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The Man Behind Battle.net: Greg Canessa Speaks
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The Man Behind Battle.net: Greg Canessa Speaks

September 4, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next
 

[Blizzard is readying a massive upgrade for in-house game specific online game service Battle.net, to debut alongside StarCraft II, and Gamasutra sits down with recently appointed Battle.net head Greg Canessa to hear about the philosophy and practicality behind those plans.]

Blizzard recently announced that development on the next generation of its Battle.net PC online game service -- a much more ambitious project than had been previously realized -- was responsible for the delay of the eagerly anticipated StarCraft II.

The service is being headed up by Greg Canessa, who most notably spent time as a Microsoft executive, working closely on Xbox Live. That service, which features many of the community features that are slated to be introduced to Battle.net in its next version, has proven to be integral to the popularity of the Xbox 360 platform.

Gamasutra recently had a chance to speak to Canessa about his transition to working as the project director on Battle.net, his thoughts on online platforms, and about what the announced features of Battle.net really mean for gaming, and for Blizzard.

How did you end up at Blizzard? There's certainly a lot of technical overlap between this and your work at Microsoft.

Greg Canessa: Well, I did a stint at PopCap in between. But I spent seven years at Microsoft, mostly Xbox, where I was the creator of Xbox Live Arcade and one of the executives over Xbox Live. I left there and went to PopCap, and ran their gaming and some of their online businesses.

And then I started talking to [Blizzard design VP] Rob Pardo and decided to come down. It was really because of the vision behind Battle.net, obviously. Rob and I share a very common vision behind the opportunity behind the new Battle.net and the ways to extend some of the great successes that services like Xbox Live and Steam have had in the marketplace.

We feel like those are just scratching the surface of [what] a company like Blizzard -- with the critical mass of community, brands, and marketing position -- could do in building an online game service. We had a very common vision. So, we decided to team up, and I decided to come down a few months ago.

So you've just been here a few months? Are you still getting settled in?

GC: Yeah, about three and a half months now. [laughs] It was kind of like parachuting into Omaha Beach. There's a lot going on obviously, and Blizzard's a very fast-paced company.

But I've definitely got a handle on things, and the team is very busy and in production on the shipping feature set for the new Battle.net for Starcraft II. It's incredible exciting to be able to finally talk about this, because it's been a very secret project for some period of time.

There must be big operational differences between designing a system that must allow for every publisher and every developer on a platform, as opposed to a developer-specific system like Battle.net that can cater exclusively to that developer. Can you talk about that at all?

GC: Totally. This is actually one of the main things. It's a consumer message, but it's also an industry message. [It's] one of the key things that distinguishes Battle.net from other competitive services like an Xbox Live or a Steam or a PlayStation Network.

This goes back from my time helping to manage Xbox Live. That system, as brilliant as it was, was a platform. And PlayStation Network and Steam, they're also very platform-based.

The set of online game services we provided over there, whether it was GamerScore or TrueSkill matchmaking or achievements or any of those systems, had to be build with the fact that they were a platform in mind. Call of Duty and Lego Star Wars and Bejeweled all had to sit on that platform.

To a certain extent, that drives how deeply or not deep you can integrate those game services with specific gaming scenarios. We were bound by that constraint. At Blizzard, we are not bound by that constraint, and that's actually one of the key aspects of the vision that attracted me to the company when Rob called.

He was like, "Hey, listen. What if you could build an online game service that had that level of sophistication or greater, but you weren't bound by the constraints of being a platform provider? You could come out of it from a perspective of, 'What you could you do with those online game services by deeply integrating them into specific games?'"

We just scratched the surface with Xbox Live of what you could do with achievements. Wow, you can earn achievements. Great. But what if you customize those achievements really deeply and build really compelling meta-game scenarios around unlockable rewards, or decals and avatars, and ladders and leagues for StarCraft II?

Those things would be really hard to do for Xbox Live. Believe me, I was on the other side. We would have loved to do that stuff, but we couldn't do it because we couldn't integrate it. Some games, it applies; some games, it doesn't apply. You can't do that sort of custom stuff.

