Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Your Next Game Buy Could Be from Battle.net

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 44 comments

Battle.net could very well be the next big Steam.

Blizzard has been very successful in building Battle.Net as a closed gaming service and expanding its features to grow its audience. While Blizzard has always maintained a position that Battle.Net is different than Steam, the time may come for Blizzard to open up its service to other publishers. And it may have a good case that sounds very appealing to gamers: No DRM. Sort of.

Steam and Battle.Net are the two Goliaths of PC gaming networks, yet they could not be any more different. Steam has about 25 million subscribers, Battle.Net is rumored to be somewhere in the range of somewhere between 25 - 30 million. Steam dominates the online game retail market with an estimated share of about 75%, while Blizzard, the creator of Battle.Net, controls about 62% of the global MMORPG online subscription market – lead by an estimated 11.5 million World of Warcraft players (at the end of 2008.) Blizzard has not released official membership numbers for Battle.Net, but claims that Microsoft’s Xbox Live, which currently has about 23 million members, is “not even close.”

Compared to Steam’s model to provide game titles from a variety of publishers, the Battle.Net gaming service is limited to Blizzard titles. However, I wonder whether Battle.Net has a ginormous opportunity right mow that may be lost, if the company does not react soon. Can Battle.Net be the next, better Steam?

Opening Up

Battle.Net almost seems like a luxury at this time if it limits is network to its own titles. Granted, with 4600 employees, Blizzard has vastly more resources than Steam’s Valve with 225, but the user behavior economics have certainly changed since Battle.Net’s launch in 1997. The economics of scale also apply to these networks and both are trying to reach new users.

Steam has expanded to the Mac and Battle.Net, which has always had much more of a community appeal, said it will be integrating its service in Facebook, where Battle.Net gamers will be able to instantly connect with their friends and add friends to their Battle.Net friends list. StarCraft II will be the first game to feature Facebook integration. The new service due this summer will also feature Real ID, which  will identify players in Battle.net by using real names on their friends list. This addition clearly caters to community building as it makes your friends readily accessible.

Attaching itself to Facebook may create a dependency for Battle.Net, but it may also be the single most important opportunity to attract interest and users for its products. And if you have such a user base, there is always the question how you can leverage it.  

Breaking Down Barriers: DRM

Over the past 10 years, DRM, a rather euphemistic expression of approaches to prevent piracy in often rather inconvenient ways or the consumer, has been an interesting journey. DRM in the Internet age really took off with the rise and fall of Napster and ended up as trial and error what works and what not. In many areas we have seen content access restrictions come and go. It appears that gaming will be the next major battle ground.

Ubisoft has recently made waves with forcing gamers to always stay connected to the Internet to be able to play games, for example in Assassin's Creed 2 and Silent Hunter 5. Valve has a different, much software approach to prevent piracy on Steam: The company uses a system called Custom Executable Generation that "makes unique copies of games for each user allowing them to access the application on multiple machines without install limits and without having to install root kits on their PC."

Blizzard eliminates DRM entirely and simply requires a one-time activation of its titles. Star Craft II, for example, needs to be registered and activated once and gamers are subsequently able to begin a single-player campaign in offline mode. Both Blizzard and Valve are leading the industry in making gaming much more convenient again. 

Opportunity

Blizzard has said before that it has no intentions in becoming the next Steam. However, back in 2009 the company said "we can only say so much right now, but the plans are much bigger, much grander... and have long-term positive implications for gamers," which referred to Battle.net that could be much more than just a free match-making service.

So, what could be much bigger? The value of this huge opportunity for Blizzard only goes so far. At some point, the company will have to make a decision whether it is opening up Battle.Net to other publishers as well. 30 million potential customers with the intent to play video games could be a convincing argument. Over time, as both services expand the differences between Steam and Battle.net may blur and it may be just a matter of time until Battle.Net will announce the first outside game customer. In the end, it may be just financials that decides such a move.  

Steam has conquered the online game distribution market and leads with no apparent rival in sight. However, there is no doubt in my mind that Battle.Net is eyeing Steam as a possible expansion model and prepare itself for a real world battle. If there is a service strong enough that can challenge and out-resource Steam, it is Blizzard. At the very least we should be seeing lots of innovation in this field over the next few years.

For Valve, it seems that Steam is relatively secure at this time, but it also seems that its expansion into the Mac market has given others lots of ideas as well.

