Q&A: Looking back on launching Battle.net

Project director Greg Canessa reflects on the Real ID forum flare-up, why hardcore gamers are suspicious of social integration, and what's next for Blizzard's new cross-game platform.


At last week's Game Developers Conference Online, Blizzard's Battle.net project director Greg Canessa and technical director Matthew Versluys gave a postmortem on the still nascent online gaming service. The GDC Online keynote address offered perspective on the myriad logistical problems associated with launching the service, from tying together an existing community of 12 million World of Warcraft players, to launching worldwide on the same day as its showpiece game, the hotly anticipated Starcraft II. As if those tasks weren't difficult enough, the talk also delved into the problems Blizzard had staffing up the Battle.net team, as there aren't exactly a lot of applicants out there with experience doing those things.

Shortly afterward, Canessa sat down to answer some follow-up questions about the Real ID controversy, why gamers fear words like "Facebook" and "social features," and what's coming on the horizon for the online infrastructure that will power Starcraft II, Diablo III, and the rest of Blizzard's upcoming games for years to come.

Before joining Blizzard, Canessa had worked for casual titan PopCap Games and for Microsoft as general manager of Xbox Live Arcade.
Before joining Blizzard, Canessa had worked for casual titan PopCap Games and for Microsoft as general manager of Xbox Live Arcade.

GS: 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?

GC: 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.

GS: And that was the requirement--that was eventually dropped--to use real names?

GC: 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."

Blizzard's forums (not actually pictured) were aflame after gamers heard they would have to use their real names to post.
Blizzard's forums (not actually pictured) were aflame after gamers heard they would have to use their real names to post.

GS: So you didn't even have expectations for a response to that decision?

GC: 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].

GS: So the features that you had anticipated to ruffle some feathers--like cross-game chat and the rest--seem like value-added features. Why were you worried about those rubbing users the wrong way?

GC: Well the cross-game chat, presence, and notifications, those were all not very controversial. The only thing we didn't know how it would be received was the whole concept behind Real ID, which is to introduce a layer of identity based on your real identity in the context of a gaming social network. That in and of itself is a hugely innovative thing but potentially a very controversial thing. People like Facebook, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're going to want Facebook in the context of a gaming service. So that was what surprised us to the positive, that it was so well received initially. And it's not just initially. People to this day still love the feature.

I think it was a driving force behind our decision--which ended up being the right decision--to maintain parallel levels of identity. That was the thing that was internally discussed quite a bit, and it was controversial in some parts. Hey, do we need these two levels of identity? Can we bring everything to the real identity level? Many of us felt that it was important to maintain that level of anonymity at that character ID level so that we respect that suspension of reality that so many gamers look to Blizzard games to enjoy.

GS: So why are gamers so suspicious when you say things like "social features" or "Facebook integration"?

GC: 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.

GS: You guys obviously have a big hardcore base, but with 12 million people playing World of Warcraft, it clearly expands beyond just that. How do you expand that audience without alienating that hardcore base or making them feel left behind?

Battle.net will support a number of new features by the time Diablo III launches.
Battle.net will support a number of new features by the time Diablo III launches.

GC: It really comes down to Blizzard's core values and ideals: focusing on kickass entertainment experiences through the games and through the service. I wish there was a more complicated answer than that, but what the company does well is make awesome games. Our criteria is, "Is it cool, is it fun?" If it isn't, it gets cut. If it is, then as long as it doesn't hurt us in other ways that are against our other core values, then it stays in.

GS: How do you judge success of Battle.net when it's a product that exists strictly to enhance other products? Couldn't good or bad things be attributed to those other products?

GC: It comes back to our vision and our goal with Battle.net. That's to enhance the fun factor and entertainment value of each core Blizzard title by creating kickass online game experiences. So when we take a look at what we want to do with Diablo III or Starcraft II, we look at…how we come in as Battle.net and create an even more epic, cool, awesome multiplayer experience. We throw in a social network, achievements, and reward mechanisms, metagame features, community features, an awesome automated matchmaking system, a leagues and ladders competitive system. We create all this stuff around the game, allowing the Starcraft II team to stay focused on what they do best. We build that complementary skillset. I view it as additive, as complementary to the game teams.

