Blizzard talks new spawning option for Starcraft II

Production director Chris Sigaty explains why spawning is only just now coming to RTS, says company has done a poor job making gamers aware of Starter Edition.

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Blizzard Entertainment today introduced a system called spawning into Starcraft II, allowing its Starter Edition and Wings of Liberty players to be temporarily upgraded to Heart of the Swarm accounts when playing with friends.

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GameSpot caught up with Blizzard Entertainment production director Chris Sigaty to discuss the move and what it means for the future of Starcraft II.

Why are you doing this?

There's a couple of things that are coming together here. There's spawning, and then there's Starter Edition. And Starter Edition is something that we've actually had for a while, but we have done, being self-critical, a poor job of making people aware of. We limit the race to Terran traditionally because we feel they're the most accessible to brand-new users coming into Starcraft II. But, starting today up until the end of Sunday, all three races are available. We will go back to one race being active, but then we'll have weekends with promotions to switch the race or have multiple races active at once.

Spawning has been a feature in Blizzard games since Warcraft II and Starcraft: Brood War. As such a Blizzard-specific feature, why has it taken so long for this to come to Starcraft II?

"Now that we've had the bandwidth to do this, it just felt like the right time now that we've finally had a little bit of air to breathe into this feature."

I think priorities. This was something we talked about in the past but never really had a good vision for it. We were working on important features for the core game as we did Heart of the Swarm, and a lot of the patches that followed up Wings of Liberty that added things like Masters and Grand Masters leagues. If you go across the patches they were all adding newly important functionality. Then Heart of The Swarm drops with a whole bunch of great stuff, including things that make life easier for players to find each other, take command, all the new replay functionality, all that stuff felt more important. Now that we've had the bandwidth to do this, it just felt like the right time now that we've finally had a little bit of air to breathe into this feature.

Beyond the bandwidth side, I think one of the things that Starcraft faces as a perception issue is being a really hardcore versus eSport. It's about the best of the best facing off against each other to show who's the better player. If you go back to Warcraft II, the original Starcraft, and then Warcraft III after it, I think there's a lot of nostalgic memories around just playing Big Game Hunters with a large group of friends, or playing in team games against each other where the pressure wasn't that. I think a feature like this will help bring down the perception that SCII is only a game about playing competitively and at a super-high skill level, and that there is a way to interface in SCII that's not so focused on who's the most elite player.

A few months ago you stated there were no plans for a multiplayer free-to-play Starcraft II. Do you believe the Starter Edition and spawning is the better way of going about putting the game out to the masses?

I don't know if it's a better way or not. But I think some of the pitches--and this is my personal view on it--free-to-play is a great concept for some games, but the way Starcraft II is built, it's just not designed for stuff like skin and that sort of stuff that players have suggested so far. For what we have today, this does feel like the right answer. Whether free-to-play as a consumer product versus a boxed product on which one is better, it's hard for me to judge that. For that we've built, and how we built it, the Starter Edition/spawned way seems like the best way we can make it accessible to players, and the widest group of players.

The idea is that the game is most fun when you play with your friends, and that's what this feature lets you do easily. In free-to-play, it's more about how am I interacting with the purchase of this game myself, where this feature is approaching it like "What's an easy way to get players to be able to play with their friends?"

Is there a possibility of having one-versus-one ladder play unlocked in the future?

As you have to be in a party, there's no current plans to have the one-versus-one ladder active at this time. We'll continue to look and see how this is successful, and who knows what the future holds, but right now we don't have any plans in that direction.

Based on previous spawnings in older games, do you have any guess on how many will use this, or how much the player base will increase?

I have zero idea. (laughs) I think this will help educate the existing community and they'll understand it is actually very easy to share and get people into SCII, where maybe they didn't understand that.

Do you think spawning is the best way to get these people into Starcraft II--those who have a notion of the game as a one-versus-one hardcore eSport?

I think so. Having a friend along to help steer you in the right places is a hope. When you came over to somebody's house to play the game with friends in the old days, and that person knew, not only were they helping you play the game even though you didn't own it, they were also helping educate you on the fun. I think this is a really good way of having a guide along with you--"Let's try this; let's go do this." Without it, you need to figure that out for yourself. Being with a friend has that benefit to it where you can have that guide, where you can go, what you can do, and what's fun.

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