Saturday, 29 August 2009

StarCraft II LAN fiasco: What Blizzard should do

Among all most wanted titles of 2009-2010, one of the game that’s ranked pretty high on my list is StarCraft II. But the recent ruckus about the missing LAN feature kinda dropped the hype for me, the rage of the SCII fans and community member is utterly disheartening, and the stance of the developers on this matter is simply adding salt to the wound.

Blizzard is well known for its PC roots, and it’s great that until today, they still deliver quality games exclusively to their PC fans. The reason of the omission of LAN or local network gaming to combat piracy is fully understandable. But there are surely better ways to implement the workaround and not making an impression of ‘punishing’ the gamers.

From what we can see in the recent showing at BlizzCon ’09, it seems that Battle.Net login is becoming the main in-game gateway before gamer can access the game, and ‘Play as Guest’ is the only offline play mode available. This system awfully resembles Battlefield 2142, and it’s one of the worst case in comparison, I must say. In my first experience with BF2142, you can play offline using an ‘injected’ default player profile, but all of the achievements and statuses will be nullified. This means that you can’t progress in rank, can’t unlock new items and weapons, and what’s worse: making the game completely uninteresting to play because you can’t play the damn drool-inducing Titan Mode. Guess what? That time, I was left with no options to access the internet. My dial-up modem crapped out, and I had just moved in to the new rented house with my family so no broadband either. Curse you EA.

Does Guest Account do what I think? Better not be. If this is the case, then what Blizzard do is far from embracing its loyal userbase on the PC, it’s downright hurting them. What about gamers who doesn't have access to the Internet at all? There are third-world countries to consider as well.

Are there ways that Blizzard can do to avoid this? Sure! Look at Valve.
With Steam, my online game experience (and single-player, too) can’t be any better. Downloading bought, legal games is easy. But that’s not the point here. If Blizzard is going the DRM route, then in-game Battle.Net login should be scrapped. They should implement an external authentication software to do so. Why? Because firewalls and non-transparent proxies in home and office networks don’t favor ports other than HTTP ones.

I had severe headache when I tried to run Ragnarok Online and similar online games through FreeProxy back in 2003. But now games on Steam alleviates such login problems because, in order to run the games, all they need is a centralised login account. Even though you’re using a port redirection, Steam can still login and run the game with full LAN and campaign features (although you can’t browse for online servers, because that needs a different connection port). Heck, it can even run in offline mode, using the stored login credentials.

So, I suggest either Blizzard jump into the Valve bandwagon, which is, very unlikely, or implement an external, proxy-and-firewall-aware authentication system. Both are good for the gamers. And they should really announce that kind of update and network compatibility issues, just … stop being vague by saying ‘No LAN? No big deal’. No big deal my *ss!!

Not all people will buy the game. Some will still crack and torrent it away. Look at Stardock. Blockbuster hit Sins of Solar Empire and Demigod makes good sales figures, (also, ‘good’ pirated copy figures) and they didn’t even think of using a DRM or some bloated authentication system. Why? Because: good games will sell.

Unless if SCII turns out to be a mediocre game and Blizzard is trying hard to sell it otherwise they’ll go bankrupt. But I’ll bite myself for saying that. =P

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