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China’s ChinaJoy 2009 event on July 23rd was among the lucky few to have been chosen by Blizzard to host a public presentation as well as to make openly available the currently playable version of StarCraft 2. Blizzard’s participation in this event was scheduled to predate the massively successful presentation on the following day in South Korea.

Unfortunately, StarCraft 2 was banned from public play due to a recent ruling by China’s State Bureau Of Culture, which declared that “Starcraft 2 is much too bloody, which will severely affect the mental as well as physical health of adolescents” (translation courtesy of TeamLiquid).  The decision draws from a regulatory note, released on July 1st, 2009, which stated that

Any activity related to foreign games, including their showing, demonstrating, trading and marketing promotion, shall also abide by the censorship laws aiming at imported online games and shall be subject to censorship and approval by the State Administration of News and Press. All promoters, sponsors, and companies related shall held their respective legal responsibilities.

The StarCraft 2 South Korean E-Stars Seoul 2009 event, however, was a great success, and some media has been released both officially and by fans. You can find the official extensive media gallery here.

E Stars Seoul Credit - SC Legacy

Two decent-quality gameplay videos have been released during the event, showing a short and intensive Protoss vs. Terran match:

The video is another example of just how fast paced and merciless StarCraft 2 multiplayer is designed to be, as mentioned repeatedly by the design team in various interviews. One on one games are not supposed to last more than 20 minutes (if that!), as the game provides players with sufficient tools to exploit the opponent’s mistakes and leverage them, along with the player’s own skills, into quick victories.

While fans and gamers around the world marvel at every released detail, battle report or gameplay video, the stock market is not as patient and forgiving towards Blizzard’s developmental practices, and analysts blame the recent stock dive on the realization that StarCraft 2 will not be coming out in 2009.


Now, there is a growing concern that an even bigger game — “StarCraft 2” — may be pushed out of this year, due to development delays.

“The beta testing for ‘StarCraft’ hasn’t started yet. If it starts in August and takes 5-6 months, then launching the game this year is next to impossible,” said Jess Lubert, video game analyst with Brean Murray.

While it doesn’t take a genius mutant ninja analyst to figure out that the StarCraft 2 beta is highly unlikely to be over by the end of 2009, it does take some history knowledge to understand that virtually all of Blizzard’s titles end up being played for many years, each serving as a benchmark and a poster child for their respective niche; that is to say, there is no doubt that when it is released, it will generate considerable revenue for Activision-Blizzard.

If, at any point, you find yourself running a multi-billion dollar company which throws up a self-promotional annual event, sells attendance tickets at $125 a pop… and they sell out in 15 seconds, you’ve probably done something extremely right.

Plenty of Reasons to Smile

While these might not be Michael Morhaime’s exact thoughts, Blizzard deserves credit for having BlizzCon tickets sold out within seconds of becoming available. Although it was not “officially” confirmed, an experiment run by IncGamers provides some justification for the strange ticket queue system that Blizzard had used.

A staff member of IncGamers tried the new system and refreshed the site every second before sales opening. Four seconds after the sales had started, the queue was over 2.500 buyers long, and 10 seconds later the queue was full. The actual queue time to pay the tickets took about 30 minutes. Every fan in the queue could buy up to five tickets.

The event is planned to take place in a convention centre fit to accomodate nearly 30,000 people, and the rest of the tickets (A guesstimate total of 10,000-14,000) will be realeased in a second batch ten days from now, on May 30th. Keep your wallets close by – you’ll only have a few seconds to get in on the ground floor.

It’s been a busy day for the good people at Blizzard Entertainment. The BlizzCon ticket sale schedule has been announced, an official StarCraft 2 Beta FAQ has been posted to StarCraft2.com, and a comprehensive Q&A interview with Chris Sigaty, Lead Producer of StarCraft 2, has been disseminated to fansites – including our own.

