Monetizing StarCraft II and the Importance of Betting

ploguidic3 2015-01-02 05:20:40

It has been commonly suggested that microtransactions and other forms of sustainable income are key to the health of StarCraft. Indeed Steven “Destiny” Bonnell recently wrote a well-received blog claiming that without microtransactions the StarCraft competitive scene is essentially doomed. Yet making StarCraft a healthy game in the long term is more complicated than simply implementing some form of post release revenue that will incentivize Blizzard to stick around after the game’s launch. A proper implementation of cosmetic game content such as skins and voice packs would encourage playing every day, create a continued incentive for Blizzard to continue developing and supporting the game, and generate increased interest in the competitive scene

Due to the razor’s edge balance of an RTS game like StarCraft Blizzard would obviously be limited to providing cosmetic content; yet there are many cosmetic elements of StarCraft that could certainly be customizable. Blizzard has already proven that it is capable of providing custom skins, implementing multiple voice packs, and allowing players to customize their UI seems well within the programming skills of the good folks at Blizzard entertainment. A constant stream of this cosmetic content will server to create a symbiotic relationship between Blizzard and the StarCraft player base. Players will continually be trying to get the interesting new content and remain interested in the game, which in turn will allow Blizzard to continue creating interesting new content for the game, and provide development support in other ways such as balance patches as well. Although interesting new content is likely to draw increased player interest, it is not enough simply to set it for sale, and assume that players will be tripping over each other in order to throw money at Blizzard. Instead Blizzard will need to find a way that incentivizes daily play while continually keeping players exposed to and engaged with their store front.


 Blizzard has already mastered the art of encouraging daily play in their free to play collectable card game, Hearthstone. Each day players are offered quests that allow them to earn gold simply for playing the game in specific ways. By offering some kind of currency that can either be spent within StarCraft, or perhaps across a global Blizzard store front, where players could spend their hard earned currency in StarCraft, Hearthstone, or Heroes of the Storm. Quests within StarCraft can do more than simply create a higher number of active players on the servers, they can also serve to bolster underperforming parts of the game. Quests could be used to encourage participation in “fun” or “casual” modes such as free for alls, larger team games like 3v3s or 4v4s, or even high quality but underpopulated arcade games. In this manner, quests can be used to inject life back into casual and highly accessible game modes that are currently less than playable due to their incredibly long queue times and the often excessively wide MMR spreads that are ubiquitous in less popular game modes.

A typical "Quest" screen within Hearthstone

These techniques would almost certainly increase StarCraft’s playerbase, and as a result could help to bolster StarCraft’s viewer numbers thus helping to make the competitive scene more healthy and viable in the long term, but there is another phenomenon that Blizzard should pay attention to if it cares about the long term growth and health of StarCraft’s competitive scene.

That is the phenomenon of betting within Counter-Strike Global Offensive. Sites like CS:GO Lounge have taken the world of Counter-Strike by storm, and players often queue up to bet their hard earned skins on competitive matches in hopes of earning rarer and more expensive decorations for their tools of battle. Allow me if you will to tell an anecdote that I believe truly captures the power of betting within Counter-Strike.

When I was at my parents’ house, for the holidays my brother was watching a CS:GO tournament and I thought I recognized the voice of one of the casters as that of my old colleague Richard Lewis. I asked my brother who was casting the tournament, and he had no idea. Then I asked him what tournament he was watching as I knew that Richard was working in some role on TakeTV’s Acer A-Split Invitational tournament. Again my brother was unable to tell me what tournament he was watching, he explained he was only watching this particular match because he had bet some of his skins on it.  

At first this was unfathomable to me, I couldn’t imagine somehow watching a StarCraft tournament without knowing what tournament I was watching, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense. Betting allows players that generally would not be interested in a smaller tournament to engage with a single match within that tournament, not by virtue of interest within the tournament itself, but instead because they think they can accurately predict the results of the match. This helps to draw in a large crowd that would otherwise never be interested in smaller tournaments and in turn helps to make minor events organized by community more profitable and viable.

The Front Page of CSGO Lounge where various betting oppurtunities are displayed

As a company Blizzard would not even need to implement betting in order to make it popular. The mere implementation of a tradable inventory would be more than enough to encourage some entrepreneur to jump onto the eSports betting bandwagon. Indeed sites like Proxy.gg already offer play money betting that can be exchanged for prizes, but the success of betting within CS:GO shows that it is likely that there would be much higher interest in betting for tangible in game items that players are able to claim immediately upon winning.

Blizzard has already shown that they are interested in making StarCraft II a more accessible game. Their decision to announce Legacy of the Void as a standalone title shows a commitment to allowing new players to bypass the barrier to entry that would have been Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm. Hopefully this radical change in direction is a sign that Blizzard is revaluating their monetization strategies, and will master the art of monetizing their playerbase more so than just the sale of their game. If Blizzard is able to do this, then StarCraft is more than capable of having a thriving life to look forward to, with both and rich and fruitful casual and competitive scene.

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