Blizzard gives Battle.net post.mortem

GDC Online 2010: Project director Greg Canessa and technical director Matthew Versluys explain exactly why launching a new online service to handle the millions of World of Warcraft and Starcraft II players from day one is no easy task.

Who was there: Blizzard's Greg Canessa, project director for Battle.net, and Matthew Versluys, technical director for the service.

What they talked about: Battle.net was blamed as the reason for Starcraft II's delay out of 2009. With the game and the service now up and running for months, Canessa came to GDC Online to go in depth on the development of the online service from conception to launch.

Starcraft II is just the beginning for Blizzard and the new Battle.net.

Canessa started by recapping the backstory of Battle.net. It originally launched in 1996 with Diablo and was billed as the world's first integrated matchmaking service. It changed over time with the releases of Starcraft, Diablo II, and Warcraft III. Although it originally ran on a single box, with Versluys deadpanning that it runs on "considerably more than one box" today. As of a year and a half ago, Battle.net had 12 million players on it, with about half of the audience hailing from Korea.

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. To achieve that, Versluys said the first step was to staff up the team. They built the service from the ground up and experienced a significant problem finding people with the proper qualifications to achieve their goals.

The first of the five main topics Canessa wanted to address was the idea of taking a deeply integrated approach to Battle.net. Blizzard wanted to create a seamless integration between the games and the game service. If players of Starcraft II don't know exactly where Battle.net stops and the game begins, then the team has done its job well.

One of the biggest lessons Blizzard learned was that it's "bloody expensive" to take this approach, requiring a complete rewrite of the client program each time a new game was tied in to it. Another lesson was that it can be challenging to work with the game-specific teams while the service is being created. Canessa acknowledged that the Starcraft II delay caused a good bit of friction between the game's development team and the Battle.net crew.

Canessa said he also learned how much work was involved with integrating social gaming features not just with the Battle.net framework, but also with the game. Making sure that things were integrated in ways that made senses (for instance, not popping up achievement notifications if someone is playing in a tournament) took lots of iteration and lots of extra work.

Next Canessa showed mock-ups of the new Battle.net's user interface at various points in development. In late 2007, there was an IRC-style chat window on the left of the screen, with the gamer card in the upper left. Throughout 2008, more browser-style features were incorporated, the gamer card moved to the top right, and a social bar appeared at the bottom of the screen. By mid-2009, Battle.net began looking more and more like an integrated Starcraft II product, with the main navigation in the top left. By 2010, the interface was largely recognizable as the current one, with tweaks to the color scheme and button appearances gradually phasing in until the launch.

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.

And while players value anonymity, Blizzard realized that they generally want to make just their own information private but still take advantage of the features that rely on others' personal information. Without a way to see who a player's friends are friends with, it would have been too difficult and time-consuming for players to fill out their own friends lists. It's much easier to just look through their lists for common acquaintances and then fill in gaps by inserting other friends' e-mail addresses one at a time.

The third big topic of the presentation was World of Warcraft integration. Canessa said the goal was to introduce new features that WOW players could enjoy even if they didn't care about Starcraft II, things like cross-realm chat and cross-faction chat. Naturally, they learned that integrating with an existing community of 12 million users and not mucking things up is difficult. Integrating friends lists and different styles of chat were just two problems facing Battle.net, and the team quickly learned not to assume that the social features they were trying to implement weren't necessarily right for all users and all situations.

For example, Canessa said there was a huge customer perception problem on Blizzard's forums when they talked about Facebook integration. In reality, all they released was a friend finder app using the social network, but there was "a lot of sensitivity around social integration" in the user base.

Launch complexity was the fourth main topic of the postmortem. Versluys said the Battle.net launch was easily the most complex since he'd joined Blizzard a decade earlier. Blizzard launched the service time zone by time zone around the world in a single day, across five continents and in 13 languages, with millions of copies of the games going out through physical and digital distribution. For Canessa and Versluys, bringing it all together was like landing a 747 on an aircraft carrier. However, the game did launch, and in the process it lived up to one of Blizzard's core values as a company: think globally.

Canessa noted that the last time Blizzard shipped a retail box product without a recurring revenue stream was back in 2003, with the Frozen Throne expansion for Warcraft III. After seven years, it was an adjustment to get beyond the thinking of shipping an MMOG game and get back to the problems unique to the shipping retail titles.