BlizzCon  2009 is Coming

The first batch of tickets to the “‘Celebration of All Things Blizzard” convention, BlizzCon 2009, will become available on May 16 – nine days from today, with the second batch of BlizzCon tickets becoming available on 30th of May.

Due to BlizzCon’s popularity and the small window of time of ticket availability, Blizzard has struggled with site load and purchase volume issues in recent years. This year, a brand new Queuing system has been introduced, taking advantage of the recently implemented Battle.net account system in order to make sure fans won’t run into problems purchasing the $125 BlizzCon 2009 tickets.

Here are a few important Q&As from the Queue FAQ:

Why did you introduce this queue system?

The queue allows controlled groups of Blizzard Store visitors to finalize their purchases, helping ensure that the purchasing experience for everyone goes smoothly when high-demand items go on sale in the Blizzard Store.

If I am in the queue, am I guaranteed to be able to purchase all of the items in my cart?

No. Being in the queue does not guarantee you will have an opportunity to purchase an item, as it’s possible that the remaining stock will run out before you reach the front of the queue. While in the queue, you will receive regular updates about the remaining stock of items you wish to purchase, along with an estimate of the time remaining before you reach the front of the queue.

And most importantly, what happens when you get to the front of the queue:

What happens when I reach the front of the queue?

When you have reached the front of the queue, a message will be displayed prominently to alert you, along with a link to proceed to checkout and finalize your purchase. If you do not click the link immediately, you will be taken to checkout automatically after a few moments.

How long do I have to finalize my purchase?

Once you reach the front of the queue, you will have 15 minutes to finalize your purchase. To help speed up the process, we recommend you have a valid Battle.net account (create one now!) with up-to-date payment information ready to go, as this will be required to make a purchase from the Blizzard Store.

So be sure to have your Battle.net account set up correctly and verify that it contains up-to-date payment information so you won’t run into trouble once you’ve reached the front of the queue.

In Soviet Russia, ...

StarCraft2.com has been updated with a highly detailed FAQ covering the different aspects of participation eligibility and clarifications concerning beta requirements, availability and sign-up instructions. The FAQ is available here, and you can download the FAQ in PDF format here. The most important new item on that list is the system profiling application, that scans your PC‘s specification and reports it to Blizzard.

What is a beta profile?

A beta profile is a snapshot of your current system specifications. It includes such information as how much RAM you have, available hard drive space, your graphics card and driver, and other information about your system. We gather this information to ensure that we are able to test our games on a wide range and distribution of systems.

Why do I have to download an application to create a beta profile?

Our beta opt-in application allows us to gather information about potential beta testers’ systems quickly and accurately, helping us ensure that the resulting pool of beta testers we select most closely represents the range and distribution of systems we wish to test.

How does the beta opt-in application work?

Running the beta opt-in application quickly and automatically generates a profile based on your system specifications. It then displays this information and asks if you wish to submit the specifications to create a beta profile for the Battle.net account you used to download the application.

Does the application also profile the software I have installed on my system?

No, the opt-in application simply scans the major hardware components of your system, along with your graphics card driver. Other system information, such as the contents of your hard drive, is not scanned.

Considering the fact that StarCraft is 11 years old and WarCraft 3 was released 7 years ago, Blizzard’s RTS fans may still be using 10 year old systems which have no chance of running even StarCraft 2’s single player campaign – precluding some of them from being able to test StarCraft 2 at all.

Lastly, we’ve received a Q&A Interview by Chris Sigaty, focusing exclusively on the StarCraft 2 Beta. The interview clarifies several key issues which have been mentioned in the official Beta FAQ, and explains the regional release plan.

Questions answered by Chris Sigaty, StarCraft II lead producer

Q. StarCraft II opt-ins are now available through Battle.net. Does the opt-in process mean that the start of the StarCraft II beta is imminent?

