It is about 11:30PM and I am at a parking lot in Sunnyvale outside of a store waiting in line with a bunch of guys and the occasional girl for a midnight release. If this were for a movie’s midnight release, at least we would already be seated in the warm theater waiting for the film to start. But no, we are all waiting for a video game to hit store shelves at precisely 12:01AM. But this is not just any video game. This is Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, the sequel to Blizzard Entertainment’s hit game Starcraft: We Didn’t Expect This Game to Be A Hit so We Didn’t Come Up With a Cool Subtitle in 1998. Given Starcraft’s rich plot involving invading aliens, disgruntled space marines, advanced alien races, and colorful characters representing each, we might as well be waiting for a blockbuster movie. The military sci-fi real-time strategy video game Starcraft was so groundbreaking in the late 1990s, its fans can equate the this second game to The Empire Strikes Back to that good Star Wars trilogy in the late 70s.
Earlier in the day I visited a few game stores asking what they were expecting this night of July 26th, 2010. Phil, the employee at my neighborhood Gamestop, told me he expected “about 50% of [his] pre-orders to show up when Wings of Liberty comes out. That’s about 100 people.” But that figure is for people trickling into the store during the night who already pre-ordered. Meanwhile, larger stores like the Fry’s Electronics I am standing outside of will have it available to the general public at precisely 12:01AM on this night. The headcount reached about 300 people at 11:45PM. The first person in line, a gamer named Jeremie, waited for six hours and prepared chairs for himself and friends to make the wait less tedious. They even had a pizza delivered at 9:00PM in the line.
Like the people standing in line behind Jeremie, Starcraft was such a great game and “worth the 12 year wait for the sequel.” While the story provided about two weeks of fun, it was the multiplayer that endeared itself and gave the game such a long shelf life. Gamers have been playing it all those years until the Starcraft II open beta at around May this year. Admittedly, other Blizzard games began weaning gamers off Starcraft. “We did play more World of Warcraft,“admitted pretty much everyone in line. But as the announcement trailer that first stormed the Internet said, reaction to the sequel was, “Hell, it’s about time.”
I am cold and sleepy. I turn to my friend and ask him if we have any coffee left and he tells me we ran out half an hour ago. It was my turn to make a food/drink/bathroom run, a common tactic among midnight releases. Spirits remained high among people waiting in line. When people did not distract themselves with food or their electronic devices they either talked about expectations of “geek” pop culture and expectations of Starcraft II. Battle tactics was the most popular topic, especially comparing the technologically advanced Protoss, the swarming Zerg rushes, and the versatile Terrans. Gamers like Jeremie can be very devoted to their class as he pointed me to his car with the license plate “For Aiur” to represent his Protoss roots. Even a little cross promotion took place as NVIDIA visited us in line to hand out a few shirts whoever shouted “CRANK THAT S#!T UP!” But people still remained calm and talked within their own personal cliques. Perhaps it was to conserve heat.
Once the clock struck 12:01AM and then 12:02AM, we filed into the store to pick up either the $60 copy of Starcraft II or the $100 collector’s edition that included the soundtrack, art book, and a 2GB thumb drive shaped like a dog-tag. This Fry’s threw in a poster for the first 350 purchases. My friend showed my the Los Angeles Fry’s where they gave out patches. No matter what copy, people left the store with a game in hand and a smile on the face. The eager players would be playing as soon as they got home… provided Battle.net was not offline this early Tuesday for maintenance.