So it seems that Starcraft: Ghost, has been put on “indefinite hold” (meaning “canceled”) after four years in development. An interesting turn of events to be sure, but what is even more intriguing is the community’s reaction, or should I say non-reaction to the news. I expected message boards to light up with threads and comments, but instead it seems that very few gamers are troubled by the loss. I gave it some thought, and I came to a few conclusions that might explain why no one cares (or has ever cared) about Ghost.
And by saying this I mean no insult. It is simply that Blizzard’s fan community is much like Enix’s in Japan; they are used to certain kinds of games with certain kinds of features from their favorite developer, and anything outside of that realm may not be greeted kindly. Blizzard has made their name producing Strategy games and RPGs, and it is what fans have come to expect from them. A Stealth/action game like Starcraft: Ghost is about as far away from the typical Blizzard game as can be, so it should be no surprise that most fans have shown a lack of enthusiasm.
There was a time, right around Ghost’s announcement, when stealth games were all the rage. The success of titles like Metal Gear Solid 2 and Splinter Cell gave rise to a slew of wannabes (and even games from other genres) that tried to cash in on the demand for stealth gameplay. If Ghost were actually released around that time, it might have generated some buzz among the casual gaming crowd that was hooked on the stealth craze. Fast forward to 2006 and we see that the craze has pretty much died down, and the stealth genre has been left to the heavy hitters. These days a game like Ghost wouldn’t draw the casual crowd’s attention like it could have a few years ago. The fact that the game changed developers, along with the rumors that recent builds have focused much more on action than stealth, may indicate that Blizzard may have finally realized that they were trying to cash in on a fad. Too bad they weren’t able to realize that from the very beginning.
Another important aspect of Ghost was that it would finally allow people to explore the world of Starcraft in full 3d. Blizzard must have thought that people would jump for this concept in the same way that many gamers were anticipating World of Warcraft’s representation of Azeroth. It seems that Blizzard forgot their own words of wisdom pertaining to Starcraft: It isn’t Warcraft in space.
I don’t think people are playing WoW just because it is a solid MMORPG. They’re also playing because Warcraft 3 gave them a reason to. WC3 changed the series forever, by introducing an even richer lore, an RPG like hero system, and a beautiful vision of what Azeroth could look like in 3d. This set the stage perfectly for a game like WoW, and also attracted many non-strategy gamers to the Warcraft series.
Starcraft is in a much different situation. It has no equivalent to Warcraft 3. It is like trying to make a WoW out of material from Warcraft 2. With Ghost, the developers are trying to make 3d environments based on a 2d game where five different areas of a planet can have the same looking map and the closest thing to 3d renders are a handful of cutscenes. This isn’t exactly an easy task. A game like Ghost has its place somewhere down the line, but not until something else comes along to better flesh out the Starcraft universe and establish what SC should look like in 3d. They need to make Starcraft 2 first.
Furthermore, Starcraft fans are not like current Warcraft fans. They aren’t playing the game for the story (though many would like to see its conclusion), they aren’t playing for “phat loot”, and they aren’t playing to enjoy a nice fantasy setting. The reason that people still play Starcraft, why it is broadcasted on Korean television, why you can still find it in game stores, is because it is a damn fine strategy game. And fans are going to keep playing it until a damn finer strategy game comes around, namely Starcraft 2. Build it, and they will come…
I’m serious with this one. Blizzard is part of a very elite group of game makers that can be PC exclusive and still make money hand over fist. The incredible success of WoW is perhaps the ultimate proof of this. So why then did they feel so inclined to return to the world of consoles? It isn’t like they are low on cash, and releasing a game that you commissioned to another developer is a risky way to re-enter the market. If you ask me, a much safer bet would be to focus efforts on another high-budget, big profile game that is guaranteed to sell millions. Something like, I dunno, *Starcraft 2*!!
So there you have it. Starcraft: Ghost was destined to fail because in the end no one really wanted it (I’m not even sure if Blizzard wanted it). One day there will be a time for something like it to come out, but it is not now. Whatever financial losses Blizzard may have incurred from the development of Ghost are probably minor (considering how much WoW is raking in), but I hope they learned an important lesson from all of this. Know your weaknesses, play your strengths, and listen to the past. If Blizzard is going to do anything with the Starcraft license, it needs to involve mouse clicks and Zerg rushes.