Let me start by saying I’ve been really enjoying the single player campaign in Starcraft II. It’s deeper, more varied, and better thought out than that of any other RTS I can think of. The character interactions in between missions give a lot more life to the story than you would normally expect from a genre in which the most personality you usually encounter is the voice that comes out of a unit when you click on it. Blizzard did a great job on the campaign, but the entire package costs as much as a console game. The only reason I can think of for this is Battle.net, and this is where my complaints lie.
Region restrictions, especially the way Blizzard has implemented them, are extremely arbitrary. The only argument being given for using a region lock has been that “we cannot guarantee a positive gaming experience for users connecting to servers outside the supported region,” but lets investigate what a positive experience really means.
The first thought most will have is that of latency, but consider the region of space the North American version covers. From Anchorage to Miami, it’s about 4000 miles, while from New York to London, there’s about 3400 miles. Even within the contiguous states, New York to San Francisco is about 2600 miles. Keep in mind that between the UK and the US, there are transatlantic pipes of incredible bandwidth, meaning that there is but a single hop between the two. Between New York and San Francisco there are likely to be several hops, each one adding a little more chance for packet collisions, drops, and latency. Couple this with the generally poor performance of home broadband in North America, and it’s hard to see why Blizzard would not at least let the rest of the English speaking world play together.
That brings me conveniently to my next point. What is meant by “a positive gaming experience?” Much has been made of the importance of community on the Blizzard side, but communities are built on communication, and the UK is region locked with other countries that do not speak English as a first language. This is not to say that players from those other countries never speak English, but language is an important factor in community building. Indeed, if you observe gaming communities online, they are universally split by language more than region. It is therefore not out of the realms of possibility to consider that European and NA gamers have always played together, and by separating them, Blizzard actually discourages worldwide communities, rather than allowing them to flourish. The answer here from Blizzard has been that players should buy multiple versions of the game, thereby creating financial barriers to “positive gaming experience.” Though that’s really not the message we should be sending: that it’s OK to regionally lock out the Internet – the first universally accessible means of worldwide communication and interaction.
If there’s a significant number of players out there that really care about their ladders, rankings and latency so much that they’re willing to forego worldwide liberties for the experience, then I think at the very least there should be the ability to create worldwide player matches. Then they would at least be separate from the ranked matches, but that still doesn’t really help worldwide friends who want to see how well they can compete in 2v2 or 3v3 matches. Ideally, there should always be an option: “Match with players in my region.” Done. It is technically possible, there’s precedent for it – Microsoft have done it with Live – and it solves all these problems.
It’ll be interesting to see what Blizzard decide to do as a result of community feedback on this issue.