Last night, as the clock ticked midnight, after over a decade nervously waiting, PC gamers began snapping up copies of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty.
Blizzard's sci-fi real-time strategy sequel to 1998's StarCraft went on sale at special midnight openings across the country, and with sales expectations high: At least one analyst at Janco Partners, Mike Hickey, thinks the game could sell 7 million copies worldwide in 2010 and pull in revenue of $350 million, netting Blizzard $171 million in the bargain.
Most of that won't come from the U.S. StarCraft is even bigger in South Korea, where Blizzard could sell as many as 5.5 million units, carving off a grand $225 million slice of the total revenue pie. Those crazy South Koreans--they actually consider StarCraft a national sport.
StarCraft II should provide a shot in the arm for the flagging traditional PC gaming industry. Games like StarCraft II used to come along several times a year, flanked by dozens of alternative or sleeper hits. Now they come along once or twice, with mega-publishers like Activision (World of Warcraft) and EA (The Sims) pretty much locking things up.
To be clear: Boxed copies of the game went on sale last night at midnight. Digital copies of the game, which gamers have been able to download for a while now, can't be activated until today at 10:00 AM PDT. It seem press accounts went live at midnight, however, since my digital copy unlocked and I could play as soon as it finished downloading.
The only problem I'll have getting into StarCraft II? I was foolish enough to think it might run reasonably on a 13-inch MacBook Pro with a 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo processor and a discrete Nvidia 320M graphics processor. Perhaps in Boot Camp mode (actually, I doubt it) but natively under OS X? Forget it. Unless you're comfortable chug-a-lugging at sub-medium details settings, your best bet probably involves a high-end Mac, or a fairly powerful PC. I fiddled with a few versus AI missions, and struggled to keep up with events as the frame rate fell to single digits. I don't blame Blizzard--a 13-inch MacBook Pro was never really intended to crunch a game like this.
StarCraft never really impressed me as a PC gamer back in 1998. It was pretty middle-of-the-road, mechanics-wise, and at least in single-player, wore out its welcome (read: started repeating itself) by the second campaign. But it was supremely well-balanced, easy to pick up, difficult to master, and ridiculously well supported (Blizzard's been providing official patches for a record 12 years). And it sold over nine million copies. Like it or not, every real-time strategy game that's shipped since has in some sense struggled to step out from StarCraft's shadow.
If you want a look at what's in the collector's edition, check out our slideshow. That's on sale today as well for a cool $100 (if you pre-ordered, anyway). Blizzard screwed up and sent one to our HQ in California instead of my business office in Michigan, but that turned out for the best, because from what I hear, PC World's Patrick Miller is thrice the StarCraft player I'll ever be.
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