Kotick, Morhaime Detail Xbox Live-Like Plans, Explain StarCraft II Delay

Activision CEO Bobby Kotick laid out an expansive vision for the service -- "similar to Xbox Live" -- to explain why StarCraft II must launch alongside it, and touched on WoW's struggle in China.
Activision is moving Blizzard's StarCraft II into the first half of 2010 to coincide with the launch of the service, and on the company's second quarter call to investors today, Gamasutra was there to hear CEO Bobby Kotick and Blizzard head Mike Morhaime explain, laying out expansive plans for the online service. The company's vision for is a "true online destination platform," and Kotick expects it to "become the foundation for connecting tens of millions [of players] in the Blizzard community in a social gaming network across all Blizzard's future games." "This will begin with World of Warcraft and StarCraft II," Kotick added, calling the planned service, built by the Blizzard team, "similar to Xbox Live." It's primarily, not StarCraft II -- subtitled "Wings of Liberty" that needs this additional prep time, according to Activision. Also on the call, Morhaime explained that in addition to tournaments, rankings and multiplayer matching, the new will "add social networking features, cross-game communications, unified log-in and account management and more." "Eventually, it will allow [players] to connect, communicate and share experiences with each other through the service regardless of which blizzard games they are playing," Morhaime added. Given that will be "integrated with StarCraft II more tightly than any previous Blizzard game," it's essential to spend enough time preparing it, said Morhaime. "We recognize that we only get one chance to make a first impression." "There is no better opportunity to launch this strategic initiative than through the launch of StarCraft II," said Kotick on the call. "The platform is an investment in the future of gaming, and an opportunity that we are uniquely positioned to capitalize on." Morhaime also said that following StarCraft II's launch, the Blizzard team will move "immediately" onto the first of two expansions, and "continue developing and implementing advanced features." Kotick also alluded to the publisher's struggles to get WoW back up and running in China, where the game has suffered downtime in the transition to operator Netease. He expressed confidence in the company, calling the partnership "a long-term investment with a very capable and committed partner." "Netease has already made significant investments in upgrading the technology infrastructure of the World of Warcraft service," he said. "In fact, from a quality of hardware and network perspective, China is our most advanced geography." Both the Netease transition and StarCraft II's delay are short-term compromises for long-term gains, Kotick asserted, lauding the company's "enviable" flexibility to strategize in such a way. In what may have been a dig at rival Electronic Arts, for which it competes on various metrics for the title of number one publisher, Kotick noted that Activision is "not preoccupied with dramatic restructuring, burdensome investments to develop online game capabilities... [or] entering new geographies like China and Korea."

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