Not So Massively: StarCraft II has quietly become Blizzard’s best-managed property

    
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While I do think the studio’s actions at BlizzCon are encouraging, it still feels weird heaping praise on Blizzard right now. But I also believe in giving credit where it’s due, and the company still does some things that are worthy of respect.

I’ve talked before about how much I love StarCraft II‘s co-op, but for a while now I’ve been meaning to talk more broadly about what an amazing job Blizzard has done with SC2 generally. The game may well be its greatest achievement since Warcraft III, at least from a player’s perspective. Obviously World of Warcraft is the greatest financial success, but money isn’t everything.

The funny thing is there seems to be this pervasive perception — especially from people who don’t play it — that StarCraft II is somehow neglected or abandoned, or the red-headed stepchild of the Blizzard family. It’s seen as a disappointment or even a failure.

I’m not sure why that is, but I have some theories.

I suspect there is very little overlap between the fanbases of StarCraft and Blizzard’s other games. MMOs and ARPGs are close enough that if you’re a fan of World of Warcraft, the odds of your also being at least somewhat interested in Diablo III are pretty high. Even Overwatch is much closer to Blizzard’s RPGs than SC2 is. RTS is kind of of its own thing, and fairly niche in this day and age. So I imagine there are lots of Blizzard fans who don’t know play SC2 and don’t know anyone who does, and therefore assume it must be unpopular or forgotten.

There may also be a language barrier. It’s well known that the StarCraft franchise is extremely popular in Korea, and while its popularity in the West is also very strong — as evidenced by the fact the North American servers are still well-populated to this day — it’s possible that its greatest fanbase simply lies outside the English-speaking world.

There’s also the fact that World of Warcraft redefined success for all online games, especially Blizzard’s. There’s this expectation that every game needs to be some ever-living cash cow, with an endless stream of massive new expansions and updates.

But StarCraft II isn’t an MMORPG, and if you compare it to its actual competitors — single-player games with multiplayer elements — it has enjoyed a massive, almost unprecedented amount of ongoing support. Three expansion packs the size of whole new games, plus a meaty and high-quality story DLC, plus ongoing updates to the competitive and co-op modes that continue to this day (albeit at a slowed rate) is an absolutely astonishing amount of post-launch support for this kind of game.

For whatever reason, though, many people still seem to believe that SC2 is struggling, or even dead, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, the rate of updates has slowed significantly. Major patches are becoming fewer and farther between. But that’s to be expected. Again, this isn’t the sort of game that was ever meant to be updated continuously, save perhaps in the unrealistic expectations of a never-satisfied gaming community and the coke-addled fever dreams of investors.

The fact that it’s still getting updates at all is impressive. And it is still getting updates. Co-op commanders still get added every few months. The esports scene is still going. Balance patches for both PvP and co-op are still coming out. That such balance changes are less frequent could just as easily be taken as a sign of the game’s health as a sign development is winding down. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The story updates seem to have ended for good with the Nova: Covert Ops DLC, but as much as I would be happy to consume more story for this game, even I have to admit there really isn’t much need for it.

Unlike Warcraft, which has always been more about a living world with a constantly evolving story, the StarCraft franchise has had a singular, cohesive plot from its inception. That plot wrapped up in spectacular fashion with Legacy of the Void, and few if any loose ends were left to wrap up. A part of me is almost glad Blizzard is letting things be and leaving on that high note rather than continuing to milk it simply because it can.

Apart from the quality and quantity of its ongoing support, another thing that’s remarkable about StarCraft II is its ability to avoid major errors. People make fun of SC2 for not making headlines as often as other Blizzard games, but do you know why it’s not in the news more often?

Because nothing ever catches fire over there.

When was the last time you heard about a major controversy, or a catastrophic bug, or a huge development misstep from StarCraft II? It’s just not really a thing that happens. Certainly nowhere near the regularity of the endless controversies that dog World of Warcraft.

Sure, there’s the usual chorus of moaning on the forums about this cheese strategy or that ostensibly overpowered build, but the only competitive games that don’t have chatter like that are the dead ones.

