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Delays, Success and Publicity

May 21st, 2007 by Troy Goodfellow · 4 Comments · Blizzard

The announcement of Starcraft II is easily the biggest strategy game announcement in gaming history. This morning’s Gametab front page is cluttered with news about a real time strategy game that we know very little about. Even the announcement of a new X-Com remake would do little to push the Protoss into the margins.

The size of this news event is tied to a number of things, all of which say something about the media climate that companies work in.

The biggest factor is that the original Starcraft was in 1998. Since then we’ve had an expansion, but no sequel. I’m hard pressed to think of another game as big or important as Starcraft that did not get a sequel. Blizzard’s Diablo only had to wait three years. The second Warcraft game immediately followed the first, and the third game in that series took another five. But Blizzard was going against the general industry trend, not simply its own history. Public pressure for sequels is so loud and immediate that it’s hard to resist the easy sales that a follow-up promises to the cautious developer. The world has been starved for any news of a Starcraft game since the collapse of the Ghost project, so Starcraft II is falling like rain on the parched throat of fanboys everywhere.

Second, this is Blizzard. They have three and a half series that regularly place in lists of best/most-important/coolest games ever. Diablo brought gave birth to the hack and slash action RPG (a graphical roguelike, if you will.) Starcraft put asymmetry into the RTS in a manner still worthy of study. And the Warcraft RTS games (I find them dull) are landmark titles that gave birth to the most successful PC game in history, World of Warcraft. On the latest PCGamer podcast, Gary Whitta compared Blizzard to Pixar – a development house with an equally enviable record of commercial and critical success.

But it’s not just the success – it’s the proprietary nature of this success. Where other series have bounced from publishers and developers (look at the long sad tale of Fallout 3) or inspired half-hearted clones (how many “spiritual successors” has X-Com had, now?) no one has been able to clone the universe or lay claim to it as an ancestor beyond certain design decisions. One of the two lead designers went on to make Sacrifice, the other remains with Blizzard.

You also can’t discount the preternatural insanity of Korea here. If Korea had a gaming culture like that of Europe or America, then Starcraft would be just another game, not the game that millions of people watch on TV. They have color commentators for Starcraft. While we were busy finding a way to make poker an interesting spectator sport, the Seoul Men were perfecting gaming as football. (I wonder what will happen to that sporting environment now? This isn’t like introducing the lively ball to Babe Ruth; this is like bringing Arena Football to a nation of NFL fanatics.)

But this news wouldn’t have been as large as it is if it weren’t for the perfect media-technological storm. First, Blizzard announces that they will make a major announcement at a gaming event in Korea. So you get news posts that feed the speculation. Then you get either a misinformed leak, strategic lie or media stupidity that is Dugg, cross-posted and hyped. (I, for one, never believed a Starcraft MMO was in the works and most people I spoke to agreed with me.) Then you get the promotions for international live-blogging – a technique perfected in the coverage of the next-gen console wars at recent E3s. You get the build-up and analysis until the announcement is made. Having already whetted the appetite of readers, you are now making them wait while you talk about the introduction of the best Protoss player in the world.

Then – instant reaction. Flood the media with the same few screenshots and video clips and everyone will talk about it everywhere.

Hope you enjoyed the moment. I can’t imagine we’ll see its like again soon.


4 Comments so far ↓

  • GyRo567

    I feel weird and disconnected – I don’t care, I really don’t even know (I saw one forum post somewhere; that was it), and frankly, I’ll probably never play it anyway. I’ve always liked the strategy aspect of RTS games than the control & building aspect. After all, I have Rollercoaster Tycoon if I want to build an empire – and nobody comes to destroy it.

    Still, it’s odd to feel left out of an entire culture. Maybe the next Total War game will get a surge in popularity… ;_;

  • Dave Long

    The reaction from people who aren’t in Korea has been really interesting. I talked about it on my blog last night (link above) but it seems to me this is the first game to really be designed for an Eastern market but produced here in the West. That just doesn’t happen, ever.

    We’re so self-centered with game development and design over here that it’s very rare to have anything made here be successful over there. StarCraft’s massive Korean success is incredible, but it’s even more incredible that a sequel to the game would be announced in Korea and be designed specifically with that market in mind.


  • Scott R. Krol

    Something I’ve never seen really explained is *why* Korea is so much in love with Starcraft, or computer gaming in general. Can someone provide some insight into that?

  • Dave Long

    Up until recently most Korean folks played PC games in what to us would be something like an Internet cafe.


    Now more people are buying PCs and playing from home because they have broadband, but before that the Baangs were essentially like the arcades of yesteryear. All the kids latched onto Starcraft because that was the competitive game of choice when Baangs took off. Console companies never really turned to Korea as a major market so the PC took hold.

    It’s just a cultural thing, and not surprising given how much the Koreans hate the Japanese (who dominated consoles) and vice versa. It’s almost like they picked the PC for gaming out of spite. Heh.

    Here’s some more…