The last major topic they touched on was building and growing the Battle.net team. In the last 18 months, the Battle.net team has quadrupled to close to 50 people, and there are still another dozen positions to fill. The team has also been reorganized three times in that span as their goals changed.

Canessa said it's tough to find new people because it requires a very specialized type of talent, and there aren't that many game services out there to draw from. Instead, Canessa said Blizzard had to take people who were strong from a core development standpoint and had some related experience--smart people who were passionate about what a game service could provide.

The bar for an online service has gone way up in the last decade, Canessa said. A lot of what people expect and demand from a game service, as well as microtransactions and reward systems, are all drastically different from 10 years ago. Additionally, launching the service is just the beginning. The team at Blizzard has plenty of new features planned for Starcraft II and is working on feature-set roadmaps for World of Warcraft and Diablo III.

Quote: "We have literally 10 years' worth of features on a roadmap for what we would like to do with Battle.net."--Canessa

Takeaway: At the risk of understating the issue, it's not an easy thing to create a new online infrastructure for a hugely anticipated game with a worldwide simultaneous launch and seamlessly integrate an existing community of more than 12 million people into that service, all the while finding people capable of making that happen.

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Discussion

55 comments
gideonkain
gideonkain

If I were a soldier in Afghanistan I would be upset that, theres no LAN to play with comrades during down time, its region locked so how many Afghani players are you gonna find? (do they even allow video games there?) and needing a constant internet connection even to play th campaign or a game against the computer.

N0tYrBeezin
N0tYrBeezin

@gelugon_baat The use of words post mortem here is pretty clear but according to 1) dictionary.com : done, occurring, or collected after death 2) oxforddictionaries.com: an examination of a dead body to determine the cause of death or an analysis or discussion of an event held soon after it has occurred, especially in order to determine why it was a failure. 3) too lazy to do more searches So unless battle.net has either died or failed, the use of the term is questionable at best. I do like your substitute of hindsight much better.

mull20641
mull20641

Poor battle.net... he was only 14

N0tYrBeezin
N0tYrBeezin

Post mortem? Battle.net died already? RIP!

AncientDozer
AncientDozer

@RedEyedMonster8 Why is it when someone bashes or disagrees something popular, it becomes a matter of being on a bandwagon or else somehow the person things they, what was it you two brought up? Oh, right. Something about distinguished tastes. I don't know, it was illogical. But my point is it's all too common. I've done it, we all have. We don't like to see things we like hit with the slings and arrows of criticism. . but it's going to happen. Deal with it. I can bore you with the usual spiel about how personal preference, subjectivity, and how people are unique snow flakes but it is beaten into the ground. You can still like Blizzard or Starcraft (although I am largely indifferent to them) and find Battle.net 2.0 lacking. That Blizzard may've in fact gotten too big for its britches. @swamptick Realize that I can say I'm the president of the United States but that doesn't mean it's true. I'm just saying. But more importantly, it sounds like you only bring it up to try and validate your opinion without any real support.

Ladiesman17
Ladiesman17

Battle.net is great server besides Valve Steam. I already have my account logged in. It's great because they could provide minimal lag, efficient interface, & long-term service, not temporary service like APB server or lame crap service like ex: Ubisoft & Infinity Ward. ;)

slickr
slickr

We expected Bnet 2.0 to be 10x better than the old one and iot turned out to be even worse. No LAN, no global servers, no chat channels, bad custom games list, so-so game lobby and more frustrating gimmicks like facebook, real ID and always connected crap. Blizzard need to make Bnet 2.0 brilliant when HOTS ships to regain the lost respect and confidence in players.

PSdual_wielder
PSdual_wielder

Battle.net 2.0 have not satisfied me as much as the hype promised from blizzard. Up to this day since launch there has still been numerous slowdowns and disconnects, and the notion of requiring a login to play the single player is just ridiculous. As far as HCI heuristics go, usability and visibility of the interface is just standard and nothing outstandingly memorable, but the search algorithms in the custom list is just a pain in the butt.

Ladiesman17
Ladiesman17

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

RedEyedMonster8
RedEyedMonster8

@Swamptick, you hit the nail on the head. Bashing Blizzard doesn't make you have distinguished tastes, quite the opposite in fact. Take our good pal ated505 for instance.

gooflee
gooflee

@method115 Actually Blizzard stumbled out of the gate with Wow during the first months of release, because their servers couldn't handled the strain. At least Blizzard gave a couple of free days to play WoW, because they understand that frustration. It took at least a year for be somewhat stable due to the population. Those of us during the early years, knew that schedules for raids had to be planned for early evening because of the lag.

