We Need Local Play in Starcraft II

Starcraft II Login Screen

This is as far as you get multiplayer-wise in Starcraft II

Finally, Starcraft II is out. I spent last night trying out those features we could not access in the beta, and I loved them. Blizzard has made a great job and the game is certainly worth those 39€ amazon charges these days. For me, that is, for I have broadband. What deeply concerns me is that, as announced, Blizzard does not feature any capability for local play. I do not necessarily mean LAN play, but any kind of play that does not require all game data to be routed via battle.net. Why is this a problem, you might ask. Well, the obvious reason this is that paying customers are denied to play multiplayer even if they have LAN and multiple licenses available, just because their internet connection is too bad to handle it. I know for a fact that there are people thus fated. On the other hand, LAN parties, integral part of any computer game related community, have been made impossible. Blizzard has a history of providing great entertainment both alone, online or on LAN parties, and it seems that this history is about to end now and here.

Large LAN Party

Relic of the past -- 21st century nerd plays alone in his cellar.

I am hosting a release party for Starcraft II this weekend (and I hope we will be able to play…). Trying to convince people to attend, the point most often made by them was: “But then I would have to buy the game!” Note that at the time, I did not know we would have test accounts to spare, so I had no good argument for them to come anyway. I have no sympathy for them, but understanding. Who would buy a product he has never seen? There is not even Starcraft II demo I knew of. Consider what great opportunity is missed there: if there were a possibility for free local play, these guys could have seen — and played — the game in action. If they then decided it was not worth 40€, well, then nothing was lost for Blizzard: they would not have bought it anyway. If they decided otherwise, however, they would go ahead and buy the game. Note that in no scenario Blizzard actually loses money; it is only that free local play would create the opportunity for more customers. This is how Microsoft became big, this is how Counter Strike and, yes, even Starcraft became popular. But yea, why take free advertisement if you can spent millions on it?

I do understand that game developers want to make sure they earn the money they deserve. But assuming that possibilities for free play — or even piracy, for this matter — implies a loss of money is wrong. This thought is a inherently logically wrong, nevertheless popular assumption that leads to many anti-piracy measures. Often, we have seen that exactly those measures have hurt a product more than any amount of piracy could have. And I strongly think that Blizzard has made such a step now by assuming they could sell Starcraft II in the same way they sell World of Warcraft. And, let us face the simple truth: a few months from now, there will be servers that emulate battle.net. All Blizzard will have achieved then will be resentment in the community.

I am so verbose here because I want to make clear that I have thought very carefully about this local play issue and have tried consider both points of view. Since I assume they do not lie to us face to face, I suppose that they really want to do us good. Then, I have to say frankly: Blizzard, give us local play or you will get your noses bloodied (figuratively). I see the following ways to approach a solution.

Back to the Roots: LAN Mode

Starcraft Install Window

Back then spawn install was still real.

Reintroduce a naked LAN mode that does not need any internet connection at all. Yes, this might allow for some kind of piracy, but only for offline play. I have elaborated above why I think this would even be in Blizzard’s favor.

Their might be many flavors of this solution: You can require a client to have been logged in at least once before; you might even be able to check that all connected clients were activated with pairwise different accounts in order to avoid piracy. You might want to reintroduce good old spawn installations, too, in order to let people legally check out their friends’ dearest game.

I realize that this would be the optimal solution for us gamers but the greatest concession possible for Blizzard.

The Compromise: Authenticated LAN Play

Let us strike a compromise: we will not get offline multiplayer play because you fear piracy too much, be it justified or not. Fine — but then make it possible for us to play locally at all! Let us create LAN lobbies that can be accessed only with logged in clients. This way, we would be able to play without having to rely on battle.net and internet connections too much while you had your control. LAN parties would be possible again; providing an internet connection that is able to cope with a couple of dozen people logging in should be perfectly possible. You might want to provide some possibility to take friends along, though. Maybe allow us to have a limited number of battle.net guest accounts for each licence that we can give to friends. Such accounts would only be able to play locally and custom games, of course, and would have no statistics or achievements.

The Last Resort: Support Local Play in battle.net

If you really do not want to reconsider your position in this matter, please do at the very least this: extend battle.net such that it is capable of supporting parties. Let us create lobbies and tournaments with access control so that we can meet in battle.net as well when we meet in flesh in order to easily match up.

I really hope something will change with regard to local play since I do not think the extended community will tolerate it for long. But then, maybe Blizzard does not care about LAN parties any more and are even prepared to take the losses caused. When I mailed them asking in which way they supported release events, I got no answer.


  1. I think Blizzard care only about the revenue stream from Battle.net. Why would they care about LAN parties or their customers? We are sheep who keep buying their games anyway.

    I’ll disagree with the next updated licence terms and return the game.

  2. I’m glad that even though you don’t personally play over LAN that you understand the problem absolutely no LAN causes!

    It would be absolutely wonderful if they changed their minds over it – having more than one person connect to Battle.net on our connection is pointless.

  3. Andrew, this really is the only road to go. It is a pity that I like the game itself so much.

    Craig, I hope we will get them to reconsider. In the end, their handling of Starcraft II might determine how well they sell Diablo 3 — a game I would never play alone.

    Somebody on the SCII forums posted a nice link where a gaming company’s CEO says:

    When the focus of energy is put on customers rather than fighting pirates, you end up with more sales. It seems common sense to me but then again, I’m just an engineer.

    Way to go, Blizzard.

  4. Raphael,

    I posted that link. Stardock’s CEO is a remote acquantaince of mine. He seems to be able to make good money without treating his customers like criminals and watching their every step.

  5. We have to admit that Blizzard will never have performance problems because of pirates, though, using the current business model.

    Note: Out of 19 players attending our Release LAN for SC2, five bought the game because of this event and two of them only after checking out the 7h test accounts.

  6. I think you have answered your own statement, look at what you said right at the start:

    “But then I would have to buy the game!”

    Can you blame any company on the planet for doing something that means that?

    Remember, you want Games company’s to exist and make great games, for this these people need to make money, the more profit they make, the more they can argue a budget for their next title.

    So, DRM comes along to fight piracy, Starcrafts biggest piracy is LAN play, through cheats and hacks it allows people to run their own (unauthenticated) version of Battle.net, effectively allowing any number of people to play their product for free, outside of their control.

    People cry every time a company puts disc protection, limited activations etc onto their products, Blizzard has tried a different approach for the whole.

    But in general, I feel your arguement of “people hate the lack of LAN play because it means they have to buy the game” is a failed arguement.

  7. Please note that this was not my argument for removing DRM, but a statement made by people I invited to a SCII event. I do _not_ advocate privacy. I _do_ advocate, however, the possibility for free trial and offline (multiplayer) play.

    I strongly believe that providing quality will always pay off. Would you have given your SC or WCIII CD key away to people that wanted to play online? No, because the games are so awesome you want to play them yourself. Did you give them to people that wanted to try the game out? Yes, you most certainly did.

    Again, the number of pirating players does not imply any profit loss. Those guys might never have bought the game, anyway, but now they know the product and the company. This is free advertisement!
    Again: I do not say that to justify piracy, but I consider it an argument for companies not to care too much.

    I would, however, say that restricting online play the way Blizzard does is perfectly fine. I do not want my experience disturbed by pirates.

  8. Apparently, excluding LAN support is not enough. No, any event that vaguely resembles a LAN party has to be licensed now: