Lan party poopers
Latency and piracy aren't the real problems here
It's one of those things you'd never think to ask: Will StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty have LAN play? Of course it will, any rational person would've said a month ago—every real-time strategy game for the past decade has included the ability to play against another PC on your own network. The original StarCraft in particular is huge among LAN gamers.
And yet…Blizzard recently shocked everybody with the announcement that there would be no LAN support in StarCraft II, citing concerns over piracy due to the popularity of virtual LAN applications like Hamachi and GameRanger that let pirates play multiplayer games with illegitimate copies. Instead, the company plans to direct players to its online matchmaking, stat-tracking and now game-authentication service, Battle.net, for all multiplayer gaming.
How big a deal is this? The outraged boycott threads on that sprung up on messageboards across the internet would have you believe it makes StarCraft II gaming's biggest ripoff. But for most of us, the difference won't be noticeable. If you and a friend each purchase StarCraft II and he plugs his PC into your home network for a LAN game, the experience will be pretty much the same as with StarCraft, except that you'll sign into Battle.net first to set up the match.
But what about all those gamers who don't have broadband? They're a dying breed, according to an April 2009 Pew survey that reports 87 percent of Americans 18 and up who use the internet are connected via broadband. Broadband access is becoming the 21st century's indoor plumbing—it's not available in all rural areas yet, but it's ubiquitous enough that game companies can assume the vast majority of their customers have it.
[MPU]Lag caused by internet latency almost certainly won't be an issue—even though you'll connect to Battle.net online, you'll also be directly connected to your friend sitting next to you, so you'll still enjoy the same smooth speed you did with LAN play once the game starts. (Almost all RTS games use a peer-to-peer multiplayer architecture rather than a client-server setup. Blizzard won't be hosting the games on their servers.) Now, if Battle.net's servers were to go down for any reason, you'd be unable to play multiplayer—but if anyone knows a thing or two about keeping servers up and running 24 hours a day, it's Blizzard.
So what are gamers who weren't planning to pirate StarCraft II really upset about? One of the factors that made StarCraft so popular among LAN gamers is its ability to install multiplayer-only “spawn” copies on multiple PCs, which allowed you play an entire 8-player LAN game with just one purchased copy. For gamers with more than one PC in their homes that they use for multiplayer sessions with family or visiting friends, this was a huge value. They fear that Blizzard isn't planning to allow spawn installs of StarCraft II, forcing them to purchase one copy per player—and that tab could add up quickly.
However, all hope isn't lost on that front yet. Blizzard isn't yet talking about Battle.net's functionality, and wouldn't rule out the possibility of allowing spawn installs when we inquired. With the Battle.net authentication in place to keep an eye on things, there's no reason Blizzard can't still allow multiplayer-only spawn installs—it just depends on how generous Blizzard is feeling.