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2017-08-16 16:03
By Yoon Sung-won

For those in Korea who are in their late 20s to early 40s, “StarCraft” was one of the most loved and influential computer games for a long time.

Following its launch in 1998, the computer strategy game has made a dramatic return. An upgraded version, “StarCraft: Remastered,” was launched globally Aug. 15 with ultra high-definition graphics and an improved online matchmaking system.

The return, however, is already being stained with an aggravating conflict between its maker Blizzard Entertainment and internet cafes, called PC rooms in Korea.

On Aug. 11, the U.S. game giant was sued by the Internet PC Culture Association of Korea, which represents PC rooms here, for unfair trade.

For the original “StarCraft” and its expansion pack “Brood War,” users could play wherever they wanted by getting a permanent license code either through a full price package (FPP) product or online purchasing.

Likewise, PC room owners could provide the game service through a one-off payment for one permanent license code for each computer.

However, according to Blizzard’s new pricing policy for PC rooms in June, owners have to pay 250 won (22 cents) per hour even when those who already have a permanent license code for “StarCraft: Remastered” in their individual accounts play it at their businesses.

The association and PC room owners have protested the policy, criticizing that the company is trying to double charge them, abusing its superior status in the Korean game market.

Blizzard does not plan to force PC rooms to shift to a new version from the old one. PC rooms that don’t want the new pricing policy can still provide the old version, which can be played free of charge. But few customers would want to play the old version of the game.

PC rooms were the biggest contributor to the mega-popularity of “StarCraft.” On the back of rapid penetration of high-speed internet infrastructure nationwide in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the number of PC rooms increased explosively. As in a symbiotic relationship, PC rooms and “StarCraft” enjoyed the boom together.

Blizzard has also admitted the importance PC rooms as key business partners in Korea. Robert Bridenbecker, who leads the classic games unit at Blizzard, also said PC rooms have long been important partners and friends to the company.

The latest dispute is reminiscent of multiple disputes that Blizzard had in Korea, which have made the popularity of the “StarCraft” franchise wither here.

In 2010, the company drew criticism from PC room owners when they introduced a charging system for other games such as “StarCraft 2.”

Blizzard has also had conflict with the Korea eSports Association (KeSPA) and e-sport broadcasters here. Claiming that KeSPA and Korean e-sport broadcasters had infringed on its intellectual property rights by airing e-sport tournament events for “StarCraft” without paying for it, the company fought with them for four years from 2007.

Although the row ended in 2011 with an agreement, the popularity of “StarCraft” as one of the most loved e-sport games has been seriously damaged. Adding to a series of match-fixing scandals by some professional gamers, the “StarCraft” franchise has rapidly lost steam while many e-sport tournaments and leagues were discontinued in the early 2010s.

The pricing policy is a matter of business. But the latest dispute between Blizzard and PC rooms is seen more as an act of greed that may kill “StarCraft” again.


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