GS: More specifically, do you just track how often the features you implemented are used?

GC: We definitely have a lot of tracking. We have a lot of data and understand the popularity of features that we roll into a beta. We definitely have a lot of data. But data is just that: It's a data point for us. Ultimately it comes down to what we think is cool. That's how Blizzard builds games. It's no different with Battle.net. We come up with a cool leagues and ladders system not because that's what data tells us that's what people want, but because we want to play in the leagues and ladder system.

GS: You've said you have a 10-year road map of features that you want to include in Battle.net. So how adaptable are you if you're heading in this direction and data or the players tell you they're not that crazy about that direction.

GC: Very adaptable, very malleable. We have a vision for what we want to do with Battle.net. We want to create this epic entertainment experience that will power all Blizzard games going forward, this connected community, that's pretty solid in terms of where we want to go overall. But in terms of specific features, there's a ton of flexibility. We weren't planning on necessarily doing chat channels or optimizations around search for custom maps as our first set of features, but we listened to customer feedback. We launched the game, there were forum posts and community posts, people saying, "This is very important to us." So we said, "You're right. We're gonna rejigger our road map and get this stuff out more quickly." I don't want to leave you with the impression that we're set in stone or that we're 100 percent malleable. The further out you go on that 10-year road map, the more malleable it is, but as you get closer to closer, we're willing to listen to feedback and will change if needed.

GS: What are some other features that are definitely going to happen sometime?

GC: Well another one is the marketplace. There's a lot of nuggets I didn't get time to talk about in my talk; one of them is the vibrancy of our mod and map community. Since launch, we have over 50,000 unique maps and mods on Battle.net published just in the United States, everything from puzzle games to first-person shooters to tower-defense games and everything in between. That's a huge opportunity for us. It's an ecosystem we've created around maps and mods and the custom game community that goes far beyond even our vision for Starcraft II and what we wanted to do with the core single-player and multiplayer game.

Marketplace is a huge set of features that will allow people to more easily find those maps, rate those maps, trade information on them, talk about them, have discussions around them, and download them for free or potentially sell them and give the map creator an opportunity to participate in the revenue.

Starcraft II already boasts 50,000 user-made maps in North America, and people can't even charge for them yet.
Starcraft II already boasts 50,000 user-made maps in North America, and people can't even charge for them yet.

GS: If the response is already so strong, how much concern is there that putting the exchange of money into the formula might temper or otherwise dampen the enthusiasm if it's not done properly?

GC: It's a great question, and that's why we're taking a similar approach to the marketplace as we did with the tiered approach we took with Real ID and character ID. We're not going to force anyone to charge anyone for anything. We're going to empower the map creation community to do what they want with their works. There will be a very vibrant, free offering as there is today, and we expect that won't change. But we're going to create an additional, optional tier to charge for their works if that's what they care to do.

GS: What do you see as Battle.net's competitors?

GC: We don't really have direct competitors in the traditional sense. I think there are other game services we draw inspiration from and are members of this small community of game services. We obviously know the guys at Valve very well and have a lot of respect for what they've done with Steam. They're a little more focused on digital distribution and less so on the metagame, community, and social features we're focused on. They're also more of a platform. We're kind of a hybrid platform and deeply integrated experience.

We also look at our friends at Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network as examples in the console space, but again they're more of a platform approach than a deeply integrated approach. We draw inspiration from some of the cool stuff going on in a smaller scale in the iPad-iPhone space--OpenFeint, Plus+, and now GameCenter--that are more at the indie and small-game level. There's Facebook in the social gaming space. But we really don't have anyone that's in our space in the way that we're doing this. It's kind of a hybridized, social-network-meets-game-platform-meets-deeply-integrated-approach specific to Blizzard games.

GS: So you don't have competitors so much as sources of inspiration?