Wolfgang Gruener is a technology journalist and analyst. He was managing editor for the Tom’s Hardware news section from 2003 to 2005, before launching and acquiring TG Daily. Today, Wolfgang works with startups and publishes his thoughts and analysis on critical and emerging technologies and products at Conceivablytech.com.

Discuss
Display all 44 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
Top Comments
  • 15 Hide
    TeKEffect , June 28, 2010 6:22 PM
    One time activation sounds very nice
  • 12 Hide
    hokkdawg , June 28, 2010 6:46 PM
    oxxfatelostxxodisc swapping?, id say like 99% of games fit on 1 dvd nowadays... step outta the cd realm there. ( also not to mention the 5 sec spent putting in a 2nd disc if ever needed isnt exactly hard)


    I think he's referring to games that require a disc be inserted in order to load the game. Disc swapping occurs from playing many games that each require their own disc, causing the user to have to swap discs when playing different games. It's actually quite annoying.
  • 10 Hide
    dameon51 , June 28, 2010 6:19 PM
    So will SC2 have digital distribution? I hope so. I don't get why people are all about "owning a physical copy". Disc swapping is a pain in the butt.
Other Comments
  • 10 Hide
    dameon51 , June 28, 2010 6:19 PM
    So will SC2 have digital distribution? I hope so. I don't get why people are all about "owning a physical copy". Disc swapping is a pain in the butt.
  • 15 Hide
    TeKEffect , June 28, 2010 6:22 PM
    One time activation sounds very nice
  • 1 Hide
    deltatux , June 28, 2010 6:33 PM
    Until someone basically copies Steam, Valve is practically safe. I love Steam although my access to it is limited since my ISP caps me with bandwidth limits >.>"
  • -3 Hide
    oxxfatelostxxo , June 28, 2010 6:36 PM
    disc swapping?, id say like 99% of games fit on 1 dvd nowadays... step outta the cd realm there. ( also not to mention the 5 sec spent putting in a 2nd disc if ever needed isnt exactly hard)

    Anyway, im all for digital less its a game that for some reason i want the collectors version of, its alot more convenient, even though it does take alot longer to DL a large game vs its dvd counterpart.
  • 5 Hide
    hokkdawg , June 28, 2010 6:41 PM
    Interesting insight into the pile that Blizzard could be sitting on top of. However, I wouldn't be surprised if Blizzard stays away from a Steam-like product; it's just not their "bread and butter", as they seem to be more focused on putting out their own quality products and not seeking to "middle-man" other companies' products.

    It wouldn't surprise me if they simply sell digital copies of their own products & services, but I can't see Blizzard offering a Steam-like service that would differentiate itself so far above Steam as to cause current gamers to migrate to a new service. Facebook integration? If that is something users show demand for, Valve could easily do the same thing. Blizzard differentiates it's products (games) from other games by being more balanced, well-planned, and overall higher quality over it's competition. A content distribution service is so simple in nature and Valve's product is good enough that overtaking it would hardly be worthwhile, when those resources could be dedicated to making something with a true competitive advantage.
  • -5 Hide
    hellwig , June 28, 2010 6:44 PM
    The ONLY impression I ever had of BattleNet was a ridiculously slow online environment. I remember watching a friend play Diablo II on BattleNet. He had a sorceress, and would zone-in to a level and just run around clicking, even though nothing was happening on screen. When I asked him why he was doing that, he said it was because he knew there were monsters attacking him, but the server was so slow, he couldn't wait for the game to load them, otherwise he would die. Sure enough, a couple seconds later the game finally caught up, and there were tons of corpses and loot surrounding his character.

    Long story short, I've never gotten over that first impression of BattleNet, no matter how much better it might be today. The fact that they want to tie all their games to this new service just doesn't sit well with me. I like Blizzard's game, but I just never cared for BattleNet.

    Oh, and whats the point of an article speculating about Blizzard opening up BattleNet as a Steam-like service? The author clearly states Blizzard has no intention of doing so.
  • 12 Hide
    hokkdawg , June 28, 2010 6:46 PM
    oxxfatelostxxodisc swapping?, id say like 99% of games fit on 1 dvd nowadays... step outta the cd realm there. ( also not to mention the 5 sec spent putting in a 2nd disc if ever needed isnt exactly hard)


    I think he's referring to games that require a disc be inserted in order to load the game. Disc swapping occurs from playing many games that each require their own disc, causing the user to have to swap discs when playing different games. It's actually quite annoying.
  • 1 Hide
    duk3 , June 28, 2010 6:48 PM
    T some point

