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Predicting Battle.net's social future

If you think we've scratched the surface of Battle.net cross-game implementation with Real ID, you are going to be amazed at what is coming next. Do I know any of this for sure? No, of course not. I base my predictions on three simple facts:
  1. Blizzard has created an account-based loyalty program that has encapsulated each and every one of its games;
  2. Blizzard is chock-full of smart individuals who understand community, as illustrated by the new community website; and
  3. Blizzard has made your account mean something into perpetuity.
If you think Battle.net is sharp at 2.0, you can't even imagine 3.0.

What do we have now?

We have no idea what's coming next, but what we do know is that one day, Battle.net will grow even bigger and start becoming an even greater presence in the games we play from Blizzard. Battle.net as it exists today focuses on the community aspects of an ever-increasing player-base of Blizzard fans. Battle.net is your home for all things Blizzard, including purchasing games, downloadable content, and subscriptions.

Battle.net is also Real ID, one of the biggest innovations to come to Blizzard's retail products in years. By linking WoW and StarCraft 2 with a dedicated chat interface common across both worlds, Blizzard is effectively letting you live in Blizzard-world without needing to break out of your game to talk to your friends in other games. Think about that for a minute -- Blizzard's universe is gravitating towards its own social portal, and no matter what game you play from Blizzard, you're connected.

Real ID still has its problems, sure, but for the most part these have been ironed out following the community's requests and responses. I'd still love an "invisible" or "offline" option, but that will have to wait. Nonetheless, Real ID is a powerful tool that many people are using to keep in communication across Blizzard's network.

Finally, Battle.net is a nexus for purchasing Blizzard games and expansion packs, downloadable content, and merchandise. Downloadable content is no new thing, but Blizzard has done something very smart in its DLC strategy. DLC purchases, like the WoW pets and mounts from the Pet Store, are account-bound items that populate themselves across each and every character you've created. For World of Warcraft, this is a stark departure from the WoW TCG precedent of one item for one character, in which your items are bound by character, not account.

What's coming?

Battle.net is going to grow in many different directions, and it makes me think about how this will change the face of MMOs forever. The criteria of what constitutes a virtual world changes every day. Facebook and Twitter are now two very unorthodox virtual worlds, running alongside the more traditional notion of a WoW or Second Life. The game is changing, and so is Battle.net.

I'd like to see Battle.net become its own social layer, in the very same ways Steam and the Steam client feature a social layer in its infancy. Battle.net has already paved the way for cross-game communication, and the Blizzard store has already set up the account-based game keys and downloading functionality. Instead of Battle.net being a portal that is accessed through a web browser, what if Battle.net was a layer you put on top of Blizzard games?

Steam minus the broad marketplace aspect is a good place to start. Layered over your games is a chat and social interface that you can access to engage in multiple social activities. Iterating on Steam's interface successes could be a powerful and incredibly potent step for Battle.net to take.

In addition, Battle.net and account security is increased by a second layer of gating. Instead of logging into your games, you would log into the Battle.net layer that could then launch games. A second security point could be added for another step along the way to input another authenticator code or some other form of account security. Having a Battle.net client installed on your system, however, allows for a more robust portal than the launcher window that WoW currently sports.

Let's not stop at a new layer. Imagine incorporating your achievements from various games into Battle.net achievements that grant you cross-game rewards. Finishing StarCraft 2 to completion could unlock a companion hydralisk pet on World of Warcraft. Achieving level 85 in World of Warcraft gives you a cool new costume for your Diablo 3 monk. Cross-promotion within Blizzard's own games could be monumental.

The Battle.net account is slowly becoming the Blizzard version of a loyalty program. The more you add to your account, the greater the benefits become across the Blizzard family of games. Let's hope Blizzard takes this a step further when it comes to purchasing DLC. Could you imagine if buying clothing packs for all your Blizzard games gave you a few tabards in WoW, some new outfits for your Diablo characters, and some new decals for StarCraft units, somewhat like Bioware's Mass Effect customization packs? Your DLC purchases could effect every game on your account.

The social profile


Your Battle.net account is slowly becoming the commodity that represents you as a Blizzard gamer. Slowly but surely, your Battle.net identity is going to morph more and more into a social profile. World of Warcraft's armory website was the prototype. The new WoW community site takes things one step further. Over time, Battle.net could look like a Blizzard Facebook, as you friend people on the site, communicate in and out of game via a unified mailbox, and share screenshots and information with the click of a button -- all from a layered Battle.net interface over each and every Blizzard game you own.

The possibilities are endless. Take everything that is good about Facebook and Steam -- primarily the sharing aspects and unified game portal features -- and add Blizzard polish. What you have is a revamped Battle.net 3.0 that exists as a social networking layer, connecting you and your friends through your love of Blizzard games and a shared environment. Battle.net could be and most likely will be the next generation of gaming social experience. Battle.net's future is bright because there are some seriously gifted people with all of this already on a whiteboard somewhere in Irvine. And that makes me excited.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard

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