GC: Yeah. I think we riff off of each other. There's stuff we're seeing in console games that is drawing inspiration off some stuff we're doing and vice versa. Same with social networks. It's a small club, a small group of people that are really enthusiastic about this space. But we're trying to grow it, and I really hope going forward we'll draw some attention to this corner of the games business. Not just from a headcount, hiring, and staffing standpoint, but also from an industry attention and relevance standpoint. [We want] more acknowledgement in the games industry as a whole that this is a rapidly growing and vibrant area of the space, this online game service space. It requires as much design and engineering acumen, as much iteration as building a game. It's an entertainment experience.

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Avatar image for williebazerka

@lazycomplife- funniest thing I ever read but probably true.

Avatar image for Glade_Gnarr

I don't care how many features you add, without LAN the new battle.net isn't worth it.

Avatar image for minty_cbo

great..now the spam bot's from lewt and d2legit etc etc etc (insert a bunch of green spam text here) are gonna start sending mail to my house to buy diablo items...lol also..looks like d2jsp will have life after bnet 2.0 afterall...now that blizz has a marketplace..probably be able sell maps on d2jsp aswell.... it will happen...

Avatar image for Masta_Rix

I don't think using real identities is a good idea, once people start selling items on e-bay for diablo 3 and you can track people down etc. that's gonna get weird. I've seen hardcore guys spend thousands on weapons that were in the game that take a long time to get. In real money. So take a child whose parents want to buy him a gift, the kid says I want the pig that carries my stuff on diablo 3. Some guy sells it on e-bay. Now say this guy is part of a group of guys who use the game to make money with hacks etc. this kid and his friends are now targeted as potential cash. There's his facebook with all his friends etc and they start leeching of his people. I know it sounds crazy but people are already doing stuff like that on mmorpgs especialy. Hunting each other down in real life. For reals no joke. How do you stop those guys with the fake id's that are looking to rob candy from babies. It's not like blizzards the police and have thumb prints of all the players and stuff.

Avatar image for strayfies

I'm with Auron, here. As a gamer of 27 years, I couldn't care less about social features. If I want to talk to someone, E-mail or chat clients or phones work. I don't need seventeen new ways to BleepTwitteriKnock them. Blizzard is a game company - make games. Let us worry about non-game things.

Avatar image for CptJuancho

my avatar was there hahah

Avatar image for Hellknite190

Why the hell do they forget to mention cross-server play every time. Its not a brilliant system if you can't play with your friends who live in another continent to you, so why are they acting as if nothing is wrong with it.

Avatar image for Scradin

Release Diablo 3 already, WoW has gotten babied enough as it is. It's constantly getting patches, customized and re-made, yet they just threw Diabl into the closet room to wait for next year!

Avatar image for D3thN1gh7

That was a pretty good interview. Lot's of interesting info and more insight as to the way things work within Blizzard and how ideas are spread around. The marketplace for Battle.net seems pretty cool, although I am a little worried about charging money for a map. What if the map you get ends up being a terrible game variant? Well it remains to be seen. But still some great new features never-the-less. Keep it up Blizzard. :)

Avatar image for EnDeR2015

realese diablo 3 already!!! im fine with battle.net as it is right now. o and they should realease diablo 3 in december not the wow expansion because more people want diablo 3 rather then the gay expansion

Avatar image for Ychi

Monetize, Monetize, Monetize. Its a disease and anyone is fooling themselves thinking they are "better serving the their customers". I hear those same fluff comments all the time in the business sector. Every time they say it who are they trying to convince? Its a sales pitch pure and simple and when they buy into it they are inviting FAILURE. The more they do it the more disconnected they get from their customers. Its about the games and whenever you put roadblocks in the way for people to enjoy them you invite failure. Greg Canessa I have a message for you "Stop worshiping the shrine you have of Bobby Kotick" Its evil and it does not have a single thing to do with what made Blizzard so popular to date. Blizzard was by gamers for gamers, the original members understood what that meant and why it was important. Blizzard was independent and did not need failing Activision. Greed opened the door and now we see the price to be paid. As of 10/13/2010 Kotick still has not publically refuted any of his statements for example "The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games." Greg Canessa if you have any desire to be remembered kindly for your efforts then go back to the roots of what it means to be a gamer and learn how to have fun again.

