The Blizzard Effect

Tastes like a South Korean internet cafeWord on the street is that Blizzard is going to be announcing a Starcraft-themed massively multiplayer game at an upcoming event in South Korea. (For people who don’t know videogames, but are still reading this for some reason: Starcraft was a real-time strategy game released back in 1998. There was one expansion pack, but there’ve been no sequels, other than a spin-off game that was in development but never released. Even now, almost 10 years later, the game is ridiculously popular, especially in South Korea.)

The Penny Arcade guys make a good argument that the rumor is believable. Every time a person on the internet claims that Blizzard would be cannibalizing sales from its own World of Warcraft by releasing a competing massively multiplayer game, one of the Vivendi executives swimming through the corporate money bin lets out a derisive chuckle. And then asks his manservant for some more lotion, because the newer 100 bills can chafe.

Now, I didn’t like the original Starcraft, as much as I tried to. In fact, it’s a perfect example of My Real-Time Strategy Problem. It seems so much like a game I should like, especially because it has spaceships and lasers. But every time I attempt to play, it just ends in sadness. It’s not that I suck at the game, it’s just that it’s ultimately unsatisfying.

On top of that, I’ve canceled my World of Warcraft account out of frustration with the game and the simple fact I wasn’t having any fun with it. That game quickly lost any semblance of storytelling and just devolved into grinding levels and dealing with obnoxious people hopelessly fixated on increasing their damage per second by .1. And Starcraft devotees are even more hard-core than that; people “playing” that game get downright scary.

And on top of all that, I’ve got issues with Blizzard as a company, since they kind of screwed over a bunch of my friends (who’ve all gone on to better jobs, but still). They still get points for their continued Mac OS support, which can’t make any financial sense. But apart from that, they seem to have sucked all the fun out of videogames and reduced it to money and stat-crunching.

But here’s the disturbing thing: if Blizzard does announce a Starcraft massively-multiplayer game, I’ll snatch it up without hesitation. An engine like WoW’s but with a couple of years of extra development, plus a setting that’s potentially much cooler than orcs and dwarves — they’d have to include space travel, right? And with all their faults, the one thing Blizzard gets right is the first impression; for the first week or so, WoW was fantastic. Diablo 2 was amazing the first couple of times as well. That obsession with a perfectly-balanced game mechanic may doom all their games to tedium, but it also means that the introductory period is a hell of a lot of fun.

Right now, since it exists as a Schrödinger’s Game, there’s infinite potential for it to be awesome. What if they broke from the WoW pattern and actually made a massively multiplayer game based on an RTS, instead of Diablo with orcs? What if there’s a chance for real cooperation and strategy between players to accomplish a goal, instead of just solo level grinding or dungeons that reset as soon as you leave? What if it were a truly epic interstellar trading game, taking as much from Star Control and Master of Orion as it did from Starcraft?

Based on my past history with the franchise and the company, there’s a 99.9% chance that I’ll open the box just to find another dead cat of a MMORPG. But fortunately for Blizzard and Vivendi, my purchases are driven solely by that .1% of potential radicalness.

And incidentally: what the hell is wrong with the internets these days? An energy drink called “Zergling Rush” is such an obvious non-joke I’d expected to see hundreds of variants on it out there. I shouldn’t be having to Photoshop this crap myself, people.