It’s Sequel Time
StarCraft, Kart Rider Followups Headline Summer Game Bash
By Kim Tong-hyung
When times get tough, the games get going. Computer games are one of the few markets that are looking great in the current economic downturn, as people continue to look for cheaper sources of entertainment.
And the gaming craze is only expected to get hotter as the summer high-demand season approaches with major publishers preparing to roll out highly-anticipated sequels of some iconic game titles that built the Korean game empire in the first place.
California-based Blizzard Entertainment has Korean companies trembling as it readies the launch of ``StarCraft II,'' the sequel to StarCraft, which has sold nearly 5 million copies since its release in 1998.
StarCraft II is clearly the most anticipated release the Korean game industry has seen in years. StarCraft's success changed the landscape of the Korean games market forever, single-handedly spawning an industry of Internet cafes, called ``PC rooms,'' that are now found on virtually every street of the country.
StarCraft was also responsible for the emergence of ``e-sports,'' with millions of viewers glued to their television sets to witness professional StarCraft players battling live.
Blizzard plans to provide a beta service for StarCraft II as early as next month and expects a commercial launch within this year.
As with the original game, StarCraft II will be sold in CD packages and won't compete directly with Korean online game companies, which have users download their games from servers. Nonetheless, industry watchers expect that StarCraft could have a ``nuclear impact'' that could affect any game played with a keyboard and mouse.
It remains to be seen whether StarCraft II can repeat the massive success of the original.
Local gamers are already complaining about Blizzard's decision to split StarCraft II into a ``trilogy,'' meaning that it will not be a single game but a series of three titles.
Each title will be focused on a different StarCraft race ― Terran, Zerg and Protoss. Although Blizzard officials insist the changes reflect the company's ambitions to deliver something spectacular, fans aren't too happy about being forced to buy three games instead of one.
If there is a game that could match the hype generated by StarCraft II, it would be Air Rider, the sequel to Nexon's Kart Rider, an immensely popular multi-player racing game that cemented the company's position as a major online game player.
Kart Rider, released in 2004, was the game that ended StarCraft's seven-year reign as the most popular title played by users in PC rooms.
Nexon officials are confident that Air Rider will be just as successful. The beauty of Kart Rider was its simplicity, unlike StarCraft's game play that is based on complicated strategies and quick mouse control.
Air Rider will follow the same formula, although gamers will be racing in midair in planes, rather than ground vehicles.
Nexon provided a glimpse of Air Rider to gamers in a four-day test that ended Tuesday. More than 80,000 gamers applied to test the game when the company needed only 10,000.
NHN, the operator of Naver (www.naver.com) and the Hangame (www.hangame.com) online game portal, has high hopes for its role-playing action game, ``Kingdom Under Fire II,'' which boasts advanced three-dimensional (3D) graphics and innovative game play. The first Kingdom Under Fire, released in 2000, had no hope of competing with StarCraft, but NHN hopes that the sequel could be a different story.
Online role-playing games are established as the go-to genre for the Korean game market. According to market researcher Game Note (gamenote.gamenagel.com), NCsoft's trio of role-playing games ― Aion, Lineage and Lineage II ― combine for a market share of over 33 percent, while Blizzard's World of Warcraft comes in fourth.