Avatar image for lazycomplife

Meanwhile... In the Diablo 3 office... -OH NICE PAPER PLANE DUDE WE SHOULD ADD A PAPER PLANE CLASS TO D3 LOL ROFL!! -Nah... 5 classes are enough... Lets go get some hookers and coke. Man WoW sure did make our lives easy, the boss doesn't even come here anymore.

Avatar image for Morphine_OD

This particular guy is full of himself and Blizzard. Some of their units sucks so much it's not even fun. Hellions are too bad even for an amateur project, so is the story behind the single player, it's too chiched and completely predictable.

Avatar image for Ladiesman17

New IP please... 1st person shooter / point & click adventure made by Blizzard... not Infinity Ward or Id soft... but Blizzard... that's gonna be cool... :) maybe.

Avatar image for auron11022

I am sick of Blizzard and their constant battle.net upgrades. Just go make some games.

Avatar image for RobbySpry

@Lazay727 I'd rather give my money to one of the small guys who actually deserve and need my money then, namely Arcen Games. Your comment doesn't make any sense. Blizzard aren't small in any way and they certainly don't need any more money coming in every month. They probably make more money right now than any other gaming company have ever done before. If you're a Blizzard fan because you see them as anything but greedy big guys, you're as blind as a bat.

Avatar image for killa32130

"download them for free or potentially sell them and give the map creator an opportunity to participate in the revenue. " If a mapmaker who is skilled can get some free money then i thinks it's alright, but it sucks for everyone else lol. Personally i would'nt buy any though.

Avatar image for shadow-crow


Avatar image for acasero44

To any of you who plans on getting Sc2 and was a Sc1 player you must know that i regret my purchase as the online is filled with cheesers in ranked matches(which are the most played) Custom matches in the other hand are only limited to some featured maps, You might find maps like tarpit d or Lurker XYZ but all of them are as empty as the antartica, This is due to the fact that you have to press a button "show more" which will let you scroll through the custom maps but since nobody bothers with that button you will only be able to play 10 same custom games while the rest get washed away with the new battlenet service. For Custom games Sc2 is very limited as there is no classic refresh feeling SC1 had or Warcraft 3 for that matter. For Ranked games is rather annoying having to deal with people who want to end the game within 5 minutes it started by using some cheap tactic they saw on a video. I dont think Battlenet 2.0 deserves any props whatsoever there is still unexplainable drops and the voice chat is average at best with bad quality. It is sad to know that there is 50000 custom maps but only 50 are being played while the rest you have to scroll down which nobody does.

Avatar image for M-S-M-S

"They (e.q. Valve-Steam) are a little more focused on digital distribution and less so on the metagame, community, and social features we're focused on" I disagree. Valve is committed to the community like no other company. Heck, some of their games were brought from the community. Steam is an amazing tool for the community. I truly wish that Valve and Blizzard will be able to combined forces in the PC front, and be able to integrate their service together. Probably won't happen, but this will be great for PC gamers - imagine the power this system will have...

Avatar image for Lazay727

This is probably the most profitable gaming company right now. Support the little guys. Atlus has been giving us gems for over a decade and we haven't returned the favor.

Avatar image for Mortifera142

starcraft 2 was good, hopefully diablo 3 will be GREAT!

Avatar image for blackfray

who gives a... about new features for battle.net? just release Diablo 3 !

Avatar image for m_sauron

blizzard is the best game developer in the world . no doubt

Avatar image for Gammet25


Avatar image for Pete5506

I love SC2, and I cant wait for Diablo 2

Avatar image for Dark_Infinite

DAM i need to start saving up for a gaming pc I NEED STARCRAFT 2 AND DIABLO III!!!

Avatar image for tehepicpwnzor

The general idea behind paying for user-created maps isn't inherently bad. It could create incentive for talented developers to create top tier, Grade A+ maps. I wouldn't be so quick to diss the idea altogether. However, I will say that I support Blizzard 110% on not charging for Starcraft 2's multiplayer.

