Will Diablo 3 be another controversy?
Blizzard criticized for 'being greedy'
By Cho Mu-hyun
Blizzard Entertainment’s new action role playing game (RPG) Diablo 3 is set to hit stores worldwide on May 15, and among them, is of course Korea, a country with one of the corporation’s most loyal customer bases.
But how successful will it be?
Koreans are familiar with the American video game developer, to say the least, through the success of the company’s World of Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo franchises. Most Korean males have played the game at least once.
Stellar sales of StarCraft were the start of the corporation’s firm foothold here, and are legendary. The real-time strategy game brought a storm befitting the company’s name and enjoyed decade-long popularity here since its release in 1998.
Professional tournaments were created and shown on television, with TV game channels enjoying a boon in viewers thanks to the broadcasting of what was the most anticipated show by children and teenagers after school. Putting in three diverse playable races ― Terran, Protoss and Zerg ― which was innovative at the time, the game coined a whole new language using game terms that are still widely used in the Internet community. The cultural impact of the game left an indelible mark here.
Diablo 2, released a year after StarCraft, further cemented Blizzard as a company that knows how to make a game with care. Blizzard is still “notorious” for the endless dedication to game development, and it has never released a game on an initially-set date due to this meticulous care
When StarCraft 2 was declared under development at the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational on May 19, 2007 in Seoul, the location of the official announcement for the franchise’s second installment was no surprise. “It’s about time,” spoken by in-game character Tychus Findley in the promotional film shown during the event, was kindly translated into Korean for domestic fans who roared raucously on hearing the announcement. Korea was the hub of the franchise’s growth in the 10 years since the game’s release, being one of the most sought out places to fully enjoy the game in the most competitive atmosphere in the world.
After four years, StarCraft 2 was finally released on July 27, 2010 amid rave reviews by major game websites in the United States. Selling 3 million copies worldwide in its first month, many claimed Blizzard, had again hit the mark.
But in Korea, after a brief momentum after release, the storm settled.
The signs of mediocre impact in Korea were already hinted prior to the games’ official release, due to problems between Blizzard and the Game Rating Board (GRB), Korea’s video game content rating board under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
The GRB is well known domestically for their inflexible and conservative ratings for violent and sexual content in games. The initial copy submitted to the GRB by Blizzard received the somewhat expected “18 plus” rating. After much hassle and speculation, the game was released in both censored and uncensored format, which limited the game experience to some degree.
The content itself came under question by players here, especially the “innovations” that included easier micromanagement (control of individual units within the game) and macro-management (overall management of production and strategy during games) due to enhanced Unified Resource Identifying (URI). One aspect that divided a “pro” and an “amateur” was the quick hand movements using the mouse and keyboards to quicken unit response time. Some argued it to be unnecessary while others asserted that it was a unique part of the game.
But the main issue that tainted Blizzard’s image, and ultimately caused less promotion for StarCraft 2, was the legal battle with the game communities’ domestic top governing body Korea e-Sports Association (KeSPA) over copyright infringements on Starcraft.
Blizzard reportedly demanded portions of profits made by TV channels in association with KeSPA for broadcasting StarCraft matches between professional players, citing “intellectual property,” and commercial use of their product. KeSPA strongly opposed this, arguing that the success of the global Starcraft league was due to domestic promotion and broadcasting by the organization.
Korean professional players and fans criticized Blizzard as a “greedy corporation.”
“There was an image in the past that Blizzard, when it comes to making games, was dedicative and selfless,” said Son Yong-han, a student at Sungkyungkwan University, who played the company’s World of Warcraft for some years before he stopped due to the national military service. “But I feel that in the last decade they have changed to a more corporate model.”
“It is natural for big corporation to focus on profits, but no matter what the reality, it is still disappointing to see Blizzard change (in that way). I don’t think I will be playing Diablo 3, or any other Blizzard game coming out,” he added.
“I still play StarCraft 2, but I always feel a little uncomfortable when I play the game because (of) the absence of LAN,” said Chris Song, a Korean college student. “I think it is a selfish and cheap way for Blizzard not to offer that service. I saw a league game of StarCraft one time and the crowds were chanting ‘LAN, LAN, LAN.’”
“I heard Blizzard is saying it is difficult to accommodate LAN due to the changes involved, but I think it is just a cheap excuse. I just don’t have faith in them anymore. I will not be playing Diablo 3 when it comes out,” he added.
Though the domestic league of StarCraft continued during the legal battle, many users turned away to other games widely available on the market. The issue was finally settled after almost a year on April 2011, but Blizzard’s actions, whether justified or not, gave it a bad rap during the important promotion window of the initial months following the release.
Outside of Korea, Blizzard was already receiving protests from users worldwide for not supporting local area networks (LAN) in StarCraft 2, unlike its previous installment. LAN allowed offline player-versus-player (PVP) matches for StarCraft, but the new game required all players to login on to Battle.net, Blizzards online service for multiplayer, or PVP matches.
The reputation of Blizzard as a money grabber by fans here began after the launch of its first massive multiplayer online-role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft on 2004. Used to playing for free on previous Blizzard games through Battle.net, the new pay-per-month required to play produced some hesitation among domestic users.
After the release of Starcraft 2, Blizzard offered package deals that allowed simultaneous subscription to both the MMORPGA and its most recent product. By then Blizzard’s reputation was irreparable damaged domestically, and again the offer was deemed “commercial” by fans here.
Diablo 3, though gaining much enthusiasm from old-time game junkies who spent sleepless nights leveling-up and collecting in-game equipment during the heyday of Diablo 2 in the late 1990s and early 2000s, seems to be on the road to share the fate of StarCraft 2.
The new game is receiving much attention not for the high-quality content it offers, but for its auction-house system that allows players to buy or sell virtual items for real currency.
The GRB rejected the initial copy submitted by Blizzard for violation of Korean anti-gambling laws, deeming the auction system to possibly incite “moral hazards.”
The issue may be small, but it sound too similar to the previous episode involving Blizzard and Korean gamers.