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The Mysterious Starcraft 2 LAN Package

By JimRaynor - 26th July 2010 - 07:48 AM

Activision-Blizzard outlawed private servers in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and it proved to be the best move for maximizing their revenue. Hardcore players complained loudly, but the game sold well. Any kind of new content based on MW2's fantastic engine required the inclusion of Activision's servers. Thus, all new content had to be funneled through Activision-Blizzard's money making machine. They did a masterful job of creating new revenue streams with their surgical removal of previous features in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare franchise. In an analogous maneuver Activision-Blizzard went on a “Public Relations” offensive stomping out the Starcraft2 LAN and somehow manipulating high profile StarCraft community members to state that losing LAN was not that big a deal. Make no mistake about it controlling and/or removing LAN is all about money. It’s all about protecting revenue streams and controlling the multiplayer environment in very strategic ways to create new revenue streams. Activision-Blizzard feels triumphant in its carefully engineered reworking of Modern Warfare 2 and is now prepared to carry this same revenue capturing culture forward into the StarCraft universe.

Let's take a step back and examine why LAN is a contentious issue for reasons unrelated to piracy.

Basic Starcraft2 Multiplayer Network Architecture
In SC1 two players can establish a peer to peer connection and play StarCarft 1 at extremely low latency levels across a LAN. Thus far, from all information I've hacked, slashed and gathered about StarCraft 2's internals this does not occur in the new game. Every 1v1 multiplayer game requires a connection between three `nodes`; the two individual players and an "SC2 Server". Each player’s moves are sent to a central "Server." This "Server" then communicates these moves to the opponent. There is an ever present "middle layer" between each player. Obviously, peer to peer across a LAN provides lower latency than a three way connection across the internet.

Unit Micromanagement Changes Under Lower Latencies
In StarCraft1 LAN and WEB Latency differences cause unit manipulation to feel different. 50 millisecond LAN latencies levels allow certain kinds of micromanagement not possible with WEB latencies. Is this why the various Mutalisk and Vulture "moving shot" style mechanics were omitted from SC2? The Phoenix "moving shot" requires no micromanagement on the part of the player.

BNet 2 Problems Can Not Interfere With High Profile Korean Matches
Activision-Blizzard realizes StarCraft games in Korean are high profile events with a lot of money on the line for professional teams and sponsors. Every sponsor wants their name on the uniform of Champion. Every team wants the Champion to be on their team. Bnet2 having latency issues during these high profile events is not an option. Imagine thousands of people packing into a giant stadium and being told: "sorry no match today because Boxer can't connect to Moon on BNet2 for some unknown reason." Activision-Blizzard realizes they must accommodate this kind of situation. This makes some kind of LAN package a necessity under some circumstances. Now the slippery slope begins.

What is a "High Profile" Match? Who is a "Pro"?
Will Blizzard artificially delay communications creating higher latencies that in effect making their LAN set up "feel like" a BNet2 game? Which events get to use the LAN package? What about the latency differences between LAN and BNet2? What is a "pro game" and what is not? How much practice time will players get to prepare under the LAN conditions of the "pro game" they are preparing to play? If certain "pro players" are granted tons of practice time with the LAN package while others are not this will create ill will within the community. Artosis outlined this issue very nicely in his June 23 episode of SC TV entitled Idra and Tasteless discuss BNet2.

Believe the Rumors: A LAN Package Exists
Contradictory reports are flying in every direction. Many reports claim the "LAN Package" exists while many other reports claim it does not exist. Based upon the required reliability for StarCraft televised events in Korea and "where there is smoke there is fire" logic I say this elusive "LAN Package" does exist. Activision-Blizzard continues to deny its existence so as not to anger the average BNet2 player and SC2 customer. There is a LAN version of Starcraft2 built by Blizzard somewhere. Activision-Blizzard realizes this version must be kept in very limited release and they are struggling with exactly how to do this. Meanwhile, "Rome is Burning" or should I say "Seoul is Burning".

Problems With a Secret "LAN package"
Activision-Blizzard management feels they successfully controlled MW2 community innovation in a way that made generating revenue for new content much easier. Doing the same type of thing with StarCraft2 is proving far more difficult. Once you create rules about whom gets access to a LAN package you must then create an infrastructure to enforce those rules. Every pro level SC2 team will want access to this LAN package. At this point Activision-Blizzard is playing with dynamite. If full time pro players start losing games due to an unfamiliar latency environment or inadequate practice time in a new low latency environment then Activision-Blizzard faces the possibility of alienating them.

Get Set For an Epic Final Chapter
As of now Blizzard employees continue to stare into the camera and tell us no LAN package exists. So far every source claiming a Pro level LAN package exists does not have a Blizzard employee quote attached to it. This issue and the channel flip flop is eroding the trust between the hard core StarCraft community and Blizzard. It is no mistake that as all this is going on Morhaime has stepped down as Blizzard's primary contact with the Activision-Blizzard mothership. How this entire BNEt2/LAN ultimately plays out will be just as interesting as the plot twists in Starcraft2's Wings of Liberty campaign.

The facts detailed in this article point to these conclusions:
  • Blizzard has been working on a Battle.Net 2/Starcraft 2 LAN Package for high profile televised StarCraft 2 games for some time.
  • Blizzard will artificially inflate the latency of this LAN package so that the environment feels similar to BNet2.
  • Micromanagement moves requiring 50 millisecond latency will never be a part of StarCraft 2 game play on any level. Only StarCraft 1 will have these kinds of moves
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