Can StarCraft duplicate success?
By Kim Tong-hyung
StarCraft, the military science-fiction game that permanently reshaped Korean leisure habits and helped the country become the planet’s most wired nation, again garners rapt attention upon the much-anticipated arrival of its new version on Tuesday.
Although a legion of StarCraft fans have been on tenterhooks for months, it remains to be seen whether the sequel has a prayer of being as influential as its predecessor, with Korea’s overgrown computer gaming sector providing a level of competition that was non-existent in 1998.
The debut of StarCraft II, which becomes available online tomorrow, comes at a tricky time for the country’s gaming industry, which some observers believe may have already seen its peak. Mega-hits like NCsoft’s ``Aion’’ are now rare as the pile of dead titles continues to grow, and with Web addiction becoming an increasing social problem, the confounded government is caught between promoting gaming and restraining its use.
So it bears further watching whether StarCraft II will manage to pull off a return worthy of a king and inject new life into computer entertainment, or barely float above the also-rans in a market leaking air.
``When StarCraft debuted in 1998, it was clearly a standout among the slim pickings. But now there are countless games available to online users and the response from those who have participated in StarCraft II’s close beta testing since March has been rather underwhelming,’’ said Hong Jong-kil, an analyst from Korea Investment and Securities.
``The new StarCraft is clearly one of the big releases of the year, but it’s hard to imagine the game bowling over other titles and significantly affecting their traffic. The 69,000 won (about $57) price tag is quite hefty as well.’’
The StarCraft franchise, a creation of Blizzard Entertainment, a California-based gaming giant, revolves around the battles between three fictional intergalactic species _ the ``Terran’’ humans, insect-like ``Zergs,’’ and the ``Protoss’’ robot race. Blizzard sold around 5 million copies of the original StarCraft in Korea alone, which accounts for nearly half of its global sales.
Although the first StarCraft was released as a single game, Blizzard is splitting StarCraft II into a series of three titles each focusing on a different race. ``Wings of Liberty,’’ the game released tomorrow, will be about the Terrans, while the Zerg version will come before the Protoss one, according to Blizzard.
This is certainly a bold gamble by the creators and may prove to be the difference between success and disappointment. Although Blizzard insists the ``trilogy’’ reflects its ambition to deliver something spectacular, gamers here aren’t too happy about being pushed to buy three games instead of one.
Perhaps it would be unfair to expect the new StarCraft to match the unprecedented run of the original, which established a presence that transcended gaming enthusiasts and became deeply ingrained in society, culture and business.
StarCraft practically became a national sport, expanding the Korean gaming population beyond pimpled teenagers and playing a role in pushing the country’s broadband penetration above the 90 percent mark.
This spawned a whole new industry of ``PC bang’’ or Internet cafes, which are found virtually on every street of the country. It’s easy to forget that the country had just around 100 such sites prior to StarCraft’s release in 1998.
The game’s success provided a critical consumption foundation for online games, pushed by pioneering local companies such as NCsoft, which have now become as distinctively a Korean export item as cheap cars, semiconductors and kimchi.
StarCraft is also credited for the emergence of ``e-sports,’’ hooking millions of television viewers to professional StarCraft players battling in packed arenas with commentators shrieking at every mouse click.
A StarCraft league match in 2004, held at an outdoor arena near Busan’s Gwanganri Beach, drew more than 100,000 spectators, which could be compared to the crowd at a World Cup final. Currently, the country’s most expensive StarCraft player is 18-year-old Lee Yeong-ho, who says he earned north of 30 million won ($250,000) in 2009 alone.
The public’s love affair with StarCraft has been waning in recent years, with the online gaming industry stealing some of its thunder. The country’s once thriving e-sports league was severely shaken by a match-fixing scandal that was exposed in May, and Blizzard’s continued feud with the Korean e-Sports Players Association (KeSPA) over intellectual property all but assures that the transition to StarCraft II in professional competition will be slow.
Blizzard is also pressed by a government that is attempting to improve Web behavior and curb compulsive gaming. The newfound strictness by gaming authorities has forced Blizzard to release StarCraft II in two versions to offer a censored game for users under 18.
A slew of shocking cases involving game addiction ― including deaths by exhaustion, murder and child neglect ― has the government vowing a clampdown on the amount of time gamers can spend playing online games.
The measures include requiring games companies to introduce ``fatigue systems,'' which force disadvantages in game play when the advised limit for playing times are exceeded.
스트크래프트2, 전편 흥행신화 이어갈 수 있나
한국인들의 여가습관을 완전히 바꾸고 국내 초고속 인터넷 보급률을 세게 최고 수준으로 끌어올리는데 기여했던 “국민게임” 스타크래프트가 마침내 속편을 출시하며 국내 게이머들 곁으로 돌아온다. 게임을 개발한 미국의 블리자드엔터테인먼트는 최신작 “스타크래프트II: 자유의 날개”를 화요일 한국, 미국, 캐나다, 유럽 등에서 동시에 출시할 예정이다.
그 동안 많은 스타크래프트팬들은 밤잠을 설쳐가며 속편의 출시를 기다려왔다. 그러나 스타프크래프트II가 한국에서 전편의 수준의 영향력을 보여줄 것이라 예상하는 사람들은 많지 않은 듯하다. 지금의 한국 게임업계는 1998년과는 비교할 수 없을 만큼 경쟁이 치열하다.
한국 게임업계의 입장에서 봤을 때 스타크래프트II는 미묘한 시기에 출시된다고 할 수 있을 것이다. 많은 업계 관계자들은 이제 한국 게임업계가 피크를 지나 과도 경쟁국면에 접어들었다고 주장하고 있다. 엔씨소프트의 “아이온”과 같은 이른바 “대박” 타이틀은 이제 자주 나오지 않는다. 또 게임중독이 심각한 사회문제가 되면서 정부는 게임의 진흥과 규제 사이에서 혼란스러워 하는 듯하다.
스타크래프트II가 이른바 “왕의 귀환”다운 면모를 보여주면서 한국의 컴퓨터 엔터테인먼트 산업에 새로운 활력을 불어넣을 것인가 아니면 간신히 체면치레 하는 수준에 머무를 것인가를 두고 업계 관계자들의 전망이 엇갈리고 있다.