A. We’re getting closer and closer to the start of our closed beta with each week that passes. Several months ago, we expanded our internal testing of the game to the entire company, and we’ve made significant progress since then. We’re looking forward to inviting external testers into the process soon, which is why we’re starting sign-ups now.

Q. What aspects of the game will be available for testing in this beta?

A. As with previous betas for our real-time strategy games, the StarCraft II beta test will be multiplayer only, and players will have access to all three races — terrans, protoss, and zerg — and all of their units. We’ll include a selection of multiplayer maps, but they won’t necessarily include all of the maps that will be in the final version of the game. We’re making some great progress on the single-player campaign, but we don’t plan to do a public beta since we want to keep the story under wraps until the game’s out.

Q. Will we be able to try the new Battle.net during this beta?

A. You’ll be connecting to and playing on the new Battle.net in the StarCraft II beta, and you’ll definitely have a chance to play around with a few of the new features — but what you’ll see in the beta is really only a taste of what’s to come.

There is no mention of two important components of StarCraft 2:

  • SCumEdit, the much anticipated and powerful map editor
  • The enhanced replay viewer

StarCraft 2 Replay Viewer Includes Detailed Ingame Data

Both these features are of key importance to the community. Replays and custom maps are the fans’ bread and butter, and their absence is bound to disappoint many should Blizzard decide not to make them available during the beta.

Q. What updates and changes have you made to the game recently?

A. We’re constantly tweaking the gameplay and balance, and we will be all throughout the beta process, but perhaps the most visible changes have been made to the zerg. Our art team has done a polishing and iteration pass on many of the zerg unit models and structures, so players can look forward to seeing a lot more detail there. Compared to the versions you’ve seen before, the zerg units and bases now look a lot slimier and more sinister.
We’re also really looking forward to seeing testers try out the new gameplay mechanics we’ve introduced to each race, like the proton charge for the protoss and the MULE for the terrans that allow them to harvest minerals faster. The zerg also have a spawn larvae ability that gives them a new way to expand their production. We’re hoping these abilities increase the strategic tension for players and force some tough tactical decisions when managing economies and micromanaging battles.

Updated Spawning PoolUpdated Queen

Q. Which regions can join the StarCraft II beta test?

A. Our plan is to include multiple regions and countries in the StarCraft II beta-testing process. We’ll be starting with a North American beta, where testers from the United States and Canada, as well as Australia and New Zealand will be able to join. We’ll then phase in testers in other regions such as Korea, Taiwan, and Europe as soon as we’re able to set up in those areas.

It is not entirely clear whether BlizzCon 2008 attendees that have acquired a StarCraft 2 Beta key but are not living in the aforementioned regions will have access to the beta.

Q. Why aren’t you running StarCraft II beta simultaneously in all regions?

A. It’s more efficient from a development standpoint to phase in each region one at a time. A big part of the beta test involves setting up new hardware and networking infrastructure, which is not a trivial process. If we set up one region at a time, we can more quickly address any issues we run into at the start, and take the lessons we learn from that experience to establish a smoother setup experience for the next region.
We can also implement all sorts of gameplay and balance changes, view the results, and react to what we’ve observed much more quickly in a single test environment, as opposed to getting bogged down trying to push those changes out across several test environments. Once the major issues are ironed out, we can expand the testing to additional regions. Going region by region will also put us in a better position to test localized versions of the beta.

Q. Will testers be allowed to write about the beta? Take screenshots and videos?

A. Yes! Beta testers will be free to write about their experiences playing the beta as well as take screenshots or videos. We’re really looking forward to getting the game into players’ hands so we can hear their feedback, since that will help propel us into the final stages of development and balancing. We’ve been working hard on StarCraft II, and we can’t wait to finally be able to hear what everyone has to say about it.

This is an important aspect of the beta, as it allows fans who won’t get to participate in it a chance to enjoy the beta process, during which the game will be explored intensively and changes will constantly be made.

