View From the RoadA View From The Road: An Uphill Battle.netView From the Road - RSS 2.0
Having played the StarCraft II beta for almost two weeks now, I can conclude two things: One, SC2 is absolutely incredible. Two, Battle.net 2.0 is actually kind of cool. While none of the cross-game functionality is live yet (no chatting with my WoW guildmates as I'm prepping my Zergling Rush), its current integration into StarCraft II is sleek and stylish. Unfortunately for Blizzard, this is also why it probably won't be quite as popular as Valve's Steam client.
A quick aside: it's true that thus far, no plans have been announced for Battle.net to be used for anything other than just Blizzard games. But let's not forget that Valve's ubiquitous Steam started out as a distribution system for Valve-related products like Day of Defeat and Counter-Strike, with third parties only getting on board a bit further down the line. Given its integrated cross-game socialization tools and use as a digital delivery network for Blizzard's games, the idea that Blizzard will use Battle.net 2.0 as a potential multi-party competitor isn't quite as far-fetched as you may think, especially now that its parent company Vivendi owns Activision, too. But for the moment, the idea - and all of the conjecture to follow - is just my own speculation.
Let's be honest about Steam here: as convenient as it is for buying games, and as much as I love it, Steam is pretty clunky as a social tool. Its presence in any game comes as an overlay that you can theoretically bring up at any time with Shift+Tab (though it isn't as responsive as I'd like), and it never quite feels like a cohesive experience. Whether I'm chatting with one of my Steam friends or just looking to see who's on in order to wrangle up some rounds of Scavenge in L4D2, Steam opens up a separate window that I need to tab out of the game to access or check. Frankly, I might as well just be using AOL Instant Messenger.
In comparison, Battle.net 2.0 is 100% integrated into StarCraft II. The sleek blue sci-fi interface matches the StarCraft II UI perfectly, and I never once had to leave the game to check my friends list or to chat with one of my buddies (though if you can make small talk while micromanaging a desperate base defense, more power to you). At a glance, I can tell how many friends I have online, whether they're real-life friends or just StarCraft buddies, what game they're currently playing, whether they're in a match or just socializing - you get the picture.