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Afterwords: StarCraft II

Again, one of the very few complaints I’ve heard about StarCraft II, but one that I’ve heard repeated over and over, is that the multiplayer is too iterative, too similar to the original game. It seems to me that given the first game’s popularity as a competitive multiplayer title, you were kind of stuck needing to emulate that success rather than experiment with something new. Was there ever any frustration with designing the multiplayer? Did you ever discuss trying something wildly new or different, or did you know from the beginning that you had to stick to this formula that was so insanely successful?

There’s challenges, so there’s certainly frustrations in trying to create really great new content given how great the first game was. To make something worthy of that was really a challenge. I don’t know that we ever felt like we couldn’t do something new if we really wanted to. It was more a question of what did we want to do, and we felt like there was more we could do in this space, that there was more opportunity for us to improve on what had already been done.

Certainly, there was a lot of fear that we couldn’t. “You’re going to try to make the old one better? There’s no way!” That was a concern that we had internally. But we tried to get some courage and pull up our boots and push to see if we could actually improve on greatness and make it even better. I don’t know if we have or not. I don’t want to speak for it. It’s still out there. The meta-game is still settling down. We’re still seeing lots of players playing. We’re seeing lots of great tournaments right now. We’re seeing a reasonably diverse number of players across all levels of play, playing all three races. I’m certainly hopeful that we’ve been able to improve on greatness and make a game that’s even better.

I don’t want to seem nasty here, but the question is, how great have those successful “experiments” from other developers been? I haven’t really seen another gameplay experience that’s attracted millions of players with hundreds of thousands playing online. I haven’t seen that. So the idea that these other experiments have been successful, and therefore we must emulate them? I object, sir. I object strenuously. I have not seen someone else be successful by removing economy. I have not seen other RTSes be successful by removing micro.

What a lot of other games have done is they’ll pull the camera back and say, “Look, it’s all economy now.” Or they’ll push the camera in and say, “It’s all micro; economy’s dead.” And they’ll say, “See! We’ve made it better!” I have to strongly disagree. I definitely enjoy those games, but I don’t know that they’re ultimately a better competitive RTS experience. They’re different, and that difference has a value in the sense that for the three weeks that I’m playing it, it feels new and shiny. But then when I get down to it, I realize that there’s actually less to do. I don’t play it for weeks or months.

I don’t know if StarCraft II can survive that test of time. I don’t want to say that we can. We’re certainly going to try. That’s what we set out to do in the first place, to definitely improve on what had already been there and not just change for the sake of change. Like I said, I don’t want to be a jerk, but I feel like a lot of other studios have changed just for the sake of change. They haven’t made a better product, they’ve just made a product that is different.

Yeah, it seems like certain fans champion change above else. The attitude seems to be that if something is different, that’s great, even if it’s not necessarily change for the better.

There are fans out there who wish we were more like Supreme Commander, for example, because they love Supreme Commander. That’s great. If they love Supreme Commander more than StarCraft II, they should definitely be playing that. We felt like we had a better product. We felt like we had something that is truly great and special. We didn’t just mess around with it for the sake of messing around with it.

We’ve seen a lot of mods and YouTube videos showing off how powerful the StarCraft II map editor is. Are you pleased with the number and variety of user-created maps and modes available on Battle.net right now? How quickly is that space growing?

It’s pretty crazy. I’m amazed every time I sit down to play these things how many different types of games I can get. It’s pretty nuts and exciting, even compared to Warcraft III, which had one of the most vibrant mod communities I’ve ever seen. To see it grow… It looks to me like it almost started where it left off. We were concerned it would take months or years for the mod community to catch up, but it seems like a lot of the talent and enthusiasm and passion that was there and still is there in many cases on Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne has come right over directly to StarCraft II and continued from that point forward.

On day six, we were seeing amazing things, and on day 30 or whatever it is now, we’re seeing even more amazing things. I can’t wait for Christmas. I don’t even know what’s going to happen then. At this point, it’s just been crazy stuff. We’re seeing YouTube videos of these tech demos of guys making World of Warcraft in the engine. I don’t know what that’s going to play like, but it’s amazing what these guys are going for. We’re seeing awesome stuff.

Is there currently a timeline for when you intend to introduce the paid user-created map download service that was announced for StarCraft II?

There’s really not. It’s something that we’re working really hard on. There’s a lot of challenges to bring that in front of consumers: making sure the consumers’ digital rights are protected, making sure that people can’t steal each other’s maps, making sure that we’ve got the right UI and tools to rate maps and find maps. I don’t know what’s going to be in patches versus what’s going to be in Heart of the Swarm at this point, but we’re definitely going to take steps going forward to try to roll it out piece by piece so we get more user feedback. We can get stuff in front of the consumers faster so that they can see what our plans are. I’m so sorry both to you and the fans that I don’t have a better answer for you, but we are going to keep working on it going forward.

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