As most of us know by now, Blizzard is coming out with the Battle.net Balance for Diablo III and some extent, World of Warcraft. The new Battle.net balance allows us to put money into our balance to use to purchase items in Diablo III and, additionally, pay for our WoW subscription and other services. Once the money goes in, it can’t come out, unless you spend it on your WoW subscription, at least for now. This makes sense and easily defeats RMT clones of the future in Diablo III.
You see, the real money trade in Diablo II is all but a tradition. Unlike WoW, where if you bought your purps the community would turn against you, in D2 it was all but common. A forum existed on the Internet where you could buy “forum gold” to use and exchange for items others were selling and for the most part, was a popular past time for kids looking for a way to earn e-cred (the gold could not be cashed out, much like the Battle.net balance). Run their D2 bot, find rare items, sale rare items, rinse and repeat. I don’t by any means condone botting, nay, I loathe it, but I am just stating historical fact. Blizzard’s stance on defeating such nefarious ploys, between the rust storms and warden, has been successful.
Moving on, it’d make sense for Blizzard to offer their own “forum gold” but, see, I believe there is something more going on here. Something more than just Blizzard feeling like offering players a safe way to buy victory within Diablo III and my proof is in the BattleTags. If you follow video game news you’ll see that Electronic Arts has been making a huge push to get people to join the Origin bandwagon. Their DRM is tied to Origin, some of their titles is exclusive to Origin (including Star Wars: The Old Republic), and it’s a direct competitor to Valve’s Steam, Microsoft’s Games for Windows, and GameStop’s Impulse.
What if you could patch all of your Blizzard games in one go instead of opening each launcher and waiting each time?
Now, let us all think for a second. Battle.net has been becoming more and more of a unified platform for Blizzard’s games. More and more we’re seeing integration to the “Battle.net Platform” and we’re all getting more accustomed to it. Now with BattleTags we’ll have a cross platform userid other than our email to go off of which is a positive thing. All in all, our Blizzard games are unifying into one single platform.
Yet, we have to ask, is this the start of Blizzard’s own digital distribution frontend or something similar to come? We’ve all heard rumblings and mumblings of Battle.net transforming into a Steam clone and I don’t think Blizzard has said much on the subject. Yet, if we look at the way things are going, there is a good chance that we’ll have our own Battle.net launcher within a year or two. Who knows, we might see one with the launch of Diablo III. It’d make sense, since these frontends are all a powerful way for game companies to leverage DRM and control over the games you buy and gives the players an easy way to buy the games directly from them (cutting out the middleman like department stores and video game stores along with the cost of making the media in exchange for much cheaper bandwidth).
We also have to remember that Activision, a company that’s worth more than Electronic Arts, hasn’t made a move into the digital distribution platform market yet while EA is pushing hard into it. Steam was originally only for Valve games, but in 2005 (three years after its launch) third-party games began to show up. It’d make a lot of sense that after a while of testing, you could take your BattleTag, Battle.net Balance, and more into games like Call of Duty and Skylanders. Even more interesting, the Call of Duty Elite service isn’t available on PC because of security concerns, but what if CoD was intergraded into a launcher that could guarantee that security?
I know that I might be stretching things a bit too far, but I find it hard to believe that Activision Blizzard isn’t considering a digital distribution platform of their own and Battle.net just has too much going for it to just ignore. It has the branding, the services, and now a wallet to store funds in (and a way to earn those funds within the game!).
If I was them I’d probably be working on a Battle.net launcher right now and thinking of a long term plan of action, such as a slow and controlled integration, and a long term view on the gaming market. Of course, this is all but my opinion, and who knows. It could just be that they don’t want people rushing out and giving third parties money for their intellectual property and that’s the end of the story. On the other hand, I see it was a start of something else.
Of course, if Blizzard made a Steam clone we’d all benefit from it, a central executable to start all of our Blizzard games and if they do the overlay right (if they have one), then we could all be throwing our Battle.net BattleTags around like some people throw their social networking IDs.
What do you think? Are you upset enough over the Battle.net Balance to care much more about anything past that or would you actually like to a single program to launch and patch all of your Blizzard titles? Let us know in the comments section below.
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