OrientExpressMB
OrientExpressMB

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

ated505
ated505

System sucks from what I remember. Me and 4 other people I knew got hacked through battle.net. Glad I quit that horrible game; WoW.

Jhedan
Jhedan

Im still bothered about the lack of LAN in Starcraft 2, and im fearing DIablo 3 will have the same problem...

AncientDozer
AncientDozer

I am also disappointed with Battle.net 2.0 and its lackluster features and lack of innovation (facebook and achievements really don't count as innovation in my eyes; people claimed that long ago). While Lan doesn't really effect me, as I'm no lan user, I am still shocked that it was absent as lan was always a major thing. Hell, even some of the consoles allow you to system link up for more people in person. It's not some weird little minority that does lan, it's huge. Huge lan parties, lan events, lan tournaments. What kills me though, is that they took out chat. I met a lot of my gaming buddies in the chat during Diablo and Starcraft. I still play with a lot of these people. The matchmaking is all well and good but finding custom games is ridiculous. I can't even find evolves or golem madness anymore. They dropped off the first five pages and I stopped looking after that. There are all these mechanisms to retain control and prevent piracy or cheating and to just. . just drill customers for money. . and I understand that. I also don't like it. While I was never one to think Starcraft 1 was beyond incredible, I felt that battle.net 1.0 was a masterful invention that all others should have followed. Certainly it could be improved, but the core was just brilliant.

blaznwiipspman1
blaznwiipspman1

battle.net 2.0 has evolved into some piece of crap! ALL they had to do was remake battle.net the EXACT way it was in starcraft 1 with lan play and enhance features to monitor hackers. Now you can't have more than 1 account, you cant change your account NAME if you wanted to, you can't really play money maps in regulation games like zero clutter. SURE they have facebook but for someone like me who doesnt USE face book it is a USELESS feature!!

Torff
Torff

keep it up blizzard :) @ manstein1973 Yea, have to agree with what u said, it was same for me -''HUH!? Battle.net is dead?''

sylyph
sylyph

Long live Blizzard.... Can't wait to see your masterpiece...

swamptick
swamptick

I know a lot of the kids on this forum love to bash Blizzard in an attempt to make themselves appear to be people of discriminating and distinguished tastes. I am not one of them. As a 34 year old professional in the video game industry I am here to say Blizzard knows exactly what it is doing and I appreciate that. Keep up the good work men.

manstein1973
manstein1973

This was actually a very interesting and concise article. I can't say the title was the best choice of words though. The implication is that battle.net is dead. Very odd.

megawalrus
megawalrus

I personally hate the new game.. It just seems like a weak rehash of a 12 year old game.. No new features, and my favorite ones taken out- LAN play, and the hero system from WC3. LAN is the entire reason I bought this game, so I could play it with my friends... and we can't even play the damn thing. And my brother can't play his own way through the SINGLE PLAYER game.. you have to share a campaign through the single player. Horrible. Just horrible. Huge waste of $60, and a monumental disappointment. Very likely the last game I'll buy from Blizzard despite their stellar track record until a few months ago.

Mekanop
Mekanop

Interesting article! Thanks for writing it and to the Blizzard guys for talking about some of the stuff behind Battle.net.

method115
method115

I agree it is no easy task. I remember how many MMO's failed simply because there servers could not handle the amount of people playing there game. Blizzard got it right on the first day (for most servers) some had problems like que's from to many people on that server but that just required changing servers.

Hellknite190
Hellknite190

I love how they forgot to mention the lack of cross server SC2 play. Nice one Battle.net!

SapSacPrime
SapSacPrime

The system was better this time last year, they never should have integrated it. Not only that but they have messed up continuously along the way and gone back on previous promises, when there is already a perfectly good template to work from set up by Valve...

thisranks
thisranks

I love Blizzard..always have, however...I stopped liking Activision a long time ago, and it's not only the big mouth CEO that's the reason. Unfortunately Blizzard suffers for it. I was looking forward to Diablo 3 and Starcraft 2 until the unholy merger.

