StarCraft sequel sneaked in South Korea

Blizzard Entertainment Inc. unveiled its sequel to the widely popular game StarCraft. Thousands of fans were in celebratory mood.

"Since Starcraft I was a masterpiece, I have a great expectation for Starcraft II," said Nam Jae-wook, a 23-year-old researcher for an IT company. "I am biting my nails and waiting for it to come out."

Blizzard, a U.S.-based unit of French media company Vivendi SA, made the StarCraft II announcement over the weekend in game-mad South Korea at the two-day 2007 Blizzard Worldwide Invitational.

Gaming is big business in South Korea, where there are professional teams sponsored by some of the country's biggest companies. Top players can earn salaries in excess of US$100,000 (EUR74,000).

The original StarCraft, which debuted in 1998, is a battle saga featuring clashes between the Terran, a human race, and outer space beings the Protoss and Zerg. Gamers can play against themselves or against others on the Internet.

The new version will include various technical improvements, the biggest being that it will be available in 3D, said Blizzard spokeswoman Christy Um.

The company gave a sneak preview of the game - sort of like a movie trailer - and a brief demonstration to a nearly full 16,000-seat indoor arena at Seoul's Olympic Park, Um said.

The presentation was even broadcast live on a Cable TV channel dedicated to gaming.

But Blizzard was tightlipped regarding other details, such as when the sequel will be go on sale.

"As with all Blizzard games, we will take as much time as needed to ensure the game is as fun, balanced, and polished as possible," the Irvine, Calif.-based company said in a release.

Still, that didn't seem to bother South Korea's gaming world, where the announcement itself was enough to generate excitement.

"People are talking about it everywhere," said Joo Wan-ho, an official for local game company WEBZEN Inc. "Unveiling Starcraft II in Korea shows that Korea has become a big market in the game world."

About 9.5 million copies of the original StarCraft have been sold globally, according to Blizzard, which doesn't release breakdowns for individual countries.

South Korea, however, accounts for almost half of the sales. HanbitSoft Inc., the local distributor, says StarCraft has sold 4.5 million copies in South Korea.

Blizzard is also the maker of other popular games, including "World of Warcraft," or "WoW" as it is known among gamers.

South Koreans were elated that their country has assumed such a prominent place in the international gaming community.

"I am extremely proud that Blizzard came all the way to Korea to unveil the upcoming Starcraft II," said Park Sung-jin, a 21-year-old university student.

The weekend event also included competitions involving players from eight countries and regions - Canada, Poland, China, Taiwan, France, the Netherlands, the United States and South Korea.