At Blizzard, we're not bound by that constraint. We have a small number of titles we can deeply integrate in and create these kick-ass custom around-the-game features and meta-game services for a small number of games. That is our key distinguisher, and that is something I'm super excited about.

I believe the industry just collectively has only scratched the surface on what's possible with these online gaming services. I think the real next generation is about being able to pay off with some of those deeply integrated scenarios.


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Comments


Rocket Man
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Hey, Greg, here in Spain the main internet provider offers only 320 kbps of upload bandwidth. Some providers offer more (up to 1 Mb), but only in the big cities. How are we supposed to play LANs on that?. What if we have no net connection? (usual when we go to the coast to play on a friend's house).



I'm all for whatever improvements you put in BNet 2.0, whatever it is that betters everybody's experience, as long as those are optional. When you are shoving BNet 2.0 down our throats, and removing LAN because (depending on who and when you ask) either the new BNet is SO good that we are not even allowed to NOT use it, or because you are SO worried about piracy (denied later, and completely ridiculous, since the original StarCraft is in sales top 10s even now), and even worse, you are delaying the game because of the new BNet, then sorry, but I can't avoid thinking that Blizzard has totally lost its way, and also all respect for their customers, and can only respond accordingly by not buying your game.



All I've heard lately from Blizzard has been BS. Removing LAN is unjustifiable. The game is ready but you're delaying it because of the new BNet?. Damn it, launch it now and patch it later!. We can live for a year without achievements, friends' chat and whatever other things you have in there. Hell, give me LAN and I can live FOREVER without all of that!. I already have all my friends in the same room when I'm playing!.



Well, looks like I answered myself there.



PS.- Have you seen the SC2 LAN petition?. Yeah, I know that there's an idiot filling it with a bot, but still, even if half of that is true.. Don't you care what 80.000 of your fans think?.

Maurício Gomes
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@Rocket Man



You see, Spain is good, here in Brazil all upload is 256kbps, even o expensive internet connections.



And anyway, internet with 256kbps upload in fact is a rarity, 80% of the population are still using dial-up.

And a good portion have no internet at all (even dial-up is ungodly expensive).

Simon Ludgate
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I think you're missing the point:



"We just scratched the surface with Xbox Live of what you could do with monetization."



Ever since Kotick took over Blizzard, their focus has been feeding his 15 million-a-year greed (http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=24768). The new battle.net will be chock full of advertisements (http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=25055). I wouldn't be surprised if they charged a Live Gold style subscription for "premium" features such as matchmaking or rankings (http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=24732). Not to mention all the bonus features like charging you to form a guild or upload a symbol or record/distribute a replay. I wouldn't be surprised to see an expensive battle.net voice service offered too.



It's a perfect compliment to splitting StarCraft II into 3 parts to triple sales revenue.



The new battle.net isn't about stopping piracy; people will hack the authentication and produce private b.net servers, no different than WoW's private servers or even the original b.net private servers. Pirates aren't paying, so they're not a revenue source worth going after. The new b.net is actually about making MORE money from the people who have already demonstrated a willingness to pay. If you buy the game, if you pay for internet, then what else can they get you to pay for? As much as inhumanly possible, is what Kotick "I'd charge them even more if I could" would say (http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=24208).

Chris Remo
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I was really hoping that, even though there are people who have genuinely legitimate complaints about the lack of traditional LAN play in StarCraft II, that since it is the only topic ANYBODY has discussed in these news stories and features, maybe by now we could have one piece whose comments section isn't full of nothing but LAN comments. I guess I was far too optimistic in thinking that people on a site like Gamasutra might actually be interested enough in any of the other myriad interesting topics we've been covering surrounding these games to discuss something else, or at least acknowledge that at this point the only real-world effect posting about nothing but LAN in these stories will have is to keep any other legitimate topics from being discussed in these threads. Gamasutra comments are not going to cause LAN to reappear, I guarantee.



