Say goodbye to the old Battle.net you know and love. Blizzard has launched the new version of its online gaming service, aimed at providing a centralized hub for all your Blizz-centric needs.
While the old Battle.net served primarily as a means of facilitating online multiplayer for every Blizzard game since the first Diablo, the new Battle.net is almost like a Blizz-centric version of Valve's popular Steam service. Not in the sense that it's a digital distribution platform (though it is attached to the online Blizzard Store), but as a hub for all your Blizzard games and other Blizzard-related needs.
When you create a Battle.net account, you can then attach it to other Blizzard games you own, and, moreover, merge accounts from games like World of Warcraft. So instead of having a million different log-ins for every particular game, you use your Battle.net account for everything. Also, when you register Blizzard games with your Battle.net account by typing in your CD keys, they'll be stored on that account. So no more thrashing through your basement looking for your old Starcraft case just so you can find the key.
"With the upcoming releases of StarCraft II and Diablo III, having one unified account system allows us to ensure the highest-quality user experience and customer support for our players," Blizzard wrote.
Blizzard also plans to build a number of community features into the service, saying that "we plan to add more features, including tools to make it easier for friends to communicate between games and to help bring our community of players closer together." I'm assuming we can expect the regular universal friends list type of stuff here.
Battle.net accounts will also be tied to other Blizzard sites, like the WoW Armory and the Blizzard forums. After registering a Battle.net account and merging it with your WoW account(s), you just choose which character and account you want to use to post. Other miscellaneous features include the ability to "opt in" to betas, which will automatically toss your account into the hat full of names eligible for participation upcoming betas.
If you play WoW, registering for a Battle.net account and merging your account is currently optional, but Blizzard says that it will become mandatory sometime in the future. Starcraft II and Diablo III will require you to use a Battle.net account.
The old Battle.net, meanwhile, will not be integrated into the new service. Instead, it will become "classic" Battle.net and require all the old separate log-ins that you were already using for games like Starcraft, Warcraft III and Diablo II.
No signs of how Blizzard is planning to monetize the service, however. Making an account, merging accounts, registering old games, that's all free. We'll see how things go from here.
Finally, as for whether or not this means that the Starcraft II beta is going to start soon, well, all the art on the site sure looks awful Starcraft-y.