Pete5506
Pete5506

Nothing wrong wit the new one yet

Zophar87
Zophar87

Thank goodness for Blizzard. If I'm a fangirl of any publisher it would be them. Everything they create is miles ahead of what everyone else is currently doing. I cannot think of a single company that puts as time and effort into creating games. Bring on Diablo 3, I say.

mardinn
mardinn

A few talented devs is all it takes to create a Supreme game ;p

-Elite
-Elite

Blizzard has a few talented devs. I guess that's the reason why their games take forever to launch. Regardless of that, their games are always fun. Cannot wait for Diablo 3.

Barighm
Barighm

Now Battle.net is where Blizzard gets a grade of epic fail. When they first started combining WoW with Battle.net, they told everyone with any kind of problem whatsoever-any problem, technical, in-game, whatever-that merging their WoW with Battle.net would solve the problem. Obviously it did not, and it created far more problems than it solved (I, along with many others, suffered from the "this account is not associated with a WoW account" glitch as a result of merging the accounts; never figured out how to fix it, nor did anyone else I asked in hours of combing the internet for answers. I left for a few months and when I came back it was working again). Not only that, but using an e-mail as your account name makes it a lot easier for someone to hack an account.

SirSpoon84
SirSpoon84

cant wait for cataclysm!! w00h00!

Toysoldier34
Toysoldier34

Just do away with battle.net and transfer it all to Steam, I hate battle.net and it is outdated and needs to be abandoned.

Adenosine
Adenosine

Social networking this, social networking that. Some people like it, some people don't. Just don't make it obligatory to have and join, and make sure to check with the players themselves whether something they are trying to implement would be positive or negative for them. Personally, I think social networking stuff such as MySpace and the like are bullcrap and should be kept separate from a game's major function.

feliscele
feliscele

Oh god, what a terrible article title.

Neil_Clancy
Neil_Clancy

"We hadn't shipped a retail game since 2003, so we sorta forgot how to..."

green_dominator
green_dominator

I own Starcraft 1 with Brood War and have never once used Battle Dot Net, As far as Starcraft II goes I'd just want to play the game and not have to bother with Battle Dot net because I know for a fact I'd never use it. I like Starcraft because it's an awesome game but I have no desire to play online or against people in the game. If I was going to play a vs game against people I'd probably play Quake III......

oldogg
oldogg

what a waste of time.

Dragonballz290
Dragonballz290

Battle.net is such a pain in the ass and I really hate how it's get shoved down our throats. "We have literally 10 years' worth of features on a roadmap for what we would like to do with Battle.net."--Canessa This scares me because of that Real ID incident we had this summer. I don't care what they do with Battle.net, as long as I can do everything I can do now, 10 years from now.

iowastate
iowastate

@Nodashi - Power PC the Mac that does not have an intel chip. Before they started using the x86 processor which give the newer Macs the ability to partition and run Windows with bootcamp. @Burlz - and WoW has always had a good size Mac community - the mods there are enabled for both types of computers. I hope they find a way to keep us running. If not I suppose I can live without Azeroth but am not eager to try

NiteX
NiteX

I haven't had a single problem with battle.net since its first existence with Diablo 1. And it's still awesome to this day.

blaqphantom
blaqphantom

i disliked having to make my wow account a battle.net one last year since ive never been able to log into the battle.net account through wow. I quit wow last year and hope i'll be able to log in when i come back for cata.

Woe2spread
Woe2spread

all lies! nuff said.. its way to easy to do that.

Gladestone1
Gladestone1

12 year span, does this mean..That diablo 5 will be out in 12 years along with starcraft 3..Wow hopefully im reading this wrong but it sounds like its what he said in a way..Id be upset if we had to go another 12 years with out another diablo/starcraft/Warcraft 5 type game..Diablo should be made every five years as good as the game is..Id buy it every 3 years lol..

FarmFreshDX
FarmFreshDX

The name "post-mortem" was very misleading. I was shocked for a minute they ended it since they apparently have plans to build up to a Steam-like dominance. Turns out the name was just poorly thought-out.

athenian29
athenian29

I always love these post-mortem analyses. It's fun to hear about the trials and tribulations that developers go through, and interesting to hear about what they took away from them. Lessons that must be learned.

AnakinSW
AnakinSW

Well if it's really "bloody expensive" I'm pretty sure they have enough "bloody money" from WoW alone...

Nodashi
Nodashi

@ Iowastate What's a PPC? Not being funny, just never heard from it, and I play PC games since C&C1 (and later, of course, SC1).