This interview isn't about LAN. So let's keep it on topic, okay?

Maurício Gomes
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It is about BNET 2.0, that removes LAN.



But you are right, that: http://www.petitiononline.com/LANSC2/petition.html maybe will make LAN reappear.

Chris Remo
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LAN was never part of Battle.net. It was a separate feature. Battle.net is and always has been an online service. This interview is not about LAN.

Maurício Gomes
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I know,what I meant is that BNET 2.0 will have LAN auth, and you are obliged to log-in on BNET 2.0 to use "LAN" or SP without a "guest account"

Chris Remo
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The fact that you're able to comment so often on this site suggests to me that your Internet connection is sufficient to check into an online service and authenticate, even if you don't feel it's sufficient to play an actual online game. Regardless, this is not the topic of this interview and I must explicitly request you please give it a rest.

Tom Benda
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I'm not exactly sure how anybody could say that's not on topic.



As Battle.net is the service which is slated to completely *replace* LAN technology (whereas before it was simply a companion networking option), comparing it to the old (and from experience with the old Battle.net, superior) technology is completely relevant.



People want their fears about usability addressed, and thus far, that's not happened. Blizzard can't be blind to the issue that this is important to fans, and they can't be blind enough to not realize this is going to hurt business, so it's clear they're not concealing some whammy that will make everybody happy or they'd be hinting in that direction already.



If it really just comes down to monetization, they'd probably breed less ill will if they just admitted that. If they've got some crazy secret in the works that they can't talk about due to some intense legal deal, they should at least be hinting there's something down the line which people are going to like.



And if this is just about building a massive community, I suppose alienating every customer who doesn't want to participate is a lot cheaper than trying to convert them to the idea with marketing.

Chris Remo
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Read the interview. It includes no LAN discussion. That's how I can claim LAN is not on topic. Maybe you would have preferred an interview about LAN. We've already run multiple stories about LAN, including at least one with Blizzard employee comments, but this isn't one of them.



Gamasutra is not Blizzard. We can't replace LAN, and commenting on a trade website about it is not going to change anything. Surely there is a LAN story somewhere else where these comments are actually relevant to the text of the piece.

Tom Benda
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So you're inviting commentary on the body of the interview, not dialogue with the interviewee. That's understandable - the man's busy and probably is tired of getting the same questions over and over.



It's not necessarily valid to say that just because you didn't ask the question that the question isn't relevant, however. I understand your position, I just disagree with your scolding uncle approach to the individuals commenting on what was omitted.

E Zachary Knight
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I must agree with Chris. While I have made the decision to not buy SC2 because of the lack of LAN support, it is not relevant to the discussion at hand.



I am very curious to find out and discuss the next phase of Battle.net. While I have not used the old model extensively, it does come in handy for quick games that are not part of the built in expansions to Blizzard games.



Personally, I want to see what Blizzard has coming as I have always been a big fan of their games.

Mark Addonizio
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"...what if you customize those achievements really deeply and build really compelling meta-game scenarios around unlockable rewards, or decals and avatars, and ladders and leagues for StarCraft II?"



Is it just me, or does this not seem as exciting as Mr. Canessa wants it to be? I guess I'll have to see how 'deeply intergrated' they are, but I don't feel decals and avatars are all that much more exciting than a gamerscore in the first place. Unlockable rewards is vague enough to get me interested, but I'm also not competitive enough for ladders and leagues to appeal to me too strongly. Also, does this mean that some unlockables won't be available to certain players if they don't purchase/play all Blizzard games?



It will also be interesting to see how quickly people leave behind their 10 year old profiles/rankings for the new system. I'm sure people are excited to move on to Diablo 3/Starcraft 2, but will they abandon their old profiles before they're migrated? How many people are going to lose that information (with b.net accounts deleted after 3 months of inactivity... is that restriction still in place? I haven't been on b.net in a while...)



Anyway, thanks for the Hot Scoop Chris. It's exciting to me that I won't have to pay for the Far Cry 2 remake in the SC2 editor (at least, initially). I do hope there's a Puffin critter type to litter the maps with.