The fourth BlizzCon has been announced today. This annual celebration of all things Blizzard will take place in the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, on Friday, August 21st and Saturday, August 22nd. The BlizzCon 2009 event will take place at the same place as the 2008 BlizzCon.

Last year’s event was a massive success, with all tickets sold out in just one day – prompting Mike Morhaime to add 3000 tickets to the pool to meet demands. Mike also mentions 2008’s runaway success in this year’s BlizzCon announcement.

“We’ve been amazed by the incredible response to each of our previous BlizzCon events,” said Mike Morhaime, CEO and cofounder of Blizzard Entertainment. “We’re pleased to be bringing the convention back to Anaheim this year, and we look forward to this new opportunity to meet Blizzard gamers from around the world.”

Blizzard fans should expect an event of similar proportions, and it is highly unlikely that the ticket availability window will be any wider. If you plan to attend BlizzCon 2009, you should follow the news feed closely and grab a ticket as soon as they become available.

BlizzCon will offer a wide variety of activities throughout the two-day event. In addition to serving as a gathering place for Blizzard Entertainment gaming communities, attendees will be able to enjoy:

  • Hands-on play time with upcoming Blizzard Entertainment games
  • Discussion panels with Blizzard Entertainment developers
  • Competitive and casual tournaments for players to showcase their talents
  • Community contests with great prizes
  • Commemorative merchandise based on Blizzard Entertainment’s game universes
  • A silent auction
  • More exciting activities and attractions to be announced

Speaking of grabbing, three winners of the StarCraft 2 comic contest walked away with a StarCraft 2 goody bag, each receiving

  • StarCraft II Hat
  • StarCraft II T-Shirt
  • StarCraft II Poster

With the 1st place winner receiving the coveted StarCraft 2 Beta key, as Karune has recently announced.
Here are the January 2009 winners. You can visit the official winners page to to browse through 12 more StarCraft 2 Comic sketches from the previous four months.

Starcraft 2 Comic Winner 01-2009 Third Place

Starcraft 2 Comic contest Runner up - 01/2009Starcraft 2 Comic Winner

While the community was buzzing about beta keys and beta release date speculations, Cavez, Blizzard’s Lead Designer, was busy writing his reality check FAQ and has now released it to the forums:

I see lots of questions about timelines. Here is a little FAQ.

Question: “Why hasn’t Blizzard released the Beta?” or “WTF have they been working on, I played it at Blizzcon last year and I thought it was done!”

Answer: Solo campaign is under heavy construction as is Battlenet. When these things have enough work done that we know when our release date is going to be with strong confidence we will announce the Beta. Unless something crazy happens, the Beta is going to happen this year.

The above statement, coming from a senior member of the development team, should effectively put an end to any speculation that puts the StarCraft 2 beta release date before June 2009. Considering the fact that game development usually has a 60% chance of “something crazy happens”, we might be reading a similar FAQ a year from now.

Question: “Why don’t you just give us your target dates if you don’t know the final date? We promise, we won’t get mad if Blizzard misses target dates.”

Answer: Let’s be realistic. Our target dates are not something we hit more than half the time. Putting those out there would be pretty close to lying to the fans. We are not going to do that. We want to be able to give good info, not info that we know is suspect. We’ll give target dates when we think it is very likely that we will hit them.

Question: When can we have the next Battle Report?

Answer: We were waiting on getting some improved graphics in (some of the new stuff looked REALLY rough). That was finished last week and we are now playing and looking for a good game. Once we get that game the process is reasonably quick to get it out. Once we go Beta, you guys can do these and put them up. When that happens I’m sure there will be a ton of them and I’m sure the quality of the games played and the announcing will go way up.

Question: “I notice that you haven’t actually given us any dates….”

Answer: Yeah. Sorry. We don’t want to lie about the Beta, and we don’t even want to lie about the next Battle Report. When we know a date (for anything) for certain, we’ll let you know.

Hang in there. We’re in the final stretch.

Just kidding.

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