch of strangers about Demon Hunter strategies. (A visual survey of the chat channels from all Blizzard titles.)
The people who know me and read my posts, articles etc know that overall, I’m very Blizzard-friendly. I agree with a lot of their controversial design decisions, and defend them quite commonly when the community makes negative statements about them that I don’t agree with.
And here I am. Telling you and any one from Blizzard that may be reading, that I 100% disagree with the design direction for the social aspects of Battle.net 2.0, and strongly feel that this game’s longevity and the enjoyment it provides is going to be significantly and negatively impacted by the decisions to not have proper chat channels, not have a real sense of presence in Battle.net (In Diablo 3’s case, avatars within these chat channels) and not have a more vibrant social feature set within Battle.net.
I am also not alone in this opinion. Take the time to read this excellent article on teamliquid. Also note that a recent poll suggested that the vast majority of players want proper chat channels and would feel like not having them would be detrimental to the game for them.
While it is completely unrealistic to expect any changes before the launch of Diablo 3, I, and hopefully many people in the community would like to appeal to Blizzard to please improve Battle.net 2.0’s chat channels, and avatars to a level that even Diablo 2 had, and to not repeat the same mistakes of Starcraft 2.
Finally, I would just like to say that the good news is that most of this can be corrected and achieved by making but a few simple, and easy modifications to the current Battle.net Diablo 3 system:
- Larger chat window that can be centered in the main screen or moved. Make “Show players” always on, rather than an option.
- Visual Avatars representing players in the channel. Preferably smallish actual models of their selected character. Similar to the model we see when we click on “View player” in the current Chat interface, except always showing. This will give players a sense of presence and feel like they are visible and part of the community, as well as show their character’s gear and look. This is ALREADY implemented in the game, but tucked away in the right-click menu!
- Option to Automatically enter X channel when logging on to Battle.net, and a general chat that allows space for at least 100 players per instance. (I can’t emphasize enough how much better and lively the game feels when you can see people talking in the lobby).
- The ability to make custom games, so you can for example, make a game called “Level 10 duels”, or simply meet with some folks that aren’t on your friends list for any particular reason or event.
This article can be discussed in our forums here. And on the Battle.net forums here.