HDstarcraft and HuskyStarcraft – viral marketing?

Blizzard’s Starcraft must surely be one of the most enduring computer games of all time. It came out when I was in high school, but is still actively played by a large number of people, especially in South Korea. There are even professional matches and tournaments.

Now, Blizzard is in the middle of a long beta release of Starcraft II. I think the key purpose is to balance the three races, so that good players will be approximately equally likely to use all three. The balancing is subtle and detailed: involving everything from the cost and time required for weapons upgrades to the potentially useful hexagonal grid projected by Protoss pylons, which could aid accurate placement of buildings.

Throughout the beta, there have been two internet personalities releasing high-resolution narrated replays of high level matches: HDstarcraft and HuskyStarcraft. They had one sponsored tournament, but generally don’t seem to advertise for anybody. That, combined with the relative professionalism of their operation and the sheer amount of time they are putting into it makes me wonder if they might be part of a viral marketing campaign run by Blizzard, designed to build anticipation for the forthcoming game.

This is pure speculation on my part but if it is true, it is a clever move on Blizzard’s part. The number of people watching each screencast has been rising steadily, and is now consistently over 100,000. The people watching may end up as some of the most active members of the eventual Starcraft II community, after commercial release. Even if Blizzard has nothing to do with these replays, I think undertaking such an extensive beta release (with more than 13 patches already) shows a good amount of respect for their customers, for whom the issue of balance will eventually be very important.

[Update: 14 December 2010] I no longer think it is at all likely that HD and Husky are part of a viral marketing campaign. Still, it would have been a pretty good idea on the part of Blizzard. I have definitely enjoyed their videos, and they contributed to my desire to buy and play Starcraft II.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

17 thoughts on “HDstarcraft and HuskyStarcraft – viral marketing?”

  1. Incidentally, it would be neat if multiplayer Starcraft II included scenarios other than the standard one: where each player starts off with just a command centre and a line of minerals.

    It would be neat to see scenarios where one player is defending a pre-existing base against an assault force of balanced size, or other such variations.

  2. These games are fairly big business, so it doesn’t seem implausible that Blizzard might sponsor some viral marketing.

  3. In my opinion, in the realm of RTS and RPG, Blizzard just doesn’t make bad games. Starcraft’s longevity is certainly a testament to their standard of superior game-play. Diablo II is still one of my favourite games to play(albeit it in very small doses with my roommate).

    As for Starcraft II, Blizzard has a very unique opportunity. Both it and Diablo III are being produced during a period of huge income for the company due mostly to the ridiculous profitability of the World of Warcraft series. A community of over 10 million customers with monthly paid subscriptions is a beautiful cushion. Unlike many game designers, especially those who make single-player games, who have to deal with rampant game piracy, Blizzard is secure.

    Though I am no longer the gamer I once was, and thus can’t speak with too much authority, it seems to me like many games these days promise lots and deliver little. An apt example – Milan probably agrees – is Spore, though the list is loooong. In addition to their generally high quality, it is an overwhelming strength of Blizzard games that they have such good replay value. This reduces cost for the customer and, because the games stay fun longer, enables you to really develop your skills and explore novel strategies. It’s important that the game be properly balanced prior to release to elevate the level of play. Gaming, like many things(competitive and otherwise), has an artistry to it that is worth maintaining. Blizzard has the time and resources to flesh out the Beta, and I’m glad they are.

    All this said, I’m not sure if I’ll play when it comes out. I have a number of friends in the Beta, who all rave about it of course. However, my interest in PC gaming has waned significantly(though I’ve really just transferred my strategic addiction to chess). As for your notion that it may be a Blizzard-run operation, I would not be surprised. They are a company full of bright people, and have advertised in strange ways in the past. I don’t know if you ever saw the WoW commercials featuring William Shatner and Mr. T, but they provide such an example. Hard to say though.

  4. Blizzard get the balance right. Lots of beta and continual readjustment. They really care to make their games worth replaying and it makes a big difference. Thanks for the link as I hadn’t seen anything on SCII prior to this (it’s been a while since I played anything).

  5. Most likely, this is not a conspiration concocted by evil PR-officers, but rather a coincidence that Blizzard seems to be earning free advertisement from.

    More often than not, however, Blizzard seems to be in the way for the commentators and their endeavors to make a living off of casting games, and Husky recently posted a video where he criticized the direction Battle.net 2.0 was taking. Following this, forums were spammed with people claiming their hatred for the new game and if Blizzard did not change the points Husky had mentioned, they would all boycott.

    Blizzard changed on aforementioned issues.

    If someone thinks this actually comes together *too* nicely, and that everything is cooked up to make it *seem* as though Blizzard and their players are in an active dialogue, they should worry more about fake moon landings and Russians contaminating their precious bodily fluids.

  6. StarCraft II Cost $100 Million To Develop

    UgLyPuNk writes with news of a report that Blizzard has spent over $100 million developing StarCraft II. Initial development on the game began in 2003, and it’s due to be released on July 27th. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick “described StarCraft as one of the company’s seven ‘pillars of opportunity’ (where each pillar has the potential to deliver operating profit between $500 million and $1 billion over its life span).” The finalized system requirements for the game have been released, and players planning to buy the digitally distributed version can download it now, though it won’t be playable until the 27th.

  7. Computer gaming
    Pros clicking at war
    An American firm wants to turn computer games into a global spectator sport

    Oct 28th 2010

    THE first round is over and 32 of the world’s best professional computer-game players are through to the next stage of the Global Starcraft 2 League being played in Seoul, South Korea. Over the next two weeks the players, including the reigning champion, Kim Won-ki (better known by his online moniker “FruitDealer”), will marshal their armies, ponder their strategies and crush their foes. The finalists will play in front of an audience of thousands (and hundreds of thousands more online) for an $87,000 first prize and the respect due the best Starcraft 2 player on the planet.

    This is e-sports, or professional computer-gaming, at its highest level. Just like football or baseball, computer games can be played competitively and in front of paying spectators. South Korea, where the original Starcraft game was released in 1998, is the spiritual home of e-sports.

    South Korean fans watch games broadcast on cable television and the players are celebrities. Teams flush with sponsorship money pay stars salaries on top of their prize money. (One player, Lee Yoon-Yeol, aka “Nada”, is rumoured to earn around $200,000 a year; a journeyman player might make $20,000). Now Activision Blizzard, the California-based company that developed the Starcraft games, is keen to spread the popularity of e-sports in the West.

  8. I no longer think it is at all likely that HD and Husky are part of a viral marketing campaign. Still, it would have been a pretty good idea on the part of Blizzard. I have definitely enjoyed their videos, and they contributed to my desire to buy and play Starcraft II.

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  10. HDStarcraft is definitely the best SC2 caster.

    HuskyStarcraft is funnier, but HD has better analysis of the game.

    Day9 has tons of analysis, but his videos are super long.

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