I won’t say that the SC2 devs have never made any mistakes because of course they have, but on the whole they have done an admirably consistent job of managing the game and listening to the feedback of their fans.

There’s one thing that always sticks out in my memory. During the beta for Heart of the Swarm, Blizzard announced that it planned to shake up the multiplayer game and improve balance by removing several of the less popular units from each race. Sound familiar, WoW fans?

Not surprisingly, a lot of people were upset. A major backlash followed, and the SC2 devs… gracefully acquiesced. They agreed that removing things in an expansion didn’t feel right and abandoned the plan.

In an ideal world, that wouldn’t be a surprising outcome, but from the perspective of a WoW player who’s spent years having developers tell me what I want instead of listening to what I want, it felt downright miraculous. And it’s a great example of the humility and attentiveness that defines the StarCraft II team’s attitude toward its players.

I’m not saying that everything about StarCraft II is perfect. Tychus’ story in Wings of Liberty makes no sense, and Heart of the Swarm‘s ending was a disappointment. Co-op’s potential as a way to expand the lore was squandered, and the last few commanders have been hit and miss at best. The competitive play is far too over-caffeinated and unforgiving to be approachable for the casual player.

But when I look at the big picture, StarCraft II unquestionably stands as one of the best games I’ve ever played in any genre. Despite the hiccups mentioned above, the story is by and large moving and exciting. The level design is brilliantly original, and the core gameplay is timelessly entertaining. Few games deliver content of this quality, and fewer still bring that level of quality in such staggering quantity. In my view, it is the best managed property in Blizzard’s current portfolio, whether anyone outside its community notices or not.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.

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DarkerFlameMaster
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DarkerFlameMaster

I rolled my eyes at most of this article. StarCraft 2 has just as many problems as other blizzard games. The chat community is straight out of 4chan for better or worse with your typical neoconservative chat, when you loose a game there is a chance of being DMed the salty text all the way up to death threats. There is no moderation of the chat. Also similar to heroes of the Storm and overwatch it rarely feels like blizzard playtests any of their changes often releasing some stupidly unbalanced thing only to fix it a month later. Think mercy busted pistol buff days but it’s a super cheep teliporter that lets you walk into the enemy base for 50 minerals. Or the fact that you can rush BC and also just walk/warp into the enemy base, or when Maru reapers were winning global championship so hard they needed it to Oblivion after.

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Bruno Brito

Which aren’t the point of the article.

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Crowe

Best managed only by not being as badly mis-managed as their other properties.

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Morgan

I really appreciate when mop delves into SC2, its esports community is the best out there of any game I have ever seen. Oh and if you didnt know GSL has now switched from twitch where it was one of the highest followed to youtube for streaming as per contract: Link

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Sorenthaz

I mean that’s kind of the key word: quiet. They’re not necessarily trying to bring new people into it nor do a big marketing/sales push with it. They’ve been able to quietly build it up while avoiding the eye of Kotick or whoever.

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Joshua McIntyre

Not as much of a disappointment as Diablo III, but still a disappointment nonetheless when put next to StarCraft I and brood war!!

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styopa

I’ve never understood why they didn’t leverage that into an MMO. There’s such a hunger for the setting in MMO land, they could plunk down $50 million, use the engine from WoW basically reskinned, and have a AAA Science-Fiction-y MMO out the door in 6 months, still probably 3 years before SC releases.

I originally thought Wildstar was basically going to be that – vaguely sorta it was?

But there were such a host of bad decisions there I can’t even…

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Kickstarter Donor
Greaterdivinity

They sorta tried with Titan or whatever it was…it just didn’t work out.

The WoW engine is ancient at this point, and while they’ve done an amazing job keeping it updated I imagine there’s years worth of “technical debt” that would make it a pain in the ass to use. I can’t imagine they’d be keen to use that for a brand-new game.

Couple that with $50M being a drop in the bucket for a game like that. The estimates for their budget on Titan, which never even made it to a public playable state, are around $50M on the lower end for comparison.