Avatar image for GH05T-666

Starcraft was always great because it was free after the game purchase and offered a lot of free and different types of games, when we will have to pay for stuff it will loose its appeal to many of its fans. I love Starcraft but am very disappointed in how the gaming community is going to be charged money for absolutely everything one day.

Avatar image for TrueIori

so now we going to have to pay for user generated maps? Man you got to love where the game Industry heading -_-.....

Avatar image for NicoLikesSoda

yeowza -.-

Avatar image for balrogthane

@Sardinar The better stuff gets, the harder it becomes to justify stealing it to yourself. So you accentuate the negative until hey presto! you're not such a bad guy for pirating it, you're just giving those rotten, crappy coders what they deserve.

Avatar image for Maxor127

I don't know how they could've ever thought that forcing users to include their real names would be a good idea. It has so much negative potential and very little redeemable qualities. A user name and game keys should be sufficient for all of their supposed reasons for forcing real names.

Avatar image for fend_oblivion

Pay for user generated maps? Oh boy... :(

Avatar image for Sardinar

I don't like the thought process people use nowadays. The more successful Blizzard becomes, the more nitpicky the community gets in extracting the smallest flaw, and presenting it to everyone in it's inflated glory. Blizzard is downright perfect, and they will fix anything. Wait the hell up, damn it.

Avatar image for taxonomic

Wow, I can't wait to have more Facebook integration in my online games. That's so awesome guys!!!!

Avatar image for PERVERTOR

@dashawnthl it was not meant to impress anyone @pooyanh yeaah... just keep waiting

Avatar image for 2bitSmOkEy

They are adding a marketplace for sc2, aka an epic fail of monumental proportions. They thought the community outrage was ridiculous for real ids, just wait until everyone finds out they have to pay for maps. Rage will run more rampant then an Idra cheese loss.

Avatar image for FkThisName

Enough with the Blizzard articles of utmost unimportance. If someone takes a dump at Blizzard gamespot has to review it.

Avatar image for dashawnthl

Maybe it's just me, but i wasnt impressed one bit by blizzards new battle.net when i first used it. To me it was way over hyped.

Avatar image for pooyanh

Yeah, OK. Now on to the next subject. Warcraft 4 please?

Avatar image for happyface0306

FTFA: "It's something we've definitely noticed more from the hardcore gaming community,[......]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." Umm. What? I think it had to do with personal privacy and possible stalker attempts more than anything. Case in point: << LINK REMOVED >> I honestly can't remember one person; "hard-core", casual or otherwise, on the forums talking about their mother on social sites. It was ALWAYS about the privacy.

Avatar image for killa32130

"Battle.net will support a number of new features by the time Diablo III launches." Which is when? Been waiting for that game since 2007 and thus it does not feel any closer then it does now.

Avatar image for -Adob-

Introduce cross-region play for Starcraft. Gogogo.

Avatar image for Gamingcucumber

Okay Blizzard just let us Starcraft 2 players know when you are going to implement an actual lobby so that we can hook up with similar players and perhaps a rejoin button so that "if" your server crashes and you get dropped it won't get counted as a loss. Also a matchmaking system that pits Silver ranked players with platinum is flawed. My die-hard Blizzard fan's 2 cent.

Avatar image for Shardz7

I don't believe that gamers are suspicious of social integration, but putting your real name out there with that REAL ID system was about the dumbest thing I've heard in years in this industry. I'll be on there when Diablo 3 is released and see for myself what has changed...sometime in 2034.

Avatar image for HollowNinja

Glad to see they learned their lesson from RealID.

Avatar image for vandread5

its just a way for them to charge u a monthly fee in the future regardless if you have wow or not

Avatar image for Evenios

Battle.net 2.0 is over-hyped and has less features missing then most trial-ware. Useless for World of Warcraft (other then maybe cross region/realm chat) and lacking in big features (Chat anyone?) for starcraft 2. Yawn.

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