For the dozen or so folks out there who have not been following the Starcraft II development history, an announcement has caused quite a big uproar in the SC community. Blizzard has not planned yet on including a LAN mode for multiplayer Starcraft II. Instead, they plan to revamp and expand Blizzard’s Battle Net to make it more appealing and make all multiplayer appear here. One of the reasons also mentioned is combating piracy. In simple terms: you won’t be able to play directly against your buddies if you’re networked together, but the data from your computer will have to transit via the Blizzard servers and then back to your sofa-mate’s computer. The issue becomes a Pandora’s Melting Pot of considerations:
1) There is going to be lag, and the game will be much worse for it!
2) If 7 of my friends come over to my house so we can play an 8-player map, we would be effectively sharing the same one internet connection! The lag will be unbearable!
3) What if I don’t have an internet connection at this cool place, or am stuck behind an institutional one (i.e. university/college dorm) that restricts ports and whatnot?
4) Everyone will need to buy a copy of the game to log on Battle Net.
5) They’re going to charge us for this!
6) Blizzard won’t be able to maintain its bandwidth offer. They’re going to piggyback on our connection and have the players provide the bandwidth (evidence: they are doing this already with the WoW patches).
Now, claims 1-2-3 are pretty straightforward and I honestly couldn’t imagine how to solve them. One proposed solution would be that Battle Net would simply check the copy ID of the game to authenticate it (and combat piracy), and then once done, if the player enters a game with only participants networked locally, the connection to Battle Net is dropped and the game functions as an “authentic” LAN. So that might be a way out for them.
Regarding claim 4, I think this is true, unalterable, and shows a paradigm shift going on in the videogame industry.You would be hard-pressed to hack out a new Battle Net to fake identification of your game. On the other hand I am 100% sure someone will find a workaround for the ID check routine and either have it removed entirely in a cracked exe, or set the possibility for hosting games on custom servers. Which will likely make it difficult to find many kinds of players (who could host a server large enough for thousands of players, without some sort of income from it?), but would at least allow peeps to have a friendly LAN going on.
This is interesting because it is a symptom of the growing trend from publishers (and some developers) in seeing video games as something different than the rest of entertainment products. When you buy a movie, it is okay for you to watch it with other people. Books can be sold in pawn shops and second-hand bookstores. Listening to music in your car, if three people are seated with you, is expected. It seems video game publishers nowadays are continuously inventing schemes to make players hold on to their copies instead of exchanging or pawing them off (DLC is increasingly used to that end). Online play is another way to make sure someone isn’t just inviting friends over to play through his copy of the game; everyone has to shell out. It’ll be interesting to see where this takes gaming.
Now let’s turn to claims 5 and 6. Is it going to cost money to play Starcraft II in mutliplayer? Not exactly, but not far off (http://www.incgamers.com/Interviews/190/StarCraftIIDevelopersInterviewed:).
One idea which has been discussed in different iterations is microtransactions, meaning the service is free, but added value services like starting a custom tournament, league, or the like would cost a small amount of money.
This ties in with claim 6. I am guessing advertisements and back-seat bandwidth for “free BNET users”, and if you want to have no advertisements and responsive bandwidth, you have to pay a subscription or some other type of fees. The usual retort to this mercantile vision is that casual gamers won’t mind being slowed a bit if it means they can play for free, and only the most hardcore players would shell out money for this kind of thing. But Starcraft is just the perfect game for this, as virtually everyone that plays this game online plays really seriously. They can probably expect to make a good bit of money from there, but there’s likely something else.
So why no LAN in Starcraft II? I bet Blizzard is looking at those pro-gaming leagues in South Korea with a vastly different eye than we, or Starcraft enthusiasts. Flattering at first, these events sporting big bucks must have grown a wearisome sight in the eyes of the company. My guess is they’re targeting the competitive scene and want to make some kind of money from this, probably by offering “dedicated bandwidth”, “matchmaking tools”, “no ads” and “tournament support” options. They know they can fund Starcraft III by only selling in South Korea anyway.