StarCraft II's final expansion is right around the corner. The end — some kind of end — is in sight. What happens afterward, though?
While Blizzard's definitely going to pull the curtain closed on StarCraft II's multi-part story (a major component of the three major expansion packs), the plan is to keep updating for a lengthy span of time afterward. Soon, lead producer Tim Morten told me in an interview, the StarCraft II team will be able to focus on more substantial regular updates, something they couldn't do quite as much with massive, time-and-resource-intensive expansion packs looming. Their goal? To make the strategy titan feel more "alive," less prone to stagnation and lengthy gaps between important updates.
"We're actually already — ahead of Legacy of the Void — making it feel supported, making it feel something like a live service," Morten said. "And I think that emphasis will continue through Legacy of the Void and beyond it. Our focus is to make sure the player base feels supported, like StarCraft is a live, evolving game."
A big influence on how StarCraft will grow and evolve after it shakes its expansion pack habit? MOBAs, the very genre said to be sucking mindshare (and a few famous players) away from StarCraft II.
"[From MOBAs] I would say we've learned things like deploying things more quickly so we can update the game more efficiently," Morten explained. "We share a building with the Heroes of the Storm guys, and they're in a constant release cycle. Events around new heroes and whatnot. There's a wonderful aspect to that. It makes the game continue to feel alive. We want to bring some of that to StarCraft."
However, for a precariously balanced, ultra-legacied RTS like StarCraft — a game where adding or altering units is like bolting new rubies onto the holy grail — that will still require a very measured approach. Blizzard wants to deliver faster, more substantial updates, but they don't want their trademark polish to get out the window as a result. Not if they can help it.
"There's a huge challenge in pipelining content that quickly," said Morten. "I think one thing Blizzard has always excelled at is polishing things before they go live. So I think the StarCraft team is used to longer release cadences, but we're starting to get more active in terms of patches and updating. We'll continue to move in that direction of getting more active. How far we go — is it monthly, quarterly? — finding the right sweet spot is what we're working out."
All of that in mind, I was curious if any of this is a direct response to MOBAs' immense popularity, to the way they have sucked so much attention away from StarCraft's once fertile soils like a zerg colony pushing its putrid borders ever outward. Morten replied that he'd love for people to just never stop playing StarCraft, but that he didn't feel like MOBAs were necessarily responsible for that many departures. And despite some big exits on the eSports side, he said he believes the game is healthier than ever.
"I think there's a natural cycle people have of moving from game to game," he said. "Of course we wish everyone who plays StarCraft would stick with it forever. But there isn't a sense on our part that it's declining. If anything, it feels like there are so many more competitive events happening on a regular basis, so many fresh faces coming into the scene. We've seen so many new players — particularly this year, this season, with the region lock we've implemented for WCS."
The key, then, is to keep players both new and old interested, to make sure things don't get stale. It's a challenge, certainly, given that StarCraft II has been around for five years, and it's strongly reminiscent of a game that's been around for nearly 20 years. Blizzard, though, believes their bouncing brood lord baby can evolve with the times. For the sake of both the players and the game, here's hoping they're right.