Starcraft rollout on the horizon

Blizzard's hopes for continued growth are raised as the retail release of Starcraft nears.

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Blizzard is close to opening up the floodgates. The public request for online beta testers, for its upcoming strategy title Starcraft, is pending - and will likely occur within the next few weeks. If the response is anything like what it was when the company sought beta testers for Diablo, Blizzard can expect quite a few responses.

"We had over 300,000 requests" to participate in the Diablo beta test, Paul Sams, Blizzard's director of business development, told GameSpot News. Blizzard is expecting at least that many people to vie for the 1,000 slots Blizzard will fill for the Starcraft test.

During a six-hour window - during the still-undecided time - Blizzard will accept requests from online gamers. One thousand gamers will then be randomly chosen to participate in the test, which should last just a couple of weeks. Blizzard reminds us the beta's goal is to stress-test Battle.net rather than bug-test the title.

Unlike Diablo, a title that has appeared on other pay-to-play online game services, Starcraft will only be available for online play through Blizzard's proprietary online service, Battle.net.

After a conversation with Sams, the issue for Blizzard is control. Blizzard has streamlined the hookup process for online gamers who use battle.net because the online service automatically installs itself with the full version of the game.

And use it they do. Sams says that Battle.net has registered over 1.1 million unique users - who have played, says Blizzard, over 20 million Diablo games to date.

To keep servers up and running, Blizzard is partnering with ISPs Exodus Communications, MindSpring, and PrimeNet in the US; MultiPlay in Australia; and still-unnamed ISPs in Germany, France, the UK, and Canada.

And contrary to what has been said about the cost of supporting Battle.net - in spite of the company never having disclosed the costs associated with Battle.net - Sams is adamant when he says Battle.net makes economic sense for Blizzard and doesn't detrimentally affect revenues from retail sales of the company's titles. Analysts who claim otherwise, Sams says, are "completely, totally incorrect."

Nonetheless, Blizzard apparently seeks to feed the bottom line. It has recently hired Petry Interactive to solicit advertising. While no Petry-generated clients have yet to be signed, Sams says that among those companies he is targeting are movie studios and music publishers. Sams is optimistic there is a match between these advertisers and the 18- to 35-year-old male demographic that makes up the majority of Battle.net users.

Sams anticipates that "the revenue we generate from our online advertising is going to cover our costs."

GameSpot News will keep you informed of the upcoming Starcraft beta test.

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