Tom Benda
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I'd have liked to see some more focus on the future as well, but I guess Blizzard's playing it close to the vest.



It seemed like there were intimations that they might be looking at providing a more unified game experience across the board for PC gamers, potentially even bringing other developers on board to Blizzard's philosophy of service integration, which sounds intriguing.



We'll have to keep an eye on Blizzard in the future to see if they're onto something really exciting.

I'd have liked to hear if they have any intentions of externalizing the Battle.net service by offering tie-ins with social networking, doing something like the XBox Live gamer badge and how committed they are to the idea of modding Blizzard products, much of which was touched on (social gaming, similarities to XBL, etc).



Might be a good idea to have the gentleman back after he's spent some more time at Blizzard and we've had a chance to see what they're doing with SC2, say in a year.

Joseph Cook
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I'm a tremendous fan of Gamasutra because of interviews like this, and a lack of the usual internet whinefest in the comments section. It's disheartening to read the comments and see nothing but the same irrelevant nonsense that you can see on any blog on the internet.

Maurício Gomes
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@Gomez



You should stop attacking people directly, and actually make a sound argument.



See the pyramid on this link: http://blog.createdebate.com/2008/04/07/writing-strong-arguments/



You rarely go over level 3 (From bottom).

Dean Bigbee
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Great piece, really. I get that you skirted around the LAN discussion on purpose. That doesn't make it off-topic, though. Battle.net 2.0's most important "feature" is the replacement of LAN. Cross-game integration, all awesome little new additions are really nothing compared to the world-wide impact that LAN replacement will have on this title. As a huge Starcraft eSports fan and player (I got to BlizzCon each year just to see the pros play in person), the pro eSports community is at this point bracing for the collapse of the Starcraft gaming industry because of this feature. Even the NY area LAN centers I frequent are still FILLED with people every night enjoying starcraft over LAN play. While we won't be effected by this if the "authorization workaround" comes into play, there are many places and environments where this is not so much an option.



Aside from that, great interview. It's good to hear about the brighter sides of BNet 2.0, and I'm glad someone came out and covered it! I'm intrigued to see how they further separate themselves from other services by being unique only to their games.

Gregory Kinneman
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@Simon



The fact that you're willing to cite sources in your post is highly appreciated. It helps me to get a sense as to where you are drawing your statements from. While I disagree on your perspective and arguments, I'm glad to see someone else who is willing to take the time to present a response based on some credible source (gamasutra).

Adam Bishop
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I really liked the fact that Greg was willing to say unabashedly positive things about other developers like Valve, and that he recognises that the success of one developer is really good for the PC space as a whole. It would be great if we could see that kind of thing in the console space as well. The silly console-war potshots that get thrown around in that market don't do anything to make games or gaming any better, or to help grow the market. It's always nice to see people acknowledge that their "competitors" are doing things that are interesting and progressive too, and to recognise that ultimately those things are good for everyone.

James Gonzalez
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Great inside look at their new B.Net 2.0



Cant wait to see what they've done with it.

Christopher Wragg
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@ Adam Bishop

While it does indeed do credit to the man, if he was directly asked about the producers of a service so similar in many respects to what they're attempting and which is a forerunner in the industry it would be particularly bad PR to say otherwise. That said I'm not really saying he doesn't feel that way (an untenable opinion anyway) I'm just merely stating that he couldn't have really answered otherwise.



As to the LAN stuff, it is relevant, but those who have been keeping up would know about the whispered workaround which will require minimal net connection to use, and usually in any scenario where this is an issue (large groups), a net connection would normally be available anyway (or at least not hard to organise). So it's not as big a deal as it originally was.



I like the idea of having support for thier older titles in the new battlenet, and it would be incredibly cool to be able to merge old battlenet stuff with the new in some fashion. But I am somewhat wary of monetising various aspects of the service. Ultimately though colour me intrigued, I look forward to seeing what it's like when I actually get my hands on it.


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