Monday, August 7, 2017

The significance of Starcraft Remastered in Korea

About a week ago, Blizzard Entertrainment pre-launched Starcraft Remastered in Korea with an event in Busan and also making it available in PC Rooms (Internet cafes) nationwide about two weeks before its international launch.  The pre-launch received widespread coverage in the tech media and mainstream press (see this article in The Korea Herald)

The release of a re-mastered version was inevitable, given the continuing popularity of the game and the significant technical advances in audio and graphics since its original release.  It was also highly appropriate given the interesting and significant role of this massive multiplayer online game in Korea's digital network revolution.  However, most of the media coverage to date, both technical and mainstream, has missed or glossed over the real historical significance of the game, which can be thought of in the following terms.
South Korea led the world in digitizing its networks, completing a fully-digital public switched telephone network by 1987 in what knowledgeable experts here call the "telecommunications revolution of the 1980s."  Consequently, in the early 1990s the country was a leader in the introduction of CDMA mobile service and broadband.  A company called Thrunet began offering broadband service via cable modem in 1998.
The introduction of broadband coincided with the release of Starcraft by Blizzard Entertainment and contributed to both the growth of Internet Cafes (PC Bangs) in South Korea and the popularity of Starcraft among middle and high school students, as shown in the graphic (click for a full size view of the slide) I use in my classes and lectures.  Consequently, when Hanaro Telecom entered the market for broadband service, it aimed advertising for its ADSL service at parents, telling them that with Hanaro's service their children could play Starcraft at home, rather than coming home late from the PC Bang.  The campaign was so successful that the waiting list for Hanaro service reached 500,000 and stayed at that level for a long time.
There is more to this story but to summarize, consider the following.
  • Digital broadband networks made massive multiplayer online games (MMOG) possible.
  • In reciprocal fashion, the popularity of Starcraft contributed to the rapid spread of household broadband access in Korea.
  • MMOGs, beginning with Starcraft were invented in Korea.  The nation had broadband and PC rooms (Internet cafes) years before other countries and its culture contributed to shaping the emergence of MMOGs and e-sports.
  • Korea continues to play a major role, disproportionate to its population, in the evolution of online and mobile games, and e-sports more generally.
The role of Korean culture in shaping the success of Starcraft was described by Robert Breidenbecker, Vice President of Blizzard Entertainment, in a report published by The Korea Times as follows.
"The greater-than-expected success of the original "StarCraft" here made him believe the first mission in developing "StarCraft: Remastered" was to understand Korea.  It was about being at PC rooms and how people engage with the game, like going out together for some barbeque together, having a couple of bottles of soju and playing a match of StarCraft. That was something that the people at our office had never experienced. It was the core of the market."

No comments:

Post a Comment