And the fact that MMO’s don’t take 6 months to create…as we’re seeing with all the crowdfunded MMO’s being years behind schedule.

If it was that simple, they’d have done it long ago.

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Crowe

While I am not disagreeing with you on most of your points, I believe that Blizzard has both the access to the talent AND the resources to have produced a new MMO several times over. They seem to lack the project and design management to produce anything… And even if they did put the right people in the right places, anything they release would be a competitor to WoW itself so I don’t think they’re ever going to really do that.

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Bruno Brito

Let’s be honest here: This is Blizzard. When they said “it was just not fun to play”, i was willing to bet it was, and they were again thinking they know better than everyone else.

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McGuffn

How keeping your head down and resting on your laurels can make you rise to the top.

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Kickstarter Donor
mysecretid

Thanks for the article, Tyler!

I have had all the Starcraft II things for some time now — since before Blizzard’s current money-lust sold its ethics to the Chinese autocracy — but I just can’t seem to stick with the Heart of The Swarm storyline. I keep re-starting it, and then wandering away.

I confess, I never much preferred playing as Zerg anyway, but there’s just something about the campaign story that fails to grab my interest.

Part of it is the physical remake of Kerrigan the Zerg Queen, I think …

I played the pixels off the first SC game and, like you, I remember the character of Sara Kerrigan. Attractive? Sure. But plausibly so. Her transformation into the Queen of Blades was meant to be Giger-esque, and kind of heartbreaking/horrific … and it was, at least for me.

But the current version of Zerg-Kerrigan looks like some sort of sex-worker/stripper “hawt chikk with kewl alien dredlocks” game stereotype, at least to my eye

I’m not offended, so much as rolling my eyes. Marketing directly to the crotch is so lame-ass, in my opinion. I’m also not opposed to attractive/sexy people in games at all, but I dislike lazy stereotypes in my stories.

Battlestar Galactica‘s Tricia Helfer is a very good voice actress (see her turn as the Navy lieutenant in my favorite Halo game, Halo:ODST , if you haven’t already), but part of me also suspects Blizz cast the “sexy Cylon”in SCII on purpose as part of the “super-hottie Kerrigan do-over” marketing plan.

Anyway, I’m just talking here. Feel free to ignore any or all of this. Meanwhile, as good as it is, maybe one day I’ll get back to Starcraft II‘s second chapter, but it won’t be today.

Cheers!

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Eamil

Tricia Helfer was almost certainly cast because she was both a recognizable name at the time and a VERY close match for Kerrigan’s original voice. (Unlike their new Sylvanas, who was also voiced by Kerrigan’s original actress in Warcraft 3)

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Bryan Correll

Tychus’ story in Wings of Liberty makes no sense, and Heart of the Swarm‘s ending was a disappointment.

I never finished Legacy of the Void. Once things went full ‘evil space god’ I just couldn’t stay vested in the story.

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Bruno Brito

There’s also the fact that Blizzard let it’s entire competitive SC2 scene left to rot.

Yes, SC2 is their best managed property: Because all the others are flaming circuses.

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Kickstarter Donor
Greaterdivinity

I was gonna say…while I don’t think anyone wants/expects a OWL league style “Blizzard controls everything” pro-scene for SC2, it’s sure seemed like Blizzard abandoned it long ago when it didn’t quickly reach the same levels of hype that SC1 did and hasn’t really had much interest in returning.

The actual quiet content updates are nice and great for the game, good on Blizz for them. But if memory serves, they abandoned the SC2 pro scene pretty early.

But I guess by virtue of the fact that it’s not some level of dumpster fire like seemingly almost all their other games also de-facto makes it the best supported one, even if it wasn’t getting the updates : P

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Bruno Brito

I don’t really care for what they do with SC2 anymore. It’s a good game, it had it’s run. I actually like what they’re doing with it, Co-op content seems really fun, with all the commander stuff.

Would be nice to see some co-op commander PvP for funsies.

My gripe with all this situation is because the only reason SC2 is being well-managed is because Blizzard isn’t giving it attention, which is not a good thing. Instead, it speaks volumes of how completely dickheaded they became as a company.