    You mean To some point ;) 
  • 2 Hide
    tokenz , June 28, 2010 6:48 PM
    I couldn't make it through the whole article. All the misspellings and errors makes me think a 4 year old wrote it. (I suck at grammer, spelling, and punctuation, but I am not a journalist either.)
  • 0 Hide
    Regulas , June 28, 2010 6:53 PM
    Not from me, any STEAM games I have (Orange Box) are on disk too.
  • 2 Hide
    Trapperkeeper , June 28, 2010 7:09 PM
    Battle.net DOES have digital distribution of sorts right now. You can enter your CD keys for your old games (D2, SC1 and I assume WCII and III as well). Then you can download the program and not be required to have the CD in drive while playing.

    And disc swapping is very annoying. We are talking about the requirement to have a disc in your CD rom drive when you play, not changing discs mid game.

    And I agree with Tokenz... Seems like web writers don’t even spell-check anymore. Its rather annoying. Makes the story seem very amateur and throws the accuracy of its contents into question. If the writer is too lazy to spell-check the story, why on earth would they fact check it?
  • 2 Hide
    vertigo_2000 , June 28, 2010 7:16 PM
    duk3T some pointYou mean To some point

    'At some point' would make more sense.

    I used to be all about having something physical. Not anymore.

    Before DRM, once I was done playing a game, I could sell it to offset the cost of the next game I bought. Console gamers can still do this.

    Now, every game I purchase makes me create an account and register the game online. Now the game is tied to my account and I cannot sell it without giving out my account info (which I never do).
  • 0 Hide
    imspecial , June 28, 2010 7:22 PM
    Blizzard integrating Battle.net with WoW, SCII, and any upcoming game just doesn't seem right to me. The service back in the day with Diablo, Starcraft, and Warcraft, didn't seem like a finished service. Laggy, support, user interface...

    Trying to integrate everything under one master account is similar to Steam. However, There is no way Blizzard's prowess will allow them to distribute other publishers titles through their service.

    Going along with the earlier news article, I would rather not have my real name available to online friends. Facebook integration? I sure in hell hope there is an option to opt out.
  • 0 Hide
    Regulas , June 28, 2010 7:41 PM
    This digital distribution (STEAM, The Abomination known as Games For Windows & now Blizzard/Activision) will end up like TV (Cable, Direct TV & Dish Network) or Game console download. You will have several big carriers and they want in a long term goal of all digital distribution and no store sales at all. On that day we will loose a little more freedom.
    Bill Gates said somewhere around the late 80s that envisioned a day when everyone would pay a monthly fee to Microsoft just like we do for Electricity or Cable TV.
    I say they did it TV and now want to take over the games and all software this way.
  • 0 Hide
    micr0be , June 28, 2010 7:43 PM
    any competition with steam would be great for everyone.
  • 0 Hide
    dameon51 , June 28, 2010 7:56 PM
    oxxfatelostxxodisc swapping?, id say like 99% of games fit on 1 dvd nowadays... step outta the cd realm there. ( also not to mention the 5 sec spent putting in a 2nd disc if ever needed isnt exactly hard)Anyway, im all for digital less its a game that for some reason i want the collectors version of, its alot more convenient, even though it does take alot longer to DL a large game vs its dvd counterpart.


    I'm talking about putting in the disc to play the game, not the installation process. Plus no discs required for the installation is actually handy when you format and need to install tens of games over again.
  • 4 Hide
    DM0407 , June 28, 2010 8:27 PM
    CD based games used to be great because of limited Hard drive space, you could keep the content on the disc.

    Requiring a disc to play a game is so 90's.
  • 3 Hide
    LazyGarfield , June 28, 2010 8:34 PM
    I dont mind buying games online but I do mind that they are asking the same or even higher prices for the download version!
  • -7 Hide
    airborne11b , June 28, 2010 8:38 PM
    I will never buy a blizzard game,nor will i support anything they run. Ill use steam until there is a better way. Steam community, speacial deals, and great selection are all the reasons i need to stick with them. Blizzard wont offer anything more than a less inovative service with their name plastered to it. Just like all there games. They use concepts already in usse, design an engine that your moms e-machine can run, and sell it to fools who think that their new game is "cutting edge". When is blizzard going to move gaming tech forward, instead of taking 2 steps back so that low end systems can run their games. Hry blizzard, we got consoles for that. Do us a favor and go make diable 3 for the xbox.
Display more comments