World of Starcraft: New Blizzard MMO to be announced May 19? (Updated)

StarcraftComputer and Videogames’ website is purportedly confirming [see Update below] what has just been an incessant rumor up to now: Vivendi game studio/World of Warcraft developer Blizzard Entertainment will announce an MMO spinoff of their wildly popular Starcraft franchise at the company’s May 19th Worldwide Invitational in South Korea.

I say “purportedly” because the CVG article only cites unnamed sources, and I don’t want to jump the gun; I’m checking with Blizzard’s PR department now, and will report what they say, if anything. Then again, Blizzard has been running help wanted ads for developers of an unnamed “Next-Gen MMO” on its site, these last few weeks, and Starcraft is the other jewel in the company’s IP crown.

Assuming the company does confirm, is a Starcraft MMO a good business move? For the Asian market, absolutely, but it’s hard to imagine it would reach anything like the global success of World of Warcraft.

So far, science fiction-themed MMOs based on well-known IP have performed poorly against expectation: Star Wars Galaxies only managed a few hundred thousand subscribers; Matrix Online didn’t even reach six figures. (My personal theory is that sci-fi just doesn’t work in an MMO, because it’s not fantastic or other-worldly enough to feel like a meaningful escape into an alternate reality. After all, what’s the appeal of pretending to be in a world of spacecraft, high-tech military hardware, and pervasive computer interfaces, when you’re already in one?)

Another challenge: Both Warcraft and Starcraft began as real-time strategy games, but it was easier for Blizzard to make the genre leap with the fantasy-themed Warcraft, already similar in appearance and gameplay to other fantasy MMOs. Without a large pre-existing audience for sci-fi MMOs, it’ll be a lot tougher to convert Starcraft into a multiplayer roleplaying game that’ll appeal to its RTS fanbase.

Except, of course, in South Korea, where 3.5 million of the 9 million units of Starcraft have sold. Given its population of 49 million, that means one in sixteen of the entire country has a copy; there’s even Korean television shows devoted to Starcraft gaming. Which is probably why Blizzard’s making the announcement there (if they are). I’d expect any Starcraft MMO to be developed for the Korean/Asian market first, and only after proving itself there, localized for Western consumers.

Update, 6/19: IGN is reporting that Blizzard announced development of Starcraft 2, not a Starcraft MMO.